I have not really admitted to being a She-Ra fan on this blog, and the truth is, I’m really not a fan. I got vaguely interested in the show because a reaction channel I like talked about it, I mostly just watched it to laugh at it, but then I got interested in the depiction of abusive relationships–for obvious reasons.
So, I watched up to season 4 and then when season 5 came out last week, I watched it too, interested to see how they’d wrap things up…
SPOILER ALERT (duh)
Now, to be honest, my emotional investment was low in everyone except Entrapta and Hordak, and that part was pretty good, so I enjoyed some of the season.
I was never the biggest Catra fan, but l had moments of enjoying her arc also.
But in my opinion, about halfway through is where they dropped the ball, and they dropped it off a cliff.
I’m aware a lot of you readers probably haven’t even heard of this show, as I have international followers, and followers who probably have better stuff to do than binge Netflix kids shows.
Why should you care?
Well, in what it becoming the typical Netflix American fashion, this show tackles both LGBTQ issues (if by tackles you mean subtly promotes the lifestyle in a cotton candy way that you’ll never see with a real gay couple, at least, I’ve not seen any act that way) and abuse. I can’t really explain why it’s so popular to tackle abuse on kids shows now, but I’m not against it if it’s done right, since I certainly wish I’d seen more about it before so that I knew what I was experience was at least not right.
I don’t think they need to call it “abuse” because kids should not be taught to throw that word around until they can understand the difference between abuse and discipline or acts of anger from an equal.
And just to be clear about why I’m going to criticize the show, this is how I qualify behavior as abuse:
- Power. Power is the absolutely crucial element of any abuse. Power over the other person, not power to enforce what’s right. Verbal or emotional abuse is just as much about power as physical abuse is, and can be more effective and harder to trace.
- Confusion. Discipline is given for a clear reason, or should be. Abuse can be about one thing one day and the opposite thing the next day. The victim is constantly confused about why they are in trouble.
- Justification. Abusers justify what they do with crap reasons that put the blame on everyone else. they don’t just have outbursts of temper, they say those were appropriate reactions. Without the other two elements, justification isn’t abuse because all of us do it, but when someone does it with that kind of malice, it’s become abuse.
Another element that doesn’t have to be it, but usually is is that the two people are not equals, one is a parent, boss, or tyrant figure, and the other is their subordinate or dependent. It can happen between equals in a different sense, where one tries to usurp the other and become the top dog, no matter what the cost.
So, if you watch She-Ra you can probably guess the rest of my thoughts from here on out.
She-Ra depicts it’s MC Adora as the victim of abuse from Shadow Weaver, one of the main villains. then Adora’s “friend” Catra overthrows Shadow Weaver and starts posturing and acting like her…and trying to kill Adora.
I’ve had many a rant about Sasuke and Sakura getting together after all the crap that no one ever calls them out for (except the fans).
But this show managed to trump the bad idea of that ship.
So, after a redemption arc more rushed than necessary, Catra and Adora get together…
Okay, here’s the deal.
You spend 4 FREAKING SEASONS portraying the stages of leaving an abusive relationship, gaining Independence, discovering who you were meant to be, and learning to communicate with healthier friends. You do a decent job with all that. Have some real cathartic moments of characters calling each other on their crap. Have your MC learn to stop taking blame on herself for stuff beyond her control, choose her own path, etc.
You do ALL THAT right,
And then your big answer at the end is to GO BACK TO THAT PERSON who abused you and make nice with them, and then get in a romantic relationship?
‘Cause that’s realistic.
I mean, it’s not uncommon for victims to go back to their abuser, but it is uncommon for survivors who get out of it to ever willingly put themselves back in. Even when the plot demands it, Adora is hesitant to trust Shadow Weaver.
Someone would say “Catra isn’t Shadow Weaver, Catra was a victim like Adora, so it’s different.”
Ah, no. No, no, NO!
There’s a few reasons that won’t hold up.
