I’ve written before about Twilight’s status as a princess, and how it was under-utilized for most of Season 4:
…[I]n most episodes that weren’t specifically about her princesshood, there wasn’t much acknowledgement that anything had changed, beyond her new wings. This made her ascension feel cheapened — almost as though the world forgot she was a princess when the subject wasn’t a central point of the narrative.
But I also noted that this seemed to improve toward the end of the season, with Princess Purplesmart being far more present in “Trade Ya!” and “Inspiration Manifestation.” Then the S4 finale acknowledged in-universe that, for all the fanfare of her ascension, not much had changed. So heading into Season 5, I was cautiously optimistic that HRH Bookhorse would have the impact she deserved. How did that work out?
Wow. Twilight-as-princess is everywhere in Season 5. Of the 26 episodes, 14 of them use her status somewhere:
The Cutie Map, Part 1
The Cutie Map, Part 2
Castle Sweet Castle
Make New Friends but Keep Discord
The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone
Made in Manehattan
What about Discord?
The Hooffields and the McColts
The Cutie Re-Mark, Part 1
The Cutie Re-Mark, Part 2
That’s 54%. Compare that with Season 4, in which just 7 of the episodes acknowledged her royalty — and 4 of those were the season premieres and finales.
If you had told me before S5 aired that all those episodes would feature Twilight-as-Princess, I’d have a very different concern; perhaps the writers were emphasizing Twilight too much, and losing the strength of the ensemble cast.
And yet, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Twilight’s new(-ish) royal status certainly feels a lot more present, and it’s very satisfying to see her doing her thing. Yet Twilight didn’t really overshadow the other Mane 6 in Season 5. Why?
Here’s why; I said that there are 14 episodes that involve her as a princess. But how many of those are “Twilight episodes” in the sense of “Twilight is the main character”?
Four. Count them, four: “Amending Fences”, “What about Discord?”, and “The Cutie Re-Mark”, parts 1 and 2. In all the others, she’s either part of the ensemble cast, or she’s a secondary character.
And while I can’t believe I’m about to say this, this is an instance in which less Bookhorse is actually great. Her status is creating tons of new stories and conflict — for the other characters.
When writing about Season 4, I phrased the problem this way: (almost) the only episodes in which we saw Twilight being a princess were episodes about her being a princess. The rest of the time, the universe just forgot it was a thing. In Season 5, by contrast, only a few episodes are about her royal status — but her status affects more than half the episodes in the season.
As just one example, let’s consider “Canterlot Boutique”.
Rarity and Sassy Saddles butt heads over
The Reign in Stain The Princess Dress — a design that wouldn’t exist if not for Princess Twilight, and whose celebrity status drives its popularity, bringing the conflict to a head. Twilight is a source of the conflict, but she’s not the focus of it. Like a good secondary character, she does what the story needs her to do, and then gets out of the way.
“Party Pooped” is another great example. Here Twilight is more of an ensemble cast member than a secondary character. But once again, her status provides the foundation for the central conflict; she’s now expected to keep the Yak delegation happy, and needs help from all the others to do so (get your mind out of the gutter). That conflict provides screen time for all of the Mane Six (Pinkie Pie foremost among them).
At a GenCon several years ago, I attended on a gamemastering seminar on improvisation. One of the panelists (whose name, I regret, I’ve forgotten) said something that’s stuck with me:
Other characters can be more important than the main characters to the world, but they can’t be more important to the story.
That’s one of those facts that seems obvious when explicitly stated, but is really easy to forget; the world of the story and the story are two separate entities. In this instance, just because a character (Twilight) is more important to the world than the other characters, she’s not necessarily more important to the story.
So, despite some fears to the contrary, the series can feature Twilight’s royalty while still retaining the strength of its ensemble cast. So far as Equestria is concerned, she’s by far the most important of the Mane Six. But the storyline of FiM is remarkably more egalitarian, treating the Mane Six with equal importance.
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