Recap / My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic S7 E10 "A Royal Problem"

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Things seem markedly different...

Written by Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco

Starlight Glimmer is sent to solve a friendship problem in Canterlot by the crystal map. Twilight Sparkle is instantly worried, as she hopes the problem is something Starlight can solve on her own, but insists it's nothing to worry about. After arriving at the royal palace, Starlight notices that Luna insists nothing is wrong, despite Celestia's welcome.

In a private room, Twilight contacts Starlight through a small ballerina statue to ask Starlight about her progress. Starlight thinks the friendship problem is between the two royal sisters, so Twilight insists that she be careful. That morning, Celestia makes a tray of pancakes for Luna, but Luna is too tired and grouchy after her nightly duties, walking past them. Later that same night, Luna hangs up flowers as a way of providing more calming sleep, but Celestia seems to ignore them in favor of entertaining dignitaries. This convinces Starlight that Celestia and Luna must be inadvertently hurting each other's feelings by not appreciating the other enough. Starlight decides to go with her gut and have the royal sisters talk about their problems. At breakfast, Starlight gets Celestia and Luna to talk, but it soon turns into a full-blown argument. On impulse, Starlight casts a spell to switch Celestia and Luna's cutie marks. Although the princesses are angered by this, Starlight insists that the spell lasts only a day, but they should use the opportunity to see what the other sister has to go through. Though hesitant at first, Luna and Celestia eventually agree, believing the other's work will be easy.

In her room, Starlight has doubts about making such an impulsive choice, and Twilight's panic does her no favors. In Celestia's role, Luna finds it impossible to maintain a pleasant demeanor throughout the whole day, breaking her smile in front of a class of young children, causing them to lose funding for a field trip. At night, Celestia finds that Luna having to do her duties all alone is more mentally taxing than she realized. She enters the realm of dreams to find someone's nightmare to soothe, only to see Starlight having a nightmare about her rash decision. In the dream, Nightmare Moon appears as a way to taunt Starlight about potentially dooming Equestria with the actions. Just then, a violent version of Celestia named Daybreaker taunts the princess about how things could be so much easier if she just got rid of Luna. Daybreaker and Nightmare Moon fight, causing Starlight to break down crying over what she's done.

Luna is having a nightmare of her own about the schoolchildren she let down, but Celestia pulls Luna into Starlight's nightmare for help. Celestia begs Luna to do something, but Luna reminds Celestia that she can't, since Celestia's magic is useless in the realm of dreams. Celestia confides that she can't stop the torment Starlight is suffering, but Luna tells her that she can, because she realizes now how hard Celestia works at keeping a smile and being a beacon of hope. This invigorates Celestia to step into the fight between Daybreaker and Nightmare Moon, blocking their magic before it does any damage to Starlight. Daybreaker commands Celestia to stop, but Celestia banishes Daybreaker with Luna's power.

Next morning, the sisters confide in each other, now knowing how hard the other works at their duties. Luna even makes Celestia pancakes, but they taste awful. Starlight joins them, still confused over last night's events. The sisters commend Starlight for being bold enough to do what she did, though she herself admits it could have gone wrong. Then, her cutie mark glows, indicating her success in solving the friendship problem. Twilight suddenly appears and drags Starlight away to get all of the details, with Luna leaving Celestia to deal with the fallout of her mess-up with the schoolchildren.


Tropes:

  • Aesop Amnesia:
    • This is possibly the worst moment that Starlight Glimmer could've picked to forget that using magic on other ponies hardly does any good at all. It's heavily downplayed as she realizes that what she did was a horrible idea and starts having a nightmare over it.
    • Played straight with the sisters, as this is similar to what led to Nightmare Moon in the first place.
  • An Aesop: Never let your assumption of another's responsibility seed resentment. You may not have any idea of the nuances and demands that go into their job, even if on the surface it seems like they have it easier than you.
