Thursday, March 26, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 4.3, "Flutterina"

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Machinations recommence as what appears to be Act 2 of the season begins.

4.3, "Flutterina"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, M. Willis, Josie Campbell, Katherine Nolfi, and Laura Sreebny
Directed by Jen Bennett

Synopsis

She does seem to have a better bed, though.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Catra dreams uneasily of her treatment of Entrapta and of Adora. She wakes angrily, lashing out at the robot nearby.

In his lab, Hordak puzzles over the remains of his machines. Catra inquires after it and presses on Hordak--until it is revealed that Double Trouble is impersonating Catra. Hordak recognizes the use of such an operative and makes to retake lost territory; Catra offers alterations to his plans.

It is lonely at the round table, there...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In Bright Moon, Queen Glimmer receives a report of successful action from Adora and Bow. While she is happy for their success, it is clear she feels the isolation of her position. She suggests that they should accept the accolades of those they have aided--which are exuberant and exceedingly pleasant, having gotten out of hand.

Confidence is good. This ain't it.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Among the celebrants is one Flutterina, who makes much of Adora's exploits. It makes her uncomfortable, but the lauds convince her and Bow to remain longer than they had anticipated--and they enjoy themselves mightily. Until the Horde attacks again. Adora moves to intercept the new attack, arrogantly leaving Bow with the village. It is a distraction for the real attack, though, and Bow and the villagers are taken captive; Flutterina is the only one left, and she reports events to Adora.

Bow wakes to find himself and the villagers imprisoned and himself disarmed. He works to calm his fellow captives and to effect their escape. Catra and Scorpia oversee the captives, Catra waiting for Adora's imminent attack and dismissive of Scorpia's efforts and friendship.

That's not a good sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Flutterina provides a distraction for that attack to begin, and Adora penetrates the Horde facility. She is soon assailed, and while she is able to effect some defense, it is only a holding action. Bow effects his own escape from captivity and moves to assist Adora, whom Catra has captured. They escape, taking Flutterina with them. It is not to their benefit; Flutterina is a spy for the Horde, posted by Catra amid a show of despair...

Discussion

The alignment of Glimmer to Arthur continues from the previous episode into the present, the image of the Queen sitting alone at the head of a round table while others, at least one of whom is of greater personal power, act in her name reinforcing it substantially. (Notably, the chairs at that table are not themselves equal; aside from Glimmer's and that reserved for her father by Angella, there appear to be others for four unequal luminaries elevated above the others. Adora and Bow would appear to be two of them, by the imagery, but that still leaves two others. Castaspella would be an obvious third. As to the fourth, which of the Alliance members is next in eminence is not necessarily clear.) She was once a focus of action; now she is the center, and she cannot be at the edges where the action happens as a result of it. Not and remain the leader to whom others look.

Adora also continues her Arthurian amalgamation in her cockiness. No few times, in Malory as in other Arthurian works, one or another of Arthur's knights (or Arthur, himself) will ride out to battle, thinking that it will be an easy victory; Kay is perhaps most notable for such conduct, for reasons I have noted elsewhere, but he is hardly unique in being arrogant--and in finding that arrogance rebuked, sometimes quite decisively. In the present episode, Adora sets aside the understandable and correct caution of a village leader, as well as Bow's own worries, trusting to her own strength and skill to carry the day. While she does win her own fight, she fails to recognize that the fight is itself a distraction--something of a problem for her, as Catra notes in the episode as she works through a second layer of deception.

Indeed, it is a problem for Adora throughout the series, that she does not understand evil. There are correspondences to earlier medievalist works in her noncomprehension, of course; Tolkien's Manwë notably fails to comprehend the nature of evil, for example. (This is the Tales after Tolkien blog; he has to come up every now and again.) Whether the lack of understanding is to be taken as a sign of Adora's fundamental "goodness," as is the case with Manwë, or if it is to be regarded as a sign of a youthful naivete that will falter and fall away as the character matures is debatable; any continuing series that focuses on young protagonists that develop--and the characters in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power do seem to be developing, as noted here and here, if not also elsewhere--will necessarily partake of the Bildungsroman, and one of the markers of adulthood is the recognition that evil exists.

