Season 4 of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power debuted this week and I binged it, not only enjoying but feeling my mind absolutely blown away by the powerful emotional arcs and the build up to the finale as mysteries were finally resolved in ways I had not anticipated. It’s a wonderfully crafted piece of writing that has built up over the previous three seasons with its treatment of its characters and the world.
It’s also an example of media that does not absolve the characters of their actions or words, and leans heavily into the more complicated issues of friendship in very intense, emotional ways.
However, before we continue, I will tell you all that beyond this, there be spoilers. MAJOUR spoilers.
She-Ra is no more.
The Horde and the Princess Alliance both lay in tatters.
Glimmer and Catra are both ‘guests’ of Hordak Prime.
And Etheria is now back in normal space.
Throughout all of these majour developments, and the hell of a cliffhanger season 4 left us on, the biggest impression left upon me is the central message written into the main narrative that’s been building up from the very first season into a fever pitch: that friendship is important, it’s vital, it’s empowering… and it’s also discouraging, toxic, draining, and requires a lot of work.
I want to say that while we see this touched upon in Steven Universe, My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic, and other animated series, it feels to me that the new She-Ra series really leans hard into this narrative, along with its theme of emotional abuse and the scars it can leave on people, and it’s important to explore such things, especially in animation, something that’s still fairly widely seen as ‘just for kids.’
The friendships that we see are strained as they’re tested again and again, and even broken, especially in the relationship between Scorpia and Catra. By now we’ve seen Catra burn the bridge between herself and Adora, to the point where several times during this season, Adora almost outright kills Catra, who is only saved by her quick reflexes.
But the one steady rock she’s had since season 1, Scorpia, is shattered into so much rubble as Catra, driven by her inner demons and a need to prove herself incapable of ever being hurt by anyone ever again, proves to Scorpia just how bad a friend she is. The line Scorpia says, the very headline of this article-
“You’re a bad friend.”
– is absolutely heartbreaking to partake in its is soft utterance, and culminates in the realization by Scorpia, after struggling with self doubt and her efforts, her very drive to be a good friend to someone she sees as being very lonely, that Catra is someone very toxic that she must let go for her own sake and the sake of others.
(Kudos must definitely be given to voice actress Lauren Ash for her performance this season, as well as the last.)
It’s a hard thing to realize that the people you care about, very deeply, can and will hurt you in return without any regard for you, be it because they’re selfish or hurt themselves and know not of any healthy, coping mechanisms for exploring their feelings. There’s a sense of shame that you’re being selfish and not toughing it out, that you’re not being a good friend, especially when coupled with gender expectations of women always being kind and nurturing regardless of what life throws at them.
Scorpia’s choice to leave Catra is not just one of many of her chickens come home to roost, but an active, conscious decision by Scorpia to do what’s right by her, by Entrapta, and by Emily. She gave and gave and gave, and it mattered not, and she’s more than well within her right to leave.
Another aspect of friendship I felt had some strong weight to it this season was the side as reflected by Bow, the kind, gentle, enthusiastic friend of Glimmer and Adora, and how we get to see the strain on him for struggling to keep the splintering friendship between them from collapsing entirely. We see the effort Bow puts into this, and more than once we see him commiserate on how difficult it is to be the upbeat, bright, shining one, working so hard to keep others afloat even as they unintentionally drag him beneath the waves.
Marcus Scribner delivers an understated performance as Bow this season, adding more depth to a character that would have remained two dimensional in less capable hands, and his fatigue is palpable as the season nears its end, especially in episode 11, Beast Island. As the island’s signal drags our heroes down, we see Bow succumb to his own inner doubts, doubts that in turn, he then embraces to help Entrapta free herself of the island’s pull on her self doubt.
Friendship IS hard and genuine effort has to be put into it not just through the good times, but the bad, where honesty and communication are key. Bow is, in many ways, the contrast to the friendships we see in the Horde, not just between Catra and Scorpia, but between Catra and the trainees.
This too is incredibly relatable because who hasn’t been the one caught between squabbling friends and trying to make things better but also unsure about how to do it? I’ve been there, I imagine many of us have been, and it never gets any easier.
I felt the writing was done well with regards to Bow and his role in the Best Friend Squad. After all, he’s not a peace keeper, someone who tries to sooth away conflict for the sake of peace, but works to get to the root of the problem, encouraging Adora and Glimmer at one point to really discuss what’s been bothering them and bringing them into conflict with each other.
And it works… until Double Trouble, that wondefully crafted neutral agent of chaos, derails it.
All of this, combined with how the story does not sweep aside nor easily resolve the underlying tensions in the characters results in an emotional honesty that’s absolutely engaging and adds to the overall drama of the story, raising the stakes that much more.
And that the cast and crew do it without making it grim and gritty shows it can be done, and it’s refreshing to see, especially when I so often see grim and gritty being portrayed as adult and mature.
It’s been one heck of an emotional roller coaster these four seasons, and as the finale left us off, we can tell that there’s going to be more yet to come.
And I’ll be there with bells on.