These reviews do contain spoilers. Read on at your own discretion.
I've mentioned before my hesitation of Discord episodes as of late, mostly because of What About Discord?. However, he's recently gotten better since then and, despite a few things here and there, has made improvements, new friends with Spike and Big Mac, and has had some general character development. However, when I read the synopsis for A Matter of Principals, I got a bad feeling about it almost immediately.
I hadn't felt this wary of an episode since Parental Glideance, but that episode turned out great. So going into it, I was hoping the episode would also prove me wrong, despite the shaky premise. So how did it turn out? Let me put it to you in this perspective, people; it gave me bad flashbacks to What About Discord?. Anyone who's read my review on it knows my seething hatred towards that episode, so this was already a major strike to this episode. To be fair, it's not as bad as that episode, but I feel this episode could've been so much more if it was handled properly.
The Mane 6 are summoned by the map to go solve a friendship problem in a far off place, but that leaves the students without their teachers. Twilight appoints Starlight as head mare while she and the others are gone, and Spike is left to help her stay on track. Discord shows up though and feels he should run the school instead of Starlight. Soon enough, it becomes a struggle for Starlight to run the school as Discord causes trouble and must find a way to stop him.
The first major issue I have with the episode already lies in part of the premise. Now, credit to Twilight for coming up with a plan in case neither her nor her friends could be at the school and have Starlight run things. What's not so good is the fact that Starlight is the one running all the classes. Shouldn't Twilight have more substitutes on standby in case of an emergency like this, and not just have one pony alone run them all? Isn't this proving Chancellor Neighsay's point about how lousy the school is being run? I mean when you're making the villain look right, there's something wrong there.
So after the Mane 6 leave, Discord shows up and tries to take over the school. Starlight stops him though and tells Discord she wants to run things the way Twilight does. Discord in true typical form, decides to "help" regardless of whether she wants it or not. His first things being making the rooms fit his chaotic personality, and get some substitutes to fill the other classrooms that aren't that helpful. Naturally, things end up going wrong. I have my own issues with Discord in the episode, but I'll get to that later.
One thing I'll say to the episode's favor is the interactions between Starlight and Spike. There's some pretty solid character bonding between the two of them. If anything, it reminds me a lot of the earlier days with Spike and Twilight before the latter got her wings. It's a pretty nice throwback all around. There's even some minor character development for Starlight in the episode as she tries to run the school.
Although the students are also present in the episode, sadly they don't get much character development here. There's some nice tidbits though of history about each kingdom and their previous ruler. From King Grover of Griffonstone, to the yak warrior, it's all good. The only one who gets a little fleshed out in this episode is Gallus for remembering some history lessons. I kind of wish the students had a bit more lines in this episode, but at least we get to see them again.
There's also plenty of callbacks to previous episodes of various seasons. There's things like the Ursa Minor from Boast Busters, to the inclusion of Iron Will trying to build confidence in others like in Putting Your Hoof Down. The episode brims with continuity from past episodes, and I love it. Although, I seriously have to ask why we needed to see the return of those stupid Dragon Sneeze Trees. Seriously, did we really need to reference Princess Spike not once, but twice in the episode?
The comedy is alright for the most part. Since this is a Discord episode, he usually brings most of the jokes to the table. Unfortunately, most of his jokes are hit or miss. While there's some clever jokes like the banana phone (insert the song here), some references here and there, and some visual gags, most of his "jokes" fall flat on their face. This is especially true to a lot of things he does later on.
The brings me to easily this episode's biggest problem; Discord himself. I mentioned before how he seemed to improve and get better after the disaster of WAD?. It felt like he was growing and learning some things about friendship; even if it took him a while to grasp the concepts of it. Well, unfortunately say goodbye to all that development. This episode takes a massive step backwards for Discord to the point where it's like he's acting almost like how awful he was in What About Discord?.
Now, to be fair, he doesn't get as bad as that and doesn't tell the same two stupid same jokes constantly. There's also a reason for his antics. We learn early in the episode Discord, despite being friends with the Mane 7, was never invited to the school in the first place. Now, I know this is Discord; who can't handle rejection well and flies off the handle very easily. I'll even say that I can understand why he feels miffed about the school.
The problem I have though is how Discord gets his point across about being left out. In fact, this episode actually gives a good reason as to why Twilight and the others would not want to invite Discord to the school in the first place. Aside from the bad substitutes in the episode, Discord decides to actively put the students in danger throughout the whole episode. I guess he saw how Applejack and Rainbow Dash put the students in danger in Non Compete Clause, and thought it was a good idea. Him deciding to send various creatures like the Bugbear, the Ursa Minor, and other dangers on the students makes him hard to feel sorry for. Instead it shows he'll go to extremes just to make some point.
Another issue lies with how he seems to be acting around Starlight. I know Discord has some twisted views on friendship, but I think the way he treats Starlight crosses a line. It's especially awful when he calls her out for being a power hungry and incompetent mare. It made seeing Starlight blast him with a Kamehameha very satisyfying to say the least. Too bad he can't seem to understand why she's so upset.