May we all find the insight to recognize evil and the strength to fight it.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 4.2, "The Valley of the Lost"

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A new threat emerges as the fourth season of the series begins to move ahead.

4.2, "The Valley of the Lost"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Katherine Nolfi, Josie Campbell, Laura Sreebny, and M. Willis
Directed by Roy Burdine and Mandy Clotworthy

Synopsis

Not all are pleased to be in attendance.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora, Bow, and Huntara await Glimmer's arrival at a meeting she called. Glimmer teleports about, fetching others to the conference. Glimmer assigns a retrieval team to recover Mara's ship from the Crimson Waste. Perfuma is nervous about the assignment, while Glimmer frets at having to handle administrative minutiae.

Go, Speed Racer!
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora, Bow, Perfuma, and Huntara proceed into the Crimson Waste. Perfuma attempts to be her usually ebullient self with Huntara; her overtures are rejected. The limits of her abilities are also noted; cacti seem to disagree with her. Huntara voices doubts about Perfuma--and about Adora, prompting some confrontation and competition between them. Perfuma, however, voices concerns to Bow, struggling to maintain her equilibrium. That Mara's ship has been dragged off from its previous location does not help matters. Nor yet does a request for a status update from Glimmer.

Something suggests this will be important...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Progress continues, revealing the location of the ship: the titular Valley of the Lost. The party enters it to search for the ship, finding it an inhospitable place and finding themselves observed. Huntara begins to act on a desire for revenge, but the certainty of pursuit suggests discretion.

The Horde is present and is looting the ship under Catra's direct supervision. Catra is confronted by a false Scorpia, and the entrance of the real Scorpia occasions confusion. The false Scorpia emerges as a shapeshifter, causing more confusion.

Huntara attempts to ply an old contact for information. They are betrayed by her, and pursuit is joined. It does not go well for the princesses; they only narrowly escape, their progress hindered by Glimmer calling in again.

This seems promising.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The shapeshifter introduces themself to Catra as Double Trouble and offers to take up employment with her. Catra is intrigued.

She gets to the root of things...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora inquires after Perfuma's difficulty. Huntara frets over her own failure. Glimmer calls in again, and Bow offers a fuller report of the situation. Glimmer offers to join them, and Bow determines how to find the ship. They proceed thence, with some doubts about Perfuma's abilities to do what needs doing. The others comfort her, emboldening her, and they attack to seize the ship. Melee ensues, and Adora is distracted by a more personal fight as the others secure the vessel. Perfuma works to raise the ship, struggling but successful.

Meanwhile, Adora concludes her fight. In its wake, her opponent escapes. Glimmer arrives belatedly, in time to see the mission succeed.

Catra and Scorpia, meanwhile, appreciate Double Trouble's performance. Catra continues to plot...

Discussion

The present episode continues the Arthurian pastiche of the characters in presenting Glimmer as suffering from some of the same relegation that Arthur himself endures. That is, rather than being an active participant in direct action, Glimmer is obliged to remain in her seat of power, attending to the administrative needs of her realm rather than taking direct, personal actions against its enemies--much as Arthur, formerly an engaged warrior, less and less often takes the field as such works as Malory's continue. Even in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, when Arthur is still "sumquat childgered" and eager to answer the Green Knight's challenge, he allows himself to be dissuaded from taking up arms when those in service to him are close by. And in Malory, while Arthur does some questing early in his kingship, he soon leaves it off, presiding over events more than participating in them--and when he does act in his own person after his expedition to Rome, it generally ends poorly. (The effort to reclaim Guinevere from Lancelot and to avenge his nephews' deaths come to mind as examples, as does the fight against Mordred.) Even in older medieval works, such as Beowulf, the king generally remains in the mead-hall; he has proven himself in youth and steps back to allow others to do so.

