Netflix have two terrible habits; cancelling a show two seasons in (Tuca and Bertie and The OA most recently) and chopping a 13 episode production order into two six episode ones and claiming they’re whole seasons. This really hurt the middle seasons of Voltron but it’s something She-Ra turns not just into a feature but a driving force.
There are two arcs spread across these six episodes forming a functional serial. In the first, Adora discovers her true identity, how it connects to Mara, the original She-Ra and what it means for Etheria. This leads to the Best Friend Squad setting off to the Crimson Wastes to find the source of a garbled message and running into a wide variety of trouble along the way. Chief amongst that trouble is local thug Huntara (VOICED BY GEENA DAVIS!) and a newly at home Catra who spends the first half of the season, kicking, headbutting and basically savagely beating her groove back.
Along the way we get some surprising builds for some surprising characters. Glimmer really comes into her own this season, every bit the subtle and clever leader she’s been trying to be. Adora goes in the other direction; losing almost all her certainty beyond her She-Ra identity and struggling to make her peace with everything. Best, and most surprisingly of all, an extended sub plot sees everyone’s favorite AU Doctor Octopus cosplayer Entrapta bond with Hordak.
After two seasons of being the grumpy skeletal chap who shows up to remind everyone how evil the Dark Horde are, suddenly we see him as vulnerable and weirdly sweet. His origin is also a master stroke of overt science fiction that gives him pathos without excusing his terrible actions. Best of all though, their scenes together show these two characters with their very different world views are all too aware of what’s going on. Entrapta is so caught up in the data that, at first, it’s where her true loyalty lies. Hordak is so desperate to prove himself he’s prepared to risk the fabric of reality to get home. But not I suspect Entrapta’s safety. it’s a great, sweet relationship and i totally ship them in a mildly dark and disturbing way.
That first trilogy is written by Shane Lynch, Laura Sreebny and Josie Campbell and does a great job of expanding the world even as it closes in on the relationships at it’s heart. It also, oddly enough, basically makes Catra the second protagonist. At absolute rock bottom, murderously angry with everyone who isn’t her and suddenly somewhere where she has nothing to lose, Catra has FUN. It’s terrible, bloody fun and it means she completely ignores what amounts to Scorpia suggesting they elope together but still, fun it is.
It is the last time anyone has fun. Especially Catra.
‘Moment of Truth’, ‘Remember’ and ‘The Portal’ are written by Katherine Nolfi, Noelle Stevenson and Campbell once again and are, by a measurable distance, the show’s finest hour. Each one contains vital moments that ratchet the tension, expand the world and place even more pressure on Adora’s shoulders even as Catra finally buckles under the pressure on her’s. Unable to accept she’s at fault for anything, convinced the world is against her and happy to burn it just because she can, she’s a cat holding eye contact with you as she kicks something off a shelf. But this time, what she’s kicking is the world.
‘Remember’ is She-Ra’s take on one of my favorite story modes. Actually it may be two of them, one part It’s A Wonderful Life, one part ‘Remember Me’. Adora’s back in the Fright Zone and everything is perfect. People keep saying that to her even (And criticizing her hair). But something is wrong, everything is wrong and only Adora can stop it.
Stevenson writes offhandedly creepy like no one on Earth and this is a massively disturbing episode that ramps and ramps and ramps. I love how it builds on Catra and Adora’s relationship and then destroys it, Catra making the choice she’s accused everyone else of making and locking in her spot as Openweight Tragic Anti-Hero Champion Of The World. There’s something massive and Shakespearean about their final scenes together here. And the discordant, warped ‘Hey, Adora’ that’s the payoff is completely chilling.
‘The Portal’ builds on this sense of unease and turns into an epic disaster movie. We get a do over of sorts of the first episode, only this time when Adora is captured in Bright Moon, King Micah (Hi Daniel Dae-Kim!) is on the throne…
What follows is a rapid escalation in stakes once again, and a very personal apocalypse for Glimmer and her mother. That in turn leads to things falling apart, the center collapsing and at the last possible second, Adora discovering that while she’s She-Ra, she isn’t the only heroine on Etheria. The final five minutes here are intensely kind, vastly sad and completely heroic. No one fights. No one screams. The power of the entire season, of the entire show so far, comes down to one woman, in the right place at the right time, doing what only she can do. It’s an incredible sequence, one that saves the world but also leaves a permanent mark on it and its characters that will make season 4 even better. After all, while the crisis is over, everyone remembers what they did. Including Catra…
She-Ra Season 3 makes the world bigger than it’s heroine and grows her as a result. It gives welcome new dimensions to Catra, Scorpia, Entrapta,Shadow Weaver, Hordak (HORDAK!) and Adora and sets up a much larger fourth season. In fairness, it does this at the expense of Bow, Seahawk, Mermista(Still the best by the way), Perfuma and Frosta and that makes the show a little less light on it’s feet. But the season lacks lighter moments for a reason and the payoff is worth it. Confident, endlessly impressive, morally complex and gripping this is a high watermark for Netflix animation and the best season of one of their best shows to date.
All three seasons of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power are on Netflix now. They are a light in the darkness of 201WHATTHEFUCKNOW? Go watch them all.