  • Assurance Backfire: Luna is told to reassure a group of ponies that timberwolves do not inhabit their woods. She accomplishes this by booming it at them with the Royal Canterlot Voice, and they run off screaming about the timberwolves.
  • Bad Dreams: Nightmares play a significant role in this episode, both literally and figuratively. We see Celestia, taking over Luna's Dream Walker role, enters Starlight Glimmer's bad dream, as well as her sister's when needing her help.
  • Batman Gambit: Whereas the Map's previous uses have involved sending two ponies who may try a few things but stumble onto the right solution for the friendship problem in time due to their respective knowledge or their Element and the help from others, this case specifically sent Starlight Glimmer to Canterlot, and required the situation to get to a point where she would use her cutie mark-manipulation magic in desperation to solve the problem (the Royal Sisters seeing the other's life from their point of view to come to their reconciliation). And this is even after Twilight Sparkle attempted to intercede as much as possible to prevent Starlight from making rash decisions.
  • Beam-O-War: Nightmare Moon and Daybreaker's exchange of beams from their horns sometimes clashes together — until Celestia interposes herself, at least, and stops both magic rays with her wings.
  • Body Horror: Luna's nightmare has her teeth falling out when she tries to explain herself to the school-fillies.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Celestia and Luna both have valid gripes about each other because neither fully comprehend the other's issues. Luna thinks Celestia is an Attention Whore who doesn't appreciate her efforts because she's too busy basking in the adulation of her subjects, when Celestia is really a Slave to PR Stepford Smiler who feels like she has to please everypony around her. Celestia thinks Luna is an Ungrateful Bitch who's too caught up in her own troubles to think of others, but Luna is just exhausted and desperately lonely from having to work completely alone to do her job that's far too big for one pony to do by themselves.
  • Call Back:
    • The time when Luna got corrupted into Nightmare Moon and Celestia had to banish her to the moon comes up a few times throughout the episode. Twilight in particular is anxious that the schism between the sisters could repeat, and those worries finally get to Starlight Glimmer too, making her have a dream where not just Luna but the two princesses turn into their evil sides.
    • When Celestia tells Luna to step into the fight between Nightmare Moon and Daybreaker, Luna says she can't, because Celestia's magic doesn't work in the realm of dreams, which was first addressed in "Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?" by Luna.
  • The Cameo: In the various dream bubbles, we see Daring Do, Pinkie Pie riding Gummy like a surf-board, Fluttershy on a giant Angel Bunny, an infant Applejack in the arms of two ponies, Princess Cadance head-banging to the sounds of DJ Flurry Heart, the Flim-Flam Bros. playing in a huge pile of golden bits, Doctor Hooves scared and trapped in a garden maze with a seemingly innocent statue, Discord playing with the Smooze, and Derpy in an regal outfit and holding the Twilight Scepter.
  • Color-Coded Wizardry: Along with switching cutie marks, Celestia and Luna's magic also swap colors, with Luna's turning bright yellow and Celestia's turning dark blue. Meanwhile, Daybreaker's magic is blood red.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • We see again the various stained-glass windows featuring past events in the palace, like Discord's reign or Spike saving the Crystal Empire.
    • The delegate ponies entertained by Celestia were first seen during the congress in "Princess Spike".
    • The Royal Canterlot Voice makes a comeback after not hearing it for 5 seasons since "Luna Eclipsed".
  • Creepy Child: The fillies in Luna's nightmare.
    That smile is too wide
    It's obviously not real...
  • Deflector Shields:
    • Celestia erects a forcefield around herself and Starlight to protect them from the literal firestorm unleashed by Daybreaker. She later leaves Starlight in the shield in order to fetch Luna.
    • Nightmare Moon also creates an opaque bubble shield to withstand Daybreaker's searing Breath Weapon.
  • Dispel Magic: Averted; Starlight cannot remove her own cutie-mark switch spell, and neither Luna or Celestia even try to with their own powers, forcing them to wait for the end of its 24-hour duration. Probably justified by the fact that magic dealing with cutie marks is extremely tricky, as Twilight stated in previous episodes, and tampering too much would be deemed too risky.