The clear impression, then, is that being the person in charge means being the person who stays behind. It is not an easy transition to make, and the ramifications of that transition--the loss of immediacy and the lack of connection--will doubtlessly have effects as the season progresses.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Another Update on #Kzoo2020

𝔄s a follow-up to "An update on #Kzoo2020," and given the news that came from Western Michigan University today, it is clear that neither the panel discussion "Deadscapes: Wastelands, Necropoli, and Other Tolkien-Inspired Places of Death, Decay, and Corruption" nor the annual general meeting provided for in §5.1 of the Society Constitution will take place as scheduled. I am currently coordinating with the panelists as to how and if we will move ahead with the panel, and I will update the Society as I receive word.
That noted, the Society does still have business to conduct, namely the elections of a new Vice-President (at-large) and Secretary and the selection of additional panel/s to propose for the hoped-for 2021 Congress and to other conferences of interest. Per §5.4 of the Society Constitution, the Society can conduct its business meeting electronically at need. I will be reaching out to the other Society officers to see about setting up such a thing; notice will follow from the Secretary as appropriate for it.
As ever, thank you for your engagement with the Tales after Tolkien Society. Be safe and well, and be in touch!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 4.1, "The Coronation"

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As the fourth season of the series begins, relationships shift and new dynamics begin to assert themselves.

4.1, "The Coronation"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Laura Sreebny, Josie Campbell, and Katherine Nolfi
Directed by Kiki Manrique, Diana Huh, and David Dwooman Woo

Synopsis

She seems ready.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Bright Moon shines in the sun as Glimmer prepares herself for her day, making decisions now that Angella has gone. Not all of them are of equal importance, admittedly.

Preparations for Glimmer's coronation proceed, with Glimmer uneasy about her ascent to the throne. Adora and Bow offer such support as they can, but there is only so much that is available to them, especially as Castaspella hustles her away for various functions; the two friends confer about the queen-to-be, discussing how to make things good for her.

Castaspella lays out the order of events to come, noting the importance of refining the attunement between Glimmer and the Bright Moon rune stone. She tends towards the overbearing--as do the allied princesses, who are contributing to events as they are able, and with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Glimmer soon finds herself overwhelmed.

Hordak's not in a good place right now...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In the Fright Zone, Catra and Hordak begin to take stock of their situation. It is an acrimonious conference, but it does note that Horde Prime received word of their position. Catra withdraws, presumably plotting.

Glimmer contemplates her situation unenthusiastically. Confusion about how to proceed produces no small amount of stress, unhelpfully. Shadow Weaver walks the halls of Bright Moon, if under guard, and Adora also finds she has much to consider. The stress tells on the other princesses, as well, and the strain cannot be sustained.

Something suggests this will be important.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Catra confronts Scorpia as the latter treats Entrapta's effects. Catra is unhappy about matters; after she leaves, Scorpia begins acquiring Entrapta's robots for herself.

It never does get to be easy...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Glimmer's coronation proceeds, with Glimmer sad among those gathered to witness. She, along with Adora and Bow, moves to complete a required quest, though none of them are clear about the goal. Bow marvels at the surroundings, and Glimmer rages in felt futility. A passage is revealed, however, and they proceed into a chamber that suggests itself as their end-goal. But matters are not simple, and a fracas ensues. Glimmer finds herself unable to teleport, having not taken from the rune-stone out of a desire not to admit her mother's death; she sorrows at the lack of sorrow of others. Adora apologizes for her oversight. The three reaffirm their friendship and rejoin the fight.

Glimmer reaches her goal and asserts her rule, the rune-stone responding to her. The fracas ends, and Glimmer receives a message from Angella as she is empowered. It offers some closure for her, and they return to the gathering, where Glimmer is hailed as queen.

And in the Fright Zone, Catra asserts herself, as well, seizing power from Hordak by incapacitating him. She keeps him alive because he remains useful for his skills.

