Episode [2.20] – “It’s About Time”
This week, on My Little Pony…
“Is there some sort of epic pony war in the distant future or something?”
“Actually, I’m from next Tuesday morning…”
Sheesh, Spike sure has it bad for Rares. Okay, now that that’s out of the way… oh, and Twilight has it bad for scheduling. Oookay, back to sleep. Let’s try this one again.
While enraptured in a fit of uberscheduling, Twilight finds herself visited by her future self who has come bearing warnings (and a nasty scar) of some terrible disaster that is going to happen next Tuesday. Before Future Twilight is able to relay said warning to Present Twilight, however, PT’s careless curiosity fritters away the few precious moments FT has, ultimately rendering the time traveling warning nearly worthless. All Twilight knows is that next Tuesday she’s going to look a whole lot like Solid Snake, and as cool as that would be, the possibility of it being the result of a cataclysmic war drives her to run outside (and literally into Fluttershy) to warn the town of the impending doom.
Gotta hand it to Twilight, though, she still does have quite the knack for getting ponies to do her bidding, even when it’s to attempt to avert a completely unspecified and nonspecific disaster based on fifteen seconds of blind-faith explanation. Heck, all the work put into fixing critical infrastructure like the dam and bridges and such (even if Pinkie was loosening the nuts… unless it’s “lefty-tighty righty-loosey” in Equestria) was totally worth the trouble, impending crisis or not. I mean, we wouldn’t want the Mare Do Well to come back and save the town from an exploding dam again, now would we? (Well, maybe Dashie wouldn’t, anyway.)
But wait, it’s not an exploding dam or an empty water tower or a dirty sidewalk that’s going to destroy the town… it’s Cerberus, escaped from the gates of Tartarus to rain destruction down on Ponyville while countless other unspeakable horrors slip from their ghastly prisons to invade Equestria!
…except, it’s not, because immediately after sending the tri-dog back to its cage, Twilight gets hit by the first “sign”: a scar on her cheek! Well, okay, she was actually hit by a belched-up scroll from Celestia that caused a paper cut, but still..! If Cerberus wasn’t the disaster, then what could it possibly be? Best to not find out… by doing nothing at all until next Tuesday! Spike the
Butt Dragon, ever the faithful assistant, takes this golden opportunity to snarf an entire tub of ice cream, something he’s apparently wanted to do forever but never could under Twilight’s wrathful gaze. Rainbow Dash doesn’t help matters much either, as when she comes in with an extended scouting report, she joins Spike in messing with Twilight… until an accident causes half of Twilight’s mane to go up in a blast of green dragonfire, thus further transitioning her into a cold-blooded time-traveling renegade.
In an effort to actually be of help, Spike takes Twilight to consult with Madame Pinkie (spoiler alert: it’s just Pinkie) to catch a glimpse of the future. All that does is leave her with a flower pot breaking on her head… and thus the bandage. So Twilight concludes that the only way she can prevent the impending doom is to…
Of course, as everypony knows, monitoring everything puts acute strain on the eyes (staring straight into the sun doesn’t help, either), and thus Twilight earns an eyepatch and her apocalyptic transformation is nearly complete. It seems the future is going to come barreling at her no matter what, meaning the only possible option left is to stop time altogether. You know, as one does in such a situation.
What ensues is a quirky yet hugely enjoyable infiltration scene into the most heavily guarded section of the Canterlot Archives, the Starswirl the Bearded wing, to find a spell that can stop time. Neither Pinkie nor Spike seem particularly worried about the whole ordeal, though: Pinkie bounces around as usual, while Spike continues doing his best to consume every last blotch of ice cream in Ponyville. After being “captured” by one of the guards, Twilight is unexpectedly led into the Starswirl wing; what ensues is a mad dash through the archives until the break of dawn to find that elusive time-stopping spell. Despite their valiant efforts, Tuesday morning dawns: the day the world ends. Twilight braces for the inevitable impact… that doesn’t come, unless you count Princess Celestia walking by and wishing her a happy Tuesday.