  • Double Meaning Title: The episode is called "A Royal Problem", which fits in the sense that the problem is between the Princesses, and also in the sense of it turning into a very big problem — that is, a royal problem.
  • Dream Walker: Following the cutie marks switch, Celestia receives Luna's powers and duty to fend off nightmares from her subjects by entering their dreams. Unlike Luna, though, she lacks experience on how to deal with this and is soon calling for her sister's help.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: In the various dream bubbles, one shows a infant Applejack being held by two ponies, likely her parents, foreshadowing the future episode "The Perfect Pear".
  • Emerging from the Shadows: Daybreaker appears at first completely obscured by shadows, so that only the dark silhouette of an alicorn (with no mane or tail) can be seen. This increases the impact of the Wham Shot when she lights up her Flaming Hair and reveals herself as Celestia's Evil Twin.
  • Evil Is Burning Hot: Daybreaker is an evil version of Celestia with Flaming Hair, tail included.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Much like Nightmare Moon, Daybreaker wholeheartedly embraces Chewing the Scenery and over-the-top showboating during her appearance.
  • Evil Laugh: Both Daybreaker and Nightmare Moon get great ones in Starlight's dream. Daybreaker laughs evilly so much that she might count as The Hyena.
  • Evil Me Scares Me: Celestia is terrified by her Daybreaker side, only able to say "I'll never turn into you!" to her.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Nightmare Moon and Daybreaker, Luna and Celestia's Superpowered Evil Sides, have a fight in Starlight's dreamscape.
  • Exhausted Eye Bags:
    • Luna, throughout the episode, due to her coming off her night shift as each day begins, and as late putting her in a real cranky mood.
    • Celestia has them as well by the time she ends Starlight Glimmer's nightmare.
  • Face Palm: Starlight double-facehooves in response to Twilight freaking out because she's switched the Princesses' cutie marks.
  • Feud Episode: Between Celestia and Luna, when they neither comprehend the other's issues.
  • Flat "What.": When Starlight says she couldn't switch Celestia and Luna's cutie marks back even if she wanted and still thinks it was the right decision, Celestia says a small and angry "What?"
  • Food Porn: Celestia's pancake breakfasts look absolutely delicious. Or, as Starlight put it, almost too beautiful to eat them. (Luna's pancakes... not so much.)
  • Foreshadowing: When Starlight gets Princesses Celestia and Luna to talk about their feelings, their voices approach those of Daybreaker and Nightmare Moon in Starlight's nightmare.
  • From Bad to Worse: Starlight's nightmare very quickly increases in how bad it is. It starts with her being tormented by images of Celestia's pancakes and Luna's lavender, increases to the appearance of Nightmare Moon, and not even a minute later escalates to Daybreaker's arrival.
  • Fun Size: Twilight magically appears as a tiny music box ballerina to communicate with Starlight Glimmer. Later, Starlight dreams of them switching spots, ending as the ballerina.
  • Furry Reminder: Both Luna and Celestia snort like horses to express their annoyance at Starlight switching their cutie marks.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Nightmare Moon vs. Daybreaker, with Nicole Oliver and Tabitha St. Germain devouring as much scenery as possible.
  • Head Desk:
    • Starlight bangs her head in frustration against the desk supporting "Ballerina Twilight", making the music box jump.
    • Luna later slams her face against the diner table after realizing that doing Celestia's job isn't that easy.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.:
    • At the start, with Twilight having no words at the fact the cutie map called someone else other than the Mane Six, and more specifically Starlight Glimmer.
    • Starlight near the end, courtesy of her My God, What Have I Done? taken Up to Eleven in the forms of Nightmare Moon and Daybreaker, breaks down crying in her dream.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Celestia is apparently a damn good baker, making stacks of pancakes with ease, and putting fruit smiley faces on them.
    • Luna apparently has skills in gardening and aromatherapy, placing lavender around the palace to help ponies have sweet dreams at night.
