Time to talk about the actual show for a change! You know, that thing that the fanfiction I read is actually based on? We had an episode that was... well, I've put a few thoughts below the break. Suffice to say, the return of Discord inspired a lot of conversation (and no small amount of RAEG) around the fandom, and if there's one thing I like, it's opinions!
And inflicting them on others. That part's fun, too. Anyway, stuff below, full of spoilers, etc.
-Going into this episode, I had low expectations. Unfortunately, the broad strokes of the episode mostly confirmed my fears. The greatest weakness is the entire setup; when the previous canon (as in, Celestia's own words) is that Discord was the former ruler of Equestria who kept the ponies in "an eternal state of unrest and unhappiness," and whom she and her sister hoped to confine forever in a stone prison... how do you get from that point to "here Twilight, let Discord out and see if you and your friends can get him to play nice?" The transition of Discord from "godlike (or at least, princess-like) force of elemental disharmony" to "minor nuisance and potential rehab project" is disappointing, in that it retroactively weakens the Return of Harmony episodes; apparently, Discord isn't such a big deal after all.
-The other major problem, of course, is the 180 Discord pulls at the end. We all knew love and friendship were going to win out in the end, of course--one of the things I like about the show is the uncynical way it asserts that love and friendship do win in the end--but having the change of heart occur over the course of maybe fifteen seconds was beyond disappointing. A lot of people have been willing to write this off as a necessary sacrifice for a show with a 22 minute run time, but as far as I'm concerned that's just an excuse. If you can't tell your story well in 22 minutes, tell a different story. Or make it a two-parter, or something. I don't buy that because you ran out of time, it's okay to skip over a metric ton of characterization explanation.
-On the plus side, more beavers! I still like beavers, I'm still glad they're in the show, and Beaverton arguing with Applejack was the highlight of the episode for me. I would watch a MLP Holiday Special that was centered around the Beavertons. No subtitles, of course; just a whole bunch of animated beavers churring and gesticulating without any context. The main six could all make guest appearances! The only problem is that Bea Arthur is dead, so someone else would have to play all the minor roles. You might think I'm kidding, but I'm really not--I would love it, unironically.
-Another nice thing to see about this episode, and really about season 3 in general, is that the writers seem to have finally stopped regressing Fluttershy to a complete doormat every time she has a significant role in an episode. She's learned to stand up for herself in half a dozen episodes or so; it's nice to see the lesson's finally starting to stick.
-That said, characterization was a big issue throughout the episode. Even if we write off Discord's decision to stop being, well, discordant (and we shouldn't, but if we did...), the interplay between the main six is problematic at best. Fluttershy's behavior echoes Celestia's nonchalance, reinforcing that Discord is a problem on the same level as Trixie or Gilda: a simple issue of errant behavior, eminently fixable. So when the rest of the Element-bearers keep trying to lock him in his stone prison again at the drop of a hat, it comes off as barbaric and bloodthirsty. Well, that or Celestia and Fluttershy come off as naive idiots--take your pick. I'm inclined to the former, though, if only because they're vindicated in the end.
-When Discord wasn't busy frustrating me with his changing characterization, I did enjoy the visual gags he brought to the episode. Well, except for the fourth-wall joke. But the casual violation of reality, from the eye-rolling to the spinning house and beyond, which he brought to the show was welcome.
-In all, this is probably the most disappointing episode of the show to date. Not the worst--I'm not even sure it's in my bottom five (I really should sit down and rank the episodes someday)--but probably the episode which I felt did the least with the most. Discord is an entertaining, dynamic villain, and the fact that even with him (and beavers!) to anchor the show, it was more frustrating than entertaining to watch, is extremely discouraging. There were some nice jokes through the middle, but characterization was a muddle, canon was violated and re-written willy-nilly, and the logic binding the plot and character actions was at times impossible to follow.
Oh, well. I'll just have to hope that next week's episode is more to my taste, I guess.