Discussion

Much medievalist work features a hierarchical, feudal system reminiscent of, though not corresponding exactly to, the Norman model ostensibly practiced in England during the High Middle Ages; they follow Tolkien in presenting an amorphous governmental structure that emphasizes dynastic succession as reinforced by magical indicators and a divinely influenced bloodline. Most such works do not do much to examine the implications of such a system; following Tolkien, they take such a system as a given and as a way things ought to be. There are exceptions, of course--Katharine Kerr's Deverry novels treat the matter, among others--but they are comparatively rare, and usually more "adult" than such properties as She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. For the series to openly confront the fact that succession to power in a monarchical / feudal / dynastic system requires the deaths of prior office-holders, typically parents, is therefore striking. It is a useful reminder that, even in the often-sanitized medievalisms popular culture presents, there is more, and more unpleasant, than is often realized.

Similarly, the sacral rulership model often present in the medieval--the idea that the king was divinely sanctioned and was afforded special powers as a result had no small currency, and it is echoed in Tolkien ("the hands of the king are the hands of a healer," anyone?), Hobb (the Skill of the Farseers), and others--is manifest in the present episode. The princesses in Etheria are already long established as (generally; Entrapta is an exception) connected to rune-stones that are intertwined with the planet, and the present episode notes that Glimmer had been accessing but part of the power that would be available to her from the rune-stone due to Angella's influence. With Angella no longer pulling, Glimmer has the full power--an overt, identifiable might that presents in in-milieu fact what is, in the audience's world, myth and legend. Too, Angela is identified as a semi-divine being earlier in the series; with Glimmer have acceded to her position, it is also likely that she enjoys or approaches enjoying that same status--the heavenly chosen, indeed.

And it is interesting to note that Glimmer's coronation is explicitly noted as a continuation of a line of queens; Bright Moon, at least, appears to be a matriarchy by tradition and convention, not only because of the happenstance of only women surviving to rule. It seems, too, from the involvement of the allied princesses, that Bright Moon is preeminent among the Etherian nation-states; its queen may not be in direct command of the many princesses, but she is certainly more than first among equals. The feudal overtones are present therein as much as in the earlier-noted succession issue, marking the series once again as borrowing heavily from medieval/ist forebears.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 3.6, "The Portal"

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In the final episode of the season, greater shifts begin to take place, and a wider world begins to beckon.

3.6, "The Portal"

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

Synopsis

It's a happy family.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In Bright Moon, Glimmer exults in the company of her parents, Angella and Micah. They are interrupted by the apprehension of Adora trying to break into Glimmer's room.

Bow, scholarly, is met by Glimmer, who pushes to figure out who Adora is against her feeling of knowing her. Bow objects, but Glimmer overrides him, taking him to spy on the interrogation of Adora by Angella and Micah. Under the influence of a truth spell, she relates her situation and the current circumstances; she is still disbelieved. She tries to point out the disjunctions to Angella, but she is taken away.

That is not the rising sun...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The fragmentation of reality continues, and Glimmer and Bow call upon the captive Adora. Glimmer accepts Adora's account, and Adora expands. Glimmer and Bow begin to recall how things are supposed to be, not entirely happily, as the advancing wave of non-existence approaches Bright Moon. They agree to aid Adora, and Bow realizes that Entrapta is key; they proceed thence as reality continues to fracture and Angella and Micah confront them.

At least she gets the chance this time...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The three pass to Entrapta's demesne suddenly, and Angella says goodbye to her husband once again in favor of aiding their daughter. Entrapta notes her understanding of the current situation and offers information about how to close the portal that is destroying the world. It will require a personal sacrifice--and Adora's sword is the key to it all.

The three suddenly find themselves at the beacon where Light Hope resides, with stars shining in the sky where they do not belong. They see Mara as reality continues to fragment around them. Adora enters the breach, Glimmer refusing to allow her to do so alone before they fade away and the changed Catra confronts her, knocking her away from her objective and tormenting her with her own failures.

