REVIEW: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Final Season

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power delivered one of the most satisfying series finales in recent memory, skillfully wrapping up all the major storylines, doing justice to important character relationships, and beautifully affirming the power of love and friendship.

The She-Ra and the Princesses of Power team, led by show runner Noelle Stevenson, made a bold move by literally shattering the premise of their own show as a setup for the final season. Adora destroyed the Sword of Power at the end of the fourth season to prevent Horde Prime from using it as a weapon of mass destruction but in doing so, she also destroyed the link that allowed her to transform into the legendary warrior, She-Ra, just when the world needed her most.

Added to that was the separation of the main characters, with Adora and Bow left behind in Etheria to hold the fort while Queen Glimmer and Catra became captives on Horde Prime’s ship. Thrown out of their comfort zones and unable to fulfill the roles they believed were theirs (savior, queen, warrior, Horde leader), the main characters were given a compelling arc that also allowed them to better understand themselves and who they were meant to be.

She-ra and the Princesses of Power S5 trailerAnd while they struggled with their identity crises, the characters still had to contend with Horde Prime’s invasion of their world. Adora, Bow, and the remaining princesses had to continuously fight against Prime’s clones and robots to save their different kingdoms (Mermista expressing her exhaustion at this endless combat) while Glimmer and Catra had to play a sinister, psychological game of survival while in Prime’s custody.

Adora pushes herself to her limit, trying to overcompensate for the loss of She-Ra and it takes a while for Bow to remind her that she needs to give herself a break. Glimmer defies Prime while Catra, trying her usual survival tactic, tries to gain his favor. They soon realize that they are dealing with an enemy so much more cunning and dangerous than Hordak ever was and they form a bond through their common adversity.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power expertly balances the internal and external conflicts of the characters while never compromising it storytelling. The show still manages to portray the horrors of war and the effects on those involved without becoming too bleak. There are still moments of levity and hope to counterbalance the darkness and every character is given space to grow and learn even as they are constantly called to action.

While the focus was still on the main four protagonists (Adora, Catra, Glimmer, and Bow), all the princesses still had a moment to stand out, not just in fighting sequences but also in dialogue. There was a delightful dynamic between Micah and Frosta as the former tried to give in to his paternal instincts with the younger princess. Shadow Weaver and Castaspella likewise had a journey of their own, though one less cheerful, and the former even gets a moment to make peace with both Adora and Catra. And both Spinnerella and Netossa had a powerful journey that tested the strength of their love.

One of the greatest additions to the princess alliance is Scorpia, who finally belongs to a group that loves and accepts her for who she is. Even in the midst of the war, the show found an opportunity for a wonderful undersea espionage episode (“Perils of Peekablue”) with Mermista, Seahawk, Perfuma, and Scorpia – with Scorpia stealing the show! And which also featured a delightful appearance by Double Trouble (though sadly there wasn’t enough of them in the season.)

Entrapta also reunites with the princesses and though there is some initial tension between them because of her previous involvement with the Horde, after some intense discussions, the princesses learn to trust her again. While she is a tech genius, Entrapta does struggle with relating with other people and her position with the princesses was even more complicated than that of Scorpia since the princesses felt she had betrayed them while she believed they had abandoned her. But thankfully, through improved communication, the princesses learn to understand Entrapta a little better and she opens up about her difficulties with expressing her loyalty to friends. It is also Entrapta’s friendship that eventually inspires Hordak’s defiance of Horde Prime and his assertion of his identity.

Catra’s arc was the most transformative as her journey to redemption finally began, with visions of her childhood with Adora prompting her to save Glimmer but also pay a heavy price. But Adora was never going to abandon her dearest friend and so in the episode “Save the Cat,” not only are they reunited and reconciled, but Adora’s love for Catra also allowed her to transform to She-ra again. While I still feel that Catra’s heel-face turn occurred too soon and a bit too abruptly considering how she spent the last four seasons as Adora’s enemy, I also understand and appreciate that this was to give her more time to spend as one of the heroes. The bond she forged with Glimmer was a big help and Bow is always so forgiving and accepting that Catra reluctantly fit into the new best friend squad, just like Zuko in the third season of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

