She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, a reboot of the 1985 series She-Ra: Princess of Power, debuted on Netflix November 13, 2018. The following is a detailed summary of episode one, “The Sword: Part 1,” with reactions from someone who might sort of remember watching the original when she was about three years old, but really has no idea what’s going on here.
My first thought is that She-Ra is, unsurprisingly, a “girl” show – not to stereotype, but there’s a lot of pink and pretty shininess in the opening logo alone, (if it were Japanese, we’d file it in the “magical girl” drawer in the shoujo cabinet and that’d be that). We’re treated to a few quick shots of a pretty floral planet, before we zoom in to a creepy dirty industrial area that brings Sonic the Hedgehog’s dystopian Robotropolis to mind, only much greener (in the radioactive ooze way, not the happy trees and shrubs way).
We zoom further in to young teen Adora in a unitard with sensors strapped to her torso and limbs, bouncy 80s-style background music playing as she practices her strikes while brushing her teeth – a terrible idea, by the way. (Are we supposed to assume she prefers to live dangerously or just isn’t much for forethought?) Pasted to one of her punching bags is a poster of a demonic dark pink figure that Adora calls “princess,” which looks unmistakably like a mashup of Queen Beryl and her shadowy master, Queen Metalia, from Sailor Moon. Shout out!
A voiceover summons all squadrons for evaluation and Adora is pumped! She joins a couple other teen humanoids and a bipedal lizard, all in similar uniforms, for the exam. While standing at attention, she whispers “Where’s Catra?” to a fellow cadet who shrugs. “Not Again,” Adora mutters, establishing Catra as the friend with a habit of not showing up. The exam, in an X-Men Danger-Room-style gym, simulates a possible battle against the evil princesses of the rebellion, headquartered in Bright Moon. (By contrast, this is all taking place in the Fright Zone, so guess which side is really evil.) These opening scenes are meant to set up Adora’s ultimate defection to the side of sparkles and flowers, but the predictability doesn’t make it unenjoyable. This is a tropey show, full of references to animated adventures from the 80s and beyond – that’s part of the fun, but thankfully not all of it.
When questioned by the examiner, Adora sticks up for Catra despite her absence, then leads her team through the simulated laser-tag forest, destroying spiderlike robots that, through the team’s VR visors, look like the Beryl/Metalia from the propaganda poster. They advance toward their target, which they are meant to “liberate” for Lord Hordak, while being unknowingly pursued by a catlike female figure with one blue eye and one yellow eye.
Teammate Kyle is taken down by a robot laser; his vest sensor blinks an “X,” to the annoyance of his team, who have to leave him behind. They face the Big Bad, a larger robot, which Adora vaults on top of and destroys, only to fall into a trap while catching her breath and be left dangling by her vaulting pole while the heterochromatic Catra, having finally emerged from the shadows, taunts her.
It turns out the taunting is friendly teasing, and Catra helps Adora out of the hole, but it’s clear these two are going to come into conflict (Catra’s the “bad girl” with those rips in her delightfully retro stirrup leggings and her fluffy spiky hair-band hair, and particularly her tendency to avoid responsibility and attempt to coast to victory on her friend’s talent and effort). Adora gets her back with a mouse joke, because CAT, showing she can take it and dish it out (without venom), after which
SHADOW WEAVER APPEARS
and lovingly congratulations Adora on her exam result, while chiding Catra for being unmotivated and snarky.
Shadow Weaver is an obvious dark-magic-wielding villain: her gravity-defying locks of space-void black alone tell us that, but there’s also the eery floating, the tentacular blood-red robes, the mask obscuring her face that reveals only a little colorless skin, her imperious tone to top it off… Yes, we get it: she’s evil.
Yet Adora seems to respect her deeply, even as Adora supports Catra against Shadow Weaver’s criticisms. The heretofore confident Catra slumps her shoulders meekly; Shadow Weaver tires of Catra as both a conversational subject and verbal punching bag, and summons Adora to “walk with her,” leaving Catra behind. SW tells Adora that Lord Hordak is very impressed with her – Adora the high-achiever is thrilled, even moreso when SW promotes her to Force Captain on the spot.