    • Each of the royal sisters discovers that the other has several skills to help get through their schedule:
      • Luna discovers that Celestia needs excellent diplomacy skills and strong cheek muscles to handle all her daily events. It's not all just smiling and waving like she expected.
      • Celestia, meanwhile, discovers that Luna needs to understand dream psychology to help ponies with their nightmares, right after getting in over her head in Starlight's dream almost immediately. She has to pull Luna from her own nightmare and into Starlight's dream due to how lost she is about what is happening.
  • Idiosyncratic Wipes: The montage of Luna's public appearances in the day uses Celestia's sun cutie mark (now sported by Luna) as wipe for the scene transitions.
  • Incoming Ham: Daybreaker sure knows how to make an entrance that leaves a lasting impression, even stealing Nightmare Moon's thunder in the process.
    Celestia: I know how to handle Nightmare Moon!
    Daybreaker: Yes! But can you handle... [flaming mane lights up, dispelling the shadows] ...ME! [evil laugh]
  • Inelegant Blubbering: While cleaner than most examples, Starlight sniffles, chokes, and is occasionally indecipherable in her berating herself when she breaks down in the nightmare.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Twilight's panicking and building up the urgency of solving Celestia and Luna's feud inadvertently adds fire to Starlight's desperation and guilt in the episode.
  • Irony: Twilight Sparkle also switched her friend's cutie marks, although this was by accident. Starlight Glimmer switched Celestia and Luna's cutie marks on purpose.
  • I've Never Seen Anything Like This Before: As a dream walker, Princess Luna has seen a lot of nightmares, but nothing like Nightmare Moon fighting Daybreaker.
  • Jaw Drop: Twilight starts out the episode with her jaw hanging open from seeing Starlight's cutie mark floating above the map. Spike does the honor of closing her mouth for her.
  • Just Smile and Nod: Luna thinks all Celestia's duties amount to are "smiling and basking in affection". She soon finds out that smiling nonstop is much harder than she thought and stopping at the wrong time has unintended consequences.
  • Lame Excuse: With the situation resolved, Twilight lies that she had to come by to drop off Starlight's toothbrush. The toothbrush in question is clearly Spike's.
  • Lethal Chef: As a contrast to Celestia, Luna's baking skills are awful. Celestia only admits as much when Luna tells her it's okay to be honest.
  • Long List: The to-do list for Celestia's day, that Luna has to go through, is as long as the huge diner table used by the princesses. When Starlight unfolds it from one end, it ends up on Luna's head on the other.
  • Loud Gulp: After switching Princesses Luna and Celestia's cutie marks, Starlight Glimmer says "There! Now you'll know exactly what it's like to... be each other." Followed by a loud, pained gulp.
  • Motor Mouth: At the end, Twilight is so overexcited that Starlight succeeded in her first friendship mission, she talks extremely fast to her pupil, before literally dragging her away to make a report.
    Twilight Sparkle: So this is just a friendly visit not of course because I was worried I wasn't but I knew you could do it and I'm so so so so proud of you TELL ME EVERYTHING starting from after I hyperventilated and don't leave out any details!
  • My God, What Have I Done?: When Starlight's doubts about using a spell to switch the royal sisters' cutie marks without their permission get the better of her and it starts to seem like it might have been a bad judgement call, it becomes the source of her nightmares. In the end, the sisters manage to resolve their issues together and thank Starlight for doing the spell, but Starlight herself does acknowledge that things could have also become much worse because of her actions.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Nightmare Moon and Daybreaker.
  • Not a Morning Person: Luna, in this case since she's been up all night and is tired, and thus indifferent to Celestia's breakfast. One morning, she takes a bite out of a whole pineapple (rind and all); the next, she peels a banana, then eats the peel and drops the fruit.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Starlight panics when her plan to have the royal sisters talk to each other and apologize for neglecting one another only makes the two openly argue over who has the harder duties. She ends it by casting a spell to swap their cutie marks for 24 hours.
    • We then cut to Twilight freaking out and hyperventilating.
