She-Ra and I go way back. All the way back to that glorious decade known as the 1980’s when He-Man and the Masters of the Universe taught me that, not only should I solve all of my problems with mindless violence, but I should also not do drugs and some other things. Some time in the 80’s, He-Man was replaced by She-Ra: Princess of Power and, amazingly, I didn’t mind. I dug this show too even if it was aimed at girls. I enjoyed watching She-Ra kick Hordak’s butt every week and I’m perfectly comfortable saying that.
Given that I loved the 2002 tragically short-lived He-Man reboot, I was more than happy to give the new and updated She Ra and the Princesses of Power Netflix series a shot, thinking that, given its bright colors and simplified art style, it would be skewed even more towards the My Little Pony crowd and strip She Ra of everything I loved about her in the 80’s.
Holy boots, was I wrong.
Although I have never written about this series before, She Ra and the Princesses of Power rewrites everything about the She Ra legend and creates something new and amazing. It keeps a good bit of the cheese from the 80’s, keeping silly names like Entrapta, Mermista, and Scorpia and their somewhat silly powers, but at its core, She Ra and the Princesses of Power is all about the personal conflicts between characters on both the side of The Great Rebellion and the Evil Hoard.
I will say that this series probably represents the first time that I have genuinely been emotionally invested in the struggle of so-called “evil” characters and actually want them to succeed in their own personal endeavors.
Take Catra, for example. In the 80’s, she was just this lady who could transform into a pather and was evil for evil’s sake, making eye-rolling cat puns everytime she spoke. “Hordak, your plan is purrrrrr-fect!”
Today, Catra is a character who has to fight for everything she has. She has feelings of abandonment, the trauma of a childhood of abuse, and the need to prove herself to her superiors, resulting in a drive that is absolutely admirable. There’s no other way to put it.
However, Catra is also a self-destructive person. Any time she comes close to happiness, as she does in one of the season three episodes where, after being banished by Hordak for a mistake, she takes over a gang in the wastelands and is the happiest we’ve ever seen her in the show, Catra allows her own feelings of self-worth and loathing get the best of her and returns to a place of abuse, all for the approval of people who are, quite frankly, not good enough for her.
Scorpia, Catra’s second in command, is a loyal and tough number two who genuinely cares for Catra to the point that it looks a lot like a crush (and probably is because LGBT representation in this show is off the charts). Although annoyingly goofy at times, she is a good person who only wants what’s best for her friend who, sadly, rarely acknowledges the friendship as Catra is too busy trying to prove herself.
Even the head honcho bad guy, Hordak, has something to prove as we later learn that he is a defective clone who was fired from being a general for what was essentially a birth defect and now, dying and in constant pain, he tries to get a signal to his commander to prove that he is not a cosmic mistake and, while he is not as sympathetic as Catra or Scorpia, you do genuinely feel for the guy at times.
Folks… these are the bad guys. The bad guys!
Rarely do the bad guys, with the exception of Hordak, feel like irredeemable villains. They are products of circumstances and choices and, often, they have links to “the good guys.” Catra feels betrayed by Adora/She Ra, her lifelong friend, for abandoning her, Sporpia forms bonds with members of the rebellion when circumstances force them to work together, one of the princesses actually switch sides to the Hoard because of her love of science and the Hoard’s technological edge.
It’s so complicated.
The point is, often She Ra and the Pricesses of Power is more about interpersonal conflict than world-spanning battles against evil.
This is what makes the season 3 finale so amazing.
In the finale, Hordak is desperate to open a portal to another universe to contact the Hoard Army and organize an overwhelming invasion of Etheria (I’m really simplifying this, I know) however, the Rebellion learns that, in addition to summoning an invasion force, the portal will open a wormhole that will consume and essentially erase everyone and everything on the planet. Even members of the Hoard realize the dangers of what is about to happen. Before anyone can stop it, however, Catra, driven by her need to be acknowledged by Hordak and her bitterness at being abandoned by Adora, throws the switch and activates the portal.
There are still two episodes to go, by the way.
This creates a strange parallel reality where Adora never became She Ra, never joined the rebellion, and never left the Hoard. Her and Catra are still friends, she’s still a Force Captain, and everything is, for lack of a better word, perfect.
It’s the same on the side of the rebellion. Glimmer’s father is alive and, along with her mother, they are a happy family. Bow, who has been lying to his fathers for years about his participation in the rebellion, no longer has to lead a double life and serves as a historian.
In a sense, all of the interpersonal conflicts have been removed from our character’s life.
But here’s the rub… none of them have grown. Adora never questioned the Hoard and accepts orders without thinking, Catra never developed her drive or her admirable traits, Bow never pushed himself to become an archer, and Glimmer never became the brave defacto leader of the Rebellion after losing her father. In a sense, they’ve all stagnated and stayed the same.
Oh, and also space and reality are breaking down around them.
I really don’t want to spoil too much more of the two episodes that make up the finale, because they really are spectacular and feature a dissection of what makes the characters tick. The finale is emotionally intense as Adora not only had to escape a Neverending Story-like Nothing, but also must face her own self-doubts and crumbling resolve as everyone and everything around her disappears. It all culminates in a battle with Catra where you can see a friendship shatter as Adora decides to no longer take responsibility for the choices of another.
There’s more, there’s so much more. Amazing animation, a somber and beautiful musical score, so many great character moments, and an ending that is a real emotional gut punch.
I’m not spoiling it.
What I loved about this episode is the theme that, in order to grow as a person, you need conflict, you need pain, and you need hardships. The fact that an animated series aimed at kids is making this bold of a statement without apology is, quite frankly, amazing and completely accurate.
Trees do not grow strong without the winds trying to rip them down.
It’s taken me a month or so to finally get around to watch the 2nd and 3rd season of this show and now I find myself scouring Google for news of a 4th season. I’m also giddy for the Netflix re-reboot of He-Man.
Can we bring Thundercats back too? Bravestarr would also be awesome.