Back in 2018 I wrote down my thoughts on season one of Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. To sum it up: I enjoyed the premiere but felt it had a lot of issues involving world-building, character growth, and (a lack of) explicit LGBTQ representation.
Within the last week, I decided to revisit the show – in part because people were saying really good things about the ending. I am glad I did. My initial comments on She-Ra (I’m not writing out the full title every time) were overly critical and harsh. It was after all just a first season.
Before I get into exactly why She-Ra is so worthwhile, I do want to give some context as to why I bore down on this Netflix series with such a strict scale.
The Voltron Legacy
After Avatar: Legend of Korra ended, I was ready for animation to take a step forward. In its final season, Legend of Korra had presented complex themes and a minor (but important) step toward a broadening representation in “children’s” animation. But it was over now and I wanted more.
Then came word that the animation studio behind Korra had been hired to develop several series, one of which was the new Voltron: Legendary Defender show for Netflix. And it looked just like Korra…but you know, in space and with cats…so awesome. And I watched season one and it was very promising.
Then it fell apart.
Season one of Voltron turned out to be the series at its best as poor character writing, non-existent character arcs for the majority of the main cast, convoluted storytelling, and piss-poor representation dragged down future episodes. I didn’t even finish it – and I have a high tolerance for watching bad things.
So this created, I think, a belief in my head that Netflix didn’t know how to run series. Voltron‘s development was incredibly rushed as it released a few episodes every couple months, rather than taking a break for proper seasons. When I heard She-Ra season two was bound for a similar fate, well I think I just thought “Great, here we go again.”
So I judged season one of She-Ra like it was the best the series was going to be, rather than what it was: just an introduction. Looking back, season one of She-Ra is the show at its weakest, hamstrung by character introduction and predictable episode structure.
What it became next was something truly magical.
Creating Success out of Failure
She-Ra reminds me why remakes should exist. It isn’t just about squeezing more money out of audiences or introducing new generations to older stories they may not have otherwise engaged with. It’s also about improving on what came before. Look at the recent Andy Serkis-led Planet of the Apes trilogy, which took a crappy sequel and made it into an impressive science fiction epic.
She-Ra is like this. I mean no offense to fans of the original show but I tried watching and…well, I don’t think it’s aged well:
As I mentioned in my first She-Ra article, the original show is very simple and largely existed as a way to try and grow the He-Man brand to a more diverse audience. It’s fine for kids who grew up back then but, well, we’ve come a long way from having He-Man have to show up to save the day in the very first episode.
There is real merit to taking flawed ideas and trying to reinvent them to be more appropriate to the current cultural landscape. Netflix’s She-Ra is a wonderful example of this philosophy done right.
True Fantasy: A World without Homophobia
One of my largest problems with season one was that I felt, despite Noelle Stevenson’s involvement, the LGBTQ representation was mostly shallow and surface-level. I’m glad to say that, after seeing the whole series, this is definitely not the case.
I don’t want to spoil much here so please, maybe skip the rest of this section if you want to be fully surprised by what the show has to offer. I recommend doing this as it creates a great moment of “THEY DID IT!” when it finally happens.
Okay, if you’re still with me, the whole will-they-won’t-they romance between Adora and Catra is answered with a definitive yes. More importantly, this romance is presented without any added drama created from it being a gay relationship.
This is important for two reasons, by far the biggest is that it’s a children’s show. Kids watching She-Ra will see this lesbian couple as no different from any straight relationship, which I believe is powerful.
Secondly, Adora and Catra did not need the added drama. Their relationship is already turbulent enough without adding a “society doesn’t want us together” angle. Heck, I personally feel that Stevenson really pulled some masterful storytelling to weave them back together as well as she did – given that for most of the series Catra is a spiraling homicidal train-wreck that would give Azula a run for her money.
Imperfect but still Fantastic
At the end of the day, She-Ra still isn’t perfect, it doesn’t pull off the incredible lightning in a bottle that Avatar: The Last Airbender somehow did. Overall, the show suffers from too many characters – including three that are strangely introduced for one episode in the final season only to be never seen again. This leads to some characters feeling more shallow than others.
I also think the finale tries to go for one redemption too many as Shadow Weaver feels a lot closer to Severus Snape than she does to Catra in terms of character growth. Perhaps this could have worked if the final season were a couple episodes longer. A bit more time definitely couldn’t have hurt.
The show also fails to raise the stakes its final season – going from “Will Catra set off the universe-ending bomb?” to “Will Horde Prime set off the universe-ending bomb?” is the same scenario. Does it really matter if it’s done by a suicidal teenager or a narcissistic cult leader?
Speaking of, part of me wishes that, instead of Horde Prime, the Eternians (maybe led by a corrupted He-Man) would have been the final villain – that way Adora could have had a more concrete resolution to reconciling her past (new family vs. old family narrative). But that’s just a personal wish.
Please don’t let any of this discourage you from checking out She-Ra. Yeah it’s not perfect but then nothing really is – and that’s part of the point of the show! What it does well, LGBTQ representation, autistic representation, mental health representation, well-developed romance, and just kick-ass fantasy more than outweighs its negatives.
She-Ra made me more excited about the He-Man universe than I’ve ever been and I can’t wait to see where Netflix goes from here. I’m only sad that it doesn’t appear Noelle Stevenson will be staying on to help bring her wonderful vision to Eternia.
One last thought: If I were Netflix, I’d be talking with Noelle Stevenson on transforming She-Ra into a live-action series. Perhaps a little more adult? Seems to be the rage right now and I think could lead to some interesting storytelling differences. You know, same skeleton different bones. Would also welcome a sequel series…just saying.