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She-Ra season 3 raises the stakes and destroys some character relationships

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After a breezy season 2, She-Ra comes in with a giant sledgehammer to the feels

Adora, a girl with a blonde ponytail and a pink jacket, glares at Catra, a dark-haired girl with cat ears who leans on a giant sword. Adora’s hands are tied behind her back. Catra smirks. DreamWorks Animation

In the first episode of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power season 3 — heck, in a teaser for the season dropped a few days before the show hit Netflix — we learn that Adora isn’t who she thought she was. Turns out she’s one of the mystical beings that lived in the world before.

It’s a big reveal, and sets the tone for the rest of the plot-heavy, high-stakes season. It feels more like the part two of the second season in terms of pacing and splitting seasons like that is something DreamWorks’ Netflix shows have done in the past (à la Voltron: Legendary Defender).

Adora being a First One isn’t the only hammerdrop of the season, nor is it the most emotional. The reason it all works so much is because of how well these characters are still working together; season three takes all the love and care developed for them and twists the knife.

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for season 3 of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power]

adora, a blonde girl in a pink jacket, scowls at Light Hope, a purple holographic woman Image: DreamWorks Animation

This new season doesn’t hold back whatsoever when it comes to dissecting — and even dismantling — some of the character relationships. The extended cast of princesses gets put aside for the moment in order to hyperfocus on three central groups: Adora, Glimmer, and Bow; Scorpia and Catra; and Entrapta and Hordak. While Entrapta and Hordak fiddle away at a portal opening device, the other two groups find themselves in the desolate Crimson Waste, searching for answers. In an unforgiving area — with enemies to boot — the Best Friend Squad finds their bonds tested, while Scorpia and Catra grow closer. Episodes apart highlight the highs and lows of both sets of relationships, so that when their paths cross, things get particularly heated.

Like a twisted, toxic dance, Catra and Adora keep returning to one another, whether they like it or not. Being free of each other is possibly the best thing that can happen for either of them, but still, they are irrevocably drawn together. Adora sees possible redemption in Catra and won’t give up on her; meanwhile Catra swears utter revenge on Adora for abandoning her. Even when given the chance at happiness — away from the Horde, revered as a leader with a following of loyal lizard people and a sick leather jacket, together with Scorpia — Catra chooses to pursue Adora instead. She won’t be sated until Adora is defeated, even if that means giving up potential happiness and partnership.

Much like how the end of the first season revisited moments of their childhood and showed the ugly side of their relationship, the end of this season thrusts them into scenario where everything has gone back to being the way it was — but knowing what we know now, we see sprinklings of their fractured relationship.

Their friendship-turned-rivalry (with hints of romantic tension) has always been the emotional crux of the series, one that fans may’ve hoped to see finished off with a happy ending tied up with a bow, but the season finale proves that if there is a happy ending for Catra, it’ll be a long ways work for her to get to.

Catra, a tan girl with bushy dark hair and cat ears, sits atop a throne with a giant sword. she wears a red tank top under a black leather jacket. one leg is propped up, an arm rests on the throne DreamWorks Animation

Elsewhere, the other characters get moments to grow and shine. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power has done a masterful job of updating the campy ’80s villains to be some of the most compelling characters of the show. For the first time we get some insight into ominous Hordak’s story, which promises to grow and expand, but it’s not so much his backstory that shifts him from one-note villain to an interesting character, but his relationship with Entrapta, who he’s basically taken under his wing as mad scientist protege. She’s the only one he confides in about his secret backstory, and at one point, he even protects her from an explosion — an act of sacrifice he’s not offered once to any other character.

As a onenote Big Bad, Hordak’s been the easiest character to hate in the show; but the care he shows for Entrapta — the only person who seems to get him, and the only person Entrapta seems to relate to — complicates our feelings towards Hordak, especially since Entrapta’s not explicitly evil, just really passionate about science.

All the bad guys in the show just want to prove themselves to the person who wronged them. They’re trapped in a vicious cycle. Shadow Weaver manipulated Catra her entire life (and in a particularly heart wrenching season two episode, seemingly reaches out, only to stab her in the back again), so Catra rises in the ranks of the Horde to best Shadow Weaver and throw her out, so eventually Shadow Weaver ends up joining the good guys in order to thwart Catra and Hordak.

The heroes, meanwhile, find it in their hearts to forgive. They’re the ones who can exit this cycle. Adora opens her heart to Shadow Weaver — even though the sorceress has manipulated her time and time again — and opts to ally with her. She continuously tries to see the good in Catra, even when Catra has proven multiple times that she won’t repent for what she’s done.

The end of this season feels like the twist of a knife — with some incredibly dire consequences for both sides — and it’s particularly effective, because we just care so damn much about these princesses and villains.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.