There is no character from the main cast of Friendship is Magic I think more about than Twilight Sparkle. Though Fluttershy has almost always been my favorite character of the Mane 6, there’s something about Twilight that will never leave my mind. On the surface, she doesn’t seem very complex. A genius introvert that learns to enjoy having friends, a discovery that leads her on a journey where she gains godlike power and becomes an immortal ruler in the end. Only looking at a short summary of her journey, it’s easy to get the false impression that she’s a Mary Sue, even as Twilight’s journey shows her failing time and time again as the flawed character she is. Obsessive, meticulous, and naïve, these are all flaws that land Twilight in trouble throughout her journey. However, none of these flaws seem to reflect a darkness in Twilight’s heart. On the surface, everything in the series seems to paint her as a pure soul.
She is not. Twilight’s moral compass is very much flawed.
This is not a criticism of her character, as Twilight’s character interests me far more looking at it from this other angle. This is a topic that has become of great interest to me in the wake of the upcoming G5, with speculation of the role Twilight will serve. Will she still be around to lend the new cast of characters a hand, and whether she will or won’t, will she have become jaded by the loss of magic in Equestria? Was the friendship and harmony in Equestria being replaced by paranoia and mistrust her fault? These questions seem to indicate Twilight being more flawed as a character than we initially believed…however, what if this was always actually the case? What if the often perceived as bad writing throughout the series, not just in the final two seasons, was foreshadowing something like this? What if morality in the show was always more complex than we thought?
At first glance, this is difficult to imagine. The show’s view of morality seems very black and white. If a villain doesn’t have a backstory, they’re evil just for the sake of it, friendship is good, good always wins in the end. However, despite this, it’s hinted that Tirek, Cozy Glow, and Queen Chrysalis, indisputably the three villains who cause the most destruction in Equestria with their evil ways, could have changed if they had embraced friendship and Tirek even gets a nod to having a reason for being evil. In addition, good does not win in the end in a single one of the alternate universes Twilight visits in The Cutie Re-Mark, evil triumphs purely because of the absence of Twilight and her friends coming together. Yet Twilight and her friends are still not enough to triumph over evil at the end of the show, it’s all of Equestria coming together that has to save them and convince Twilight to accept the fact that there will always be darkness in the world. Yes, despite the fact that there’s no better role model in Equestria than Twilight in this world that apparently has no shades of gray to its laws of morality, she still must embrace darkness as an omnipresent, indestructible force in the world in order to complete her character arc.
Obviously, Twilight can not help the way the world works. However, this proves that she is not capable of being a purely good being rejecting all evil. This capability of being corrupted is also shown with Princess Celestia, her mentor, who was tempted in Starlight Glimmer’s nightmare by Daybreaker, an evil incarnation of herself she could’ve become the same way Princess Luna became Nightmare Moon. An evil version of Twilight only appears in Equestria Girls as a corrupted form of the Twilight of that world, but the world of Friendship is Magic does show what Twilight would’ve been like without friendship through two characters that are purposely very similar to her in design, the once coldly reclusive and abrasive Moondancer and the once villainous Starlight. These may only be “What if?” scenarios, but they are not meant to show the only ways Twilight could ever possibly be corrupted.
Even the Twilight that knows friendship was shown to be capable of wrongdoing. The most well-known example of this is shown in the MLP:FiM movie, where Twilight attempts to steal a pearl, believing that it’s the only way to save Equestria. Since the justification for her crime in the movie is very understandable, the question this raises about Twilight’s idea of right and wrong is largely overlooked. Other well-known examples are in the episodes Lesson Zero and A Trivial Pursuit, which showcase a manic Twilight attempting to create trouble out of desperation for a lesson to learn and mistreating a friend out of desperation to win a game respectively. Again, the question this dubious behavior raises is often ignored, most often being written off as Twilight simply having an episode. Twilight did something wrong, she learned a lesson, but what exactly made her believe she was in the right for doing wrong?
The answer I have come up with is quite simple, and even explains lesser-known instances of Twilight’s impurity. Twilight believes she is in the right for doing wrong if that wrongdoing prevents her from failing. The three aforementioned examples, even with one being far less petty, all showed her feeling that she was backed into a corner with no choice but to sin to succeed.
To understand what would make Twilight think this way, start by looking back at The Crystal Empire, which showed how seriously Twilight took test-taking, to the point where even considering the possibility of failure was enough to demoralize her. Her greatest concern on this quest to protect a kingdom from being enslaved by evil was not saving the Crystal Ponies, but failing her mentor’s test, as shown by her greatest fear being scolded by Celestia for her failure. Even after watching what her brother and the sister-in-law she admired had to go through to protect everyone, she still hesitated before commanding Spike to rescue the Crystal Heart, purely because of her fear of failure.