KO!
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora rejects the assertions and fights against Catra as she reasserts herself. Reality continues to fragment, however, and Adora herself begins to fade--until Angella arrives to save her. The queen confesses her own inadequacy to Adora before rising to remove the sword from where it stands amid the nexus of the unraveling world.

In the wake of Angella's sacrifice, Adora restores Etheria, and all are restored to the moments after Catra opened the portal. Said portal closes itself as She-Ra emerges in power, and those present flee. Adora and company return to Bright Moon, and the ensuing celebration is marred by the news of Angella's sacrifice. And, elsewhere, another threat presents itself...
Cliffhanger? Yeah.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Discussion

The present episode could be read as having a scene--Adora's conflict with the changed Catra--that moves towards Manichean allegory. Such is only tenuously medievalist, admittedly, at least in the common medievalism that looks to the western parts of Europe; a more global-minded medievalism might well make more of it. My own background and training reflects the narrower practice, however, and my life outside academe more or less ensures that I do not have time and space enough in which to do the work I would need to do to be able to comment more fully on the matter. Consequently, I would particularly welcome perspectives on the episode that take wider medievalisms more fully into account--or on any of the episodes of the series, really.

Perhaps an easier reading goes back to the Arthurian pastiche, with the present episode portraying Adora as more like Sir Palomides than the other Round Table knights. Consider, in addition to the color dynamics of Catra in the present episode, the commonalities of being outsiders from an (ostensibly) evil force who manage, through their valor and service, to become accepted parts of the (ostensibly) good and noble royal courts. Consider, too, how often the two do not slay their opponents. As ever, the parallel is not exact, but it is suggestive, furthering the medievalism of the science fantasy series.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 3.5, "Remember"

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Despite claims, everything is not perfect as the third season of the series hastens towards its end.

3.5, "Remember"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Josie Campbell, Katherine Nolfi, and Laura Sreebny
Directed by Roy Burdine and Mandy Clotworthy

Synopsis

Quite the alarm clock, this.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Adora wakes from a dream to Catra's face in the Fright Zone. After startling, she begins to situate herself, with Catra affirming that all is well. Adora is not entirely convinced.

Adora continues to try to situate herself, finding herself in an exalted position in the Fright Zone due to her successes in battle. Her memories are not entirely stable, but her relationship with Catra seems to be repaired. The environment seems to be changing around her.

You'd flee, too.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Accolades for Adora continue, as do strange gaps in the surrounding environment and situation. Shadow Weaver even seems to be pleased. Adora is assigned a new mission, and when she reports for the briefing, Scorpia upbraids her. Adora's memories and the environment continue to shift around her, and Adora flees.

Catra rejoins Adora, slapping her to startle her. Adora continues to experience strange gaps, frightening her and prompting her to question her surroundings. She realizes that Scorpia seems immune to the oddities, confronting her. Scorpia initially rejects her ideas, but she relents when confronted with Catra's behavior.

It takes a bit, yes.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The two proceed to Hordak's sanctum somewhat awkwardly. The environment continues to change around them, and they press on for answers. Reaching the sanctum, they find it empty, and Adora realizes that Catra is to blame for the current situation. They are soon after forced to flee, and the degradation of reality proceeds, taking Scorpia and driving Adora onward in terror. She finds Razz, who prompts her to find her in the woods as everything continues to fall apart.

This is a pretty bad sign...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora makes to flee with Catra, but Catra refuses, her own memories shifting. Adora abducts her and flees from the Fright Zone as it vanishes. Catra wakes and fights, and their progress is halted. They debate, and the fight continues. Catra finally accepts the nihilistic implications of her actions, and Adora flees in tears, finding Razz, who counsels Adora that things can be repaired--as they had been before. She advises her about how to proceed and sends her on her way--to Bright Moon, Glimmer and Bow. But she is not the only one pressing onward...

