Man, I needed this after the past few weeks. "Make New Friends but Keep Discord" is a blast. It's the show running on all cylinders in regards to comedy while adding in just a little bit of depth to keep things interesting. After the previous episode, I needed something like this.
Since the first episode, the focus has been entirely on the mane six and the Cutie Mark Crusaders. This is the first episode to focus on someone else, and that someone is Discord. After his reformation in season 3, he has been slowly integrating into the main cast, and this serves as his inauguration. For his first episode, it's not a bad one. He's as funny as always, and his inexperience with friendship allows for a strong lesson about jealousy. However, he's also as much of a jerk as always, but unlike in other cases, this isn't because he doesn't care. No, he cares very much. Discord provides a different example of jealousy in friendship from other episodes, like "Griffon the Brush Off", in that it actually takes a more constructive perspective. This is an episode about mending issues in friendship, which makes this perhaps the episode that hits closest to the core of the show. However, focusing on Discord while he's being such a jerk has the downside of making him unsympathetic, something admittedly negated by the comedy. It's never to the point where the episode's unwatchable, but I found myself sighing whenever he did something new... just to burst out laughing a couple seconds later, sure, but still.
One thing that's been particularly great about recent seasons is actually the lessons. In earlier seasons, they were generally common knowledge stuff clearly aimed at the kids, but over time they've gotten more and more ambitious. This week's is about understanding that you're not any less of a friend just because someone is spending more time with other friends, and it teaches that friends cannot be replaced. I think this is a lesson that some people outside the target demographic could still learn from, which I think is the sign of a really good kids' show moral.
In contrast to the blatant references of episodes past, "Make New Friends but Keep Discord" keeps things in the background. That's not to say that it isn't loaded with them, but nobody says that winter is coming. Much more of the humour comes from Discord's hijinks and from side characters reacting to him. In particular, this episode introduces two new characters: clearly intoxicated hippie pony Tree Hugger, and adorably innocent goo blob Smooze. The latter is actually a re-imagining of a G1 villain, much like Tirek. Between the two, I have ample evidence that the writers digging from the well of past generations is nothing to be afraid of and in fact makes for some of the show's most inspired ideas. These two are delightful, and Maud Pie in a supporting role is perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the season so far. This appearance has given me everything that her own episode didn't. Really, though, this is a strange episode in a season of strange episodes, and the strangest part is actually Tree Hugger, whose New Age/hippie-inspired personality makes it appear like she's high. Basically, she's a stoner pony in a kids' show.
The reappearance of the Grand Galloping Gala is nothing short of a delight, as "The Best Night Ever" remains one of the show's finest moments. Someone different is ruining the Gala this time, though Celestia is no less delighted-in fact, given her statement at the end, she clearly has even more fun this time than the previous. The aesthetic appeal of "The Best Night Ever" carries over to this episode, though the character design seems to follow different ideas. The intelligently character-fitted outfits are lacking, but that doesn't mean the new designs are bad. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The mane styles are distinctive, and the dresses-though a tad more samey-are still very pretty. We also get to see the CMC in dresses this time, which is adorable. Applejack agrees. What needs to be made clear, though, is that this is not a retread of "The Best Night Ever." "Make New Friends but Keep Discord" is very much a unique episode, and it's all the better for it.
After the ambitious-but-flawed "Tanks for the Memories" and the disastrous "Appleoosa's Most Wanted", this is nothing short of a breath of fresh air. This episode is an absolute delight, boasting great humour from start to finish and including a nice dash of depth on top of it. It's good to see this season get back on track, and if any episode from these first seven shows a future for the series, it's this one.