Thursday, December 5, 2019

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 1.13, "The Battle of Bright Moon"

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As the first season of the series draws to a close, battle is joined--and won!

1.13, "The Battle of Bright Moon"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Katherine Nolfi, and Laura Sreebny
Directed by Stephanie Stine

Synopsis

Target acquired.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Cold winds blow through the woods, freezing all they touch as a storm spreads from the Fright Zone outward. Adora, Glimmer, and Bow race back to Bright Moon to secure it against the coming threats. Catra looks over her handiwork and its devastation with no small joy. Entrapta is enraptured by her own efforts, and Catra plots how to capitalize on the situation: an attack on Bright Moon.

In Bright Moon, Angella uses the rune-stone's power to repel the storm and summon aid. Adora, Glimmer, and Bow return, and they assess their status. Adora realizes an attack is imminent, and planning to resist it begins. Matters look grim, indeed; allies are not coming, and Glimmer still suffers her strange malady. Adora volunteers to stand in defense alone, knowing that Catra will be leading the incoming attack. Light Hope's earlier comments about endangering her friends ring in her ears.

It is a touching moment, if an unfortunate one.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Glimmer opens her personal armory to Adora and Bow. Angella confronts her, initially, and confers her father's weapon on her. The attack comes then, and the Bright Moon forces rise to meet it as best they may.

Battle is joined, but it is clear that the Horde anticipated the defenders' likely reactions. Adora's efforts are blunted, though she struggles valiantly, the more so after Catra presents her self directly. Still, the fight goes poorly for the defenders; they slow the assault, but they cannot stop it. Not alone.

The cast shot seems obligatory.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
It is fortunate, then, that they are not alone; the other princesses join the fight, relieving the siege and repelling the Horde. Catra escapes, coming to be appointed to a higher position in the Horde, but in the wake of the battle, the princesses are reconfirmed in their alliance. Clearly, more is expected to follow.

Discussion

Regarding the present episode, comments I made here and here suggest themselves as needing further consideration. In the earlier commentary, I note that "there is not necessarily a one-to-one correspondence between characters in the series and antecedents in the romances," while in the latter, I remark that "While it is the case that Adora evokes Arthur in many details, in her conduct, she tends to be more of Lancelot or Gawain." In that same commentary, I point out--in insufficient detail, to be certain, but I am not so much an academic now as once I was--that there are parallels between Adora and Lancelot; the present episode seems to point out more parallels to Gawain, particularly as he is presented later in Malory and in some others such as Chrétien de Troyes. Both characters are powerful, yes, and possessed of both notable swords (whether Excalibur or the Malorian Galatine for Gawain); both also notably have special horses (Gringolet for Gawain, Swift Wind for Adora). Both are also headstrong and intemperate, given to excess anger and to charging in without considering the ramifications of their actions. (Victoria L. Weiss's 1976 "Gawain's First Failure" stands out in my mind as one useful discussion; Gawain's first expedition as a "dubbed" knight in Malory presents an example, too, here.)

In some ways, having Adora presented as such a pastiche of characters--borrowing from Arthur, Lancelot, and Gawain in Malory, as well as other sources--is a frustration. It would be far easier to make arguments about the medievalism of the series were there a direct correspondence between her and a single figure or even a relatively restricted group of them. (And, lest it be noted that "Round Table Knights" is a "relatively restricted group," there are 150 of them in Malory at any given time, so while it is a restricted group, it is still far larger than admits of easy analysis in such a medium as this.) That I have not been able to point one such out is something that might well be used to argue against the position that the series is more than minimally, nominally medievalist, and that such scholarship as I might still perform should be directed to other ends (or that the fact I write as I do justifies the refusal of institutions to accept my applications for tenure track positions, back when I still sent them in). And I have to accept that there is some (small) merit in such critiques--as in the refrain I have often heard when discussing this kind of work: "It's just a cartoon; it's not worth getting so wrapped up in."

At the same time, the fact that there is not a direct, one-to-one alignment of characters is representative of medievalism, generally. That is, works that make use of the medieval rarely do a straight lifting of the medieval into other settings; there are almost always refigurings and adjustments. Some may have to do with translations across languages; some may have to do with translations across media. More, though, lines up with Paul Sturtevant's assertions in The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination (about which more here) and which I end up noting here--namely that the broader "popular" audience does not come to medievalist materials with a particularly informed understanding of the medieval (because they are not, themselves, scholars of the material--which is not meant as a slight, though I recognize it might be taken as such), and that even those members of it who do, following Kavita Mudan Finn, are not always using good sources. It is the kind of thing that leads to the woeful misapprehensions about the medieval that permit presentist bias, and it is the kind of thing that allows execrable racist jackasses to ground the filth that they claim as their rhetoric in a pseudo-intellectual justification that too many scholars who damned well ought to know better will not even bother to repudiate with feeble, pallid words--though they will happily lambast those with the audacity to rail against evil. (I am echoing Cato in some ways, I know. Carthago delenda est, with racism as Carthage.)

