Netflix's "She-Ra and the Princesses of Power" Retrospective: Season Four
Here we go, people. Season One set the pieces in motion. Seasons Two and Three dove deeper. Now we turn to Season Four--where SH*T GETS REAL. Angella is gone and Glimmer is coming to terms with her new responsibilities and powers (both royal and magical). Adora's struggle with her destiny and her place in the world is coming to a head as she searches for Mara's lost ship in hopes it contains the answers she's looking for. Catra nearly broke the world and seemingly has herself become even more broken after Adora laid it all bare to her with eight simple words: "You made your choice. Now live with it." Horde Prime is on the way and Hordak is motivated to take a more active role to prove himself to his brother, pushing Catra aside in the process. And so much more! Let's dive in...
|image courtesy of Los Angeles Times|
First of all, of course the themes that developed so beautiful over the course of the first three (two, really) seasons continue to develop even further. This is especially true of everything that's going on with Catra. We see the most stark illustration yet of her acting out her abuse and perpetuating the cycles of abuse as she takes out her anger and fear and pain on the people around her, especially Lonnie, Kyle, and Rogelio--but most of all Scorpia. (Side note: ROGELIO IS BABY. That is all.) Not only do we see her develop serious trust issues as a result of her trauma but she also abuses and mistreats everyone around her in her quest to prove her worth by any means necessary and show everyone that she doesn't need anyone. And eventually, they take her up on that.
Scorpia leaving Catra is one of the most powerful moments of the entire series. Scorpia is the one person who swore she would never leave Catra, who defined herself largely by her loyalty and did everything she could to get past Catra's walls and connect with her. But even she eventually realizes that this one-sided, abusive relationship is not okay. "Catra doesn't care," she says to herself, steeling her resolve. "She'll hurt people to get her way....But I still have time. I can still be a good friend." (Side note: in one of the many double entendres in this show, the meaning of this, at first, is that Scorpia is going to be a good friend to Catra by revealing hard truths to her about herself--but when she arrives in Bright Moon, she proclaims that she came here to learn how to be a good friend asl;kdfgha;sldkfgh!!) She makes one last attempt with Catra--almost as a formality--but Catra still yells at her and insults her. And then this happens...
|image courtesy of Netflix|
I audibly gasped the first time I saw this. This is a pivotal moment in Catra's journey as well as Scorpia's--maybe THE pivotal moment. The hardest truth coming from the last person you'd expect to tell it. This is the beginning of Catra's "Come to Jesus" moment. The realization that while she is a child of abuse and that matters, she also has made poor choices and been a generally terrible person and on some level, she has no one but herself to blame for the consequences of those choices. Not only has Scorpia abandoned her but Lonnie, Kyle, and Rogelio all leave as well, allowing the Rebellion into the Fright Zone as they leave. The climax (or, well, what's the opposite of climax?) of Catra's journey to rock bottom comes when Double Trouble (the AMAZING nonbinary shapeshifter--a mercenary only in it for the money and also an exceedingly snarky and pretentious theater nerd whose they/them pronouns are used by "good" and "evil" characters alike effortlessly without a second thought or word), in their snarky, brutally honest way, lays it all out there for Catra: "You try so hard to play the big, bad villain. But your heart's never been in it, has it? People have hurt you, haven't they? They didn't believe in you. They didn't trust you. Didn't need you. Left you. But did you ever stop to think, maybe they're not the problem? It's you. You drive them away, wildcat." Double Trouble betrays Catra and leaves her all alone. And when Horde Prime finally arrives in the finale, Catra seems ready to begin her journey to redemption but immediately makes herself useful to Prime--whether it's genuine or part of a long game to help Glimmer and the Rebellion remains to be seen.
|image courtesy of Den of Geek|
Glimmer, meanwhile, is going through some big changes herself. At the beginning of Season Four, she is dealing with so much: the grief and trauma of losing her mother to the war at such a young age; being thrust into leadership at such an age as queen of Bright Moon; being disconnected from friends and the front lines of the war by her new responsibilities (and her burgeoning relationship with Shadow Weaver, who is teaching her the sorcery she used to teach in Mystacor as Light Spinner); deciding what kind of leader she wants to be. In short, she is coming to grips with all of her great and terrible new powers (both political and magical) and everything that comes along with them and it ultimately fractures her relationships with her friends and gets her captured by Horde Prime.
