Name a place that's really great!
One, two, three, four!
Keeps you coming back for more!
Two, seven, nine, three!
The place that we all wanna be!
Four, three, two, one!
The Crystal Empire, that's the one!"
Everypony is excited for the upcoming Equestria Games, but none more so than the Crystal Ponies, who are contending to host the games at the Crystal Empire. Because the Crystal Ponies are so worked up, Princess Cadance invites Twilight Sparkle and her friends to the empire to act as the welcome committee for the official games inspector, Ms. Harshwhinny. The six are determined not to let the princess down, especially Rainbow Dash, who doesn't want the Crystal Ponies to experience the same soul-crushing disappointment she felt as a filly when Cloudsdale was passed over for hosting the games. But some last-minute problems arise: Cadance's hairstylist has called in sick and won't be able to style the princess's mane into the impossibly elaborate Royal Ceremonial Headdress, which is customary for greeting important guests; even worse, Ms. Harshwhinny will be arriving in fifteen minutes!
Rarity offers to work on Cadance's headdress at the spa by herself while the others rush to the train station to greet the inspector, who they can only identify by the flower-print luggage she carries. Rainbow Dash reminds her friends that Ms. Harshwhinny is notorious for putting ponies through the wringer, so they should roll with anything she may throw at them. The five find a cheerful mare boarding off the train with a flower-print bag, who they rush to welcome as warmly as possible. This clearly must be Ms. Harshwhinny, trying to catch them off-guard with her chipper attitude! ...Or so they think as they walk away from the station, leaving a strait-laced mare with her own flower-print bag all alone and looking pretty annoyed...
After giving a spectacular introductory dance routine for "Ms. Harshwhinny", Twilight checks to see if Princess Cadance is ready to meet the "inspector". Rarity is having her own problems trying to nail down Cadance's headdress, though, so the others try to buy time by giving the "inspector" the grand tour of the Crystal Castle—or at least the best one they can give, seeing they know their way around the castle as well as their guest, who turns out to be pretty claustrophobic. Twilight goes to see if Shining Armor can help, but this doesn't seem to do much good, since the "inspector" gets so pent up from being in the castle for so long that she bursts outside and has a good charge through the empire. After finally calming down and getting to meet Prince Shining Armor, the "inspector" compliments everypony for giving an ordinary tourist like herself such a wonderful time. Suddenly it dawns on everypony: they've got the wrong pony!
The five desperately search for the real Ms. Harshwhinny, only to find her in the very last place they want her to be: the spa where Rarity is working on Cadance's headdress! Rainbow Dash thinks she's blown the empire's chances and guiltily admits their folly to the princess. Fortunately, all is not lost: Rarity has perfected Cadance's mane in time, and the tourist, who's also there, has just told Ms. Harshwhinny about the most wonderful (albeit unintended) reception she's ever had, which also turns out to be the most sincere appraisal in the history of the Equestria Games. Ms. Harshwhinny is impressed, meaning Cadance gets to proudly announce that the Crystal Empire will be hosting the Equestria Games! The six friends return home, eager to return for when the Equestria Games begin—as well as to see how well Spike's been looking after their pets while they were away, unaware that the sidekicks are all hiding in their train car...
- 13 Is Unlucky: When Twilight advises the Mane Six practice the Welcome Committee Song "one more time from the top" while on the train, AJ mentions they've already practiced it twelve times earlier. Of course, the Mane Six practice it one more time... just in time for the train to arrive at the Crystal Empire, screech to a stop and throwing all of them for a loop.
- An Aesop: It's best to give others what they always wanted but never had.
- Amazing Technicolor Population: Even among Equestrian ponies in general, the Crystal Ponies are quite notorious in this aspect.
- American Accents: The tourist the Mane Six mistake for the inspector has a noticeable southern dialect to her voice, similar to Applejack's. Justified as she mentions she's a mustang.
- Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?: Pinkie gets a little sidetracked:Twilight: We bring the Games Inspector back to the castle, put on our big welcome committee how-do-you-do and then...
Pinkie: ...Put the pudding out to thaw before you eat it or you'll crack a tooth?
Rainbow Dash: I'll just ignore that."