When they are not taken to foolhardy or outright evil ends, though, medievalist works tend to work in an amorphous amalgamation of what is perceived of as the medieval. Characters are compressed together, as are centuries and nations and continents. Adora borrowing from so many characters as she does does not make her less medievalist; it makes her more typically so. And given that the medieval sources themselves often borrow from, compress, and amalgamate their own antecedents, rather than necessarily following a one-to-one correspondence, she and the series in which she presently appears find themselves in abundant, long-lasting company.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 1.12, "Light Hope"

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Matters move towards a climax in the first season's penultimate episode.

1.12, "Light Hope"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Josie Campbell, Katherine Nolfi, and Laura Sreebny
Directed by Lianne Hughes

Synopsis

Not the best way to get to know someone.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Adora falls. As she does, she converses with holographic representations of Light Hope and of her own memories. She suddenly finds herself standing--and conversing with Light Hope, who is a hologram. Light Hope presents some background knowledge and attempts to accommodate herself to Adora, to little effect.

Mr. Ed, he ain't.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
In Bright Moon, Glimmer frets to Bow about Adora's ongoing absence. He tries to comfort her, to little avail, before Adora's horse, Swift Wind, introduces himself. There is some confusion from Glimmer and Bow about the horse's ability to talk; after it subsides, Swift Wind explicates his situation and summons Glimmer and Bow to help Adora. Bow cautions against trying to evade Angella, who arrives unexpectedly and speeds the trio on their way.

In the Fright Zone, Entrapta reports to Catra regarding her findings and her work. The initial report is not illuminating; the follow-up is stilted before revealing that Etheria is deeply affected by earlier manipulation.

Meanwhile, Adora presses Light Hope for information. Elementary exposition is forthcoming, revealing a long line of work on the planet. Entrapta discusses some of that work with Catra; the now-vanished First Ones integrated their technology into the magic present in Etheria, penetrating into the planet's core. Adora is supposed to "bring balance to Etheria," manipulating the rune-stones and their connected princesses to maintain the planet--or to "hack the planet," in Entrapta's words. Scorpia reveals that the Horde is in possession of one such, her own family's, given to Hordak upon his arrival. Shadow Weaver is noted as a problem, and Catra moves to address it as a report of events reaches Hordak.

Adora continues to press for information, specifically what she can do to help Glimmer. Light Hope offers training that will not be helpful in the short term, and Light Hope pushes for a withdrawal from her personal relationships. Light Hope cites Mara, a previous She-Ra, as a failure and urges Adora to take up where Mara faltered and to renounce personal connections.

This is not a face that invites disobedience.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Entrapta, Scorpia, and Catra work on the Horde's rune-stone, only to be interrupted by an angry Shadow Weaver. She is interrupted in turn by a message from Hordak commending their work. She does not take the news well, and a fracas ensues. Catra emerges victorious, and Shadow Weaver is imprisoned. Entrapta resumes work, and Etheria begins to reflect her efforts

Glimmer and Bow proceed to find Adora. Swift Wind relates more about himself along the way. They encounter the effects of the Horde's manipulations along the way, and Swift Wind reacts strongly to it. The weather begins to shift dramatically at what Entrapta calls "interesting," and the trio reach Adora's location. They reach her with some difficulty and retrieve her from the trance in which she confers with Light Hope. Swift Wind brings her out of it, and the four proceed back to Bright Moon, noting the perils building around them--while Catra notes the potential for conquest.

Discussion

The revelation that Scorpia is a princess came a few episodes previously, so it is not a surprise. That she had access to a rune-stone, however, is; Entrapta is also a princess but is not attributed such a stone, so the status does not necessarily entail access to Etherian magic. Watching the episode from the perspective of having watched future seasons of it (through Season 4 as of this writing), it is a thing that becomes more important later on--as might well be expected.

The iteration of Scorpia's background does suggest a medieval parallel, interestingly--that of Hengist and Horsa to the Britons. As accounts typically have it, notably in certain texts of the Chronicle* and in Nennius, the British king, Vortigern, invited Hengist and Horsa and the peoples they led into Britain to help in the fight against the Picts. Seeing how matters stood, Hengist and Horsa turned on Vortigern, taking the lands he had ruled. From the description Scorpia gives, something similar happened with the Horde and her people; her people welcomed the Horde, but were soon made subject to it. Of course, such an account must be viewed with some skepticism; it scans as very much in the colonialist model that often gets trotted out in the United States around this time of year, that people were welcomed in and came to rule rather than arriving and setting out to conquer by book or by bullet or both. And the possible antecedents are themselves written with particular agendas in mind; they are hardly neutral accounts. But the parallel remains interesting.

*Given the problems in the common name of the text in question, particularly those referencing a later-imposed concept of ethnic identity that has been used to prop up racist ideologies and is being used contemporaneously to this writing to support white supremacist and fascist ideologies and rhetorics, I truncate the name here. I know that I am not always as aware of the overtones of my words as I perhaps ought to be, but when I know that my use of a particular term--largely inaccurate and seldom attested in the time among the people to whom it applies--reinforces the work of racist asshats, I do try to avoid it.

