Recap: MLP: Friendship Is Magic S3 E1 "The Crystal Empire - Part 1"

The eponymous empire of crystals.

Princess Cadance needs our help, her magic will not last forever.
I think we can do it, but we need to work together.
We have to get this right, yes we have to make them see.
We can save the Crystal Ponies with their history!
Twilight Sparkle

Written by Meghan McCarthy

Princess Celestia is sitting in her throne room when a guard runs into the room. He announces that news has arrived from northern Equestria: "it" has returned, and Celestia, wanting to take immediate action, sends her guards to find Princess Cadance and Shining Armor before writing a letter for Twilight Sparkle to come to Canterlot immediately. In Ponyville, Twilight Sparkle is scurrying around her room looking for quills, books, parchment, and supplies, all the while panicking at the prospect that Princess Celestia has told her that she will be taking a test. In Canterlot, Luna and Celestia discuss Twilight's preparedness for the mission, but are interrupted by Twilight's arrival. Twilight discovers that her supplies are unnecessary, as her test will be a different sort—Princess Celestia explains that the Crystal Empire, a long-forgotten civilization, has returned after a thousand-year absence.

According to Princess Celestia, the Crystal Empire was ruled by King Sombra, an evil unicorn whose heart was black as night. Because the Crystal Empire reflects the nature of the ruler across all of Equestria—bringing light and happiness if the ruler is benevolent and darkness and sorrow if the ruler is a tyrant—the Princesses transformed Sombra into a shadowy cloud and banished him to the arctic wastes, but not before he cursed the Crystal Empire to disappear along with him. Celestia tasks Twilight and her friends with aiding Shining Armor and Princess Cadance in finding a way to prevent the Crystal Empire from falling back into Sombra's hooves. Celestia reassures her student that she will succeed, and will proceed to the next level of her studies upon her return. As she leaves, Celestia tells her that she, and she alone, must be the one to help Cadance and Shining Armor do what needs to be done.

Twilight, Spike, and the rest of the Mane 6 travel to the Frozen North and are greeted by Shining Armor, who urges them to follow him quickly, as the Empire "isn't the only thing that's returned." As they cross the tundra, Shining Armor informs them that King Sombra has been attempting to invade the Empire. Twilight questions what point there is in finding a way to protect the Empire if it's already being protected when King Sombra, in the form of a shadowy mass, attacks and chases them. Shining Armor stays behind to hold King Sombra off while the others reach the Empire. He escapes but Sombra curses his horn, preventing him from using his magic.

The Mane 6 meet Princess Cadance, who is using her own magic to form a protective shield around the Empire that is keeping King Sombra out. However, she has grown weak due to the constant concentration required to keep it active. Twilight comes up with the idea to interview the Crystal Ponies, and the Mane 6 set out to find a way to restore the Crystal Empire to the way it had been. They find that the residents—in a rather dull coloration for a bright kingdom—can't remember anything before King Sombra came to power, and don't want to remember anything about his reign. They head to a nearby library to look for information, and Twilight finds a book with information on the Crystal Fair, a festival that will unite the hearts of the Crystal Ponies. Central to this fair is something called the Crystal Heart, but as they do not have one, Twilight cuts one out of a crystal block to use as a substitute.

Twilight summons the Crystal Ponies to the fair, and as they begin to enjoy themselves, their previously dull coloration begins to brighten, as does their mood, and they begin to remember their previous lives. However, Rainbow Dash overhears a remark that the Crystal Heart is in fact an artifact that the Crystal Ponies power with their love and unity, and that King Sombra hid the Crystal Heart where it would never be found. Rainbow Dash rushes to cover up the fake heart and tells Twilight about the problem. Twilight Sparkle finds the last page in the book had been removed by King Sombra to preempt any attempts at discovering the Heart's significance. Princess Cadance suddenly faints and the magic shield surrounding the Crystal Empire vanishes. King Sombra, seeing his chance, advances into the kingdom...

TO BE CONTINUED

*Cue happy credits music*

Continued in "The Crystal Empire, Part 2".