- The obvious one? Catra tried to kill Adora several times. I know, I know, if people can ship Sasuke with Sakura and Harley with Joker, that won’t stop them. But consider what the point of Adora’s whole arc at the end of Season 3 was? She gave up trying to talk Catra off the ledge, and just stopped her. It was great. In Season 4 she’s in the next stage, learning to just not care what Catra says or does to try to get under her skin. (It’s a fun phase, you feel so free). Season 5 marks the time for Catra to have her own arc, of learning to let go of control, to not give in to anger, and to forgive. Then either at the end or in a future season, a reconciliation could happen, but by no means would it be romantic. That would take years, if it happened at all (which it wouldn’t just to be clear. Once you’re out, you’re out. Unless you’re still married, maybe. A kid isn’t going to move back in with an abusive parent. Sorry.)
2. Adora was already moving on. As I just said, Adora had gotten over a lot of the anger and guilt she felt over Catra, she realized it was Catra’s choice to screw over the world, not hers. She wasn’t even obsessing over stopping her, she was treating it like a chore. You don’t want to, but you have to.
And that, my friends, is the best place to be in.
As someone who’s kicked an abuser out of my life, let me say, I don’t enjoy reinforcing that. I don’t like making him suffer. I do get catharsis out of seeing the same tactics no longer work on me or anyone else, but I know it’s not over. I have to see this through till the end, but it’s not all I think about.
3. It would never, ever happen.
Even in fiction, two victims of the same abuser who were raised together are not going to end up in a relationship, and this is why:
When an abuser has multiple victims at the same time, usually a parent, but it can be a boss or tyrant also, they will pit them against each other to curry favor. They get a kick out of making one scapegoat feel small, and the other feel dependent on them for their self esteem.
Case in point, I’m the scapegoat in my family, and one of my sisters is the “good sheep” (commonly called Golden Child) but when she caught on to the abuse and began calling it out, she fell from grace within 2 weeks. No joke. It took about 3 days to go from being the good kid to the same basket case as yours truly. Why? She changed, but our dad didn’t.
The scapegoat will realize what’s happening to a certain point, and resent the abuser, and usually, they’ll resent the Golden Child too. Sometimes they get over it and realize the other person was also a victim, like in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (a much better handling of the same dynamic), other times they turn on their fellow victim, like in the new show The Dragon Prince, with Claudia and Soren (another much better depiction.)
Even if you reconcile, you never get away from the fact that they were in that with you and will always remind you of it. Ideally, you both go on to live independent lives, and stay close, but you know you can’t be dependent on each other, or the cycle continues.
Growing apart is actually good for abused siblings, because abuse traps you into one little circle of people. I hardly ever had friends over growing up, play-dates didn’t get set up, nothing. I think there was just this instinct to keep to ourselves. It’s not malicious on everyone’s part, it’s just there, darkness hides, that’s all there is to it.
People who marry victims of abuse may find the family will either make them a part of the cycle, or always resent them for being outside it, and it causes more problems in marriage than most realize. If two abuse victims get married who never got over it, then it’s likely they’ll become part of both cycles in some way, directly or indirectly, and so like attracts like, it’s what’s normal to you.
All this to say, Adora and Catra’s best case scenario always should have been parting ways at the end of the show. Even if Catra had joined Adora at the start of it, eventually she would have needed to find her own path, apart from Adora, to find out what it’s like to not revolve around Adora and Shadow Weaver.
Adora’s whole journey in seasons 1-4 is learning not to revolve around Catra and Shadow Weaver, which the ever unhelpful Glimmer does not make easy.
Certainly, once Catra started trying to kill her, any chance of being close like they were before was out the window.
I am all about forgiveness, but I am not about stupidity. We have flaws. You can forgive, but some things you should not forget. You need to remember, so you value your freedom.
It’s like how we remember 9/11 and Memorial Day, and JFK’s assassination. How the Israelites remembered being set free from Slavery on Passover. You need to be reminded that freedom is hard, costly, and has to be maintained. Or you’ll lose it.
In my mind, Season 5 was doomed as soon as Adora went back for Catra after Catra told her not to. Not because I was against Catra getting saved, but because I think it needed to be someone other than Adora. Glimmer, Bow, Entrapta, anyone it wouldn’t have been codependency with.
They could have still saved it if Adora had understood what needed to happen after saving Catra, but she goes right back to blaming herself, worrying, and saying she “doesn’t want to lose her”.
On most shows, this would be a red flag that the person was getting too obsessed with the other, but nope, its okay now, because…uh, no reason really. The fans wanted the ship, I guess.