Please note that there will not be an update next Thursday, 28 November 2019. I'll be away visiting family. The She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch series will resume on 5 December 2019; please come back and join us then!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 1.11, "Promise"

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Grounds for reconciliation erode as the first season of the series progresses towards its end.

1.11, "Promise"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Katherine Nolfi, Sonja Warfield, and Josie Campbell
Directed by Jen Bennett

Synopsis

It is somewhat foreboding, yes?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Catra follows Adora into a crystal structure. It is clear that the structure has suffered from time, and it gives every appearance of being empty until a hologram appears as a user interface that recognizes She-Ra. The interface is not entirely helpful, offering only limited information that appears to require additional context for understanding. Adora is frustrated by the limitations of the interface until she recalls Light Hope and asks for her.

It doesn't seem like a good time, no.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Catra reveals herself, occasioning attack and the activation of local security measures. She and Adora flee, pursued, and Adora rebuks Catra for her interference. She also works to defend the pair against the attacking security measures.

In a moment of calm, the two confer. Catra tries unsuccessfully to reject assistance, and the two proceed together, finding themselves in a darkened chamber that soon scans them and projects images from their shared past. It makes for awkward reconnections between the two and strained reminiscence.

A strange message from a strange messenger.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Security measures resume their work against Catra, and Adora once again moves to intervene. She is less successful than Catra, who acquits herself well. Adora urges Catra to join her in the Rebellion, but after more presentation of their memories, Catra's heart hardens against Adora. She returns to taunt Adora one last time before making her exit. Light Hope appears to take her place and urges Adora to "let go." She does.

In the Fright Zone, Scorpia and Entrapta confer until Catra returns. Scorpia makes over Catra, to the latter's annoyance. Catra delivers a data unit to Entrapta before retiring.

Discussion

I rewatched this episode after having watched the fourth season of the series, and it is interesting to look back at it from the perspective of seeing what happens across the future episodes. It is in returning to works from such perspectives that rewatch series have their value, I think; more comes out in the repeated examination than the first experience can provide, even as there is a sense of wonder in the first encounter that never really comes again. And there is something mimetic of the medieval in that, as well, given the propensity of medieval authors to rework the same source material again and again. The many treatments of Arthuriana offer no few examples, as do Chaucer's Miller's Tale and Heile van Beersele, or the Wife of Bath's Tale and The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell. (Scholarship on fan fiction might have something to say on the matter, too, but I am not up on that. Insights from those who are would be welcome, however.)

There may also be something of the medieval in the interactions between Adora and Catra, both in the episode's present and in the past it depicts. While it is the case that Adora evokes Arthur in many details, in her conduct, she tends to be more of Lancelot or Gawain than of the Once and Future King. The former, particularly, occasions no small jealousy from other knights at the Round Table, who find themselves repeatedly in Lancelot's debt despite not asking for help--and Lancelot rushes into fights to play the hero without considering context. (His dream-vision while on the Grail Quest in Malory stands as one example.) Adora acts similarly, her tendency to rush into battle stemming from high ideals, perhaps, but in the moment often causing unintended harm and, more, diminishing the agency of those she moves to save. It offers a useful frustration of common concepts of heroism, giving viewers much about which to think.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 1.10, "The Beacon"

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Mothers and daughters figure prominently as She-Ra and the Princesses of Power approaches the end of its first season.

1.10, "The Beacon"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Katherine Nofli, Sonja Warfield, and Josie Campbell
Directed by Lianne Hughes

Synopsis

It's not a good place they're in.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Having fled from the Fright Zone without Entrapta, Adora berates herself for failure. The Princess Alliance falters, with Perfuma and Mermista leaving the rest and hardening their own dominions. Adora, Bow, and Glimmer return to Bright Moon in defeat and despair, though Angella is overjoyed to have her daughter returned to her.

Angella asks after events, pressing the three for details; they manage to excuse themselves, hiding Glimmer's condition. Bow and Adora press her to reveal her difficulties to Angella, but Glimmer refuses.

In the Fright Zone, Hordak rebukes Shadow Weaver harshly while an unseen observer looks on.

Glimmer's efforts to restore herself do not go as well as expected; her condition has deteriorated somewhat, and Angella is confused at Glimmer's avoidance of her.

How unexpected a surprise.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Catra exults in Shadow Weaver's shame and notes oddities in the Fright Zone. She exposes Entrapta, who has been scurrying through the Fright Zone's ducts.

Glimmer again puzzles over her condition, and Adora continues to fret about her failures. She purposes to heal Glimmer as She-Ra; Bow voices concerns, but is ignored.

Entrapta is captured but escapes restraint with ease. Catra tries to interrogate her, finding her all too willing to talk and working to manipulate her emotionally. It seems to have some effect; Entrapta comes to believe she has been abandoned. Catra begins to bring her into the Horde, seeing the potential in her.

Efforts to heal Glimmer go badly, as might be expected. Efforts to bring Entrapta into Horde service go far better, with Catra commending Entrapta's ingenuity. Entrapta notes that there is a source of technology she would like to have, and Catra makes to retrieve it.

