“We have met the enemy, and she is us”: why Starlight Glimmer is FiM’s most intriguing villain yet

After the Season 4 finale, I had a lot on my mind (as you might recall).  But I had one concern that I haven’t discussed on this blog:

“How are they going to top this?”

The fight with Tirek was great, but it’s certainly not something I want to see every season.  Would they keep introducing bigger and more powerful villains?  That way lies Dragonball Z — and while I cherish my memories of that show as much as any twentysomething male, it is one of the few shows that has made the destruction of a planet seem boring.

That’s certainly not something we should want for FiM.  So how would they introduce a new villain for Season 5 without creating a letdown?

I should have known they wouldn’t disappoint us.

AllegoryStarlight Glimmer is unique among FiM‘s major villains in that she’s just a “normal” unicorn.  After a hate-twisted demigoddess, a trickster-god, a love-devouring hive-mother, an omnipresent miasma of despair, and a giant magic-eating centaur, that might seem underwhelming.

But what makes Starlight threatening isn’t her raw power; it’s her ideas, and her ability to convince others of those ideas.

The closest we’ve had to Starlight is (EqG1) Sunset Shimmer, and Starlight might seem like a re-hash of Sunset.  But though each is a counterpart to Twilight, the two characters are fundamentally different.

Sunset was a distortion of Twilight; superficially, their roles seemed similar (they were both leaders), but they actually had very little in common.  Sunset bullied others into following her, while Twilight inspired them and led by example.  Sunset wanted to be in charge for the sake of her own ego, while Twilight (reluctantly) took charge for the sake of others, hoping to achieve what was best for them.  Twilight accepted power as a means to an end, while for Sunset, power was the end-goal.

Or, as the movie itself put it: “A true princess does not force others to bow before her; she inspires others to stand with her.”  And that seems like a pretty good metric.

But then we get to “The Cutie Map” and we hit a problem; by that definition, Starlight Glimmer is a true princess — at least at first glance.  She leads by (false) example and inspiration.  She (apparently) wants to lead for the sake of others.  She wants power as a means to a greater (bad) end.  And she doesn’t (initially) force anyone to bow before her; she inspires her followers to stand with her.

Granted, this distinction breaks down at the halfway mark, when it becomes evident that much of her influence has been gained not by inspiration, but by brainwashing.  But the line between “brainwashing” and “convincing” is often blurry, especially to an outsider.  Where Sunny’s vile nature was evident from square one, Starlight takes awhile to show her true colors — and by the time she does, it’s too late.

Even more intriguing, Starlight might actually believe that she’s doing the right thing.  The fact that she keeps her Cutie Mark may suggest that she’s only in it for the power.  But if her magic is necessary for the Equalizing process, she is justified in keeping it — or at least, she can convince herself that she is.

Where Sunset was a distortion of Twilight, Starlight (somewhat ironically) is a mirror-image.  She replicates all of Twilight’s best qualities — her magical skill, her intellect, and even her ability to inspire others.  She just uses those abilities for bad ends.

And honestly, that makes her kind of scary.  Chaos-gods, hateful alicorns, and sadistic miasmas might be intimidating, but at least the monster is clearly identifiable.  You can see it, you can understand it, and you can fight it.

But what do we do when the monsters look like heroes?  What we do when they look like us?

Actually yeah, it kinda does.

Actually yeah, it kinda does.

That’s a more difficult question, and it’s a lot more relevant to real life — just look at the horrific acts committed by people who thought their leader would finally fix everything.

Even more threatening is Starlight’s ability to win others to her philosophy.  And in this, she joins some of the most effective villains of our culture.  The Joker, Emperor Palpatine, Iago (no, the first Iago), Gaston, Sauron even Old Scratch himself — all these characters have various strengths, but their real power is their ability to corrupt; to turn our friends and allies against us; to turn a group of concerned citizens into a bloodthirsty mob.

That’s something Twilight & Co. haven’t really faced before.  The closest thing we’ve seen is probably the Flim-Flam Brothers, but Flim and Flam were charlatans — they could swindle people out of their money or even their livelihoods, but they couldn’t convince them to renounce their very identities.  Starlight Glimmer can — which means she nullifies one of Twilight’s greatest strengths.

