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So. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

This.

We binge-watched the show on Netflix when it came out - we watched the original 80s cartoon as kids and were interested in the idea of a reboot. A lot of people said a lot of things, most of which we ignored. After watching the season we were... well there were a lot of feelings this show pulled up and we couldn't stop thinking about it. Like, it's January and I've been half-writing this journal entry since the show came out in November. The internet did what it always did and everyone had an opinion and some people loved it and some people hated it and no one was allowed to have a nuanced opinion.  It seems like everyone agrees that the best thing about the show is the Adora-Catra relationship - the shipping community is off in the stratosphere for  everything in the show they perceive as shipping-fuel or bait or whatever the correct term is, and as we watch the internet try to talk about these two they all seem to hedge around and just barely touch on what's actually happening but never actually get into the roots. 

Well, internet, don't worry. For a fleetingly brief moment of time, I am pretentious enough to explain it to you.

This inspiration of this - I guess this will be an essay? - comes from Lindsay Ellis' essay on Guardians of the Galaxy Volume II, where she talks about the complex emotions and feelings regarding family and its themes in the franchise. I'm not nearly as confident and this will be much messier, so if you want superior analysis you can check out her video here.


But if we're going to talk about Catra and Adora we have to give this a proper context. With deepest apologies to the shipping community, in order for this to work, we have to read these two as sisters. Indeed the two of us really can't view these two romantically because of how much of their behavior is explained by being All-Good and No-Good.

But first, let's define the sister read. Adora and Catra are both raised as children under the care of Shadow Weaver, they grow up in a monoculture without any outside influences whatsoever, flooded with propaganda about princesses (and we'll get to the title of Princess, just you wait). The world that they live in is small - painfully small, and they grow up thinking everything around them is normal and healthy.

It is not normal and healthy. Shadow Weaver is an abuser. Not a lot of light is given on her own situation but there is enough to posit the following: she considers herself a weak person and is desperate to show the world she is not weak. And she does this by unlocking the power of the McGuffin Rune and using it to feel powerful. She makes herself feel powerful but using her authority over children and derives satisfaction from their compliance and hateful rage at anything resembling insubordination. And like our Abuser, there is and All-Good child, and a No-Good child.

What is this, you ask? This is the mother, Shadow-Weaver, imbuing her children with positive and negative attributes of herself, designating her children as either all-good or no-good. A healthy parent would attribute pieces of themselves to their children saying, "she's shy like me" or whatnot, but as the child grows and becomes their own individual these thoughts fade away. Shadow-Weaver, as an abuser, never had those feelings fade, and so Adora was everything Shadow-Weaver projected herself as and Catra was everything that was wrong about her.

This is more than having a favorite child, this is an abuser who alters her and her children's very perception of reality to fit the narrative she has crafted for herself and her children. Shadow-Weaver is weak, yes, but it is everyone else's fault, everything she did was right and no one has a right to question it. And when HER abuser (we assume this sentence, the show might prove us wrong in later seasons) Hordak robs her of her sense of power but diminishing and negating her accomplishments the self-loathing and rage has o go somewhere, and children are great vehicles for venting.

Adora and Catra had very different experiences as the AllGood and NoGood children. We were lucky, in that respect, because for the most part we were in the AllGood camp and SomeoneElse was the NoGood family member. That did not mean we were immune, we both had stints as the NoGood child in turns, because our Abuser didn't care who was in site when the Turn came and the abuse came out. Shadow-Weaver is more discerning that than, and those two roles colored her children's' experiences and perceptions of the world:

Catra as the NoGood child understood early on that life wasn't all sunshine and flowers, she knew that everything was going to be here fault whether it actually was or not, and so why bother trying to be perfect? She grew up okay with breaking rules because she already knew the outcome and decided that having a little bit of fun was worth it. It also made her prone to radical mood shifts at the exact moment the fun was ruined - i.e. when her mother Shadow Weaver appeared. Being NoGood fostered resentment to both Shadow Weaver and Adora the AllGood child. Catra grew up being desperate for freedom, validation, and escape from the control she was suffering under. She might not have been able to name it, but she understood that Shadow Weaver was weak and that it was in her to be just as Good as Adora, and never understanding why she never, ever, EVER had the chance to prove herself.

Adora meanwhile, was the AllGood child - as a pair of AllGood children ourselves - that carries a specially tailors level of abuse and manipulation. Adora grew up understanding that she was responsible for absolutely everything. She understood that the best way to avoid abuse was to be practically perfect in every way, and because she was perfect things went better for her. This was and is her life mantra - be the best possible to avoid getting into trouble. She was convinced that this was the way to survive and, because she was responsible for absolutely everything, she tried to show others how to be perfect so that they could enjoy the luxury she thought she had.