Angella commands Glimmer to dinner. Adora purposes to find more about her powers and train in them, returning to a beacon she found earlier. In her absence, Bow and Glimmer confer in advance of the commanded dinner, Bow taking responsibility for the events leading to Glimmer's capture. Glimmer apologizes, in turn, and the two comfort one another in advance of the dinner--at which, Glimmer's condition emerges, as do both of their lingering traumas and anxieties. Angella urges Glimmer to fight for the Alliance.

That's a young woman on a mission, right there.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
At length, Adora and Catra arrive at the beacon, the latter trailing the former ominously.

Discussion

The revelation that Entrapta is not dead is hardly surprising; it is, in fact, something of a trope that any seeming death that does not show the body is no death at all. Cartoons, including the earlier She-Ra series, have tended to operate under constraints that prevent character death (largely for toy-marketing, in the case of She-Ra and similar series). But that is also not uncommon in medieval literature; the King Arthur I repeatedly reference is an easy example. After all, Malory tells us that "somme men say in many partyes of Englond that kyng Arthur is not deed / But had by the wylle of our lord Ihesu in to another place / and men say that he shal come ageyn," that he is "Rex quondam Rex que futurus," once and future king, bound to return. He also tells us that Mordred had been thought to die adrift with the other children of Logres, but survived. Even if it is something of a cliché, then, it is one with no small pedigree (as noted in the previous entry in the series, admittedly).

Also corresponding to medieval, particularly chivalric, antecedents is the dinner between Angella and Glimmer. There may be a tendency to dismiss it as childish histrionics or some other coded misogynistic thing; I've only taken a shallow dip into commentaries on the series, but even so shallow a dip left me feeling coated by such filth. (NB: Even if the expressions are "childish," Glimmer is an adolescent.) Such dismissals, proceeding from the toxic position that only the stoic (code "masculine") is or can be strong, are, as most such, blind to historical literary antecedent. How many tearful outpourings of emotion pervade such works as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or Malory? Even in what Kaeuper calls "chivalry's great summa," a work recognized in its own time and long after as a guide for (noble, masculine) conduct, there are great, sudden expressions of emotion, confessional in nature; what Glimmer and Angella share is not so different than what Arthur and Gawain share, or many others.

Those who will use the medieval to prop up follies of toxic masculinity, among many others, need to remember that there is much more in the stories they told to show themselves what they could be than later readers want to accord them--such things as She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is more apt to get right than they.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 1.9, "No Princess Left Behind"

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For the Halloween 2019 piece on She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, neither tricks nor treats seem apt to be found.

1.9, "No Princess Left Behind"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Sonja Warfield, Katherine Nolfi, and Josie Campbell
Directed by Stephanie Stine

Synopsis

She's a happy kitty.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Catra exults in possessing She-Ra's sword and having captured Glimmer and Bow. Shadow Weaver is not impressed, though Hordak congratulates her for the efforts. Catra is incredulous, and Shadow Weaver is dismissive. But she is far more interested in Glimmer, restrained by magic in her lair.

Adora approaches Angella, who unhappily considers her prospects: self-surrender or the death of her child. She accepts self-surrender, and Adora rejects the idea; Angella opposes a rescue mission, though Adora forges on with it. The arrival of the allied princesses--Perfuma, Mermista, and Entrapta--buoys her.

It's always Kyle.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In the Fright Zone prison, Kyle tends to Bow--ineptly. Bow takes the chance to make some inroads with his captor.

Adora and the other princesses confer, if erratically, about how to rescue their friends. The plan proceeds in similarly erratic fashion, with some hiccups along the way (and not all of them are the fault of the princesses, though their eccentricities come to the fore). But it does largely succeed, if not entirely as expected.

Glimmer attempts to effect her own escape, unsuccessfully, as Shadow Weaver expounds current plans. Shadow Weaver taunts her before leaving.

It is a triumphant moment.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The rescue continues, with the princesses retrieving Bow with some struggle. In the meantime, though, Bow learned Glimmer's location; he reports it to the princesses. Adora proceeds thence, sending the rest to escape as she surrenders to Shadow Weaver to retrieve Glimmer. Shadow Weaver dismissed Catra and works on Adora. Seeing the struggle spurs Glimmer to escape, and she releases Adora.

The other fleeing princesses proceed--but Entrapta is caught behind. Meanwhile, Adora and Glimmer continue to flee, and Catra confronts them--with She-Ra's sword. She surrenders it to Adora and tells them to leave. Adora transforms to more easily effect their departure.

She is not a happy kitty.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The group, sans Entrapta, reunites and makes to return to Bright Moon. Adora is confronted with a compounded failure, and the outlook is bleak.

Discussion

The episode marks something of a turning point, both in the season and in the series as a whole. While the previous episode ended in capture, the present ends in an apparent Pyrrhic victory; the stated goal of the mission to retrieve Bow and Glimmer is realized, but at the cost of another princess. It is a decidedly more somber thing than might be expected of a children's show--and certainly more somber than the kind of children's show from which the present series emerges; though I did not watch much She-Ra in the 1980s, I did watch He-Man, and victory was assured in every episode.