Adora’s about to jump out of her boots with excitement at the thought of being put on active duty, and leading a squadron in the upcoming attack on the rebel base at Thaymore… until she is told that she cannot bring her team, not even Catra. Adora again stands up for Catra, showing confidence in her abilities, but Shadow Weaver insists that Catra has not proven herself, and that this is Adora’s chance – this is what Shadow Weaver raised her to be. Thus we learn that SW rescued and raised an orphaned baby Adora. Adora’s kindness, guilelessness and spunkiness must come from somewhere other than her immediate surroundings, although her goal of becoming Force Captain was clearly influenced by SW, who manipulated Adora’s desire to please her mother-figure:
“Isn’t this what you’ve wanted since you were old enough to want anything?”
We jump to the shiny palace of moonbeams and rainbows. Glimmer, of the bubblegum pink Molly Ringwald hair and split purple tunic that makes her look like an adorable bug, has been called before someone very important (you can tell by the offstage someone’s British accent).
She enters the gleaming gold and lavender throne room, where she is promptly taken to task by the queen for leading the rebellion into a dangerous battle after she was ordered not to. Glimmer – Commander Glimmer – shows no remorse, and soon she and the queen are going at it over strategy and
What is going on here? Who talks to their queen this way? And who makes a whiny barely-teen a COMMANDER? Is the rebellion that desperate for heroes?
And then the queen grounds Glimmer and it all makes sense.
“MOOOOM! You never let me do ANYTHING!”
Glimmer is sent to her room, and we’re taken back to the Fright Zone, where Adora is gazing happily at her Force Captain badge while leaning on a railing overlooking the charming ooze-green maze of pipes and things that I guess make other things. She’s promptly pounced on by Catra, who’s excited to hear what Shadow Weaver told Adora, and even more excited when she thinks Adora’s promotion means that she’ll get to leave the Fright Zone and see action, too. After Adora reluctantly bursts her bubble, and tries to get Catra to see that her disrespectful attitude is holding back her advancement, Catra reveals her resentment of both SW, who Catra doesn’t think has earned her respect, and Adora, who she calls a “people pleaser.” She then bounds off with Adora’s Force Captain badge.
Adora knows exactly where to find her, and climbs up to a high vantage point atop some machine-like structure, and sure enough, she finds Catra perched on a pipe, sulkily gazing off into the distance. She apologizes – note that she has nothing to apologize for, but she genuinely feels bad that Catra’s feelings are hurt – and says she never knew Catra wanted to be a Force Captain. Catra says she didn’t, but did she? Or did she simply know Adora was Shadow Weaver’s favored student and that her best shot at success would be to stick close to Adora? She tosses Adora her badge like it means nothing to her, and we wait for this simmering stew of resentment to boil over.
But a watched pout never boils (#sorrynotsorry), and Adora and Catra seem to work it out. Adora reiterates that being a Force Captain is her life’s goal (lookin’ at you, future-unwilling-hero!) and asks Catra if she could be happy for her. Catra pulls the “whatever I don’t even care” routine and says she just wants to get out of the Fright Zone before she dies of boredom. “I wonder what’s even outside the Fright Zone,” Catra says.
Adora dangles a key and mischievously suggests they go find out.
Adora may be willing to follow the military academy’s rules and meet and/or exceed expectations consistently, but she’s not above stealing a land speeder (“skiff”) for a joyride to cheer up her bestie. They ride out into the darkening desert against a backdrop from Spaceman Spiff (note the floating boulders) until they arrive at the edge of the
Everfree Forest Whispering Woods, where the beautiful flora conceals nightmarish monsters and the trees move when you’re not looking. Basically, it eats Horde squadrons for breakfast.
Naturally, they plunge right in, mostly because Catra is reckless and decided it was her turn to drive.
Adora and Catra struggle for control of the skiff, and almost hit a tree until Adora pulls the skiff into a steep climb – and is promptly clotheslined by a vine and tumbles down into a shrub.
The spirit of an ancient Night Elf who has become one with the forest floats by.