You would think that with time, this fear of failure would subside, but no, it never would. Fast-forward to King Sombra’s return in The Beginning of the End, and Twilight’s greatest fear is still being scolded by Celestia after failing to stop Sombra. She imagines a possessed Celestia and Luna rebuking her for allowing Ponyville to be destroyed, but Sombra was only interested in ruling over the Empire at that point of the story and only ever attempted to conquer, not destroy, any land. This shows that, again, her mind was preoccupied by a test to prove herself, this time, to show that she was worthy of succeeding Celestia and Luna as the ruler of Equestria. Interestingly, it’s not that she wants this role, it’s not that she wants power…it’s that she doesn’t want to fail.
Twilight is in no way power-thirsty and maintains the utmost respect for ponies in power. That respect is a sign of her good ethic and loyalty to Celestia, but that respect can also create weakness of the heart, a refusal to rebel against what you know is wrong. The two glowing examples of this weakness of Twilight’s are in Shadow Play and School Daze. In Shadow Play, Twilight debates whether or not it’s right to refuse a pony she believes could be redeemed a chance to reform simply because Starswirl the Bearded, the mentor of her mentors, believes it’s impossible to redeem Stygian. Yes, in spite of the fact that Starlight, a living, walking contradiction to Starswirl’s misguided beliefs, is standing right beside her, reminding her that Starswirl is wrong, she still contemplates going along with Starswirl’s plan.
It gets even worse in School Daze, where despite the fact that Chancellor Neighsay has just made it clear to her that he is an openly racist bigot who will not tolerate other creatures learning about friendship, intolerance that completely goes against Twilight’s ideals, again, she still contemplates doing things his way at first to get her school reopened before Starlight has to talk her into doing what should have been obvious from the start, following her heart and rebelling against authority.
Why is this? Why does Twilight, despite all the evil she has to face, have so much trouble going against not just a pony she admires for what’s right, but a pony she doesn’t admire for what’s right? Put simply, it’s because Twilight has a good soul, but she doesn’t have a rebel’s soul. This makes sense, considering that all her life, she’s been studying under the most powerful pony in Equestria, and even her entire quest of friendship was given to her as an order from the most powerful pony in Equestria. Her entire life, she’s been closely following the directions of Equestria’s government.
Are you beginning to see how this could play a part in G5 for setting up a mistake Twilight could make that would allow for the friendship and harmony in Equestria to be replaced with paranoia and mistrust? Anyone, regardless of ideology, is able to acknowledge the fact that governments are absolutely notorious for being susceptible to corruption. And if push came to shove, after everything we’ve reviewed so far, does Twilight sound like the kind of pony who would be willing to rebel against a corrupt government, or attempt to justify that government’s wrongdoings? After everything we’ve looked at so far, wouldn’t you agree that the best way for the corrupt ponies in the government to manipulate her would be to convince her that if she lets them down, she lets all of Equestria down? What better way for them to manipulate her than to exploit her fear of failure?
Is Twilight capable of leading a corrupt government? I don’t know, only time will tell. However, we all know that she is capable of resigning ponies to cruel fates, or at least condoning forces of power resigning ponies to cruel fates. Cozy Glow, only a child, ends up being sent to Tartarus instead of being put in a rehabilitation center for juvenile criminals, and King Sombra ends up being destroyed twice, all while Twilight and her friends rejoice in his demise. Twilight, despite having never killed a pony before, having always attempted to only imprison, banish, or reform every other foe, looks down on him with a smile as she leads her friends to annihilate him. You could say that she couldn’t control the magic that did this to him, but recall, who is the Tree of Harmony’s avatar? Twilight Sparkle.
What makes Twilight feel at ease with these two being punished so brutally? How does she justify them being given worse than they deserve? The reason Cozy Glow and Sombra deserve to be treated worse than ordinary villains, I believe in her mind, is because these two villains are representations of her failure. Cozy Glow was a student of Twilight’s who became corrupted and Sombra made Twilight helpless in the face of her greatest fear back when she had to save the Empire, not with her own ability, but by allowing Spike to accomplish what should have been her feat. Both serve as eternal reminders of her shortcomings. You never know what is going on in someone’s head, but this theory would explain some of Twilight’s inconsistent behavior.