  • Orphaned Punchline: From one of the delegates strolling with Celestia.
    Dignitary Pony: And so, then I said, "Touring? More like 'boring'!"
  • Or Was it a Dream?: When Starlight sees the princesses being friendly with each other the next morning, she questions whether last night's nightmare sequence was real or if she's having a dream right now. Celestia confirms that it was real.
  • Playing with Fire: Daybreaker's magic manifests itself as gigantic spouts of fire from The Power of the Sun, even able to breathe fire. When Daybreaker sits on the royal throne, the hallway lines with fire columns.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Celestia and Luna are so engrossed in their royal duties 24/7 that it seems like they rarely have any moments to spend quality time together such as talking about the interesting things and occasional problems that crop up every now and then in their personal lives which explains why they're so eager to blame the other for having things easier than they do.
  • Real Dreams Are Weirder: Mostly averted, but Luna's dream features one of the common hallmarks of real-life weird dreams: her own teeth falling out. In this case, even that bears significance, as it represents her failure to smile from earlier in the day.
  • Remote Body: Twilight uses a spell to possess a ballerina music box in Starlight's room to remotely monitor her progress. She offers to teach it to her.
  • Series Continuity Error: Luna's cutie mark transferred to Celestia includes the black patches that "Twilight's Kingdom" shows were part of Luna's natural coloration as opposed to part of the mark. However, without the black background to contrast it, the moon would blend right in with Celestia's white coat.
  • Shout-Out: The statue seen in Doctor Hooves's dream is, judging by his reaction, supposed to be a Weeping Angel.
  • Shown Their Work: Ballerina Twilight is depicted wearing a perfectly ordinary unitard, tutu, and pointe shoes laced up over the ankles, and her mane is in a Prim and Proper Bun, making her much less fancy than the typical music box ballerina, but more like an actual ballerina.
  • Shutting Up Now: After quipping that the princesses have no other choice but to go through her Swapped Roles plan, Celestia and Luna snort in annoyance, to which Starlight meekly says "I'm gonna stop talking now."
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Complementing their different roles as Princesses of Equestria, Celestia is more adept at dealing with real-world issues, while Luna is better at tending to ponies' psyches. When they're forced to swap roles, they barely manage to cope using their own skill sets.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Celestia already is this, but the implications of Daybreaker being what happened if Celestia didn't hold back pushes this Up to Eleven. Potentially deconstructed as Celestia's silk is at least partly Stepford Smiler tendencies and willfully holding back the steel.
  • Speak of the Devil: Once the problem is resolved, Starlight muses on how she'll have to explain all this to Twilight. Cue Twilight teleporting right in front of them.
  • Stalker Without a Crush: Twilight Sparkle is really invested in making sure Starlight doesn't screw up her mission to Canterlot, and through most of the episode, possesses a music box figurine to learn what's going on from Starlight. And when Starlight is done and the sisters have reconciled, she immediately teleports in to get all the details, under the pretext that she was just bringing Starlight's toothbrush (which looks more like it belongs to Spike).
  • Super-Powered Evil Side: As Luna has Nightmare Moon, Celestia has Daybreaker, which is Celestia using all of her power without caring who gets hurt, and arrogantly believing herself to not need anyone's help.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial:
    • Upon being told she has to dispel rumors about timberwolves, Luna simply says there are no timberwolves in the Royal Canterlot Voice. This gets the ponies running out shouting that there definitely are timberwolves.
    • At the end, when Twilight pops up in Canterlot, she immediately and vehemently insists she wasn't worried about Starlight. Cue disbelieving looks from both Celestia and Luna.
  • Swapped Roles: Magically invoked when Starlight switches Celestia and Luna's cutie marks, forcing each sister to take over the other's duties for a day.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • Using a spell to swap the cutie marks of the two alicorn Sisters who also happen to be the ruling regents of Equestria? What can possibly go wrong? As Starlight's nightmare shows, quite a lot.