Tropes:

  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: The double-belled flugelhorn is easy to dismiss as something from a Dr. Seuss book, but double-belled brass instruments saw some popularity in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • King Sombra was "turned to shadow" and banished to the ice of the arctic north. Whether that entails this is unclear as of yet.
    • The Crystal Ponies were kept as Sombra's Slave Race, and have spent the last thousand years after his defeat with no contact with the outside world and stuck in a state of despair and unhappiness. Worsening it is the fact that they have no memory of the time before that, meaning all they could remember during that time was being his slaves. It's mitigated a little by the fact that the Crystal Ponies are under the impression that they were part of Equestria "yesterday," implying that they didn't live out the thousand years they had disappeared for, but simply skipped forward in time.
  • Angst Nuke: Twilight's anger over Spike saying it's "just a test" blows the entire Golden Oak Library into the air.
  • Animation Bump: Twilight's billowing mane and tail during the "Failure Success Song".
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: The librarian after dropping the Wham Line.
  • Barrier Maiden:
    • Princess Cadance copies Shining Armor from the wedding by projecting a protective field of love around the Crystal Empire to keep King Sombra at bay. Unlike Shining, she must maintain the spell constantly, resulting in sleep-deprivation.
    • The point of the Crystal Heart was to avert this trope; every crystal pony in the empire contributes to charging it up so no one person has sole responsibility for the empire's protection.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted once again for Cadance. After days without sleep she has bags under her eyes and droops with fatigue. Just as before, this also serves as straight Unkempt Beauty.
  • Big Bad: King Sombra is the latest threat to Equestria and he's starting with a campaign to retake the Crystal Empire.
  • Bilingual Bonus: "Sombra" is Spanish for "shadow".
  • Brick Joke: Pinkie's friends quickly learn she does not play the flugelhorn well. Later, Rainbow Dash outright ignores Pinkie's desire for a flugelhorn when handing them out at the crystal fair.
  • Burning with Anger: When Spike (after donning protective gear) tells a tense Twilight she's overreacting, we cut to a shot of Ponyville, where a charred version of Golden Oak Library momentarily launches into the air before falling back down.
  • Captain Obvious: When the Mane 6 enter the Crystal Library, which has three floors of enormous bookcases filled to the brim with various tomes:
    Twilight Sparkle: We're looking for a book.
    Librarian: We have plenty of those.
    Twilight Sparkle: (starts swooning) You do. You really do!
  • Casting a Shadow: King Sombra is a Living Shadow. Princess Celestia also does a demonstration on the subject for Twilight.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Critical Research Failure: In-Universe, Twilight's "crystal heart", which she carved from a crystal block. See Failed a Spot Check below.
  • Cosmic Keystone:
    • Crystal Empire acts as this for all of Equestria in that if it's in a state of harmony, it will spread to all of Equestria. If it's in a state of darkness, it also spreads throughout Equestria.
    • The Crystal Heart acts like this for the Crystal Empire because it is the source of their protection spell.
  • Crazy-Prepared:
  • Curbstomp Battle: Shining Armor tries to fight King Sombra. While Shining did manage to buy time for the others to make it to safety, it ends with Shining fleeing back to the Crystal Empire with his magic sealed while the attacks we see him attempt don't so much as phase Sombra.
  • The Dark Times: King Sombra ruled the Crystal Empire with an iron hoof, relegating its populace into slavery.
  • Data Crystal: Celestia keeps a crystal that stores a hologram of her and Luna defeating King Sombra.
  • Downer Ending: Par for the two parters. It turns out Twilight was wrong and they needed to find the Crystal Heart instead of making one, resulting in Cadance's power running out. King Sombra's shadow form washes over the Crystal Empire as the field fails.
  • Dragon Pack Mule: Spike gets to carry Rarity's usual Lotsof Luggage.
  • The Dreaded: If the reaction of the Crystal Pony that Twilight speaks to is any indication, King Sombra is this for the Crystal Ponies.
  • Dreadful Musician: Nopony enjoys hearing Pinkie play the crystal flügelhorn.
  • Dull Coats of Unhappiness: The crystal ponies have washed out color schemes to go with their depressed voices. Even when they're happier at the prospect and events of the Crystal Fair, their coats don't gain the incredible sparkling lustre they should have, instead simply looking like regular (though still fancy) Earth Ponies.
  • Evil Plan: King Sombra wants his domain back.
  • The Exile: King Sombra was turned into shadow and sealed in an icy crevice by Princesses Celestia and Luna for the enslaving of the ponies of the Crystal Empire. Returning from his banishment starts the plot.
  • Face Hoof: Rainbow Dash does this after a Crystal Pony she's interrogating tells her she doesn't remember anything about King Sombra's rule.
  • Face Plant: Pinkie Pie slams face-first into a pole when playing with her night-vision goggles.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Twilight, the book fanatic, missed the fact that the last page of the book was torn out!