Shadow Weaver encapsulates perfectly and succinctly the overarching theme at play here: "Power changes people." It seems vaguely manipulative when she says it but it ultimately proves to be true. I think about this so much in my life. So much of our lives and our world is centered on power dynamics--even in interpersonal relationships. You take something like social media where people spend so much time tearing people down and taking advantage of vulnerability and even that is power dynamics. It's like Octavia Butler said in "Parable of the Sower": When people are "frustrated, angry, [and] hopeless," they are "desperate for solutions, for order and stability....they're afraid and ashamed of their fear, ashamed of their powerlessness." "They have no power to improve their lives," one character says, "but they have the power to make others even more miserable. And the only way to prove to yourself that you have power is to use it."
As Glimmer comes to terms with her new powers, learning from Shadow Weaver and also taking it upon herself to get back out in battle, it puts her squarely at odds with Adora and the relationship between the two deteriorates rapidly. Glimmer becomes very impatient with Adora exercising her own authority as She-Ra, especially when it conflicts with Glimmer's authority as queen and the two have several knock-down-drag-out arguments and say some things they shouldn't say, fracturing their relationship and their trust. It all comes to a head when Adora tells the princesses about the Heart of Etheria project and Glimmer (in some ways acting as unwitting proxy for Shadow Weaver, who also feels this way) believes they should use this weapon against the Horde, that there is no other way, while Adora believes they need to rescue Entrapta from Beast Island, a plan Glimmer thinks is too dangerous. Ultimately she orders them not to go but Adora and Bow defy her orders. Glimmer decides if they can't trust her then she can't trust them and goes forward with her plan to use the Heart of Etheria.
|image courtesy of CBR.com|
On the other side of that is Adora, who takes a very different journey to coming to terms with her power as well as her destiny. She finally finds out that Mara wasn't the villain of this story. She moved Etheria into the empty dimension of Despondos because she found out about the Heart of Etheria project--apparently the First Ones did something to Etheria to turn it into a giant weapon controlled by the princesses and their connection to their rune stones and She-Ra is the key to it all. When Scorpia forges a connection with her family's rune stone (the Black Garnet), bringing Etheria into "balance" (according to Light Hope), the energies of Etheria flow through all of them, powering up the weapon. But Adora makes a choice: "This is not my destiny."
It's one of the most powerful climaxes I've ever seen in a show. It culminates so much. The revelation of Mara and Light Hope's relationship--that Mara considered Light Hope her friend and Light Hope felt the same until she was reprogrammed for the Heart of Etheria project. Adora's struggles with her place and purpose and her lack of choice in her destiny. The deeply profound words of Madame Razz: "She-Ra is not a sword. She-Ra is you." As the Heart of Etheria prepares to fire, Adora makes the most difficult choice she's ever made (as Light Hope struggles through her reprogramming--"Don't," reprogrammed Light Hope says, followed immediately by the real Light Hope saying "Do it."): She shatters the sword, powering down the Heart of Etheria and seemingly breaking the line of She-Ra--or at the very least giving up the power of She-Ra. When it's over, Adora's hair is down--a very key piece of symbolic visual storytelling that usually indicates that a girl has become a woman.
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Where Adora's journey may go from here should be very interesting to see. Based on what we know about Season Five, Adora will be spending much of this season learning how to fight without the power of She-Ra but I think it's safe to say this isn't the end game. When I first watched Season Four all the way through, my first reaction, based on the immortal words of Madame Razz, was that the culmination would be Adora learning how to become She-Ra without the sword, finding the power that was within her all along but if the Season Five trailer is any indication, what they're going to do is going to be so much better.
It's just a brief tease so I might be reading something into it that isn't there but in the trailer, the very last scene at the climax of the trailer is a shot of Adora (with her hair down, I'm pretty sure!) crying out "FOR THE HONOR OF GRAYSKULL" as her hand reaches out and appears to be summoning some sort of portal and when I saw that I screamed out loud and started to cry--SHE'S SUMMONING A WHOLE NEW SWORD!!! One whose power comes not from its lineage but entirely from within Adora herself. I really hope I'm right about this because this is exactly the kind of story that needs to be told right now--an incredibly powerful woman whose power comes entirely from within--and I can't wait to see it all play out in Season Five!