For every previous villain, when Twilight’s magical ability failed her, she could rely upon others.  When she couldn’t beat Nightmare Moon, she could rely upon the ReMane Five to help her.  When the Mane Six couldn’t defeat Chrysalis, Cadance and Shining Armor took point.  When she couldn’t escape Sombra’s trap, Spike stepped up and bailed her out.  “My magic may have failed me,” went her mantra, “but I still have my friends to stand by me.”

But when she says that to Starlight, Starlight looks right back at her, smirks, and says “so do I.”  She doesn’t need to be convinced to rely upon others — her ability and willingness to use other people is precisely what makes her so dangerous.  Starlight, uniquely, can fight Twilight on her own terms — and that could create some fantastic conflict.

"I have met the enemy, and she is me."

“I have met the enemy, and she is me.”

From a narrative standpoint, Starlight also circumvents the trap of Rainbow Power.  Tommy Oliver generally praised the Season 4 finale, but expressed concern that the Rainbow Power had replaced the Elements of Harmony as a “get-out-of-conflict-free card” (as he aptly put it).

But Starlight negates that ability as well.  In contrast to the corruption we saw from Nightmare Moon, Discord, or the Dazzlings, Starlight’s corruption — despite her impressive magical ability — is entirely mundane.  Yes, she uses her magic to remove the Cutie Marks of other ponies, but she convinces them to do so through non-magical charisma, inspiration, (twisted) reason, and (when all else fails) brainwashing.  And you can’t beat bad ideas out of people, so Rainbow Power is removed from the equation.

Villains don’t necessarily need raw power to be threatening; some of the most effective antagonists are the ones who can make villains out of heroes.  And now, one such villain has joined FiM‘s Rogues Gallery.

I’m stoked to see what kind of messes she’ll make.

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4 Responses to “We have met the enemy, and she is us”: why Starlight Glimmer is FiM’s most intriguing villain yet

  1. Patrick says:

    Starlight is a typical example of how some of the worst leaders rose to power. Stalin, Hitler, Castro, Peron, Mao, and others all rose to power by manipulation and persuasion.

    A lot of people likened the premiere to Orwell’s “1984”, but there was another book I thought of: “Animal Farm”. It mainly crossed my mind when it was revealed that Starlight’s cutie mark still remained. It’s been a while since I last read or saw “Animal Farm”, but if I remember right, Snowball the pig convinced all the other animals they were live as equals among each other, but he gained more power and more control. At first there were several laws, but soon only one law became absolute: “All Animals Are Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Others”. This indicated the only equality all the animals on the farm had were they were all animals, not humans, and they lived on a farm. That was where the equality ended. The pigs were the higher race, and deserved more than the chickens or the sheep or the horses.

    Starlight seemed to have the same ideology. She also had the same ideology of Hitler, Stalin, Peron, and other despots (depends on who you talk to). She, like they, were once at the bottom of the food chain, but in order to rise to power, you must knock everyone else down a few pegs. I imagine she was jealous that some ponies displayed their talents a lot quicker than she did, and that she still had a lot of learning to do when it came to her talent. She knew she had to learn magic, but apparently she wasn’t learning as fast as any of the other ponies. So, she had to bring them down a few pegs by making them equals and not wanting to expand on their talents, while she expanded on hers.

  2. Andy says:

    All that and no mention of Amon from LoK? Starlight is Amon, Thats not a bad thing because Amon was awesome. She even was exposed as a fraud in a very similar way.

  3. SkullKrusher says:

    When I saw this it reminded me of what death said on the show supernatural. “Souls are the most valuable thing in the universe.” Which in turn made me think. What really is a pony’s cutie mark? To answer this, we must ask. What is your soul? It’s who you are. What is a cutie mark? It’s who you are. Need I say more? In conclusion we must ask the real question. Why was starlight glimmer collecting cutie marks (souls)? And let’s not forget, she also states that she planned on doing this all over equestria.

  4. Yecowa says:

    Starlight Glimmer creeps the hell out of, it was NO FUN AT ALL (though some “Pinkie” moments were awsome) to watch first two episodes, it was scary and feels so WRONG, i can’t remember last time when i was so scared, even Amon from Legen of Korra dont looks so vile as that Twilight Sparkle Reverse Clone.

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