The somber tone, however, is not one unfamiliar to other works typically assigned to children--such as retellings, bowdlerized and sanitized as they typically are, of Arthurian legend. There is a hopeful note held out in such legends, that the titular hero will return in the hour of need--rex quondam rexque futurus and all. But the hero is not present; Arthur dies, and his kingdom does not long outlive him. And that is a message that needs teaching, even in days such as these that prize the grimdark and look to the cynical (not without cause). There are risks, and they do not always match the rewards--or, if they do, neither risk nor reward is what was thought to be. But there remains some hope.

We do not see the body, after all...

Thursday, October 24, 2019

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 1.8, "Princess Prom"

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What promises to be an enjoyable interlude proves anything but.

1.8, "Princess Prom"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Josie Campbell, and Katherine Nolfi
Directed by Jen Bennett

Synopsis

They do seem happy about it.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
A confused Adora receives an invitation to a ball that Bow and Glimmer call the "princess prom" in jubilation. They explain the event to Adora, which causes her no small consternation. Glimmer also notes the opportunity to recruit the hosting princess, Frosta, into the rebellion. And tensions arise between Glimmer and Bow over guest lists.

In the Fright Zone, Catra rages about Shadow Weaver and tries to recruit Scorpia to a plot against her. Scorpia notes her own invitation to the prom--and her status as a princess, one attached to the land that would become the Fright Zone. Catra likes the idea, persuading Scorpia along with her.

Who's more excited is clear.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Glimmer and Bow discuss the latter's plans to attend the upcoming ball with Perfuma, and it is clear that Glimmer feels for Bow in ways Bow does not entirely reciprocate. Adora pulls Glimmer in to consult with her about the ball. She demonstrates both intense study for and deep anxiety about the event. Glimmer, however, focuses on aesthetics--to Adora's disgust. Catra and Scorpia prepare themselves, too, as do Bow and Perfuma in a montage reminiscent both of 80s teen movies (the homage is clear) and, to a lesser extent, medieval blazonry.

The gang's all here.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
When Adora and Glimmer arrive, there is some difficulty with the release of She-Ra's sword before they tour the grounds. Glimmer explains more of the ball, and she and Adora greet their hostess--embarrassingly poorly, in Adora's case. Adora and Glimmer find Entrapta, and Glimmer watches with some angst as Bow and Perfuma enter. Mermista joins them, as well.

Adora sees Frosta alone and tries to engage her. It goes poorly.

Afterward, Adora notices Glimmer's unease at Bow moving in a different social circle and makes to comfort her until she sees Scorpia and Catra enter. She tries to intervene, but is rebuffed. Catra and Scorpia proceed to distract Adora and Glimmer, and Adora is led into shameful behavior again and again. Glimmer is distracted by her personal concerns and loses track of Scorpia. Bow, however, notices her planting bombs shortly before she steals She-Ra's sword and abducts Bow.

Formal proceedings continue at the ball, and Adora continues to distinguish herself as a poor guest, breaking the peace of the ball and finding herself expelled from it. Then the bombs go off, and pursuit of the Horde infiltrators begins. Frosta secures her palace against the damage done to it, and melee ensues between Catra and Adora. Catra escapes dramatically, revealing the capture of Bow, Glimmer, and She-Ra's sword.

Discussion

The episode has attracted no small amount of negative attention, it must be noted. (I'll not link to it here, as most of it is heavily misogynistic even when it makes are otherwise sensible critiques--an adage about broken clocks comes to mind. But that's not a reason to keep such a clock on the mantel.) Even so, the root premise of the episode, that there is a gathering of otherwise antagonistic royals in relative peace, following ancient tradition, has antecedents that go into the medieval and earlier. Various medieval parliaments are, in effect, such ritualistic gatherings, given the antagonisms between nobles that pervade both record and legend. Arthur's knights seat themselves at feasts and attend other recreational gatherings no few times, not only in Malory, but also in other sources--and while they may leave their individual grievances outside, acting on them less overtly, they do not set them aside entirely. So while the specific form of the episode might seem somewhat silly--really, how does Eternia know what a "prom" is?--it is not without parallel in other, more "serious" work.

And on the topic of silliness:
  1. The show is a children's show. While it is done poorly to assume that children have less need for engaging storytelling--and I am borrowing from others for this, though I forget which of the many people smarter and more eloquent than I whom I've read give this; my apologies, but things blur together after so much time away from the pleasures of study--it is also the case that they are more open to more possibilities of narrative than older folks who've grown ossified in their expectations.
  2. There's a damned lot of silliness in a lot of the works and bodies of work that get paraded about as exemplary. Arthuriana has no shortage of it, for instance. So does Huck Finn. So does Shakespeare. To condemn a thing because of silliness alone, even silliness that is at odds with a prevailing tone, is folly and disingenuous. It is to be avoided therefore, as are many other things that too many, wrapped up in poorly conceived notions of supremacy, still cling to.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 1.7, "In the Shadows of Mystacor"

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Adora suffers the strains of her role, and a new ability shows itself.