Catra’s arc is undermined by the fact that she is not letting Adora go, but still basing her self-worth on Adora and Shadow Weaver.
Even to the point where Shadow Weaver successfully manipulates her into running off again, so, she learned nothing, really.
This “ship” hit all the wrong branches on the abuse-victim tree for me, and it was infuriating to see it be endgame.
I both think it was never going to be romantic once it was depicted as two abuse victims trying to deal with their past, and that it should never have been romantic once they were free already, and that even if it was going to be at all costs, they could have at least tried to be mature about it.
But nope, let’s just kiss and do the love defies death cliche (I love that cliche when it’s done right, by the way).
Now, you may think, I just don’t like gay ships.
But let me counter with this, I watch a reviewer of the show who does support gay ships, and he has made the abuse comparison in each season of the show.
Here’s the problem, he still ships it (and no, he’s not gay himself, he just wants to be progressive.)
Now, he called it abusive, before I did, in fact. But he still ships it. Do you see the problem here?
I suppose someone who hasn’t been abused can make glib comments about it, but overlook it in the end if they get the butterflies from the sickly sweet shipping moments.
But let me spell this out for anyone who might think I’m being too harsh:
Abuse is hell, at least, it’s pretty darn close.
Abuse tears apart who you are, and gives you nothing back but poison. It’s selfish, it’s isolating you from anyone who might help you.
When you are finally out of it, you dread somehow getting tricked into going back. You have depression, guilt, fear, anger, rage, grief.
It can feel like you’ll never be a normal person. You’ll never have a happy life. This will blot out the sunshine forever.
All this can go on for years, at the very least, months.
And that’s AFTER you got OUT. Not even mentioning what it was like while it was happening. Not feeling safe any day of your life because that person is there, or will be, or may find some way to hurt you even if they aren’t there.
Words can not describe the amount of loathing I would feel to ever willingly subject myself to that again, as well as the paranoia that I someday will. The only thing that keeps all that at bay is knowing God is there, having my back. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I was not a Christian and the same thing happened…yikes.
So, seeing someone dismiss that on the grounds of “cute shipping moments” kind of makes me want to throw up.
This is my issue with the show, in summary. They threw out all that good writing in order to ship the characters, which is a terrible example for kids, and gay people, for that matter. Don’t get back into an abusive relationship, just don’t.
There is no going back. Even if you forgive the person, and miracle of miracles, they are actually sorry and learn to be better, distance is what maintains that.
Abuse is about control, distance is the sincerest form of repentance for an abuser, and the truest form of freedom for a victim.
In a perfect world, with perfect people, it wouldn’t matter. But the world isn’t perfect.
And that’s also my other problem with the show’s ending.
It’s a pastel pink, gay paradise. Literally. No one mentions the people who just died, we see no funeral, no one mentions Angella even though her husband is just getting to see his home without her for the first time, no one talks about all the damage they’ll still need to repair.
And no one even thinks about how Catra still has a crap ton of issues, and needs to resolve them without Adora’s help.
Nope. Best friend Squad, my foot.
They make it look perfect, because any acknowledgement of the real problems that still need to be dealt with breaks the illusion that this could actually be the ending.
Don’t say “Disney does it all the time” not the same thing. At its worst, Disney doesn’t end with abusive relationships.
Paradise is a good ending when the main problems have been resolved, or the path to resolving them has been made clear for the audience, not when there’s a lot still to do.
Freaking Naruto ended better than that… and it was awful.
Anyway, yes, I did turn this into a rant, but I hope it’s clear why I feel so strongly about this.
To me, it seems the writers must not have talked to anyone who has been abused, because it’s just so repulsive to you if you have gotten out of it.
I don’t by any means wish to make my abuse story a badge of identity to myself, I detest that mindset.
But if the subject comes up, as it clearly did, I think I have the right to call them out for doing it wrong.
I still liked some things about season 5, but the conclusion is not one of them.
Until next time, Stay honest–Natasha.
One thought on “She-Ra Season 5 tanked the characters.”
A very true, well thought out post. I appreciated all you had to say about the show and this topic. So far, I don’t recall many kids’ show that have successfully portrayed getting out of abuse. Except for Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Dragon aPrince.