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The final season of She-Ra pays off years of careful buildup

Season 5 interrogates its themes and relationships to pull off a satisfying conclusion

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Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

You might think you can’t have a She-Ra show without the titular sword-wielding alter ego, but the fifth and final season of Netflix’s animated reboot series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power kicks off with the main character, Adora, having lost her ability to become She-Ra. It’s just one of the ways the characters have hit rock bottom: The main characters have split up, Adora has learned terrible truths about the She-Ra persona and destroyed the sword that let access it, and bigger, badder villain Horde Prime has decided to conquer the whole universe and reabsorb it into his hive mind.

The Netflix animated series, a reboot of the 1980s He-Man spinoff helmed by Nimona creator Noelle Stevenson, drops its wrap-up season on Netflix on May 15. The story’s stakes are high, but Stevenson and her crew use all the character development, core relationships, and overarching themes they’ve carefully built up over four seasons to perfectly carve out a satisfying conclusion to She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

[Ed. note: This review contains slight spoilers for the fifth season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power]

adora stands with the rest of the rebellion Image: DreamWorks Animation

The show has never shied away from heavy themes and darker moments, but this season ups the ante. Horde Prime’s armies wage war on Adora’s world, Etheria, using mind-control chips to conquer anyone who resists. While previous villains Hordak and Shadow Weaver certainly had dark motives, Horde Prime’s stem from a particularly sinister place: he believes he can bring peace to the galaxy if everyone is exactly like him. The way he speaks is chilling, with the charisma of a cult leader, and his drones allow him to see everywhere, meaning he has an eye on everything the heroes do. His presence is felt throughout the entire season in a direr way than Hordak or Shadow Weaver.

While the season handles heavier themes, there are still moments of levity that focus on the characters. But where the light-hearted character bonding used to be the warmth that permeates the series, it’s become a bittersweet thread. One episode season 5 sees some of the characters in disguises, out to infiltrate a secret underwater club. The setup of fancy dress costumes and some musings on being a good friend make it seem like it’s going to be a reprise of season 1’s fan-beloved “Princess Prom,” or even an elaboration of season 2’s “Roll With It,” where hypothetical scenarios tossed the characters into different art styles. And it starts off that way, with fun hijinks and a thoughtful message about friendship. But the episode slowly builds to an emotional climax, and the fun party it was at the beginning lingers in an almost melancholic way. It’s a reminder of what the characters are fighting for.

She-Ra’s strength has always been in how it considered characters’ relationships as important as the overarching plot. The way they relate to one another is just as significant to the story beats as the deep lore and plot revelations. In this final season, all the groundwork that’s been laid comes to fruition, as characters fight for and against each other. The show gives a pretty comprehensive understanding of how each separate subset of characters gets along — and how they don’t.

catra starring out onto the vast expanse of space Image: DreamWorks Animation

For instance, in season 5, tech wiz Entrapta is determined to find a crucial piece of information so she can help the heroes rescue Glimmer, so she joins up with some of the princesses. They aren’t thrilled to be working with Entrapta, who they think betrayed them to join up with the Horde in the first season. (They also think she’s kinda weird.) Entrapta, meanwhile, feels like they abandoned her, and she struggles to relate to them, because she’s just wired differently. It’s an open wound from the first season that’s only been partially mended, but as they team up to fight off robots, they’re able to be open and remember what’s important.

The heroes aren’t the only ones whose character bonds are built upon and tested. Stevenson has spoken in various interviews about how heroes and villains who mean a lot to one another always sparked her imagination. Catra and Adora naturally fall into this category, and their relationship continues to drive the series as a whole. For better or worse, they won’t give up on one another. Their complicated relationship — and how it breaks, bends, and readjusts — continues to fuel the show. But the undercurrent of friendship and enmity extends to the rest of the cast, as more and more of the heroes’ friends fall to Horde Prime’s mind-control chips and the princesses must fight those closest to them.

scorpia and swiftwind staring up at a brilliant purple night sky Image: DreamWorks Animation

The show’s animation continues to be gorgeous. The jewel-toned color palette and vibrant backgrounds have always been a huge highlight, but as the story expands beyond Etheria, so does the setting, not just aesthetically, but tonally. The vast expanse of space is beautiful, but often lonely. Horde Prime’s ship is starkly clean and orderly in a sterile way. Even Etheria, the planet we’ve grown familiar with over the course of the show, has turned from a lush, colorful land into an empty place. The devastation of war is a present echo.

The idea of compassion and vulnerability as strengths hit harder in this final season, when so much is going wrong. Characters leaning on each other, going to great lengths to rescue each other because they know they can’t leave anyone behind, and being vulnerable, gentle, and trusting in the face of adversity feels more poignant and powerful when the stakes against them are so high. They keep losing their friends, so they have to stay close to the ones they have. The conclusion of the series is an emotional journey, and it feels earned as all the character dynamics and development laid out in the past four seasons comes to fruition.

The final season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is available on Netflix now.

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