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She-Ra season 2 finds more room for princesses, villains, and grand mystery

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The show is streaming now on Netflix

In the midst of a bitter battle in a frozen tundra landscape, with the Evil Horde aiming to exploit resources protected by the virtuous Princess Alliance, two characters in Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power season 2 sit down and have a conversation about not feeling good enough in their separate relationships.

The catch? One’s a villain and one’s a hero, yet they’re each there to listen to one another’s very human problems, problems separated from the conflict they’ve been caught up in. These little moments help She-Ra and the Princesses of Power manages to surpass its first season.

[Ed. note: Slight spoilers for She-Ra and the Princesses of Power season 2.]

DreamWorks

Created by Noelle Stevenson, the DreamWorks animated series is a fresh reboot of the classic 1980s filmation that trades the He-Man ties and oh-so campy designs for a She-Ra who stands on her own and sleek character models. The first season saw Horde soldier Adora pick up a magical sword and transforms into the warrior princess She-Ra — as well as the villainous Catra, Adora’s best friend who she left behind.

With all the exposition out of the way, the second season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power slows down and relishes in what it does best: hone in on the characters and their relationships. We already know about the Horde who want to take over the planet of Etheria and the Princess Alliance who want to protect it. We know that a race of people known as the First Ones lived on the planet before and that their tech scatters the planet, technology and magic that grants Adora her She-Ra powers.

The second season uses the established world as a big playground. Some episodes expand upon the lore more so than the others, but it never feels like a droning worldbuilding. Instead, it either is a natural part of what the characters are doing (an episode where Glimmer and Adora visit Bow at home answers some big world questions while meeting his dads), or help to solidify the character dynamics (Adora and Swift Wind are tasked with rebuilding an old First Ones building, but end up confiding in one another along the way).

A strength of the first season lay in the limited cast of villains, which allowed the show to home in on their dynamics; by contrast, having half-a-dozen princesses who all needed to be separately recruited, meant that there were only a few episodes where they all interacted. Adora, Glimmer, and Bow’s dynamic got the most screen time, but the other characters got a little sidelined.

Netflix

Season 2 starts off the bat with a big princess team up and other episodes continue the trend of ensemble episodes, but also find the space to center on individuals. The rest of the season continues to hone in on specific and sometimes unexpected relationships: friendly villain Scorpia and cocky seafarer Seahawk end up bonding over the inferiority they feel in their friendships; Princess Glimmer is a mite annoyed that young Frosta continues to follow her around, but really the young princess just wants to impress her hero; the Best Friend Squad meets Bow’s dads — and have to come clean about the truth of their heroic endeavors.

It’s not just the fun and games, though. We see the fallout of a particularly gut-wrenching misunderstanding from the first season. Kooky, tech-whiz Princess Entrapta got lost in a battle and was presumed dead; she, however, believed that the other Princesses merely didn’t care to look for her. Catra preyed upon this, securing Entrapta on the side of the Horde, where she has happily found a home she feels comfortable in.

By focusing on the specific, punctuating the action with moments where the characters sit down and talk, the grandiose world-conquering stakes resonate more. We care about these characters — villains included — and they certainly care about one another. We don’t want to see the world destroyed by their hands, or see them destroyed by trying to save the world.

That is not to say, however, that She-Ra shies away from a bigger picture. In fact, this season sets everything in place for a far grander plan. Sprinkled into season 2 are hints of a world beyond Etheria — nods to the original She-Ra series which was more concretely connected to a greater world of lands and planets. There is even a name drop of “Eternia,” the land where the original He-Man took place. As more details of Etheria’s past come into the light, as our heroes and villains uncover the mysteries of the First Ones, the world around them grows.

Still, at its core, the best parts of She-Ra are when the characters come together — heroes and heroes, villains and villains, heroes and villains. This season uses that strength to build the world and heighten the stakes, and never once does a moment between characters feel like a filler. The power of friendship is a tried trope in all-ages animation, but by including the villains, by giving nuance to the relationships, and by using them to push the story forward, She-Ra reminds us just why this trope is so good.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.