Sunday, May 26, 2024

She-Ra Takes the Throne in Season 4

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After a fantastic, intense season 3 full of resolution for the plotlines built up to that point, the chances of season 4 being better seemed slim. Not because Noelle Stevenson and her fellow She-Ra crew lack the talent, of course. You’d just be hard-pressed to live up to that standard. Any show would. You don’t get better than She-Ra’s third season without placing yourself among the best of the best of the animated world, not just today but in recent memory, if not all time.

Glimmer wasn’t the only one who took a throne in season 4. She-Ra took the throne as the best animated children’s show airing today. This season firmly placed this show in position to end among the animated greats.

Surprisingly, rather than reload after the intense ending of season 3, She-Ra puts its characters in its new places and keeps things humming along. Glimmer becomes Queen of Brightmoon and leader of the Princess Alliance. The war continues. New dynamics are established, and new conflicts arise, and the tension of the previous season quickly returns when new dangers are established. We also learn more than ever about the First Ones, Light Hope, and Mara.

Ultimately, though, I think this season belonged to two people; Glimmer and Catra.

Most of the conflicts this season involve Glimmer’s ascension. Her coronation is the focus of the first episode, and it’s her increasing isolation and difficulties with her new responsibilities. I think Glimmer comes out of this season as the star character arc of the season. Over the course of the season, we see how she loses touch with Adora and Bow, which has a huge effect on her mindset, and how her newfound power causes her to act on desires she never could have while her mother lived.

She-Ra gave Glimmer a lot of room to grieve her mother and decide the type of ruler she wants to be. She struggles all season between her desires, her fears, and the legacy and example Angella set. It all leads Glimmer down a darker, lonelier path of desperation. One that fits perfectly with the person we came to know over the first 3 seasons. She has always been a stubborn, aggressive person with a strong underlying desperation leading her to take greater risks in hopes of defeating the Horde.

Going into the season, I expected Shadow Weaver to play the largest role in corrupting Glimmer down a darker path. She’s an older woman who can fill in as a replacement mother figure and also open up Glimmer’s greater power. I didn’t necessarily see this as a good thing. Instead, She-Ra took Glimmer down this path entirely of her own accord.

Shadow Weaver certainly played a part in encouraging Glimmer away from the path copying Angella, but she never showed any evil intent. In the end, Shadow Weaver is also surprised and disagreeable of Glimmer’s decisions.

Glimmer has always forged down recklessly aggressive paths when given the chance. Sometimes, she even takes those paths when she doesn’t have the chance. It’s not a surprise to see her take terrible risks when she finally has the power to override everyone. If anything, it was refreshing to see her remain the same person as Queen that she was before.

What makes her path and her discord with Adora and Bow so effective is how each side remains so stubbornly true to their established beliefs, which is what naturally leads to their split. By that same logic, I have no reason to worry that She-Ra will make this split permanent. These characters all care for each other and will come back to each other.

When it came to the Heart of Etheria, though, Glimmer’s determination to harness that power was perfect. She saw the power to end the war with the Horde in one fell swoop. It was a decision that reminded me a lot of Catra using the portal in season 3. Both characters were pushed towards these disastrous decisions, where they saw one move capable of validating themselves and ignored the dangers they were warned of.

Glimmer will face the consequences of her decision in season 5. Catra faced hers in season 4.

After hitting rock bottom in activating the portal that eventually killed Angela, we finally saw Catra lose everyone and everything. Entrapta was off to Beast Island. Scorpia leaves halfway through the season. Lonnie, Kyle, and Rogelio become openly hostile. Even Hordak turns on her once he founds out the truth about Entrapta. When Horde Prime arrives at the end of the season, Catra even loses what power she gained within the Horde.

And what’s more, she finally has to face the fact that she has no one to blame but herself. I’m not as big a fan of the new character, Double Trouble, as much of the She-Ra fandom is, but they were a fantastic addition if for no other reason than the scene where they make Catra face this reality.

As painful as it was to watch, Catra needed to go through the pain of isolation, the complete loss of everything that she suffers in season 4. I wrote before about how the beauty of her arc is She-Ra’s insistence on making both her and the audience earn her redemption. They have avoided easy tropes and fallbacks to rush Catra to a better position. They could have used Adora, Scorpia, Hordak, or Shadow Weaver to quickly flip Catra. If She-Ra had done so, we would have lost out on a character arc which is now set up to rival any seen in any kid’s show.

What Catra went through this season was the necessary consequence of her actions. It was the last gasp of the anger, frustration, and fear she felt in the time since Adora left. Really, we see in her arc the aftermath of what Glimmer is currently doing, and what will happen if Glimmer continues along this path. Season 4 was not rock bottom for Catra; it was the moments after she hit the bottom, when the pain starts to set in.

And, as expected, she struggled to cope. She could no longer blame it all on Adora, or Shadow Weaver, or anyone else. We saw her finally realize why everyone was leaving her and react badly. And it was all for nothing.

Horde Prime’s introduction has stripped away whatever justification Catra may have once had for her decisions. Like Glimmer, she could at least justify her actions as necessary because she holds power, or because she wants more power. Like Glimmer, she kind of took the throne this season. Now she lost even that. Catra will still try to keep playing her games with Horde Prime. Even if she has realized her error and is ready to try and right them, she will have to play along with Horde Prime to do so.

Horde Prime is an entirely different challenge from Hordak, though, and Catra is out of her league.

It was fitting for Catra and Glimmer to end up in his clutches. He is the direct result of their shared mistakes. The portal made Etheria visible to Horde Prime, and the Heart of Etheria project brought the planet back into the larger universe so he could invade. Now they’re trapped together and will have to fix their mistake together. Or at the very least, return to their friends together. Their arcs have always been a fascinating parallel to one another, but never more than in season 4. They’ve converged onto this singular point.

Season 4 of She-Ra was remarkable for all of its characters. Even characters I felt lukewarm about, like Sea Hawk and Swift Wind, were at their very best and incredibly likable. Adora’s arc that led to the breaking of her sword would be enough in any other season to overshadow everyone else. Micah’s return was a game-changer. Possibly the singular best episode of the season finally showed us more about Mara, Razz, and Light Hope.

She-Ra was arguably at its best in just about every way in season 4. So that says something when Glimmer and Catra stood out among everyone. Is there anything to immediately look forward to in season 5 more than those two being held together on Horde Prime’s ship?

I also look forward to seeing how She-Ra will build on its own crowning moment here. There’s no show like this putting out anything better. She-Ra has taken the throne in the children’s animation world, and I can’t wait to see what else they have in store.

Images Courtesy of Netflix

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