1.7, "In the Shadows of Mystacor"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Rich Burns, Katherine Nolfi, Sonja Warfield, and Josie Campbell
Directed by Lianne Hughes

Synopsis

Of course, wearing the same clothes day after day might be part of it.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Adora wakes from sleep in the field, hearing Shadow Weaver's voice. Later, Glimmer and Bow awaken to find that Adora has wandered a bit off, having been unable to return to sleep. She complains of her unease and suspicion, betraying substantial strain. Glimmer suggests visiting Mystacor, which Bow endorses; Adora expresses confusion, and Glimmer explains the attraction and her connection to the place. (Glimmer's aunt, Castaspella, governs it.) But as they get underway, they are pursued by a shadowy creature.

Not the best way to treat the one you want to keep you safe...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Shadow Weaver works her magics as Catra reports in. She notes Adora's destination and has Catra stand guard over her chamber while she moves more directly against her. Catra finds herself intimidated by the exercise of power, looking on in fear at the workings until Shadow Weaver seals her chamber.

Adora, Glimmer, and Bow arrive at Mystacor. Adora hesitates at entry and glimpses the shadowy creature that pursues her as she enters the realm behind her friends. She remains apprehensive as Castaspella greets the three and relating embarrassing anecdotes about Glimmer. Adora marvels at the surroundings, and Castaspella invites the three to observe an upcoming ritual.

A tour ensues, with Adora marveling at the surroundings as Castaspella explicates Mystacor's situation. Glimmer tries to pry them away from her aunt, and Adora continues to see shadowy forms that others do not. Explication continues, including of the familial relationship between Castaspella and Glimmer. Adora recognizes an image of Shadow Weaver's former persona, receiving more information about her.

It's worth being angry about, Castaspella.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Glimmer and Bow prevail upon Adora to try to relax as Shadow Weaver works more fully. Adora is unable to do so, despite repeated attempts; when she nearly succeeds, Shadow Weaver assails her, though no others can see it. Adora reports her experiences, to the disbelief of Glimmer--though Bow tries to offer some comfort. Adora asks for solitude, allowing more machinations against her. And though Adora tries to fight against Shadow Weaver's machinations, she is unsuccessful, but is led into wreaking havoc on Mystacor. She is confronted in anger for her actions and retires.

Ain't that a kick in the head?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
While alone again, Adora suffers more of Shadow Weaver's machinations in advance of the ritual meant to protect Mystacor. Shadow Weaver also interferes with the ritual, assailing it in Adora's absence. Adora reluctantly returns to fight Shadow Weaver's expression of power and, as might be expected, emerges victorious, completing the ritual. Apologies are tendered for disbelieving her, and Adora is able, at last, to relax. Catra, meanwhile, purposes to assail Glimmer and Bow to get to Adora.

Discussion

As Glimmer and Bow lead Adora into Mystacor, the soles of their boots show--and they show emblems present elsewhere on the characters' outfits. Too, in the "steam grotto," Glimmer displays small wings, evocative of Angella's on her shoulder blades. They are small details, each seen only for a moment, but they speak to a continued iteration of heraldic tradition--of "riding for the brand," as it's often put in the part of the world where I live, or of showing affinity for or loyalty to colleges, universities, and professional sports teams. It's one more little bit of medievalism at work.

Another such bit might appear in the manifestation of Adora's shield in the episode. While her sword, as a sword, occasions surprised comment and causes trouble during the episode, her shield is the means through which Adora manages to defeat Shadow Weaver's projection. Given the already-noted Arthurian resonances of the series, the efficacy of the shield brings to mind the scabbard Arthur receives from the Lady of the Lake more than the sword commonly conflated with Excalibur, the scabbard Merlin points out flatly is a better thing to have than the sword. Even one of the more violent actors in the turbulent late English medieval recognizes that the ability not to suffer harm exceeds the ability to inflict it, and even as actively as Adora uses her shield, its primary function is to restore a protective measure. Though it might not typically be recognized as such, it is a quietly authentic reflection of medieval antecedents, and something that might be taken to heart by a great many more than do so now.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 1.6, "System Failure"

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Still another princess joins the rebellion, though there are some hints that things may not go so well with this one...

1.6, "System Failure"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Katherine Nolfi, Sonja Warfield, and Josie Campbell
Directed by Stephanie Stine

Synopsis

Looks stereotypically evil...perhaps foreshadowing?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In a foreboding castle that stands hard by a mountainside, servants work to meet the demands made upon them--namely the delivery of small foodstuffs to their mistress, who secludes herself amid her work and an army of robots. And, as might well be expected, the work goes awry, the robots turning on the one who built them.

Adora, Bow, and Glimmer make their way to the castle, hoping to recruit its princess, Entrapta, to the rebellion. Bow sings her praises and trumpets his own make-work--to some ridicule from his companions.

When they are confronted with a rockfall, Adora charges forward to handle it. Bow rebukes her impetuosity before they arrive at the castle--which displays signs of trouble and defensive mechanisms. Adora and Glimmer reconnoiter, finding only the malevolent robots at work. A melee ensues, and the party is soon separated.

This is not a good way to meet people.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora and Glimmer fall into the labyrinth that Entrapta has constructed within her castle. Their attempts to navigate it go poorly until Entrapta herself greets them.