Most inconsistent for her is the uncanny reaction she has to the reveal of Discord using the villains as a way to boost her confidence at the risk of the safety of the citizens of Equestria. Regardless of good intentions, Discord’s actions of using others, enabling an evil child, sending a villain to conquer a kingdom and take Twilight’s family hostage before having Twilight destroy that villain are comparable to the actions of a psychopath. Yet when Twilight hears this…it is not her, but her friends and mentor who rebuke Discord for his actions. She is not angry, but disillusioned despite the fact that she would be more justified than anyone else in losing it. Her family was put in danger, her country was put in danger, she was set up to obliterate a pony for nothing, yet she says nothing to condemn Discord, she’s only upset about the fact that the victories of her and her friends weren’t real. Why does this stand out as her source of distress? Because Discord created an illusion of her passing a test.
Out of everything Twilight could be upset at Discord for doing, she chooses his deception. Not enabling evil, not endangering innocents, not sending villains to their doom, but the fact that he lied. Why is everything else Discord did justifiable? Because he was trying to help Twilight in his own way, despite the fact that this way wasn’t even ethical. Twilight sympathizes with him because he wanted her to succeed. Did you catch it? The reason why Discord’s evil must be justifiable is because the opposite of failure is success. The reason why the song Twilight sings in The Crystal Empire that defines her triumphs and her heart’s purity is called The Failure Success Song is because Twilight’s morality is defined by failure and success.
This makes perfect sense because she’s lived her entire life as a student. If you are trying to help Twilight succeed, you must have good in you, no matter what. If you are trying to cause her to fail, you must have evil in you that would put her at fault if that evil were to obstruct her. Before Twilight is forced to accept that there will always be darkness in the world, she views the evil in the world as an obstacle of a test that she will either pass or fail. Evil can not triumph for any reason other than her own shortcomings. Since Discord’s shady actions have caused Twilight to both succeed and fail, she becomes depressed rather than angry because she is in a moral dilemma.
This also explains why she breaks down like she does in The Ending of the End, even though she has just been reunited with the friends who sacrificed themselves so that she could escape, telling them that nothing they do matters. It doesn’t matter to her that this situation is Discord’s fault, what matters to her is that her test from Discord was just a setup. This causes her to start irrationally believing that all her accomplishments have no meaning, thus losing her will to fight. She doesn’t have the rebellious spirit that would motivate her to fight against a seemingly hopeless and inescapable situation and she doesn’t view her friends as her driving force, but her desire to succeed. Thus why her fire is reignited not by her friends returning alive and well, but by them reminding her of the fact that she succeeded in making a difference by changing their lives, that her friendship with them is an accomplishment. They also have to talk her out of worrying that she’ll just make things worse and that she has already failed. Fear of failure, wanting to succeed, you get the idea now.
Twilight has also doubted friendship in the face of failure, not just here, but in the movie, where she had to admit that she “failed friendship” even though she’s the princess of friendship and friendship is magic, her element. Why? Because she does not view friendship as the core of her moral code like you would initially believe, but as the core of Equestria’s moral code, something she has to exemplify. It’s the guiding principle of the world all must follow, but none can follow it perfectly. This is why at the end of her character arc, she has to be reminded of friendship’s power in order to pull through. Because no matter how much Twilight’s character grows and evolves, she can not deny the feeling that she is still Celestia’s student and nothing will motivate her more than the desire to pass Celestia’s test. In her mind, she’s still a work in progress and a student with obligations to her teacher.
However, what happens when she takes up Celestia’s role as the teacher instead of the student, with mentoring Luster Dawn in the future? Even here, Twilight’s driving force is not friendship itself, but her role as a teacher, passing down her teachings to later generations. This would explain why she’s content with watching her friends grow old and gray while she retains her youth inside of an immortal body. In the end, it’s not about her friends, but what she has learned about friendship that she and the generations that follow will learn and teach.
That is the conclusion of my dissection of Twilight’s flaws on a moral scale. Twilight is still a morally strong character who has done far more good than bad, but she is in no way perfect. I love that about her. It makes her feel more real to me, appreciating these weaknesses of her otherwise strong ethic because no one in the real world has a perfect moral compass. Since everyone has a different idea of right and wrong, I definitely don’t expect everyone to agree with every one of my thoughts on Twilight’s conduct. I also don’t expect everyone to agree with every part of my interpretation since I believe that the show writers know Twilight’s character better than I do. Indeed, many people do not like how Twilight’s character was written. Me, however, if some of the controversial moments in the show were purposely foreshadowing what I’ve interpreted, I’d appreciate the way Twilight’s character was written even more. Even the things I personally don’t like about her character keep me thinking about her and I see that as a sign of a well-written character. For her to not have any flaws, to only be a goody-goody, a perfect representation of morality, she wouldn’t be the same to me.