- Bathos: Pinkie Pie, after Rainbow Dash breaks the news of the debacle to Cadance.Pinkie Pie: (meekly) Cinnamon bun?
- Bearer of Bad News: The messenger delivers the "Bad News, Worse News" variation.
- Big "NO!":
- In a flashback, Rainbow Dash delivers one when she hears that Cloudsdale was not chosen to host the Equestria Games. It's parodied seconds later when Pinkie Pie responds to Twilight asking if they're going to let Princess Cadance down. Combined with Skyward Scream.
- Pinkie does an honest one later when they find out they've been entertaining the wrong pony... only to change it to a Big "YES!" to respond to Rainbow Dash's rhetorical "We got the wrong pony?!"
- Brick Joke: Rainbow Dash nearly traumatizes one of the Crystal Pony fillies with the thought of missing out on the Equestria Games. When the Crystal Empire is accepted, Rainbow Dash is seen hugging the same filly while hovering over the crowd.
- Broken Aesop: Ms. Harshwhinny eventually decides to host the games in the Crystal Empire, saying that every other place she visited tried to put on airs, while she got the story of how great the empire was from a normal pony. The problem is the only reason the tourist has such a glowing opinion of the empire is because she experienced all of the things that they were doing to specifically impress Ms. Harshwhinny, while Harshwhinny herself only got grief and frustration from the Crystal Empire citizens. So if the moral was meant to be "People will be more impressed by sincerity than by fake attempts to seem great", or "Sometimes it takes an honest opinion from a fellow tourist to make up for what you've missed, whether or not you'd want to see it for yourself", then it undermined its own message.
- Butt-Monkey: Ms. Harshwhinny.
- Character Development: Twilight Sparkle, who's known for her many, many panic attacks, actually remains calm and collected for the entire episode thanks to a controlled-breathing regimen Cadance shows her (albeit with diminishing returns as things get worse).
- Character Tics:
- Princess Cadance takes deep breaths to keep control whenever something goes wrong, and she encourages Twilight to do the same thing. It works wonders on Twilight's nerves.
- The tourist stretches out her legs and nervously trots in place when her claustrophobia sets in.
- Claustrophobia: The tourist turns out to have this. See Shown Their Work below.
- Continuity Nod:
- Rainbow Dash reasons the pain of losing out on hosting the Equestria Games will be the worst thing to happen to the crystal ponies since King Sombra's curse.
- When greeting each other, Twilight and Cadance do their childhood rhyme together. Again. And this time, the fate of Equestria isn't hanging in the balance.
- Pinkie's party cannon is back, this time as part of the greeting/cheerleading routine.
- When the crystal ponies hear that they get to host the games, the Crystal Heart gives another pulse of harmony.
- Deadpan Snarker: The real Ms. Harshwhinny, especially when Twilight (unknowingly) greets her for the first time as she struggles to get to the Crystal Castle.Twilight: Hello there.
Ms. Harshwhinny: Hello yourself. First "hello" of the day...
- Department of Redundancy Department: Pinkie goes into this while giving the inspector the tour of the Crystal Castle:Pinkie: So, you see this here? This, um... This is, um... a big, round room. It's known for its roundness, and bigness. And did I mention that it's round?
- Dramatic Irony:
- A somewhat unique example: everything that happens here makes it evident that Cadance's reasons for not inviting Spike (as mentioned back in "Just for Sidekicks") are more understandable and justified. Plus, considering all things, there was nothing actively preventing Spike from joining them even if he hadn't had responsibilities at home.
- Goes double for Rainbow Dash's comment at the end about how Spike had to miss out. It even makes very little sense when you realize how much hell the Mane Six (save for Rarity who focused on styling Cadance's mane) went through while mistaking a tourist for the inspector.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Shining Armor shows minor shades of this in his coaching style, possibly from his time as Captain of the Royal Guard in Canterlot.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: Ms. Harshwhinny goes through this, since no one is there to greet her or give her hospitality.
- Emergency Impersonation: With the official hairstylist being unavailable due to sickness, Rarity offers to take her place.
- Entertainingly Wrong: The Mane Six are on their guard and as warmly receptive around the games inspector as they can. The problem is, that's not the games inspector they're around; they're told to look for a pony with flower print luggage, and that's exactly who they approached.
