I had three options when making this list. Option 1: Do what the show did with Season 3, and cut this list in half to a Top 5 list. Option 2: Change nothing and keep this a Top 10 list. Or option 3: Say screw it, and cover every episode of the season, making this a Top 12 list (For simplicity's sake, I'm counting The Crystal Empire as a single entity). Based on the title of this journal, I think you can guess which option I chose. Also, just for fun, I'm going to split this list in segments, since it was kind of difficult for me to put these in an exact definitive list. You can assume that most of the episodes in a segment are nearly interchangeable.
Segment 1: Heavily Flawed, but Enjoyable
12: Games Ponies Play
This should tell you how good this season was. This was the worst episode of the season, and it was still pretty good. It had what I thought was the funniest moment of the season ([link]
. Rainbow put in a good performance in a surprise lead role, Rarity's freakouts were great, Pinkie had her moments (Cinnamon bun?
), and I like how Twilight learned a mini-lesson about remaining calm under pressure. But, my problem in this episode is the same problem most people have with it: the way Ms. Harshwhinny justifies giving the Equestria Games to the Crystal Empire. This is closest I've come to making sense of this: maybe Ms. Harshwhinny didn't know that the good time that Ms. Peachbottom had was made by Mane 6 (minus Rarity). Maybe HW thought that PB was just some pony on vacation that had just had a great time in the empire on her own. And it would've worked had HW not said the words "Courtesy of these fine ponies right here". But, regardless, this episode was still not bad at all, and in any other season, it may've been a middle-of-the-pack episode
11: One Bad Apple
I'm sorry if this has ever happened to you, but I had trouble sympathizing with Babs in this episode. You see, when you introduce a new character, and they nearly instantly turn into a dick, there isn't much to suggest that they weren't one to begin with, which makes it hard to root for them. Plus, they made it look like Babs was enjoying her newfound position of Bitch Queen way too much. There wasn't a single moment of doubt after Babs joined Diamond and Silver. If they had slipped in some momentary regretful glances back to the CMC, or even if they had cut out some of the moments where she looked like she was having fun treating the CMC like crap, it might've worked. There were some pretty good parts like the A-Team parody and the song "Babs Seed", which was one of my favorites of the season. And in terms of episodes about bullying, I've seen worse. I've definitely seen worse. *coughDragonQuestcough*
10: Spike at Your Service
OK, so Applejack is the element of honesty, right? So, why didn't she just be honest with Spike? "Spike, as much as I don't want ya to feel unethical or whatnot, your help is going to get someone killed. I mean it nearly did kill Rainbow. I appreciate it, but I don't need your help." Maybe, it could've been less blunt than that, but that's what they pay professional writers for. And of course there was the whole, "Why does Spike suck at doing chores for AJ, when he's #1 attendant to Twilight for doing the same stuff?" But, this episode rises above other flawed episodes from Season 3, because of the fantastic dialogue in nearly every scene (particularly the scene with AJ, Rarity, and Rainbow), the well done 3D rendering of the Timberwolves, and the surprisingly high amounts of humor. Overall, a very rewatchable episode.
Segment 2: Highly entertaining, but insubstantial
9: Too Many Pinkie Pies
We've reached the part of this list where the episodes are awesome from here on. Too Many Pinkie Pies has everything you'd want from a Pinkie Pie episode. Tons of humor and randomness with something going horribly wrong, and Pinkie getting her act together for long enough to set things right just before the end. But, that's a formula that has been done before on this show with episodes like Party of One, Baby Cakes, and MMMMystery on the Friendship Express. Don't get me wrong, this episode had me laughing from start to finish, and it took some serious balls to bring up the generation that shall not be named. But, looking back at this episode, it strikes as being filler. If this episode had been skipped to make room for an episode following Magical Mystery Cure, what would've been lost? It was funny as hell, but not all that significant.
8: Apple Family Reunion
Based on how far down on this list both of the episodes with Babs Seed are, you'd think that I'd have a problem with her. Not at all, her voice is adorable and her interactions with Apple Bloom in this episode are fantastic. But, this episode feels kind of familiar. A character that tries something new under the assumption that they have everything under control, but then discovers that said task is a lot harder than originally perceived. That sounds a lot like the plots from Stare Master, A Bird in the Hoof, Baby Cakes, and possibly Suited for Success and Sonic Rainboom, as well as in other TV shows as a whole. "Raise This Barn" was a catchy-as-heck song and a lot of popular fandom moments came from this episode. It just wasn't enough to make the episode elite.