Discussion

The refrain in the episode that "everything is perfect" attracts attention early on. Coupled with the obviously apocalyptic action of the main line of the episode, the refrain calls to mind once again the "Þæs ofereode; þisses swa mæg" of "Deor" that seems echoed in the similar Voltron: Legendary Defender, even if it serves an opposite function; while the Old English speaks to hope, the refrain that punctuates the present episode is itself the indicator that something is very, very wrong in Etheria.

Another bit of Old English is evoked, if perhaps less clearly, in the changes that afflict Catra after her nihilistic declaration--being happy to let all fall to waste if another can but be made to suffer is hardly the most affirming perspective. Nearly fifteen years ago, now, while I sat in a graduate Beowulf seminar, the late professor James E. Anderson commented that Scyld Scefing is, in effect, the dragon of the later portion of the poem. In that long-ago lecture, he cited their common possessions of a golden standard and their jealous possession of lucre, as well as linking the Danes of the poem to fratricide and Scyld as an ill predating either fratricide (linked to the "scion of Cain," Grendel) or its progenitor (Grendel's mother, whom we might well call "Aglæcwify McAglæcwifface" after an excellent Twitter thread)--hence the initial evil of Satan (often linked to dragons, symbolically). Catra's transformation is not unlike those of the earlier figures, and it bodes ill for those who must face her--even as it promises the hope of her defeat, even as the earlier figures were bested.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 3.4, "Moment of Truth"

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World-ending consequences begin to emerge once again.

3.4, "Moment of Truth"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Katherine Nolfi, Josie Campbell, and Laura Sreebny
Directed by Dwooman and Diana Huh

Synopsis

She does seem rather emphatic about it.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In Bright Moon, the allied Princesses confer about recent events and their current situation. Glimmer calls for an assault on the Fright Zone to retrieve Adora; Angella demands answers from her wayward daughter.

In the Fright Zone, Hordak continues his work to complete his portal machine, aided by Entrapta. She tries to delay him; they are interrupted by the arrival of Catra with the captive Adora and the sword of She-Ra. The sword occasions some interference with Hordak's technology and which Entrapta recognizes as the needed component for generating a portal.

Glimmer continues to press for an attack on the Horde, with Angella demurring from concern for losing anyone else. The discussion between the two grows heated and personal, and Glimmer suggests using Shadow Weaver, which Angella rejects. Angry words are exchanged, and Angella storms out.

It's even worse when he smiles.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Preparations for the portal continue. Entrapta asks Adora for information, and Adora tries to dissuade her from continuing. Hordak seeks to silence her; she rebukes him for interfering in her early life. He rejects the idea and proceeds with his plan--until his body fails him. The sword, unsurprisingly, has ideas of its own.

Glimmer and Bow approach Shadow Weaver without authorization. Shadow Weaver recognizes the danger and offers to augment Glimmer's teleportation abilities. Glimmer demurs for a time, but she is attracted by the prospect of greater power and the pressure of circumstance, and she releases Shadow Weaver from captivity despite Bow's objections.

What is it with cat-women and whips?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In the Fright Zone, Catra works to reestablish her position. She notes looking forward to Hordak's impending triumph and flatters Scorpia. Elsewhere, Adora attempts again to persuade Entrapta to refuse to open the portal. It slowly begins to work; Entrapta begins to doubt the plan and conducts more research.

This is the kind of thing that would give a parent pause, yes.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Glimmer and Shadow Weaver begin to enact their plan. The other princesses insert themselves into the plan, despite Shadow Weaver's protests. Angella seeks to reconcile with Glimmer, finding her gone and speeding to where she suspects her daughter is. She is unable to arrive in time to halt her daughter, but can only watch in fear as Glimmer and the others teleport away.

The princesses, Shadow Weaver, and Bow proceed through the Fright Zone towards Hordak's lab. They are seen, and a running fight begins, with individual princesses staying behind in sequence to cover their advance against incoming reinforcements.

Entrapta's continued research reveals that the portal will destroy Etheria. She and Scorpia determine not to open the portal, but Catra determines to proceed, regardless. She incapacitates Entrapta and intimidates Scorpia into compliance.