- Everything's Sparkly with Jewelry: It is a tradition in the Crystal Empire for the ruler to entwine crystals into their mane on special occasions.
- Face Palm: Rainbow facehoofs one when Pinkie starts making funny faces at the false inspector.
- Face Plant: Happens to Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy when the train unexpectedly comes to a halt while they're rehearsing their welcoming performance while en-route to the Crystal Empire.
- Failed a Spot Check: The entire mane cast (minus otherwise-occupied Rarity), when they mistake the tourist for the games inspector, persists in attributing her enthusiasm and surprise at her personal welcome and tour to "mind games". Nopony stops to ask "Wouldn't the visiting official be expecting, and accustomed to, the royal treatment?"
- Fashion Hurts: While Rarity is working on Princess Cadance's mane, the latter's legs can be seen twitching and straining against the pain inflicted by the elaborate hairstyling.
- Foregone Conclusion: The climax of "Just for Sidekicks" where the Mane Six are ready to return home hints that the trip ends okay, even if Rainbow Dash's comment about Spike missing out makes little sense considering how much hell they went through while mistaking a tourist for the inspector.
- Foreshadowing: You can suspect that the pony they greet isn't the inspector when you notice her luggage is damaged, and that her cutie mark is a chicken and not a trophy cupnote , a laurel wreathnote , or anything else that would suggest a special talent related to something akin to the Olympics.
- For Want of a Nail: Rarity skipped a step in the instructions to prepare Cadance's headdress because she didn't think it was necessary. She ends up ruining Cadance's mane because of it and has to start all over again.
- Funny Background Event:
- Twilight and Cadance's usual dance and rhyme greeting gets relegated to this trope, both by the animators and by Rarity, who pretty much ignores the whole thing while looking around Cadance's private spa, while the rest of the Mane Six watch Twilight and Cadance.
- The real inspector gets splashed (a second time) by the fake one as she stampedes through the city.
- Gag Haircut: Rarity's first attempt at styling Princess Cadance's hair into the royal ceremonial headdress fails miserably.Twilight Sparkle: Come on, how bad could it be?
Rarity: Imagine her mane turned into a porcupine.
Twilight Sparkle: Ooh.
- Gale-Force Sound: Shining Armor when he is coaching the athletes.
- Genki Girl: The tourist is very cheerful and energetic.
- Glass Smack and Slide: Rainbow Dash is sent flying and smack flat against the slopped glass ceiling of a Crystal Empire building, before sliding down. Rarity, below, is briefly intrigued by the sound but doesn't think of looking up.
- Good Feels Good: Rainbow Dash says as much at the end. Securing the Equestria Games for the Crystal Empire feels almost as good as securing them for Cloudsdale.
- Handshake Substitute:
- Twilight and Cadance's famous not-so-Secret Handshake.
- Also, Rainbow and Fluttershy's hoof-bump.
- Innocently Insensitive: Rainbow accidentally upsets a random Crystal Empire filly.
- The Inspector Is Coming: The stakes are higher than other instances of this trope because the Crystal Empire is a Fisher Kingdom; failure could have a negative effect on the Crystal Heart.
- It turns out Ms. Harshwhinny has seen so many other Equestrian cities put on overblown welcoming performances that she's all but sick of them, so it's probably for the best the Mane Six didn't meet her first.
- Even more: The Crystal Empire gets chosen because she takes the tourist's description of the Mane Six's welcome as a sign of an honest evaluation on what she missed out on.
- One that pretty much goes both ways: toward the end, Rainbow Dash comments that Spike missed out on everything and would have had fun. Yes, he would have, if it weren't for what you all (except for Rarity who stayed at the spa to style Cadance's mane) went through while mistaking a tourist for the inspector. Furthermore, while Twilight and Applejack optimistically believe that Spike was having more fun looking after the pets, well... don't even ask.
- It's All My Fault: Rainbow Dash stops Twilight from apologizing to Princess Cadance for the inspector identity mix-up so she can do it herself, since she was the one who insisted everyone keep rolling with everything the fake inspector did. The other girls still feel pretty guilty since they also made the same mistake.