Having realized that she was getting all worked up over nothing, Twilight uses a spell that Pinkie found that allows her to travel back in time to warn her past self not to stop worrying so darn much about the future. Of course, as we already know, this doesn’t do much to help matters any… and in fact, depending on how you want to interpret the inevitable temporal paradox, probably plays a part in the whole fiasco in the first place. Just as Twilight decides to stop trying to be so fixated on the future, Spike’s ice cream overindulgence finally catches up to him… or, put another way, he becomes the Future Spike to which he foolishly left the problems of binge eating. While Spike is quite a butt this episode, he does serve as a rather nice counterweight to Twilight: whereas the purple pony is fixated on the future to the exclusion of the present, the purple dragon is fixated on the present to the exclusion of the future. By the end, I think they both learned that too much focus on one point in time to the exclusion of all else is a recipe for disaster.
As someone who has always been a fan of time travel stories, this episode ranks up there for me as one of the more enjoyable of the season. From a critical standpoint it doesn’t do a whole lot of the ever-important character building that I believe is one of the hallmarks of the show, but from a personal standpoint it ticks off many of the “let’s just have a fun ol’ time with time” boxes for me, and that earns a two-hooves-up from me.
As usual, Foozogz delivers on my pick for this episode’s song: Tartarus (INFERNAL MIX). If you’ve been actually listening to these song recommendations you may find this sounds somewhat similar to suggestions I made for Putting Your Hoof Down and Lesson Zero, and you’d be right. Insanity, impending doom, and/or monstrous character alterations never sounded so good.
And because I’m a titanic nerd, I just had to get someone recording me playing the ITG version of the song at the arcade. Amazing how that video is already about two years old at the time of this writing… how time does fly when you’re watching ponies!
An actual thing that happened:
“Wait, what? Who are you?”
“I’m you from the future! You have to write this week’s review early!”
“Whoa, whoa, wait up. Why are you covered in rainbows?”
“That’s not important! You have to write the review right away! And don’t get into any arguments on Faceb-”
Time travel is super tricky. Grandfather paradoxes, predestination paradoxes, causal loops and uncaused events, it gets really complicated really quick. As long as your time travel system is internally consistent in your universe, it can work. If not, well, you’ve got decades of Star Trek to provide examples of literally every single time travel trope. What you’re looking at here is a classic consistent causal loop. Twilight gets a message from her future self, causing her to send a message to her past self. Every event inside the loop itself is stable, meaning that every effect has a cause. Similar to, let’s say, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Losing a full week of sleep to anxiety is a terrible thing. Certainly bad enough to go back in time and warn yourself about, but also bad enough that when you go back in time to warn yourself you get distracted by your past self and neglect to issue the warning and inadvertently set into motion the events leading to the lack of sleep. Whew.
My first thought was that Future Twilight looked more like Snake Plissken than Solid Snake, but the headband definitely pushes her into Metal Gear territory. Either way, you’ve got the post-apocalyptic covert agent thing going on, and that’s always fun, even when you live in a quasi-utopia where no one has covert agents and the palace guards open doors for you while you’re trying to sneak around.
Poor Twilight is going to get a handle on her obsessive and overplanning nature eventually, I hope. This is, what, the second time this season that she’s suffered for it? I really want her to take her own advice this time and just settle down. She’ll still be obsessive, of course, that’s just who she is, but it’ll be so healthy if she can rein it in. Preferably before she realizes she spent a week disaster-proofing Equestria instead of meeting with the Ponyville Hay Board. The good news, Equestria got disaster-proofed, and that’s always a good thing.
Equestria has a Tartarus and a Cerberus to guard it? That carries all kinds of implications. Hades, Titans, Greeks gods. Now I want to know if there’s a pony in charge of the afterlife. I mean, someone had to post that lost dog flyer, right?
If you find yourself looking for more time travel stories, I tend to recommend Primer. Two guys invent a device that permits limited travel backwards in time, abuse it to make money on stock market day trading, and start running into some really weird unclosed loops. It starts slow, but picks up fast once they start looping, and when it goes sideways it goes hard. There’s also Homestuck, which starts sideways and stays there for… ever. It also has a greater wordcount than War and Peace, and two hours plus of animations, so definitely don’t get into it expecting a light weekend read.
