It’s always exciting when She-Ra returns with another season. But this time around, changes were afoot—and it looks like Adora and company will be playing a brand new game going forward.
[Some spoilers for She-Ra season 4]
At the center of this season is Glimmer, now Queen of Bright Moon following the passing of her mother, Queen Angella. Being the queen is not something that Glimmer feels particularly prepared for or happy about. As a princess of action, being forced to stay behind while her friends protect her kingdom doesn’t sit well. She starts asking Shadow Weaver for advice on how to enhance her magical capabilities, much to the concern of Adora and Bow, and behaving recklessly when she feels left out. The consistency of the characters on She-Ra is always impressive, and it follows through here; Glimmer keeps getting upset with her friends because she’s asking them to trust her and they keep refusing by way of ignoring her desires and commands. It’s the same sort of arguments she used to have with her mother, and even when she’s wrong, it’s hard not to feel bad for her.
The question of Adora’s over-reliance on the She-Ra persona and power has also been seeded from the start of the show, and it pays off in full during the latest season. Adora finally learns the history behind the She-Ra mantle, the reason why the last She-Ra, Mara, has a certain amount of disgrace attached to her name. With new information coming to light, Adora has to make choices about how she wants to inhabit She-Ra’s power and what she thinks it should be used for. Add to that her difficulties with Glimmer, and she’s got plenty to deal with this season, even without the Horde conquering the planet piece by piece.
But it’s not all about Adora—the passage of time between seasons three and four (made clear by Glimmer’s more pronounced change in appearance, as well as subtle changes to other characters) has seen the Etherian cohort learn and grow and face brand new challenges. As a result, season four is much more devoted to the emotional development of its characters. Creator Noelle Stevenson said from the start that one of the main themes of the series was devoted to knowing when and how to cut toxic people out of one’s life, and how difficult that act can be. It started with the conflict between Adora and Catra, but this issue persists in different relationships. We see Scorpia finally come to terms with how poorly she’s been treated by Catra, we see Hordak’s hurt from thinking he’s been abandoned by Entrapta, we even see Lonnie, Kyle, and Rogelio breaking away from their devotion to the Horde over how they’ve been abused by their superiors. Adora begins to suspect that Light Hope doesn’t have her best interests at heart. Huntara is betrayed by those closest to her, and has to reckon with her absence from home. Catra starts to see that the way she treats people will have lasting repercussions, and she’s not prepared for the pain that brings with it.
The newest addition to the cast comes in the form of non-binary shapeshifter Double Trouble, played by non-binary actor Jacob Tobia. Double Trouble enjoys shapeshifting as a brand of performance art, using their abilities to “inhabit” other people as characters for use in espionage plots… provided they are well compensated for the effort. The problems caused by their meddling make things incalculably difficult for the Princess Alliance, but the character is delicious, and such a welcome addition to the crew. Anyone who can speak truth to Catra is a marvel, and having someone a little bit more mercenary around is a welcome change amid all of these folx dedicated to their Causes. (Side note: Some people are not fans of non-binary characters who are shapeshifters because they don’t like binding up non-binary identities in metaphors that are sometimes used against people that fall under the trans umbrella. As a non-binary person myself, I’m a huge fan of enby shapeshifters, but that’s down to the individual.)
Mermista is another stand out this season, with a hilarious episode revolving around her love of mysteries, and a arc that leads her into a bout of depression, and finally a triumphant return in the form of a rock song. Every time the show chooses to go the musical route, it’s basically a sure thing. More song breaks for everyone, please.
The fact that the characters are growing up a bit means that the queerness also amps up a whole bunch. What I mean is, the more we go along, the gayer She-Ra gets, and that’s definitely one of its biggest selling points. There are fun little flirtations (be they romantic or platonic) everywhere—between Huntara and Perfuma, Catra and Double Trouble, Light Hope and Mara, and on and on. Spinnerella and her partner Netossa continue to be the very cutest couple alive. Sea Hawk’s devotion to Mermista is endearing as ever. I’m still pretty sure that heterosexuality does not exist on Etheria, and it’s astounding how freeing it is to find that in any form of media at all, let alone a show that can be watched by people of all ages. All the while, the importance of friendship and platonic bonds are maintained and never overshadowed by romance, as Bow spends the entire season advocating for the most important notion of all: that friendships take work and communication in order to be maintained, and that the work that goes into the maintenance is normal, healthy, and essential.
The season ends on a true gamechanger, one that will completely alter the terms of the series going forward (though one clearly planned from the outset, if you’re paying attention closely). As the characters are thrust into positions they never imagined they’d face, we are forced to wonder where She-Ra means to bring us in the future. What was once a story about fighting against oppression is now morphing into something woollier and scarier—a story about how to wield power responsibly and how to overcome differences for the sake of survival. The show clearly has a long way to go (provided it’s back for more), and if it continues to evolve as it has been, we can be assured of something gorgeous blooming in its wake.
Emmet Asher-Perrin loves EVERYONE on this show, literally every single person. Okay, not Horde Prime. Every person except him. You can bug him on Twitter, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.