Spoilers ahead for Season 4 of Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
After two “seasons” of 7 and 6 episodes apiece, DreamWorks Animation’s contemporary take on She-Ra is back in force with a full 13-episode season. That’s a check in the positive column since my only knocks on the previous two seasons were the short episode run and lack of emotionally meaningful narrative arcs; there just wasn’t time to deliver a fully satisfying season. Not so in Season 4. Now streaming on Netflix, these 13 episodes will take new and returning viewers alike on an emotional journey that soars to new heights and crashes down into devastating new lows. And the audience experience is all the better for it.
Noelle Stevenson‘s take on the 80s cartoon and toy franchise has given us a bright, fun, and fancy-free animated series with strong, well-defined characters and a female-focused narrative. But everything’s been relatively easygoing in the first three seasons: The characters learned to lean on each other, develop their respective power sets, and form alliances, even as they battled the frenemies of the Evil Horde. I liken these seasons to the first three stories in the Harry Potter series, or the original Star Wars; sure, there was some peril, but everyone got along mostly scot-free. Not so once Vader and Luke face off in hand-to-hand (or … I guess just one hand) combat, or once poor Cedric faces the Dark Lord. So, too, is Season 4 a darker turn for She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
Listen to my interview with Stevenson here:
But it doesn’t start all doom and gloom! In fact, the early episodes of this season are some of the brightest yet. We get a party planning episode that revolves around Glimmer’s ascension to the throne (which comes with some unexpected perils of its own), a “Boys Night Out” episode with literal musical overtones, the return of a fan-favorite character in Huntara for a new adventure, and the arrival of a new chaotic character in the form of Jacob Tobia‘s Double Trouble. This is all great, and it’s as fun as it’s ever been, if not more so. But there’s a dark undercurrent that runs beneath all the flowers and bubbles and singing winged unicorns.
For Glimmer, there’s the obvious loss of her mother and the responsibility of ascending to the throne of Bright Moon, but less obvious is the effect it has on her relationships and the increased anxiety of defending all of her allies. For Adora, it’s the ever-present spectre of Catra and her persistent meddling in order to advance the Horde’s takeover of Etheria, but there’s also the rising tension and power struggle between She-Ra and the new queen. And for poor Bow, he’s caught in between the two and stressed out by trying to keep the peace. This is all still relatively tame, but it’s hinting towards something more serious, something darker.
Perhaps the darkening tone of She-Ra this season is best defined by the corrupting vine found in a certain location that feeds on a person’s doubts and insecurities. Think of it like a Dementor’s Kiss or the Dark Side of the Force attempting to worm its way into your mind and pull on your deepest, darkest thoughts. This scene reveals some truly heartbreaking but deeply personal doubts at the core of our heroes, and I’d be lying if I said they didn’t strike close to home. That’s what makes She-Ra so, so good: Be it heroes, villains, or talking animals, the characters absolutely resonate.
So when the gravest threat to face Etheria yet raises its head toward the end of the season, of course we’re going to be as emotionally compromised as Glimmer, Adora, Bow, and their allies. You feel it when Adora discovers a crushing truth that compounds an earlier betrayal, and you might even find yourself divided when forced to side with either Glimmer or Adora over how to best deal with a powerful new weapon that’s just landed in their laps. Deliciously, Double Trouble acts as a chaotic imp throughout the season, playing both sides against the other, sowing discord in their own particular way and for their own mysterious means. But ultimately the flaws are in the characters themselves, and they come out in the finale in a big, big way.
Season 4 of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power goes to some dark places and leaves viewers with the biggest cliffhanger yet. But while Season 5 hopefully holds the answers we’re anxiously awaiting, Season 4 just turned in one of the best runs of the series so far.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good