There's a flashback memory that perfectly encapsulates what it means to be AllGood and AllBad: Catra and Adora are children exploring the Horde. It was Catra's idea because she wanted to have fun and Adora as the AllGood is trying to convince her maybe not. But they're kids and they're carried away with the adventure of it and stumble across the McGuffin rune - and more importantly - Shadow Weaver in a vulnerable moment.

Shadow Weaver abuses both of them; but in very, very different forms. What she does to Catra is the more overt - she physically traps her and prevents her from escape in order to demean and diminish her, deliberately removing Catra's agency because she can and letting Catra know she's nothing. Adora's is infinitely more subtle - there is the pretense of tenderness and affection for Adora, but Shadow Weaver skillfully manipulates Adora into thinking it was her responsibility to prevent this catastrophe from happening, reducing and even dehumanizing Catra in order to make Adora understand that she and only she can make good decisions.

All of this feeds into both of their psyches as they grow up. Catra doesn't do training or exercises because she knows anything that goes wrong will be labeled as her fault - but will jump in at the end for any chance to grab credit and get some kind of validation from somebody - anybody - that she has value. Adora meanwhile becomes the rigorous soldier and team leader, trying to show everyone how to be successful the same was she thinks she is even as she lives in utter terror of someone messing up because that meant she failed.

This is how the series starts, and ironically one sister is given what she needs and the other is pushed further and further into a corner, and it's not what one would narratively expect.

Adora's defection is a betrayal of the worst order for Catra, because for however perfect Adora is she does try in her Adora-way to protect and look out for Catra. Catra might not have recognized the abuse Adora went through but she knows that Adora knows what Shadow Weaver is like. She physically can't understand why Adora would switch sides, and seeing her turn into a Princess of Power is almost too much to take. She doesn't know how to process it in the black-and-white world she grew up in and doesn't tell Shadow Weaver of the revelation.

Shadow Weaver, missing the AllGood child and all the projections of what is powerful about herself are gone with only the AllBad child who is everything she hates about herself. She is desperate to get Adora back to get her sense of self back and is utterly contemptuous of the NoGood child being anywhere NEAR her. Her behavior becomes more unhinged which makes her weakness more obvious and - as Catra said at the end of the season - this was what she had been trained for. Catra took that weakness and turned it to her advantage:

When Hordak realizes that Shadow Weaver had been ignoring his orders Catra plays it up, and in Shadow Weaver's superior she gets the validation and freedom she so craves. Hordak recognizes her ability and (for now) she can manipulate him against Shadow Weaver in order to get what she wants: recognition, attention, and power.

She brings other people to her side - Scorpia and later Entrapta - by the same manipulation that Shadow Weaver used on Adora - giving them the perception of agency in their own lives. Catra goes through a thought loop to show Entrapta, in particular, that she had no value with the other princesses and offers the chance to do what the princesses found creepy: pursue technology. Scorpia was just happy to have a friend.

In Adora, well, that relationship is a lot more complicated. As Linsay Ellis pointed out in her Guardian's video, it's sometimes harder for an abuse victim to forgive a sibling than the actual abuser for allowing the abuse to happen. It's not fair, especially since Adora was a child herself, but those kinds of feelings are real and it is now okay to bring those feelings out to their full effect. Catra spent her life jealous of Adora and is now given a theater where she can vent those emotions with extreme prejudice. And it's not like it's a cartoonish heel-face turn, either.

At first, it's everything Catra can do to get Adora back. She wants her sister and nominal defender to return and for everything to go back to normal because her world is still so small and she understands that change is a four-letter word thanks to Shadow Weaver. She has no time for Adora's naivete about the horde - she's known their true colors since she was a child - and as far as she's concerned it's perfectly normal and justified to raise a town to get what she wants because that's what Shadow Weaver consistently did to Catra's emotional landscape as a child. She even tries to manipulate Adora later, offering the information that she's Force Captain to make Adora jealous enough in order to come back, still unaware of the changes Adora is going through.

But as the season progresses and Catra realizes she's being successful it starts to change. Without Adora she's getting the things that she wants, and instead of recognizing that Shadow Weaver was the block to her getting power and glory, it transfers to Adora - because Adora left. She left without looking back or - and this is the worst sin - without taking Catra with her. Obviously Adora isn't as close as she thought because of this, and obviously, Adora is no longer worthy of love as a result.

In other words, Catra is starting view Adora as the thing that prevented her from advancing and therefore justifying the resentment she always felt and giving her pleasure to cause Adora pain. Catra is slowly growing into another abuser, rejecting Adora's increasingly desperate pleas and happy to see her sister suffer. In the season finale, she is happy to challenge She-Ra to a fight because it will distract She-Ra and also show her how far Catra has come and how much she's grown. She is no longer NoGood.