The princesses being so open to reconcile with old enemies was an effective way of teaching the younger audiences the importance of tolerance and forgiveness. But there were moments that it also seemed hilarious that the group so easily accepted major changes like Catra joining them and “Wrong Hordak” being on their side. Even at the very end, Mermista says what the others are probably thinking about when she and Seahawk see Entrapta happily holding on to a strangely-smiling Hordak. But in a war, people must adapt to change fairly quickly and the princesses understand that it’s always better to have more allies than enemies, after all.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power S5 PosterShe-Ra and the Princesses of Power managed to follow the standard fantasy tropes but still deliver an engaging and entertaining story. Another remarkable feature of the show was its skillful integration of elements of fantasy and sci-fi, the way both magic and technology were allowed to co-exist in Etheria. While it seemed like technology drove magic away from the ancient realm, the ending of the show proved that both could co-exist in harmony, that neither was inherently good or evil, it was how they were used by people that made them seem so.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power S5 PosterShe-Ra and the Princesses of Power is an impressive feat not just in terms of solid storytelling, character development, and progressive themes but also in technical terms. The animation is always gorgeous, with diverse and distinctive character design, jewel tones, and attention to detail (note the evolution of the images in the opening sequence this season.) The action scenes are always thrilling and make the most of the princesses’ different elemental powers and the music has been consistently both lively and haunting (particularly AJ Michalka’s rendition of the theme for this season.) She-ra’s victory and restoration of magic to Etheria was a wonderful homage to Studio Ghibli films, and it was particularly reminiscent of Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, and Castle in the Sky.

There are only a couple of small issues I have with the final season. While it was heartening to see Glimmer reunited with her father, Angella’s fate remains unresolved and it would have been appreciated if there had been a more explicit allusion to the queen. I’m quite certain that Glimmer and Micah will find a way to save her but it would have been good to have this mentioned. It was also a pity that Mermista and Scorpia spent the back half of the season being mind-controlled but this made for a more painful conflict with the remaining princesses. And it seemed strange to introduce new characters (the Star sisters) halfway through the season when other characters like Huntara, Double Trouble, and the Horde soldiers barely got screen time. But these are minor complaints given the amazing quality of the series as a whole.

While it was always a given that Adora and her friends would defeat Horde Prime, the way they achieved their victory felt earned and made sense. The diverse and fascinating cast of characters grew up and learned from their experiences, their faith in each other and the strength of their friendship allowed them to vanquish their greatest enemy.

Horde Prime proved to be a truly formidable adversary whose most terrifying power is his ability to bend people to his will and force them into his hive-mind. He wants a world of complete control, destroying all free will and individuality, the opposite of what She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is all about.

The show has never shied away from celebrating diversity – not just through the distinctive character design that is such a far cry from the original 80s cartoon, but also through normalizing the portrayal of LGBT relationships. There are healthy and stable relationships like those of Bow’s dads and Netossa and Spinnerella, and more complex ones like that of Catra and Adora. There are even implied relationships at the end like Scorpia and Perfuma and even, blink and you might miss it, Rogelio and Kyle.

She Ra loveIt’s an undeniable triumph for LGBT representation, particularly in a children’s show, that Catra and Adora’s epic romance was given so much focus and their love was unambiguously expressed at the most crucial moment in the finale. Catradora may not have been the healthiest of relationships, but given the seasons-long journey taken by these two characters, their getting together in the end was a wonder to behold.

She-Ra Best Friend SquadThe Catradora moment was also a reinforcement of one of the most important lessons of She-Ra and one of the more revolutionary approaches taken to the traditional hero’s journey. All throughout the series, Adora has been convinced that she needs to sacrifice herself to save the world, that she is the only person who can pay the price for peace. But even if she is the only one who can turn into She-Ra, she later realizes that saving the world does not always mean having to die for it. She-Ra may be the most powerful weapon in the universe but she is also only as strong as the people who love and believe in her. Adora deserves to live, to love, and to survive, surrounded by the friends whose combined strength helped her become the hero she always was.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power  has proven that even a children’s fantasy series can deliver depth and diversity with compelling characters and epic adventures. But more than anything, She-ra’s legacy is showing that a true hero’s greatest power is in the strength of her heart.

“For the honor of Grayskull!”