This is a major problem I've had with Discord that doesn't seem to be getting better. I know Discord is the God of Chaos and all, but several seasons have passed since his reformation and he's continuing to just be a dick to his friends and torment them so much. This is a character trait that we should've moved on from at this point. There's no reason to have Discord constantly torment those he considers friends. It's such a frustrating thing to have Discord just basically continue to run rampant doing this stuff, and then just have him do it again in another episode and targeting another pony just to amuse himself.
Even the ending makes no sense at all. After Discord causes more trouble at the school, Starlight, for whatever reason, decides to apologize to him for not being invited to the school. Yes, despite the fact he ultimately tormented Starlight for no reason other than to amuse himself, put the students in constant danger, and make the school a complete mess, he gets an apology for being left out.
First of all, why does Starlight have to apologize for something that wasn't her fault from the start? It's not her fault Discord wasn't invited to the friendship school. Secondly, the episode tries to make us think Starlight was in the wrong for blasting Discord from the school? How exactly is that wrong? He was clearly being a jerk to everyone with no regards for the students' safety and put them in danger. Why is it wrong for her to get rid of someone who was being a constant problem? Thirdly, Starlight seems to doubt herself too much about how she's running the school. She's doing a decent job for the most part, but only falters because of Discord's antics messing her up.
It comes off that Discord is being rewarded, for no reason at all, for his bad behavior. Why is he being rewarded and given an apology, despite the one causing all the problems and basically throwing a temper tantrum? The moral here seems just as bad as it was in Yakity-Sax. It tries to teach that you shouldn't leave others out, but the moral comes off more along the lines of if you throw a tantrum and make someone's life miserable, you'll get what you want. He got what he deserved with his constant taunting of Starlight.
Equally frustrating is that at the end, we learn Discord somehow manipulated the map to send off the Mane 6 and they all were in danger too. Naturally, Discord doesn't get any comeuppance or punishment because...reasons, I guess. So not only does Discord make things hard for Starlight just to amuse himself, but he decides to put his own friends at risk on a needless mission. Sometimes I do feel like as if what he said in Twilight's Kingdom wasn't really genuine at all, and this episode doesn't help at all.
While not as bad as the debacle of the previous episode, A Matter of Principals leaves a lot to be desired. To be fair, the first act does have some good stuff in it, even though Twilight should've had more substitutes on standby in case of an emergency instead of the one pony alone. There's some decent jokes and nice callbacks (barring Princess Spike). The character bonding with Spike and Starlight is fun and reminds me of the early days of Spike and Twilight. However, as soon as Discord shows up, things start falling apart.
It's amazing how much of a colossal setback this was for Discord. Sure, some of his other episodes had issues, but at least he was progressing as a character, learning about friendship, and it seemed he was getting much better. This one here was a major step backwards for him and it's inexcusable to see something like this from him. I'll grant that he's not as he was in What About Discord?, but this episode comes dangerously close to that.
Discord being rewarded for his bad behavior is uncalled for. Not only does he put the students in constant danger, but he just torments Starlight for no reason other than he was probably bored instead of "testing her" like Spike said. There's honestly no reason why he should be in the school after what he's done. If anything, the Mane 7 now have a reason to disbar him from the place and put up spells to ensure he can't sneak in and cause trouble.
The episode wants us to think Starlight was wrong for banishing Discord, but in reality she was completely in the right. Why is she being treated somewhat like as if she's the villain when the one who was causing trouble and making things Hell for Starlight is supposed to be in the right. I think I'd be more lenient towards Discord if he face some comeuppance for his actions, apologized, or at least even told Starlight that the students were never in any actual danger of his magic and it was harmless. He ultimately got off scott free for his bad behavior. Why should he be let off the hook for his actions?
While I still think this episode is better than Yakity-Sax, it's only slightly better than Non Compete Clause. This episode could've been better if Discord at least learned something in the end, wasn't much of a dick, and faced some consequences for his actions. While the character bonding of Spike and Starlight is fun, some of the jokes are good, and there's some good callbacks, Discord really ends up being the one hurting this episode with his behavior. This episode is just a major setback for Discord that makes him almost as bad as he was in What About Discord?.
Honestly, after several seasons of seeing him still be a jerk to his friends, this has gotten old. Nothing has really changed with Discord and how he treats the others. I know part of his character is him being chaotic and isn't truly good, but having him needlessly torment his friends and others just to prove a point is continuing to be a major problem with him. Add onto that he doesn't get punished for his actions too, and it makes it worse. How many times are we going to have to see Discord continue to be this way before he's finally called out for this? Maybe one day he'll learn these jokes of his are as funny as those two stupid jokes he told in WAD?, but that's not the case in this episode.
FINAL SCORE: 4 out of 10 (D)
Season eight episodes ranking from best to worse:
Surf and/or Turf
The Break Up Breakdown
Grannies Gone Wild
The Parent Map
The Maud Couple
Fake it Til You Make it
The Mean 6
A Matter of Principals (NEW)