Bow, meanwhile, has been taken by the castle's living servants. They reveal to him that the marauding robots are sound-driven, and they feed him. He tries to marshal them against the robots as the robots attack.

Red eyes are generally not a good sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Entrapta lays out events to Adora and Glimmer as they move through the labyrinth together. Entrapta inadvertently summons the robots against them, and Adora begins to suffer from the noise. As she makes to save them, she is herself affected by the technological problem that has afflicted the robots, going berserk until Glimmer disarms her, and she reverts to her regular form.

The robots press the attack on Bow and the servants. They execute a successful defensive plan, fending off the attack. They then head out in search of Entrapta, Glimmer, and Adora--who acts drunkenly despite not having imbibed. Entrapta articulates the problem facing Adora. Glimmer stumbles onto a solution to the robot problem, but enacting it proves challenging, given Adora's condition and Entrapta's navigational difficulties. The robots are also a factor.

Bow makes his point.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Bow's group fares better, though the castle servants are initially reluctant to fight. Bow motivates them, though, and battle is joined--helpfully for Adora, Glimmer, and Entrapta. Reunited, they press on to Entrapta's lab, where they manage to use the robots to disable the robots. And Entrapta agrees to join the rebellion, while Adora expresses concern about having been afflicted.

Discussion

Something in the nomenclature of the princesses' realms, as described in the series, attracted my attention as I rewatched this episode. With the exception of Angella in Bright Moon, there are no reigning kings or queens; the princesses seem to be the heads of their states and governments (small as they are). Yet the realms are described as being kingdoms--which is a strange point of disjunction from the expectations of medievalist properties. Typically, it would be expected that kingdom would have a queen or a king ruling it, while a realm ruled by a prince or princess would be a principality--of which the medieval Italian states are perhaps the most prominent examples, though they are hardly the only ones. It may be a simplification for what is, at root, a children's program, certainly, but it still attracts notice.

Perhaps of more moment for a medievalist discussion is the echo of Robin Hood that appears in Bow and the kitchen staff. Bow's resonance with the Sherwood archer is not much muted by the garishness of his clothing, neither in choice of weapon nor in their opposition to an invading government--nor yet in their reliance on the common folk. Indeed, the ability of non-princesses to combat hostile forces receives much attention in the episode, just as the common folk's effectiveness against a hostile government factors heavily into the traditional Robin Hood stories. While it may seem unusually egalitarian for a medievalist property, and Robin Hood is not exactly a democratic icon, there is some antecedent to be found for it.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 1.5, "The Sea Gate"

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The rebellion brings in another princess.

1.5, "The Sea Gate"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Sonja Warfield, and Josie Campbell
Directed by Jen Bennett

Synopsis

Yes, there is something of Han Solo about him.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Angella dispatches Glimmer to recruit the sea-princess Mermista, albeit with some reservations. Their expedition swiftly takes them to a shady sea-port, where they recruit Sea Hawk. And they are observed; Shadow Weaver dispatches Catra and Scorpia to retrieve Adora. The over-ocean trip sits ill with Catra.

She does seem to have things in hand.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The trip Adora, Glimmer, and Bow take with Sea Hawk goes better, though annoyingly for all involved, given Sea Hawk's self-aggrandizement--and his driving them off course in the name of adventure. The problem that faces them in their off-course shenanigans is swiftly dispatched, however, and they proceed to their intended destination with no further incident.

The Horde forces arrive at the Sea Gate Mermista guards. Catra purposes to go through the gate, rather than around it, earning a bit of admiration from Scorpia.

Not thrilled, indeed.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora, Glimmer, and Bow arrive at Mermista's kingdom, Selenias, finding it largely empty. They are escorted to Mermista, who does not seem thrilled at the intrusion. Glimmer introduces herself and states her case; Mermista notes that the Sea Gate is weakening, and that people have left her kingdom because of it, and that the Horde is attacking. Adora offers to help with the Gate, recognizing the Gate as ancient technology she can affect. Glimmer and Mermista strike a deal.

Adora makes her attempt to reinforce the Sea Gate, if somewhat slowly, channeling power as She-Ra until distracted. Meanwhile, Sea Hawk makes to leave; Glimmer confronts him, and he confesses the prevailing ill-regard in which he is held. She recognizes their shared problem and makes to aid him.

Victory is thrilling.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The Horde forces attack at that point, Catra appreciating the serendipity of finding Adora along her route. Mermista and Bow move to interdict the attack. A melee ensues, with Glimmer and Sea Hawk assisting, and Catra moves on Adora, trying to persuade her back to the Horde and attacking her when she refuses. The Horde forces are repelled, and Adora restores the Sea Gate. In the wake of the victory, Sea Hawk persuades Mermista to join Glimmer.