That'll just about do it, yeah.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Glimmer, Bow, and Shadow Weaver reach Hordak's lab, where the portal is in process. Catra betrays Entrapta, and, after a brief fight, Catra throws the necessary switch to open the portal.

Discussion

I confess to not seeing much in the present episode that furthers the medievalism of the series, though there is something that matches ideas I have about the medieval as is typically presented. In essence, I have the notion in my head that many of the characters presented in medieval/ist works suffer from a combination of factors that lead to substantially impaired judgment-making abilities. After all, many of those who feature in medieval/ist works are teenagers, riddled with hormones and without the parts of the brain that handle the most rational thinking fully developed. Too, many of them suffer repeated head injuries, suggesting concussions and their concomitant problems. Further, alcohol use is typically seen as typifying medieval/ist life; even academic conferences that focus on the medieval, or scholarly meetings of learned societies that do that take place in larger conferences, focus to a comment-provoking extent on strong drink. And more general trauma afflicts protagonists as a matter of course. So it is not to be wondered at that medieval/ist figures will display astonishing lapses in judgment at times.

That basis for poor judgment seems to be in place for Catra in the present episode. Despite being told by a source noted for being accurate in making evidence-based claims that the plan she proposes will doom the world, she proceeds along that plan--acting out of what appears to be a need for revenge upon Adora. While an argument can certainly be made that Catra is justified in raging against Adora continually benefiting from privilege that she has not necessarily earned,* it is harder to argue that she is justified in killing the planet in pursuit of retribution. It is not so much of a challenge to posit that she falls into the same kind of thought-trap that leads to any number of follies in medieval/ist works--so I suppose that is where the present episode finds its way into furthering the series's medievalism.

*It can. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed Adora is treated better by most everyone than is the darker-skinned, wilder-haired, more savage Catra, even though Catra is demonstrably Adora's peer in her performance. This is not to say that Adora sought privilege or failed to work hard with what she was given, but even that can be taken as commenting on social privilege and its effects. Others might write on the topic more eloquently than I, however; I rather expect that they would do so. And my own positions of privilege doubtlessly make it difficult for me to see some aspects of Adora's privilege; I do not claim to have an authoritative perspective, though I will certainly claim to see no small merit to such critiques of the series.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 3.3, "Once Upon a Time in the Waste"

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Catra follows and darkly mirrors Adora as the third season progresses.

3.3, "Once Upon a Time in the Waste"

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

Synopsis

This is never a good sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Catra and Scorpia venture into the Crimson Waste on Hordak's orders. Catra is not pleased to have the company, but she begrudgingly accepts it. The two find their way to the settlement where Glimmer, Adora, and Bow had encountered Huntara. They venture there, and Catra is again displeased at finding people there.

Going in, Catra makes something of a scene, asserting herself formidably and intimidating information out of others after overhearing talk of She-Ra. She reasons She-Ra is bound for her own target, and she finds the information useful.

It does seem quite the sight.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Out in the Waste, Glimmer, Adora, Bow, and Huntara look upon Mara's ship with awe. They confer briefly before heading in and investigating. It appears empty to initial searches, but interactions with Adora's sword reveal hitherto uninvestigated spaces within.

That's Tung, there, in the mouth. Obviously.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Catra and Scorpia proceed through the Waste, preceded by a pair of the toughs from the establishment. They realize that they are enjoying themselves as they travel together and that they work well together--grudgingly on Catra's part. At length, Catra and her party come upon the headquarters of a desert gang led by one Tung Lashor, led there in an abortive ambush attempt.

Glimmer, Adora, Bow, and Huntara investigate the revealed spaces somewhat fearfully, coming at length upon the ship's control center. Activating systems, they uncover a repeating message from Mara, the previous She-Ra. Adora frets for a bit at the lack of useful information and rages at her circumstances before stumbling into useful data. Another message emerges, one that begins to reveal uncomfortable truths about She-Ra.

