Crisis on N Earths: She-Ra S1E11: “Promise”

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OK, fixing this shit for real now. I am WEEKS behind on posts, so here’s what I’ll do:

  • Queue posts as soon as I post them on Patreon.
  • Post three NA09 entries a week until I’m 3 months behind the Patreon, which is where I should stay.
  • Post two sets of 3 videos a week until I’m 1 month behind the Patreon, which is where I should stay.

Let’s talk about how She-Ra uses liminality. Much of its story, after all, takes place in liminal spaces, from the forest where Adora first found the Sword of Protection to the windowsill in which, two episodes ago, the new Princess Alliance was formed and determined to rescue Bow and Glimmer.

This reliance on liminal space is common in fantasy. Part of this is that so much of fantasy is built around quests and journeys, which by their nature consist mostly of trekking across liminal space. (Speaking of trekking: just about the only genre which spends more time in liminal space than fantasy is science fiction. There are few spaces more liminal than outer space, and cyberspace is one of them.) Mostly, though, fantasy spends a lot of time in liminal space because liminal space is where the magic lives. Magic thrives on the edges of knowledge, in places that are neither entirely one thing nor the other. Witches go abroad between sunset and moonrise, neither day nor fully night; ghosts haunt corridors, between one room and the next; dragons and goblins lurk in mountains and beneath the sea and in deep caverns, in-between places all.

That last is what concerns us today. One may encounter oneself in any liminal space–inside a mirror is yet another one–but it is most common in the chthonic realm, because if the self is a microcosm of the Earth, then the journey into the Earth is a macrocosm of the journey into the self. To descend underground is to enter the dark places within ourselves–and so, passing underground into the First Ones temple or datacenter (if those were even distinct things for the First Ones), Adora and Catra find more than the training and treasure they respectively seek. They also find out who they are–to themselves, and more importantly, to each other.

We have seen strong hints of a powerful bond between the two. At times it has felt more familial, and at others–especially in “Princess Prom” and “No Princess Left Behind”–more romantic. Regardless of its exact nature, we see in the flashbacks here that there relationship has always involved being each other’s rivals. Long before they became enemies, they were competitors, pushing each other to greater achievements as Horde trainees. This is, more or less, the role Shadow Weaver claimed she had in Adora’s life, but Shadow Weaver was lying: her goal was to control Adora, while Catra’s was to surpass her, and vice versa.

Ultimately, however, neither was able to overcome the other. Adora left, leaving Catra the space and motivation to attain the rank and role that they were both seeking, and yet Catra is still constantly looked at by Shadow Weaver (and, in Catra’s own fears, doubtless everyone else) as a poor substitute for Adora. Both, descending into the chthonic realms and their past, are forced to confront this, and to the one inescapable fact of their relationship: regardless of her reasons or her justifications, Adora abandoned Catra. Not just when she left the Horde; countless times throughout their childhood, every time she failed to stand up for Catra against Shadow Weaver the way she did against Octavia. Of course Adora was a child, frightened of her abuser, and had she tried to protect Catra in those moments, would only have been punished beside her; but all young Catra saw was Adora leaving her behind after the titular promise to stay together–over, and over, and over again. No wonder she hisses when young Adora tries to comfort her!

But Catra abandoned Adora, too. She chose to stay with the familiar instead of rebelling alongside Adora, stepping back into the fog in “The Sword, Part 2,” forward into the dark at the end of “Promise.” In both cases, she is disappearing from Adora’s life, but in the first it is with her eyes on Adora; now she has turned away entirely.

The thing about liminal space is that it’s not just something you cross. The movement from one place to another, one state of being to another, is a transformation; that’s why we find magic there so often, because magic is change. This is especially true of the chthonic journey, precisely because it is a journey into the self: we grapple with ourselves and emerge changed into the light–or descend deeper into the darkness. The interface tells Adora that to find Light Hope, she must let go, and it’s true: she must go even farther in, into the darkest places inside herself and the deepest depths, to complete her transformation. But she cannot do that while clinging on to her relationships and rivalries, while striving always to succeed and to win; she must lose, and fall, because the greatest light is the last one, and it is only alone in the dark that it can be found.

But Catra, too, lets go. Catra, too, lets herself fall into darkness of another kind. Perhaps that is where her path to light and hope lies.

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