And then there's Adora.

Her defection was the best thing that happened to Catra, but in some ways, it was the worst thing that happened to Adora. There's stepping out into a new world, and there's jumping into an alien world without consent. On paper Adora being pulled from the horde and being put in a supportive family like Glimmer's is a great thing for her, she is now surrounded by people who are capable of looking out for her emotional health, but Adora passes as functioning to everyone (with the possible exception of Beau/Bow/however it's spelled) and most of the season is spent without anyone really understanding what her hangups are. I'm not sure how many really understand at the end of the season, either, and makes for an interesting arc through the show for the supporting cast.

Adora is called by the sword, given visions and changed into a 7-foot tall amazon whose legend says she's the savior of all of Etheria. Adora. The AllGood child. The one who had to be perfect to prevent punishment. This is terrible - moreso that people just assume she knows what do to and she had no ever-loving clue!

The show goes out of its way to point out that being a princess is a responsibility, that people are counting on a princess to protect them, keep them safe, prevent bad things from happening. Adora can understand this because she's been doing this her entire life, but the pressure that puts on her is unimaginable. She has to be perfect on demand in a world where the rules are completely different from the horde. She can't conceive of Glimmer being so disrespectful and insubordinate to her mom, she doesn't dare dream disobeying a command from Glimmer's mom by contrast because that's her captain in this world. She tries to take things like the princess prom and turn them into militaristic missions just so that she can wrap her head around it. Rules and structure are nearly nonexistent and Adora is struggling to understand what she has to do. Doing something as "simple" as healing a tree is beyond her, and she knows that not performing is tantamount to emotional suicide and she spends most of her time doing what she thinks everyone wants her to do - something the two of us are intimately familiar with.

The entire princess prom episode she treats like a mission: recruit another princess. She talks about strategies and military terms which is hilarious but also her taking something and putting it in terms she can understand.

There is one episode where Shadow Weaver is doing shadow weaver magic to try and entice Adora back to the horde, and slowly Adora started to look crazy to her friends as Shadow Weaver is manipulating things behind the scenes, and it was so, so, sooooooooooooo uncomfortable to watch because that was our worst fear as teens and young adults: telling someone what was going on and not being believed. It was always a silent taboo to talk about our Abuser to the outside world, we implicitly understood that we were NoGood if we performed a betrayal that big and we never really talked about it. For years. It was easier to lie and say we rushed home to take care of our parents because of their age than it was to rush home because if we didn't get That Person's snack or be late enough that That Person had to put away the clothes or make supper or help with blood sugar readings or listen to the internet drama or help compose a vicious email/post or listen to politics ororororororor there would be Hell to Pay.

No one believes Adora, and she has to face her abuser on her own. Exactly like we did. It was April break, no one visted us because we never brought anyone home. The Escape was entirely on us and it wasn't until after we did it that we called a friend and started getting help. Adora doesn't even have that - she has to find it in herself to defeat her abuser and for all the discomfort it was so rewarding to watch the AllGood child tell her abuser that she wasn't going to take it anymore. And Adora's reward was to wake up with her friends, and moreover friends who understand she's just been through a trial and are willing to do what she needs to feel better.

Like Catra, Adora's world starts very, very small. The horde is all she understands and the alien world she is in is so different she has trouble relating to it even as she understands it's her responsibility to protect it. We can literally watch her new experiences as she sees a horse for the first time or tries new food or dance. As her world gets bigger, so does her responsibility and when the First Ones tech explains just what she is expected to do... man, we felt so cornered just watching it. And this builds into the bigger theme of the show - working together.

Like, there's this Power-Ranger feel-good sense of working together, but this show bothers to explain why working together is better not only in terms of results but also in terms of psychological health.

This comes to a head at the princess prom, mentioned earlier. Without Glimmer and Beau with her, with the pressure to do this perfect, with the unfamiliar setting, her "passing as functional" starts to crack, and she finally loses: no just the princess recruit but also her new friends, i.e. her new support structure, and any chance of recovering from the night. Adora finally realizes how far Catra is falling and realizes her own role in that - more responsibility she has failed to live up to, and she's left with functionally nothing.

Until the other princesses come. But even that is a failure because she loses a princess to an explosion and the entire alliance falls apart. Adora is now utterly desperate to live up to her expectations to the point where she abandons them to look for a First Ones temple to get the training she needs. It isn't until the season finale that she finally realizes she's not there to protect the other princesses, but rather help them as they help her. She's not perfectly fixed yet, but unlike Catra she's in an environment where she can be.