It must be a soft shrub, because she’s only out for a moment, and not particularly hurt, but there’s no time to marvel at that because
THERE’S A SHINY GLOWING SWORD STICKING OUTTA THE GROUND LIKE 10 FEET AWAY
Good thing she didn’t land on that shiny golden pommel, which is just too shiny to resist touching…
As soon as her finger touches the sword the glow intensifies, signifying MAGIC. Adora gasps, and images fill her mind: a marble-like planet, the woods with the sword’s glow from above, a shiny purple egg thing, the sword, an vine-strangled ruin.
A female voice states that balance must be restored (but what’s new?), and that Etheria (that’s the planet with the “You are HERE” sticker) must seek a hero. I’m guessing Etheria’s found her.
An image of She-Ra appears with a baby’s cry voiceover, then a tall purple woman – is it her voice calling out to Adora?
It may be, but Catra is also calling her name. Adora blearily opens her eyes – she’s a little out of it, but not too out of it to believe Catra when she says that it was Adora who nearly drove the skiff into a tree – and looks for the sword, which has disappeared, as magical swords do from time to time. Catra thinks Adora is brain damaged, and, while she’s not above trying to pin the blame for their situation on her apparently compromised friend, she is truly concerned – particularly that her “mom” is gonna kill her for nearly killing her sister. Ah, siblings.
As Adora and Catra speed back to the Fright Zone, the audience is transported to the castle at Bright Moon, which is absolutely stunning (I love the Blood Elf-esque wings and jewels atop the tallest spire, not to mention the, what are those, upside down flying buttresses?), and WAIT isn’t that the purple egg? Only it’s turquoise now, but it’s definitely that egg thingy floating above a flower-looking thingy, I dunno, we only see it for a second. It’s clearly important, so I’m sure we’ll come back to it.
Then we’re watching a shadowy male figure leap through the Woods toward the castle, where he watches Glimmer compose an angry letter to her mom/journal.
The shadowy figure nocks an arrow and aims at Glimmer’s Art Nouveau Moon Kingdom window. He lets it fly straight into the wall above her head, cracks radiating out from the point of impact. Glimmer gasps as a compartment in the arrow shaft opens and unfurls a cute message covered in hearts telling her to look outside, where presumably she will not find a handyman armed with spackling tools.
Only mildly annoyed at this wanton destruction, Glimmer stage-whispers at the archer, “Watch it! You almost hit me!”
The archer reveals himself in the moonlight to be a young man in shiny mid-rif-baring Cupid armor and normal-looking blue pants. Not sure who put this ensemble together, and it doesn’t make any more sense than his tri-tone hair (black eyebrows, light brown shaved roots, and purplish… poof on top). And yet somehow, it works (the boots with gigantic hearts tie it all together).
Also, he’s a total cutie. So what’s up with these two? Are they just friends or…
Through their brief exchange, in which Glimmer tries to get him to stop yelling “WHAT?” every time she whispers that she’s grounded, we learn that
1. His name is Bow (appropriate, if a bit on the nose),
2. They’re definitely at least really good friends, and
3. Glimmer can teleport! 😀 Not only herself, but other people.
She pops out of her room, grabs Bow and pops back into her room where she rehashes the whole “I wanna help people through violence and especially prove that I’m a real person to my mom, but she’s a stick in the mud and like doesn’t want me to get murdered or something” drama. Bow does his friendly duty of listening to her complain while… picking up her clothes from the floor, folding them, and putting them away? Hey, none of my friends ever does that! Where did this guy come from??
We also learn through her self-pitying whine-fest that the Bright Moon rebellion is continually losing territory to the Horde, so maybe Glimmer has a point about fighting back? We shall see.
I love what happens next. Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much – let me sum up:
Glimmer: My mom doesn’t take me seriously because I’m just a princess!
Bow: That makes no sense, literally everyone here but me is a princess, which I feel slightly bummed about… And I’m totally forgetting that the non-princess staff even exist. Help me help you clean your room – where does this go?
Glimmer: [can teleport, but stays in her bed and points… like a PRINCESS]
Bow: You should listen to your mom because you did almost die. This is a good time to mention the limit on your magical ability, which is basically that it’s unreliable.
