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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iShe-Ra And The Princesses Of Power /ifinishes with more heart than ever
Image: Netflix
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You have to hand it to creator Noelle Stevenson and her cracking team of writers: She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power’s fourth and penultimate season ended with a classic, yet potent moment of epic buildup. Closing the season with Adora’s (Aimee Carrero) tough decision to destroy the Sword Of Protection—effectively sealing the end of She-Ra—appeared to lay the foundation for the show’s biggest mission yet: bringing Etheria’s greatest hero back. And with its most imminent threat poised to finally assert his reign, the fate of the galaxy seemingly rests on her very necessary return.

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But as the last 13 episodes prepare us for the final showdown, season five’s biggest question isn’t necessarily about how to bring She-Ra back (even though that is still pretty important), but rather, who are we outside of the legacies we inherit? When you can’t be a queen, a warrior, or even a cog in someone else’s destructive mechanism, what do you stand for? It’s an especially revelatory time for Adora, who has repeatedly, willingly placed her entire world’s fate on her back while allowing her alter ego to supersede her own needs. For four seasons, She-Ra has worked to humanize these immensely heroic figures and make their resulting relationships as complex as our own. The fifth season is no exception, and while some conclusions register a little too neatly, the overall sendoff for this universe is as well-earned as it is satisfying.

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The threat of Horde Prime continues to loom over the people of Etheria; however, much of the final season focuses on a number of the show’s key relationships, as well as a few new ones. Adora and Catra’s (AJ Michalka) fraught connection remains one of the most complex in current youth-oriented programming (aside from the now-concluded Steven Universe). One of Stevenson’s many strengths is her handling of both Catra as a victim of trauma and the ways her past has strained relations between her and her sister-turned-enemy. As the contentious duo has spent the past four seasons oscillating between hate and residual (though heavily, heavily cloaked) affection from their childhood, the final season has the former friends confronting their complicated dynamic directly. It’s impossible for She-Ra to fully contend with all of their shared baggage—it would take a full season of Mystacor-grade therapy or a full-on battle on Beast Island to work through the bulk of their issues—but the season leaves them with a clear path forward that is both rational and satisfying. The way that Carrero and Michalka have managed to get to the heart of Adora and Catra—both as individuals and feuding counterparts—in these final moments is something truly special, and a testament to how much this story pays off after years of work.

Additionally, Glimmer’s (Karen Fukuhara) last fight with Adora and Bow (Marcus Scribner) prior to her abduction still hangs over their eventual reunion. Considering the thickly built foundation of that rift—specifically, the shifting power dynamics between a new queen and her once-equal best friends—there isn’t much focus placed on exactly how Glimmer’s reign will factor into this friendship, or how this group will reassess their boundaries. Instead, the primary objective is to mend broken fences, which is pretty understandable for a story fueled almost entirely by the power of love and friendship. For a show that navigates complex friendships so well, however, some may find the solution to this conflict a little too simple (which is not the same as bad), especially when it comes to childhood best friends Glimmer and Bow. In a way, Entrapta’s (Christine Woods) story suffers the same issue, where the show seemingly trades an in-depth look at her treatment for heroics. It’s still very fun and gratifying in certain key moments, but it would have been enlightening to see more reflection from those who have outwardly had more difficulty understanding Entrapta’s mindset, which is often misunderstood.

Illustration for article titled iShe-Ra And The Princesses Of Power /ifinishes with more heart than ever
Image: Netflix

On the plus side, it’s great to see the final season give Bow his due: Not only is he an excellent warrior to fight alongside, he is also a prized companion to anyone lucky enough to call him a friend. Scribner continues to pair well with Fukuhara’s enduring spirit, bringing a unique tenderness to Bow right up to the very end as one of the more compassionate male characters we’ve seen in a while.

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In fact, Bow is the figure that likely draws the most attention to Adora’s near-destructive struggle with her superheroic identity. With She-Ra out of the picture, Adora is left to figure out who she is without the hero powers (which happens to be a sleepless, battle-happy fighter who doesn’t recognize her limits). This particular journey requires a lot of reminders from her friends to rest and utilize her support system rather than jumping headlong into tremendous danger. The idea that warriors deserve love and care is not something that we get to witness within the fantasy genre nearly often enough, which is part of what puts She-Ra in a class of its own. (This isn’t by any means new to She-Ra, as Scorpia [Lauren Ash] has always existed as a reminder of this lesson.)

But the emotional ride, as always, is tempered with fun and sharp humor. With a sizable portion of the season dedicated to the Best Friend Squad, a side mission with Mermista (Vella Lovell), Sea Hawk (Jordan Fisher), Perfuma (Genesis Rodriguez), and Scorpia becomes one of the best parting gifts Stevenson and this comedic crew of performers have left to give fans. At the risk of revealing too much, Keston John also has the opportunity to show the audience more than Hordak and Horde Prime in a way that speaks to both John’s range and the infectious fun of the series, even in the throes of peril.

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Alongside the humor, emotion, and fluctuating friendships, you can also expect a final battle that She-Ra has not only diligently set up since season one, but earned in dividends. Stevenson and company have managed to dodge predictability with enough twists and new developments to end this chapter on a still-fresh note. Of all the final notes that She-Ra leaves behind, the most resonant is perhaps that nothing trumps the collective power of friendship, love, and solid storytelling.

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