Both of these characters are going to grow past their abuse, and they are growing in very different paths. Catra is promoted to second in command and Adora is only just beginning her journey to self-actualization. Neither of them is a complete person yet, and it will be a function of how far Catra falls before/if she is pulled from the brink. If the first season is any indication, letting go of everything she ever wanted it going to be a hard "NO!" for her, but she isn't nearly as over Adora as she thinks she is. Adora meanwhile, is only just starting to come to terms with what her new life is like and how healthy it might be.

TL;DR: I want season 2 please.

This was a messy, disorganized mess of a journal entry, and I don't know if I got all my thoughts down, but She-Ra makes me have these kinds of thoughts, it stuck with me in a way Voltron didn't, and I want to see more. I want to see what the story of these two are like.
  • Reading: Understanding the Borderline Mother (again)
  • Watching: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
  • Playing: AC Unity for research

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:iconnunopires:
NunoPires Featured By Owner Apr 26, 2019   Photographer
Hi  :wave:

:iconcheerplz: :iconvicing001::iconvicing002::iconvicing003: :iconcheerplz:


Have a nice week! :dummy:

:hug:
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:iconmirrorandimage:
MirrorandImage Featured By Owner Apr 27, 2019  Professional Digital Artist
You're welcome!
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:iconbillynikoll:
BillyNikoll Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2019  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you very much for the +fav!
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:iconnerdman3000:
Nerdman3000 Featured By Owner Edited Jan 5, 2019
Been rereading and falling in love again with your AC novelizations. Sad you never continued them, but perfectly understandable, even if I would have loved to see your take on Unity and Origins.

By the way, what are your thoughts on the newest game, AC Odyssey?

EDIT: Just saw now that your doing a rewrite/novelization of Unity right after I posted this comment. I literally squeeled. I had your other novelizations bookmarked so I didn’t check out your profile as a result. Never favorited and followed a story so fast! :)
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:iconmirrorandimage:
MirrorandImage Featured By Owner Jan 6, 2019  Professional Digital Artist
Heh. It'll be a WHILE before Unity is up - we've only just written up to Lafreniere, Elise hasn't even returned yet, and like we said in the ch 1 author's notes there's a lot of mitigating factors to make writing slow - but we chip away at it a little every weekend. 

Odessy... we haven't played yet. After Origins, as much as we liked the game, we had suffered franchise fatigue (like, it only took how many games...?). The end of Origins was more a chore than a completionist wish to get everything in the game, so we haven't gotten it yet - we've heard mixed things about it. Some things it's a really good game, some think it's a hodgepodge of ideas from other games. *shrug* maybe we'll play it. Maybe we won't. Have you played it yet? What did you think of it?
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:iconnerdman3000:
Nerdman3000 Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2019
I have indeed played Odyssey and I personally really loved it and would indeed recommend it. As a video game, for sure it’s among the best in the series. I’m put 120 hours in to it and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the game. There is just so much to do and the world is completely beautiful.

Gameplay wise, it takes the framework of Origins and improves on it a a lot, which to me is great. The only issue to some might have is that it’s a game that kind of requires you to take your time and not rush, exploring and doing side quests. Overall though it’s really fun game, to me among the most fun of the series, which I’ve been playing this series almost religiously since the first AC came out in 2007.

On the other hand, as some people have pointed out, it’s got very little to do with the rest of the series as a whole. Oh it certainly has some elements and ties to the rest of the series, but honestly, it’s more of a Isu/First Civ game then it is a Assassins Creed game, minus the recent Darius DLC and I guess the brief glimpses of the modern day storyline. I suppose it makes sense since timeline wise the brotherhood isn’t yet founded, but it’s something important to note.

Story-wise, the game is a bit weird due to the fact it’s basically three different main storylines with their own endings happening at once rather than one single main storyline. I won’t spoil it, but it did mess with the pacing a bit as you basically have to juggle the three different story’s all at once (hence why I said it wants you to take your time). The three main stories are good, helped by the fact that Kassandra is a very enjoyable character, but I think it would have been a bit more improved if Ubi tried to combine the three a bit more.

Despite all that, I definitely think Odyssey is worth playing and giving a chance.
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:iconnerdman3000:
Nerdman3000 Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2019
So hey, did you ever get around to getting AC Odyssey?
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:iconveeegeee:
veeegeee Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2019  Professional Writer
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:iconmirrorandimage:
MirrorandImage Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2019  Professional Digital Artist
You're welcome!
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:iconbeaternightfury:
BeaterNightFury Featured By Owner Dec 25, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
Merry Christmas, you two! *sending hugs*
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