Segment 3: Consistently Fantastic
7: Just For Sidekicks
Spike gets shafted a lot in this series, when it comes to getting good episodes. Before this, his episodes varied from good but forgettable (Secret of My Excess) to downright terrible (Dragon Quest). Not that this says a lot, but for me, Just for Sidekicks is easily the best Spike-centered episode in the series. Cathy Weseluck appeared to be having a blast with this episode, giving us a bit of Spike singing and generally giving us some great dialogue, especially considering that most of the dialogue in this episode is with the animals, who can't talk back. Unfortunately for Spike, the animals steal the show in this episode, particularly with their interactions with their respective owners, and especially with Tank and Rainbow & Gummy and Pinkie. The pets get a surprising amount of character development, which most shows like this don't do. (Except Angel, he was prick going in, and he left just as pricky.) It was also nice to see cameo appearances from Zecora, Screw Loose, and that one nerdy pony from Putting Your Hoof Down, and I'm sure many peoples' headcanons were altered by the Cheerimac appearance. It's a shame, however, that Spike still got overshadowed in his own best episode. This must be how Applejack feels.
6: Keep Calm and Flutter On
This is where the struggling began for me. I must've switched the order of Episode 6-4 at least fifteen times before I settled on this order, and I'll probably want to switch it after this goes up. The only real problem with this episode is that it wrapped a little too quickly, and Discord seemed to just accept friendship too easily. I've always thought Discord was the best villain in the series, since he was basically this super-omnipotent deity, who saw others as insignificant. He had this superlative, arrogant quality to him, and when that's combined with the charisma John DeLancie brings to the table, you get a near perfect, well-rounded villain. The episode actually took on some Orwellian tones when Twilight threatened to use a spell that would bypass Discord's free will, and make him behave for the greater good. I'm big fan of George Orwell's books, so I loved that. Would it have worked better as a two-parter? Yes. Did it work well as a single-part episode? Also yes.
5: Sleepless in Ponyville
There's nothing wrong with this episode, and it does a couple of things expertly well. For example, Scootaloo's nightmare scenes are particularly eerie, almost taking on a horror movie feel to them. And there was an obvious amount of growth between Rarity and Sweetie Belle since Sisterhooves Social. But the biggest part of this episode was Scootaloo's interaction with Rainbow Dash. We haven't seen if Rainbow has any other siblings, but she doesn't seem to know much about talking to kids. But despite this, Rainbow saw that Scootaloo really admired her, and Rainbow knew enough to know that Scoots needed someone to help her, leading to the heartwarming ending. Also, I'm glad they finally found an excuse to bring back Princess Luna, although dreamwalking is kind of an unusual way to pull that off, but at least they're thinking outside the box. And despite the rather serious tone of the episode, it was quite funny as well, like the scene where Scootaloo fell asleep on her scooter, which looked like it was pulled right out of Mr. Magoo. But, the most interesting part of all this is that a return of Princess Luna and an episode for Scootaloo were both heavily wanted by the fans, and they made it in a way that didn't seem like simply fanservice. Perhaps a positive sign of things to come. While this episode doesn't do anything perfectly, it does nearly everything very well.
4: Wonderbolts Academy
The only thing that's keeping this episode from claiming a podium spot on this list is the fact that they didn't use that alternate ending, which would've wrapped up pretty much everything in a neat little bow. Instead, the ending we're stuck with leaves more questions than answers, which I really want them to answer in a future episode, because I thought Lightning Dust was a pretty cool character. It's a shame that the ending was a bust, because if the first 20 minutes or so were its own episode, it would've been one of the best and most powerful episodes in the entire series. Seriously, we're talking all-time top 5 or so. As it stands though, it's just a really good episode with a subpar ending. And a lot of people had a problem with Spitfire not acknowledging that she knew Rainbow Dash, but I'm OK with that, and I'm actually glad they didn't bring that up. Even if you say you won't give preferential treatment to someone, by acknowledging that not only does Spitfire know Rainbow, but that Rainbow once saved her life, the other cadets are going to think that Rainbow would get an upper hand. I'm not sure if there is a good way to make this work right, so it's probably for the best that they didn't bring it up.