  • Fisher King: Under the rule of King Sombra, the Crystal Empire became Mordor. In this case, Sombra is shown corrupting the land with his evil magic.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: The Crystal Ponies are unaware that the Crystal Empire has been gone for a thousand years. When they're told, they understandably have a hard time believing it.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Celestia tells Luna that if Twilight succeeds in saving the Crystal Empire they will know she is that much closer to being ready for something, but doesn't say what.
    • At the end of Part II, Princess Luna conjures a book that would later be crucial to the plot of the season finale.
  • Forgotten Phlebotinum: King Sombra seems like exactly the sort of threat the Elements of Harmony were made for. Too bad nopony remembered them.
  • Funny Background Event: Pinkie Pie after removing her "Fluttershy" disguise leaves it there on the ground. As the other ponies talk, Fluttershy walks to the rest of the group and reacts appropriately to seeing what looks like her skin on the ground.
  • Generic Doomsday Villain: King Sombra is built up as being a huge threat to the Crystal Empire, and is also revealed to have set up an intricate security system to prevent anypony from getting the Crystal Heart in the past, but other than that, his characterization is nonexistent, especially in comparison to the show's other villains, and there is barely any backstory for him to speak of. This isn't helped by him speaking very little and not having any meaningful interaction with the other characters and spends most of the two-parter as more of a wave of blackness rather than an actual character. The show treating him more like a powerful malevolent force than a character in his own right. According to Word of God, he was intended to be more of a menacing and terrifying presence lurking over everything. In other words, fear itself.
  • Genre Savvy: Twilight notes that the memory of King Sombra's oppression must be why the Crystal Ponies' coats aren't crystally.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Celestia gets these when she demonstrates hate-fueled magic for Twilight.
  • Good Hurts Evil: Cadance's field of love and light repels King Sombra.
  • Gonna Need More X: Twilight tosses Spike a large heap of flash cards so he can quiz her on everything she's ever learned ever.
    Twilight: I'm going to need more flashcards.
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire: Averted overall — the ponies of the Crystal Empire are definitely on the side of good. However, briefly Double Subverted when King Sombra was in power.
  • Grim Up North: The Crystal Empire is located in the northern reaches of Equestria (the Comic-Con map poster calls it the Frozen North), which is surrounded by blinding snow. It's said that you do not want to be caught outside after dark, lest something nasty catch you.
  • Hidden Elf Village: The Crystal Empire was hidden away, apparently in a state of suspended animation, for a thousand years.
    Twilight Sparkle: I don't think there's anything in any of my books ab-
    Princess Celestia: There wouldn't be. Few remember it ever existed at all.
  • Highly-Visible Ninja: Pinkie in her spysuit, bouncing around city streets in broad daylight.
  • The Insomniac: Poor Cadance hasn't gotten any sleep since arriving at the Crystal Empire because she has to stay awake to maintain the barrier against King Sombra.
  • Inherently Funny Words: Pinkie is greatly entertained at the prospect of playing the flügelhorn.
  • I Remember It Like It Was Yesterday: One of the Crystal ponies says this regarding Sombra's reign, though it's not a set-up for a flashback. It seems to suggest that the curse transported the Crystal Empire 1000 years forward in time.
  • Latex Perfection: Pinkie's Fluttershy costume.
  • Lampshade Hanging: "One of these days, we need to get together when the fate of Equestria isn't hanging in the balance."
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Applejack implies King Sombra placed a spell an amnesia spell on all the Crystal ponies so they couldn't remember anything about life before he came to power.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Rarity says the crystal ponies "flew a flag of many hues", but the flag we're shown is just various shades of purple.
  • Meaningful Name: "Sombra" means "shadow" in Spanish.
  • Merchandise-Driven: Toys from this line are scheduled for 2013, and some Target-exclusive sets have already been released in physical stores. King Sombra is a normal unicorn (when he's not a smoke monster) which is presumably much easier for Hasbro to manufacture than (say) Discord.
  • Metaphorically True: Celestia's admonition to Twilight about having to assist Cadence and Shining Armor alone. The responsibility of asking Spike to get the Crystal Heart to Cadance did fall squarely on her shoulders.
    Princess Celestia: In the end it must be you, and you alone, who ultimately assists Princess Cadance and Shining Armor in doing what needs to be done to protect the empire.
  • Mineral MacGuffin: The crystals of the Crystal Empire are affected by emotions. Filling them with love causes them to emit love. Filling them with negative emotions causes them to turn dark and start infecting everything in contact with them.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: While Shining Armor succeeded in keeping the Mane Six safe, trying to take on King Sombra ended with his magic sealed and thus unable to help Cadance protect the empire.