- Long List: The preparation list for the Ceremonial Headdress. It reaches nearly all the way from the spa's high domed ceiling to the floor, roughly two stories.
- Mass "Oh, Crap!":
- Everypony thinks they have several hours to prepare for the inspector's arrival. Then they're informed the inspector is arriving in fifteen minutes.
- Later, when they realize they've been attending to a random tourist instead of the inspector.
- The very last scene has Spike, the Crusaders and the pets of the Mane Six getting one when Spike's Growling Gut threatens to expose them to the Mane Six.
- Mercury's Wings: The crystal pony messenger who delivers the news about the stylist's illness and the early arrival of the games inspector wears winged shoes.
- Mistaken for Special Guest: The Mane Cast mistake a regular tourist for the Equestria Games inspector because of her flower-patterned suitcase, which is the only detail they had to identify her.
- My Greatest Second Chance: Rainbow Dash is haunted by Cloudsdale missing its chance when she was a filly so she is more determined than anyone to make sure the Crystal Empire doesn't miss its own chance.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Ms. Harshwhinny.
- Nice Guy: The fake inspector, apart from her claustrophobia and mild irritation when she first meets the welcome committee, is among the cheeriest ponies they could ever hope to meet. Rainbow Dash thinks it's all just a front to test them.
- No Name Given: The tourist who gets mistaken for Ms. Harshwhinny. She is credited as "Games Inspector", which of course she isn't, but there's also a credit for "Ms. Harshwhinny," who is probably the real one. Some sources call her Ms. Peachbottom. note
- Non-Indicative Name: The Crystal Empire is actually just a city and part of Equestria.
- Noodle Implements: One of the tools Rarity uses to try and create Cadance's headdress is a power drill.
- Off-Model: When the train stops at the Crystal Empire, Fluttershy is briefly seen with Twilight's cutie mark. During the cheer sequence, this also applies to Pinkie.
- Once More, with Clarity!: Twilight Sparkle's line about Spike doing an excellent job as a leader if he keeps calm is repeated, but it makes a lot more sense after the events of this episode, as that's exactly what Twilight learned to do here.
- Poor Communication Kills: If anyone had even thought to attempt a formal introduction (which usually includes everyone giving their name), or if the tourist had mentioned that she had claustrophobia, the whole plot could have been avoided.
- P.O.V. Sequel: To "Just for Sidekicks" as told through the Mane Six's perspective.
- Punny Name: Ms. Harshwhinny, the Games Inspector, is (ahem) harsh and a horse.
- Quizzical Tilt: The tourist gives one once Twilight asks her if she really is Ms. Harshwhinny.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Ms. Harshwhinny, despite her name, everything we hear about her, and everything that does and does not happen to her, is revealed to be actually quite nice at the end of the episode.
- Roadside Wave: Happens to Ms. Harshwhinny, twice.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Shining Armor, now a prince by marriage, is not just one of the Crystal Empire's main defenders but also their sports team's trainer.
- Running Gag:
- As usual, Twilight and Cadance greet each other with a dance and rhyme.
- Twilight takes a deep breath each time something does not go according to plan. She eventually hyperventilates when she finds out they were greeting the wrong pony.
- An accident causes Rainbow Dash to crash into another building. Except this time, she doesn't smash right through it.
- Sanity Slippage: Avoided, thanks to Cadance teaching Twilight a breathing trick. It stops working as well as things drag on, but at least it keeps her sane.
- Schizo Tech: Rarity uses a battery-powered drill. Whether it uses magic or electricity is left completely unanswered.
- Secret Test of Character: Subverted; Rainbow Dash thinks the fake inspector's cheery demeanor is a front meant to psyche them out.
- Sequel Hook: A season four episode about the Equestria Games themselves seemed inevitable at the time the episode was originally aired, especially in light of Twilight and Rainbow's conversation about coming back to watch the Games. Show writer Meghan McCarthy later hinted in a tweet that there would be an episode focusing on the Games at some point during the fourth season. As it turns out, there were three sequels - "Flight to the Finish" and "Rainbow Falls" both dealing with preparations for the Games, and "Equestria Games", when the Games were actually held.
