‘She-Ra and the Princesses of Power’ Examines Toxicity in Season Four

Let’s call this the show that I had absolutely no idea I would get into, but here it is. Yeah, I watched She-Ra in the 1980’s because every boy did… because she was He-Man’s sister and she was awesome. This reboot… I wasn’t sure about it. It seemed, forgive me… girly. To girly for me, but… I gave it a shot anyway.

I have to say, this show is nothing like I expected. I have seen television series for grownups that don’t put as much time and care into fleshing out the characters on both sides of a conflict. While this is a series about Adora and her band of rebels, it’s also about the people who make up the Hoard and, yes… you can even get attached and grow fond of them as well.

It’s so weird.

What’s more, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a show about relationships more than anything else. Last season, it examined the idea that interpersonal conflict is essential for growth and that, sometimes, you just have to let people go if you’re on a different path. It led to a finale that was probably one of the most incredible pieces of drama I’ve seen in an animated series aimed at kids.

While I wish I could say that this season topped or at least met the ambition of last season, that would be a lie…. it’s great. don’t get me wrong, but it is a step down. I’m not completely disappointed as I consider the bar set by last season incredibly high, and I am happy to report that the bar, while not as high, is still pretty darned high.

The theme this season is toxicity and, while focusing solely on Catra who is obviously a toxic person would be the easiest thing to do, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power takes the more complicated route by showing that toxicity can exist anywhere, even in places you could consider safe.

But first, let’s talk about Catra. Catra is such a rich and amazing character. While she does absolutely despicable things and hurts everyone who comes near her, you can see that her “evil” nature originates in a place of pain and that she is a survivor of abuse. This, of course, doesn’t excuse any of the things she does as Adora is also the victim of abuse and is the series’ main hero, but it does allow anyone to understand where her drive comes from… the need to prove herself over and over again and to fill her life with ambition and advancement because, deep down, she sees herself as worthless as those who raised her made her believe she is.

Last season, Adora gave up the hope that Catra would ever leave the Hoard and join her in the rebellion… the relationship was completely toxic and there was no saving it. Heck, this entire season, there was only one interaction between Catra and Adora and even that one deserves an asterix for the technicality. Their relationship is over.

However, it doesn’t end just there as Catra pushes everyone around her away. Scorpia, for example, the closest thing that Catra has for a friend, finally realizes what a terrible person Catra is and leaves the Hoard and Catra behind. Scorpia is also just a wonderful character, full of life and pep and to see this eternal optimist and joker look at someone else and say the simple words, “You’re a bad friend,” was heartbreaking but, like Adora, Scorpia has now grown by breaking these chains to a toxic individual.

Even the mainstays like the Hoard trio who have been supporting characters since the beginning when they were introduced as friends of both Catra and Adora recognize what a destructive person Catra is to everyone around her and abandon her.

Can we even talk about Hordak’s revelation that Catra had lied to him? I mean, this is Hordak… the biggest bad on the planet and, when he learns that Catra, the one person he believes in and trusts, lied to him as though it was nothing and betrayed him, he is driven to actual tears and fury. I really hope that the finale hasn’t brought us the last we’ve seen of him because I could see Hordak becoming an interesting character now that he’s hit rock bottom and lost everything.

As I said, though, Catra and the Hoard were easy targets if the show wanted to talk about Toxicity because, in the grand scheme of things, it reared its ugly head even in the Great Rebellion.

Glimmer became Queen following the death of Angela and spends the season, much like Catra, feeling inadequate and ends up pushing everyone who cares about her away. It’s such an interesting dynamic that Glimmer, of all people, has become the light side reflection of Catra and having the two go up against each other at the end was a stroke of genius.

More than that, Adora is exposed to the toxicity as well as Glimmer basically begins to be mentored by Adora’s former abuser, Shadow Weaver. While I completely understand why Adora would loath the idea of her friend interacting with her surrogate abusive mother, I can also understand why Glimmer, desperate and frightened that she would never live up to her mother, would latch onto such a symbol of strength and untapped power.

There is no easy solution here… in the world of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, friendship isn’t magic, it’s hard and takes a lot of work and, every now and then, you totally blow it.

More than that, the one-sided mentor and student relationship between Adora and Light Hope was also explored and found completely toxic to the point that Adora had no choice but to basically destroy She-Ra to save herself from it.

It was… incredible.

There is so much more to love about this season. First of all, the character of Double Trouble was a complete delight, a true example of chaotic evil. They stole every scene they were in, they were hilarious and savage, and the final meeting between them and Catra was one of the most brutal and cold takedowns I have ever witnessed in a children’s animated series.

I hope this is not the last we’ve seen of them.

Finally, the titular Madame Razz episode! While it’s been mostly hinted that Razz is a Yoda-like mentor, feigning her dotty old lady act, we found out this season that not only is she really a confused old woman after all, but she’s a confused old woman who is living time out of order and doesn’t understand what’s happening. One minute, she’s a thousand years in the past speaking to Mara, the original She-Ra, and then she’s in the present talking to Adora. I loved how this episode paid off things that you never knew were going to be paid off such as Razz’ calling Adora, “Mara”… it wasn’t a mistake, she was literally talking to Mara a few seconds before from Razz’ point of view. It really was the best episode of the season.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power might have reeled back in the slightest measurement from last season, but season four is still a fantastic season full of revelations, new characters, and heartbreaking themes.

There’s really no reason this show should be this good, but I’m certainly glad it is.

Written by Jason Gaston

Father, teacher, writer, photographer, artist, actor, male model, and inventor of the semicolon.

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