  • Night-Vision Goggles: Worn by Pinkie during the day.
    Pinkie Pie: Wow, night-visiony!
  • Oh, Crap:
    • Celestia when her scout informs her that Sombra has returned. She instantly goes into "avert-the-crisis" mode.
    • When the Mane Six learn that the Crystal Heart is a specific item and thus they are just as vulnerable to Sombra as ever.
  • Orcus on His Throne: After sealing Shining Armor's magic, King Sombra spends the rest of the episode waiting for Cadance to tire without doing anything to hurry the process along. Justified as contact with the shield seem to be physically painful for him. It is shown to be able to cut through his horn at the very start of Part 2.
  • Power Crystal: The Crystal Heart projects a barrier to keep the Crystal Empire safe and it is refueled by all the ponies in the Crystal Empire.
  • Power Nullifier: While trying to defend Twilight and her friends, Shining Armor is cursed by King Sombra, rendering his magic unusable.
  • The Power of Fear: King Sombra specialized in using fear-based magic to rule his empire. Princess Celestia deomonstrates this power herself.
  • Princesses Rule: A subtle aversion. While Twilight is looking through the history of the Crystal Ponies, she finds the crystal fair was set up by their first queen.
  • Race Against the Clock: The heroes only have so much time to find a way to stop King Sombra before Cadance's magic gives out and the barrier she's maintaining to keep him out fades.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something:
    • According to the toyline, Shining Armor now runs the Crystal Empire with Princess Cadance (take that as you will). He also accompanies the Mane Six in their adventure to protect the empire.
    • Cadance uses her magic to put a protective field of love around the Crystal Empire to keep King Sombra out.
  • Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: Pinkie Pie's playing of the crystal flügelhorn involves her shouting the word "flügelhorn" through the flügelhorn. She loves her Inherently Funny Words.
  • Schizo Tech: Night-Vision Goggles are now canon, though they look like glass and metal spectacles with no electronics.
  • Secret Test of Character: Celestia tells Twilight that this mission will be a "different sort of test".
  • Shout-Out:
    • Black Spy Catsuit with a balaclava? Check. Stealthy rooftop skipping? Check. Rappelling into the scene? Check. Three-lensed Night-Vision Goggles? Triple check. Pinkie has apparently been taking lessons from Sam Fisher.
    • "It's a Spy!"
    • Shining Armour's winter attire seems to be one to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
    • The episode introduces the concept that unicorns can use their magic to spread hatred, fear, and selfishness, at the price of corruption of the soul. Is that magic or the Force?
    • When Cadance and Twilight do the sunshine dance, the music briefly resembles a Kingdom Hearts town tune.
  • Sibling Team: Just like with Discord, the royal sisters team up to defeat King Sombra. The recording crystal shows them crossing horns for a Combination Attack magic beam.
  • Society-on-Edge Episode: This two-parter involved the threat of the enslavement of an entire kingdom.
  • Squee:
    • Rarity once she finds out about the Crystal Ponies. Likewise upon seeing the Empire for the first time.
    • Twilight has a similar reaction when she sees the library.
  • Spy Cat Suit: Pinkie Pie wears one in her Shout-Out moment above.
  • Sunglasses at Night: Inverted. Pinkie wears Night-Vision Goggles in broad daylight. She quickly crashes into a lamp post.
  • Super OCD: Twilight Sparkle preparing for the "test" that she thinks she's been summoned to Canterlot for. She rushes around for quills, ink, books, flashcards, etc.
  • Taking You with Me: Before he was banished, King Sombra puts a curse on the Crystal Empire that causes it to vanish.
  • Teleport Spam: Twilight does this across a series of lily pads on a pond as part of an impressive dance sequence.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Most of the first part could be watched through the previews.
  • Throw the Book at Them: Spike gets Twilight's copy of "The Magical Compendium, Volumes 1-36" dropped on his head.
  • Unreliable Illustrator: What is supposedly a crystal flugelhorn looks more like an instrument out of a Seussian fantasy land than any actual flugelhorn. (Real flugelhorns don't have two bells, for one thing. For another, flugelhorns are valved.)
  • Vagueness Is Coming: The frantic message to Celestia that "It has returned."
  • Vanishing Village: The Crystal Empire has been missing for a thousand years.
  • Wham Line:
    Rainbow Dash: Can't have a Crystal Fair without the Crystal Heart, right?
    Librarian: Of course you can't! But I thought King Sombra hid the Crystal Heart away somewhere nopony would ever find it.
  • Well Intentioned Replacement: Twilight was confident that her magically carved crystal heart was enough to serve as the centrepiece of the Crystal Fair. It wasn't.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: Both Twilight and Rarity when they express a loss for words, almost directly quoting Contact. Twilight's loss for words is at a library.
  • You Shall Not Pass: While running from King Sombra, Shining Armor remains behind to hold him off so the Mane Six and Spike can reach the Crystal Empire safely. He survives but his horn is corrupted and so he is unable to cast his defensive spell to help Cadance.