- Series Continuity Error: Despite apparently taking place at the same time as "Just for Sidekicks", there are some inconsistencies. At the end of "Just for Sidekicks", the ponies line up to board the train at the end as Twilight Sparkle-Applejack-Pinkie Pie-Rainbow Dash-Rarity-Fluttershy. When the same scene is shown at the end of this episode, Twilight and Pinkie have inexplicably switched places.
- Serious Business: Both Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash treat the welcoming of the inspector very seriously both as a favor to Princess Cadance and the Crystal Empire and, in Rainbow Dash's case, to not have the Crystal Empire suffer the same disappointment she felt when she was a filly. Hosting the games is a huge honor for any city, so there is no reason not to treat the matter seriously. Plus, the fate of all of Equestria kinda depends on the Crystal Ponies' self-esteem, as "The Crystal Empire" demonstrates.
- The plot is a variation on Gogol's comedy of errors, The Inspector General.
- To Eric Berne's 1964 social psychology bestseller Games People Play, and/or to Joe South's 1969 hit song of the same title, inspired by said book.
- Pinkie Pie's use of the "Boinky, boinky, boinky" gag hails straight off of The Warner Siblings. Next thing you'll know, she'll be yelling out "HELLOOOOOOOO NURSE!"
- The Crystal Empire welcoming the wrong pony as the Inspector is very similar to Nikolai Gogol's play The Inspector General, in which a small provincial town hears that a government inspector is coming, but welcomes the wrong man, who plays along with the town's mistake.
- Shown Their Work:
- The tourist claims she is from Mustangia; a Mustang is a breed of feral horse commonly known for being free-roaming and often claustrophobic by nature as she is.
- Cities really do go to absurd lengths to woo Olympics inspectors. Studio B, the animation studio in which Friendship Is Magic is produced, is based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, and around the same time, the first season of FiM was in the process of being animated there. The writers would be all too familiar with the lengths such cities can go.
- Stealth Pun:
- To something that happened in the real world. As stated multiple times already, Vancouver, the location of Studio B, hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. The motto of this year's games was "With Glowing Hearts". Well, look at the glowing Crystal Heart and Crystal Ponies◊.
- The tradition of weaving crystals into the royal headdress is superficially similar to threading beads in the hair, which goes through phases of popularity among the show's target demographic. The most commonly used beads are usually called "pony beads".
- Stock Episode Titles: This episode is based on one: "Games People Play".
- Stock Scream: Two Crystal Ponies scream a Wilhelm simultaneously when the tourist Ms. Harshwinny crashes into them.
- Stronger Than They Look: The tourist is clearly a better athlete than anyone the Crystal Empire is preparing to send to the games, by far. When she is panicked and running, she at one point ends up on the racetrack, and easily blows past the other runners before blowing straight through the hurdles and the exit. Rainbow Dash has to catch up with her to remove the vase on her head, and (though it may have something to do with being thrown against a wall when it finally popped loose) was completely exhausted by the chase even though the tourist is perfectly happy and saying that a good run always makes her feel better. She may have proven not to be the one to decide if the games will be held in the Crystal Empire, but if they signed her up, she could surely make sure a gold medal did end up there. On top of that, she once makes a reference to "these old bones". When she was young, how strong must she have been?
- Strong Family Resemblance: Rainbow-colored manes run in Rainbow Dash's family, if the flashback of filly Dash with her dad is anything to go by.
- Synchronous Episodes: With "Just for Sidekicks".
- There Was a Door: When the tourist has had as much being indoors as she can take and bolts, and eventually runs through the racetrack, she hops two hurdles but just busts through three more. When a jar of some sort winds up over her head and turns her panic Up to Eleven, she breaks through a door.
- Too Fast to Stop:
- When having a panic attack, the tourist runs so fast that nothing can stop her; even Rainbow Dash has problems chasing after her. Truth in Television, as there is very little that will stop a spooked horse other than itself.
- This also applies to Rainbow Dash after she manages to make the tourist stop running; the pegasus is flying so fast at that moment she can't stop herself, and crashes against the closest building.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Or Messenger in this case — Rainbow Dash chews out Princess Cadance's messenger for telling everypony the more pressing issue of Ms. Harshwhinny's early arrival after telling them Cadance's mane stylist has the flu.