Glimmer: Only tell me things I want to hear!
Bow: I’m just saying, if you want to prove yourself as an adult, you should probably not behave like your frontal lobe is underdeveloped. But I have a solution! Let me show you on my tablet thingy to establish myself as the techie friend! Here’s a world-building reference to our planet’s mysterious lore, and a quest item in one! Let’s go into the woods to find it and bring it back to your mom to impress her!
Glimmer: But I’m grounded…
Glimmer’s Queen Mum: *pounds on door*
Glimmer: *teleportationally removes Bow from her room and tries to play it cool*
Glimmer and Queen Mum: *yell through the door at each other like absolute ninnies*
Glimmer: *slams her door shut and teleports herself outside to where Bow is waiting, playing a game on his tablet because all the hip stories now have magic AND technology*
Glimmer: I’m mad at my mom so I’m going to defy her to prove I’m mature!
And we’re back at the Fright Zone military academy dorm, where our cadets are snug in their bunks, including new Force Captain Adora, who doesn’t get a private room with her new rank. That wouldn’t work for Catra, who’s curled up at her feet, because CAT. What’s odd is that Catra’s wearing her red head-piece thing in her sleep – what is that thing? Is it part of her face? Why does she have extra eyebrows on it??
Adora’s dreaming of the sword, and the voice of the tall purply woman in her head wakes her up. Catra catches her sneaking out, but Adora won’t let her come along to the Woods this time to keep her from getting in trouble, and instead asks Catra to cover for her. Catra is displeased and confused, but stays behind.
Well, things are really moving now. Adora’s on her way to the Whispering Woods, where Bow and Glimmer are looking for some magi-technological artifact from the “First Ones.” We know the three are fated to meet, but knowing what will happen doesn’t lessen he enjoyment of watching.
An apparent glitch in Bow’s tablet and a convenient magical glow get the duo on the right track. Meanwhile, Adora is pushing her way through thick foliage, doubting that she has actually had a mystical experience and considering going home like a rational person would, when she sees the GLOW of the sword.
Then she sees Glimmer and Bow, who see her in a Horde soldier uniform, prompting a race for the sword and a fun action sequence in which we get to see Adora use her combat training, Bow his creative archery, and Glimmer her sparkliness – which isn’t limited to teleportation but includes bright flashes of purple light that I guess inflict damage (don’t ask me how much, I’m not the DM). Adora gives them the chance to surrender so she doesn’t have to hurt them (which is really nice to say, after having just flipped Glimmer flat on her back), but they decline and everyone wrestles around until Adora manages to touch the sword, which is great because we’re all ready for a little more backstory here.
Adora is seemingly transported to a dark yet shiny place of giant crystal microchip-lookin’ things. The purple lady, who looks like an alien elf made of motherboard parts, introduces herself as Light Hope. She’s a slightly glitchy hologram, but it’s a safe bet she’s one of the good guys.
In this scene, Adora learns:
1. The sword is the key to Adora and Light Hope’s connection, which is why Adora never knew any of the following.
2. The sword is meant for Adora.
3. Because she’s being called on to fight for Etheria and the Honor of Grayskull.
4. Light Hope is not great at answering direct questions, such as “What are you talking about?” and “What is Grayskull?, but she is pretty good at disappearing to keep us all hanging on for more information.
After promising Adora and the audience that we will understand all of this, Light Hope peaces out, and Adora wakes to find herself bound at the wrists and about to be interrogated by Glimmer, who thinks she needs to yell to sound intimidating (guess what, sparkly bug: it doesn’t work that way).
Glimmer accuses Adora of being a spy and of trying to steal their sword; Adora denies being a spy and points out that she found the sword first. Glimmer argues that because the sword is in the Whispering Woods, and the Woods are under the protection of the Rebellion, the sword belongs to the Rebellion.
Anyone who’s been paying attention will note that Glimmer’s claim that Bright Moon protects the Woods is not completely true; if anything, it’s the other way around (remember Adora’s statement that the Horde soldiers that enter never return?). Either the rebellion, with its barely-teenage commander is so mighty that it can take out 100% of all Horde forces that enter, or there’s somethin’ in them thar woods what’s a-doin’ it.
