Retroactive Continuity: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power S1E12-13

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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.

In the penultimate episode of the first season of She-Ra, Adora is confronted with a philosophical dilemma: Light Hope advises her that, in order to serve as the protector of Etheria, she needs to detach from the people she cares about and focus on her training. Light Hope warns that the present state of affairs, in which the Horde is able to run rampant over the world and severely destabilize its natural and magical balance, is a product of the previous She-Ra, Adora, neglecting her duties to the world because she focused on individuals, resulting in disaster, the fall of the First Ones, and the thousand-year gap in the She-Ra line that Adora is just now ending.

Adora, however, is initially unwilling to let go of her friends so easily, and the season finale seems to confirm that she is right to resist that idea: the other princesses are the key to victory in the final battle to protect Bright Moon, and those princesses only came because of their personal connections to Adora, Glimmer, and Bow. It seems curious, then, that Adora appears to be left alone to voice the apparently correct position against Light Hope.

However, there is a character who voices that position throughout the episode, with his position opposite Light Hope exemplified by the fact that he is (re)introduced in the same episode that (fully) introduces her: Swift Wind the horse.

From the moment he speaks to Bow and Glimmer, he speaks of connection, and not just his personal connection to Adora. He also speaks of working to liberate his species from oppression–humorous because, with the exception of himself, horses are non-sapient animals, but hidden within that joke is a key point. Swift Wind’s position on connection isn’t the same one Adora starts with, that she can’t abandon her friends: he’s included solidarity as well, which is to say that he sees himself as part of an oppressed group and therefore seeks an end to all oppression, not just for his friends or those like him.

This is key, because it exposes the typical misunderstanding of “detachment” presented in shows like She-Ra and one of its major influences, Avatar: The Last Airbender. That show, too, presented a reincarnation of a legendary figure with the idea that, to access his power, he needed to “detach” in the sense of abandoning his friends; it, in turn, was fairly clearly referencing The Empire Strikes Back, and Luke’s decision to abandon his training and face Vader in order to save his friends. Like Luke, Aang’s decision to rescue his friends leads to disaster and nearly gets him killed; in She-Ra, by contrast, at least as of the second season it’s been presented as straightforwardly correct.

This makes sense, as the position of Light Hope/Guru Pathik/the Jedi is, obviously, wrong. Detaching from connection to others and denying emotion are terrible approaches to life, as we have seen all too clearly in recent years; this kind of more-rational-than-thou hyper-individualism is a hallmark of the Internet troll and the alt-right, which are increasingly the same thing. The problem, however, is not detachment as an approach to ethical behavior; the common thread between these fictional philosophies is that, unlike most real-world philosophies and religions that teach detachment, these fictional depictions combine it with individualism, thereby transforming detachment into isolation.

That individual isolation is, here, contrasted with cooperation and solidarity, not just in Swift Wind’s work to free horsekind, but in his final conversation with Adora, in which he bluntly states that her idea of detachment—that her presence is harmful to her friends and she should therefore keep away from them for their good—is “stupid.” Her friends, he points out, can decide for themselves whether they want her around, and by coming after her they’ve clearly indicated that they do.

Adria’s particular take on detachment, in which she is harmful or toxic, resonates strongly with the theme throughout the season in which she is framed as a survivor of and escapee from an abusive upbringing. Sufferers of complex trauma—the type generally caused by ongoing situations such as abusive environments, as opposed to the “simple” trauma caused by a discrete event such as a natural disaster—often develop serious self-worth issues. Adora’s entire upbringing has primed her to believe that she is only as valued as the last thing she did for another, and on top of that she’s just learned that Catra blames her for standing by while Shadow Weaver abused Catra. Adora frames her withdrawal as protecting her loved ones, but in truth her instinct to pull away is that of a hurt child hiding from a world she can’t handle.

And she can’t handle it alone, as “The Battle of Bright Moon” makes clear. Adora does what she always does, charging ahead as She-Ra and fighting by herself, and in the process loses her sword and nearly gets captured, while the Horde nearly destroys the Bright Moon Runestone. What saves her is the same thing that saved her in the First Ones ruin: her friends coming to get her.

Because what Adora really needs to let go of is not her friends. That is not what she’s been clinging to all season. What Adora needs to let go of is the idea that she’s on her own, that she always needs to be the best and can never ask for help. That’s hard for her to do, because her trauma and her ego are aligned, and the two together make a powerful force. But it’s what she needs, both to heal and to be a better She-Ra—and, bit by bit, she has been learning it.

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