    • Celestia sees Luna's relatively small list and thinks it should be easy. One nightmare proves to be too much for her without some guidance from Luna.
  • Thinking Out Loud: Celestia, when under the influence of Luna's cutie mark, and all alone, starts talking to herself a bit while planning how to accomplish Luna's duties. At the end of the episode, Luna admits to talking to herself a bit as well.
  • This Is Something She's Got to Do Herself: As anxious as she is, Twilight admits the Map called Starlight alone for the mission, and therefore she shouldn't interfere at all.
    • A way out of her depth Celestia attempts to recruit Luna to deal with Starlight's nightmare, only for Luna to point out that with their magic reversed she is powerless within the dream realm and it is Celestia alone who can stop it.
  • Time Passes Montage: A notable aversion — when Luna and Starlight walk into the town hall where two ponies are bickering, the doors seem to close behind them only for a few seconds before opening again. However, the mayors' dialogue indicates that, despite almost no hint of fast-forward (the lavender wilts a bit), it took three hours to settle their differences.
  • The Tooth Hurts: During Luna's nightmare, her teeth fall out of her mouth as she speaks, a representation of her being unable to hold a smile when she needed to.
  • The Unfettered: What Daybreaker is in comparison to Celestia. Whereas Celestia consistently keeps her magic in check, Daybreaker goes all-out, not caring who she hurts.
  • The Unsmile: Luna has to keep up a cheerful demeanor all day, to the point her smiles become incredibly forced.
  • Voice of the Legion:
    • Daybreaker has Celestia's normal voice with a deeper reverb added in, giving this effect.
    • Luna uses the Royal Canterlot Voice when trying to reassure the ponies that the supposed timber wolf problem is under control.
  • Wham Shot:
    • The episode itself opens with quite the stunning shot — Starlight Glimmer's cutie mark floating above the Friendship Map, meaning she's called for a friendship problem instead of one of the Mane Six. It counts in-universe too, as Twilight is just struck speechless from the realization.
    • The shot of Starlight exchanging Luna and Celestia's cutie marks. Those are the alicorns controlling the moon and sun above Equestria, respectively — if there are two ponies whose powers you really shouldn't toy with, it's them!
    • Nightmare Moon showing up in Starlight Glimmer's dream is shocking but not unexpected. However, Celestia is then suddenly confronted with Daybreaker, her own evil side, and all hell breaks loose.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Starlight tries to convince everyone (including herself) that switching the princesses' cutie marks on a whim was the right call in making them reconcile. The other involved parties don't exactly agree with her, but decide to play along since they have no other option. It really falls apart when Starlight herself begins to think her actions might have actually driven them even further apart and she has a nightmare about the worst-case scenario.
    Twilight Sparkle: You switched their cutie marks?! The actual princesses' cutie marks?!
    Starlight Glimmer: [sigh; double-facehoof] I thought we moved past this. It was the right call! I hope.
    Twilight Sparkle: [hyperventilating]
    Guard: Are you okay in there?
    Starlight Glimmer: I-I'm good! Just, uh... reading an exciting book! [towards Twilight] He's gonna think I'm nuts!
    Twilight Sparkle: He's not the only one.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: When Starlight changes Celestia's and Luna's cutie marks, they immediately make their anger known, but begrudgingly agree to Starlight's idea of handling the other princess's duties for a day and a night. Twilight also calls her out later in her room. In the end, the princesses manage to solve the issues between them and they end up thanking Starlight, although she herself admits she did come dangerously close to messing everything up.
  • Willfully Weak: Daybreaker implies that Celestia is constantly holding back her true power out of fear of hurting others.
  • Wingding Eyes: In Starlight's dream, she's confronted by a giant Twilight whose eyes are suddenly filled up by Luna's and Celestia's cutie marks.
  • You All Look Familiar: Luna's nightmare has her surrounded by seventeen creepy foals, with only four unique character models. A rare justified example as Luna is dreaming, recalling the four foals she met at the schoolhouse earlier while her mind expands them into a crowd.

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