Segment 4: Ambitious, and Mostly Successful
3: Magical Mystery Cure
I've made a valiant effort to avoid discussing how I feel about this episode for two big reasons. Reason #1: it's unwise to talk about this episode without an umbrella to protect yourself from the shitstorm that talking about that episode comes with. And Reason #2: it's an unfinished saga. You don't see anyone reviewing just A Canterot Wedding, Part 1 or just Return of Harmony, Part 2. So, why are we getting so pissy about The Legend of Twilacorn, Part 1 of 3? My opinion of this episode is still very much open to change based on what the Season 4 premiere has in store for this episode. But, if you put a gun to my head, and you demanded my opinion of Magical Mystery Cure (I'd first ask why you pull guns on people for such stupid reasons), I'd say it's really good. This episode doesn't screw around; it cuts out the filler and gets straight to the point. That's the reason nearly every line of dialogue in this episode is in song form, it can convey more information in less time. And the music in this episode is phenomenal. I must commend Daniel Ingram for writing such a great episode. (What? M.A. Larson wrote it? Could've fooled me.) What My Cutie Mark is Telling Me might just be my favorite song in the entire series, I must've heard the SimGretina remix of True, True Friend fifty times, and Celestia's Ballad blew me away and had me shedding liquid pride. Oh yeah, and Derpy was in this episode. That was pretty cool too. Again, if the writers screw this up in the upcoming episodes, I reserve the right to change this ranking. But, I do have faith in them. Think about all the other episodes with questionable premises that turned out to be awesome. Look Before You Sleep, Suited for Success, Green Isn't Your Color, Party of One, Family Appreciation Day, Read it and Weep, A Canterlot Wedding, Keep Calm and Flutter On, I could go on. The writers almost seem to take pleasure in taking seemingly bad ideas, and turning them into hits. Trust the writers. This will very likely turn out better than you think.
2: The Crystal Empire
Yes, I get it. Sombra sucked as a villain. He had exactly 20 lines between both episodes, and literally 15 of them were grunts, laughs, or roars. But, I'm firming in the camp of him making a comeback in a future episode. Plus, every villain can't be John De Lancie. It'd be cool, but it can't happen. But, other than Sombra being the most uninteresting antagonist in the series' history, the rest of the episodes were actually pretty damn good. There were plenty of great character interactions, particularly between Twilight and Shining, Twilight and Cadence, Applejack and Rarity, & Rainbow and Fluttershy. The first song was catchy and did a good job showing off the new animation quality, while the second song showed us about all the cool stuff coming in the Crystal Faire. The ponies looked really cool in the crystalline forms, especially the Mane 6. Spike FINALLY didn't get shafted with the ending. We got to see some cool, new forms of magic, like the gravity spell, which I really, really want to see again. The Nightmare Door was genuinely creepy, and it would be cool if we saw it used again. And then, of course, there was the wife-throwing scene, which literally every single person who's seen this thought was hilarious. A lot of people questioned why the crystal ponies recognized Cadence as "The Crystal Princess", but I think I have an idea. Instead of being a singular entity, think of "The Crystal Princess" as a title that someone steps into, like the Doctor. Overall, this episode was great. It was the weakest of the three season debuts, but that's kinda like being the worst Beatle.
Segment 5: This Episode Kicks Ass, I Don't Care What You Think
1: Magic Duel
Going into this episode, I was apprehensive, because I didn't like Boast Busters that much. Trixie was OK in that episode, but the Mane 6 turned into heckling jerks when Trixie showed up. Despite that, this episode had me hooked from start to finish. I loved the new Evil and Malevolent Trixie, and how she was messing with the ponies of Ponyville, particularly Snips and Snails, who never really got punished for the events of Boast Busters. I thought the age spells looked cool on the ponies who got hit by them. I loved how Zecora was being Yoda to Twilight's Luke. Fluttershy in her bunny stealth costume was obnoxiously cute. The way Twilight fought back against Trixie was really smart. It could've backfired if Trixie simply put on both pendants instead of taking off the Alicorn Amulet and then putting on the fake pendant, but it was a chance they had to take at that point. Wasn't a fan of Fluttershy falling back firmly into doormat territory, but at this point that's a nitpick. Magic Duel is one of my favorite episode in the entire series. Easily in the top 5, probably in the top 3.
I'll go further in depth on these episodes, when I eventually do my review of them on my YouTube page.