Discussion

If it is the case that there is much of the Arthurian in the series, if perhaps buried under other trappings or mixed in with other motifs entirely, then it seems to me that Sea Hawk is in some ways an echo of the Malorian Sir Kay the Seneschal. I've had opportunity to go on about Kay before, and I remain secure in my assertion that he instantiates several forms of bullshit, particularly in boasting about capabilities he purportedly has but then does not display--much. Malory's Kay claims to be one of the mightier knights, and at one time, he was, but he is quickly overshadowed by others in the narrative, even if he seems never to realize that he has been supered. Similarly, Sea Hawk reports an inflated sense of his own skills and worth, although he does prove to be of some particular use, if only now and again. And, somehow, both characters retain positions they should not, recurring in the narrative (as will be demonstrated for Sea Hawk in later episodes; it is a rewatch) despite the clear disdain that many within the milieu feel for them. As in earlier episodes, it may be a thing that strikes modern audiences strangely, but it is still a thing that has ample antecedent, including in the medieval.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 1.4, "Flowers for She-Ra"

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Adora meets a new princess, and an alliance begins to build.

1.4, "Flowers for She-Ra"

Written by Noelle Stevenson and Josie Campbell
Directed by Lianne Hughes

Synopsis

What a thing to be put off by...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Glimmer exults at Adora's acceptance by Angella and shows her around Bright Moon, including to her quarters. Adora is somewhat overwhelmed by the lavish surroundings, and she has trouble adjusting to them. After wrestling with her accommodations, not entirely successfully, she encounters an admonitory Angella.

The next morning, Adora wakes in Glimmer's bed. After an initial shock, the two confer, and Glimmer informs Adora that she is to attend a planning meeting. The surroundings impress her, and Glimmer lays out some of the background of the rebellion Adora has joined; it is fractured after an earlier, significant defeat, with most of the princesses keeping to themselves. After a social gaffe, Adora listens to the briefing Angella gives; Princess Perfuma of Plumeria is besieged by the Horde and requests aid. Angella orders humanitarian aid dispatched--and rejects Glimmer's proposal of an armed response. Adora volunteers to lead the mission, and Angella reluctantly agrees.

It is surprising.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In the Fright Zone, Lonnie, Kyle, and Rodrigo train until confronted by the newly promoted Catra. Shadow Weaver presses Catra for information about Adora again until she is suddenly stricken by a strange malady and retires.

Glimmer and Bow confer about the state of affairs in Plumeria when they arrive--they are much worse than had been expected. Adora, as She-Ra, follows, bringing supplies in single-handedly; she exults in the power and popularity of the form, even as Bow notes the nearby presence of the Horde.

What else would a Princess Perfuma of Plumeria look like?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Perfuma greets them shortly after, welcoming them warmly--especially She-Ra. Adora finds herself the focus of attention, not entirely comfortably, as Perfuma explicates their circumstances.

In the Fright Zone, Shadow Weaver approaches a large crystal and tries to impose her will upon it before she is addressed by Hordak. He rebukes her insubordination and orders her to take Plumeria. She does not take it well.

The Plumerians fawn over Adora, and Bow makes things worse in that regard. They seem to expect that She-Ra will heal the forest, and Adora proposes investigating the nearby Horde activity. Perfuma demurs, citing her own and her people's weakness. Adora is confused about how to proceed, though she makes the attempt sincerely if ignorantly and ineptly. And all the while, the Horde approaches, poisoning the local fauna. Adora is obliged to reveal her inexperience.

The Plant Princess props up the people.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
As the Plumerians rebuke Adora for not being the savior they expect, Glimmer rebukes them for their inaction. But the Plumerians prepare to depart rather than supporting Adora, Glimmer, and Bow. The three purpose to infiltrate the nearby Horde installation. They have some success, finding the source of the local poisoning--but they are also found by Horde forces. They have also left behind a note for the Plumerians, and Perfuma resolves to aid them.

Melee ensues, and amid it, Adora destroys the Horde's machines, setting back their efforts against the rebellion and healing the land that had been tainted. Perfuma's powers are restored, and she chases the Horde away. Glimmer invites Perfuma to join an alliance, and Perfuma agrees enthusiastically.

Shadow Weaver confronts Catra about Adora once again, sending out her own forces against her former ward. But in Bright Moon, all is well.

Discussion

While the residents of Plumeria evoke the commune-dwelling hippies of the 1960s and 1970s more than anything else, there is something about them that brings to mind medieval monastic communities. They practice a simple life that seeks more to be left in peace than most anything else, and there is evidently a focus on prayer among them. Indeed, among Perfuma's first words in the episode is an ascription of the Bright Moon party's arrival to providence, with She-Ra as something of a messianic figure.

And on the subject of names, there is something that reads to a twenty-first century audience as somewhat silly in calling a plant princess Perfuma--or, really, many of the emblematic names that have popped up in the series so far. But such names, working from descriptions as much as serving as unique identifiers, follow long-standing practices across cultures, which take many names from nearby objects or actions performed. How many Coopers and Hunters and Archers and Smiths are in the English-speaking world? How many Guerreros and Zapatas in the Spanish-speaking, or Schwarzes in the German-speaking? And how many such names in the chivalric literature that serves as at least one set of antecedents for the series? La Cote Male Tayle, though a name given in mockery, is still one to be found in Arthuriana, as is Beaumains. Hengist and Horsa are, upon consideration, similar. Silly as they might on the surface sound to modern hearing, the character names in She-Ra do speak to long tradition that spans cultures but is amply attested in the medieval.