After pausing to count her chickens before they’re hatched [“My mom’s gonna be so impressed!!”], Glimmer leads the party back to Bright Moon by way of every dang tree in the forest.
“I know what I’m doing!”
-Commander Glimmer, trying to read the map on Bow’s obviously-malfunctioning tablet
Even Bow, who grew up in the Woods, is starting to worry. Glimmer takes it personally and teleports herself about twenty feet ahead to, I don’t know, try to get better reception or something. Bow apologizes to Adora, who thinks it’s weird that he’s trying to make conversation with her, but he is basically the nicest guy in all of Etheria so far. Adora questions his loyalty to a princess, the embodiment of evil, a “threat to everyone on Etheria… violent instigators who don’t even know how to control their own powers.”
Meanwhile, Rage Glimmer is totally losing her cool at not being able to find her way home.
Bow and Adora swap conflicting “common knowledge” until they hear Glimmer whimpering up ahead. Bow has a hold of his prisoner, but Adora seems concerned, and he doesn’t have to drag her along as they run to check on Glimmer.
Glimmer stands slumped over in the middle of a ruined settlement, examining a piece of broken pottery that depicts two satyr-like figures. Adora asks what happened, and finally, Glimmer’s attitude seems justified as she shows Adora a broken horde robot – the very same kind used to train the Horde’s military cadets to fight the Bright Moon princesses.
Adora’s having her whole world turned upside down, and denies that the Horde would do such a thing because, as Lord Hordak says, the Horde is trying to do what’s best for Etheria, to make it better, more orderly. Glimmer gives her a reality check by telling her that the Horde is literally destroying their cities. Bow points out that the Horde army is known as “the Evil Horde.” Adora is unwilling to accept this, and tells Bow that the Horde is her family – they took her in as an orphan and raised her.
There’s no time for arguing though, as Glimmer has just stumbled upon something else: A GIANT BUG WITH GLOWING EYES AND SPINES, AND LEGS LIKE SKEWERS that makes our little Glimmer-bug look like, well, a bug in comparison.
Cue the next action scene. The bug monster bursts out of the ground and tries to squish the humans. Bow uses his trick arrows to save Adora, whose foot is caught in a crack in the earth, and Glimmer uses her shiny purple light magic, but it’s not enough. Glimmer has dropped the sword, and, with no one minding her, Adora takes it back.
The bug is closing in on Glimmer and Bow; Adora considers taking the sword and running, but her conscience won’t allow it. The sword sizzles with magic, giving Adora an idea. She calls the to the bug, who leaves Glimmer and Bow for her. As the bug charges her, we’re treated to some any-time-now-magic-device suspense as Adora begs the sword for another one of those blinding flashes of light. The bug takes aim with its knife-like foreleg; Adora blocks with the sword. The bug’s claw touches the sword, and ah, there’s our blinding flash of light, accompanied again by visions:
-Etheria and her moons
-Bright Moon castle, with its gigantic egg-orb atop a tower
-Utah with floating boulders and a flaming asteroid crashing
-a sparkling crystal structure
-Light Hope, who’s been calling Adora’s name throughout the slideshow
-a spinning electric purple void in a field, surrounded by crystal obelisks, and the sound of a baby crying
-bright shining golden light and a flowing… dark thing, maybe the shadow of She-Ra’s cape? I can’t actually tell what this is.
And we’re back with Adora, who thankfully didn’t pass out this time, but is struggling against the weight of the bug’s giant claw.
With nothing else left to try, Adora calls out, “For the honor of Grayskull!”
When the next blinding flash of light fades, we see that Adora has transformed into She-Ra, and carries both the sword and a shield. The bug’s spines lay down flat and it basks in She-Ra’s glow, blinking contentedly as her hair, cape and not-quite-a-skirt ruffle thing float majestically. Adora/She-Ra seems fairly chill herself – and the credits roll.
But we’re living in the future and this is Netflix, so we can jump straight to part two!