So! Now I have to zip back in time to warn Past Me to get started on last week’s review early, then have Present Me complete last week’s review, then get started on next week’s review before Future Me and Far Future Me decide to gang up on Present Me for not doing it.
If you want to be entertained (and thoroughly confused) for a good hour, try asking certain bronies to explain their theories on the time travel loop in this episode. It’s a rabbit hole that gets very silly very fast (in part because of how seriously some try to take it), and I’ve literally watched a group of fans spend over an hour arguing over this episode and whether there actually was some starting point “disaster” that sent Future Twilight back the first time to start the loop.
So now to basically do what I just poked fun at others for doing and put forward my own bit of nerdery on the time travel thing.
There are a few different models for time travel that tend to be used in fiction (the above conversation I’m referencing was framing the episode in the multiverse flavor of time travel), and a lot of them are headache-inducing when you try to work out the details and rules for exactly how everything works and makes sense. Which in part is why I tend to have an affinity for the Douglas Adams approach to time travel, which, like most things he approached, isn’t taken all that seriously and rather simplistically states that anything that involves time travel was supposed to happen that way to start with and therefore it’s impossible to actually mess anything up, because time is elastic enough that any change you think you’re making doesn’t actually affect the outcome and was probably part of what caused the original set of events to happen in the first place. This works the best in comedy, and MLP tends to fall well enough into that category, and so I kind of love that they seem to be running with that exact idea for time travel within the ponyverse (at least, for now, there are other potential time-related shenanigans down the road but they involve more complicated things at play and as of the writing of this there hasn’t been a proper explanation for what I’m referencing yet but we’ll talk more about this when certain movies come up).
Learning about the existence of Tartarus in this episode also has some really interesting implications. We don’t actually know that much about it aside from the fact that it holds dangerous and evil creatures captive. The implication would appear to be that Celestia is in charge of watching over it, as presumably the missing dog flyer regarding Cerberus comes from her, but we don’t actually know that for certain. Much like in the Greek mythology that it’s been pulled from, Cerberus appears to serve as the guard for the gates of Tartarus, presumably both to keep ponies from somehow wandering in there by accident and (probably more importantly) to keep the creatures in there from escaping. So it’s a really good thing that Twilight gets Cerberus back to its position at the gates quickly enough so nothing could escape.
…nothing escaped, right?
Outside of the world building, this is just a fun episode. Twilight is definitely at her goofiest when her neurotic tendencies get the best of her, and what better way to send her into total panic crazy mode than to feed her the belief that an apocalyptic event is about to occur and have her try desperately to figure out what it is and how she can stop it? Even better is the episode pairing her up with Pinkie for the final act. I’ve mentioned in prior episodes how much I love the two as a comedic duo, and they work perfectly together here, with Pinkie’s oblivious carefree attitude juxtaposing Twilight’s frantically serious paranoia very well. The callback to Pinkie Sense makes sense as something Twilight would seek out as an option for working out what was going on, and we get the reminder that it doesn’t quite work like that with a random flower pot falling out of nowhere, and that being the only time the sixth sense is active throughout the entire episode.
Pinkie is just great in this episode pretty much from start to finish, with her just kind of not taking any of the whole thing seriously, playing up her panic during the “disasters”, being all too happy to proclaim that she has no idea what Twilight is talking about, and just having fun with sneaking around Equestria. Also yes, she was totally loosening that bolt and that bridge is going to collapse any day now because of it.
I also kind of love how nonchalant everypony is about Twilight being around in Canterlot. Twilight herself doesn’t seem to realize the level of privilege she apparently has with having grown up in the castle as Celestia’s direct apprentice. The guards just let her into a room with spells that are likely locked up for good reason. I’d say it’s a good thing that Twilight isn’t the sort to abuse that on principle… except that she went there looking to stop time outright under the impression that she wasn’t supposed to be there, soooo…
Also it’s interesting and maybe just a touch scary that Twilight’s abilities with magic have hit the point where she can cast what are presumably extremely advanced and difficult spells (massive limitations or not, time travel is still time travel) after briefly skimming a scroll containing said spell. While not having slept for a week. Maybe Celestia should change out that lock, is all I’m saying.