Things are looking up for Catra, it seems, at least for a bit.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Beset by the gang, Catra mocks its leader, fighting and defeating him handily. She assumes control of the gang and is lauded. They proceed in short order to confront--and capture--Adora after they have heard as much of Mara's message as survives; at Adora's urging, Huntara escapes with Glimmer and Bow. In the ensuing celebration, Scorpia tries to persuade Catra to remain away from the Horde, but after confronting Adora, Catra determines angrily to return to the Fright Zone to take what she believes should be hers.

Discussion


Watching the episode, I am somehow put in mind of the pseudo-medievalist sword-and-sorcery fantasies of Robert E. Howard. (Yes, I know the title calls back to a 1968 Western--but Westerns are also often medievalist in strange ways, as I have argued.) It is a thin veneer of medievalism for the episode to take on, admittedly, but I have noted several times before that a series does not have to roll around in the medieval every episode to make good use of it.

That said, I can also see something of perceptions of the early medieval Northern European warbands and petty kingdoms in Catra's assumption of power in the Waste. Her reign, as such, begins abruptly "by the dignity of her hands," to borrow a phrase from Malory and elsewhere, with her followers--save Scorpia, who remains a special case--falling into line based mostly upon the presentation of her martial prowess. The truth of such places is, of course, more nuanced than that; while there were certainly usurpations by force, there was also continuity based in part on consanguinity and camaraderie. Despite the assertions by many who would seek--wrongly, for several reasons--to wrap themselves up in mantles of "pure" and "manly" medieval European practice, matters were not quite so bestial as that, at least not always so. In such a system, little to nothing gets done, and things clearly did get done.

Too, the earlier-established medievalisms of the series remain in place. The powerful resonances of She-Ra's sword continue to sound. Adora continues to function as a strange amalgamation of Arthurian knights. Scorpia seems to commit even more fully to her courtly-love-evoking infatuation with Catra--though Catra gives some indication of moving towards reciprocation in the present episode. So the series seems not to be less medievalist at present than it has been, which is good to see.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 3.2, "Huntara"

Read the previous entry here!
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Adora finds a foe in a false friend and a friend in a former foe.

3.2, "Huntara"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Laura Sreebny, Josie Campbell, and Katherine Nolfi
Directed by David Woo

Synopsis

Looks downright homey.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Glimmer, Adora, and Bow begin to travel across the hostile desert known as the Crimson Waste. Adora thanks her friends for joining her as they consult regarding their situation. It is not good, but they press on optimistically--despite the Horde corpses easily seen.

In the Fright Zone, Entrapta and Hordak continue working on the portal technology. Their work seems to be progressing decently, though a stable portal still eludes them. Hordak shields Entrapta from injury, and Entrapta puzzles out that a key is needed. Hordak angrily dismisses her.

The formidable titular character
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The continued travails of the desert-going are pointed out. Bow suggests that preparation is needed, and Glimmer sees what appears to be a settlement. They make for it, finding it populated by a rough-looking bunch. Their introduction does not go well, and Huntara makes her presence known--emphatically. She offers advice and warning that the trio does not heed; Adora makes to enlist her, and Huntara agrees to aid her.

Back in the Fright Zone, Entrapta considers her encounter with Hordak. She also sees him in a state of disrepair, accidentally announcing her presence as she makes to leave. She rushes to his aid.

Huntara leads Adora, Glimmer, and Bow through the desert. They approach some understanding of one another as they press ahead, Glimmer and Bow doing so only with difficulty. They also point out problems with the trip--not long before being ambushed and despoiled.

Hordak wakes to find Entrapta tending to him. He confesses his nature as a clone of Horde Prime and glosses the history of the Horde and his own arrival on Etheria.

The trio escapes captivity. Adora berates herself for her folly. They proceed to retrieve their belongings from Huntara and her compatriots.

There's no way this will be a problem later, right?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Entrapta augments Hordak's armor, and some clear attraction between the two emerges.

Glimmer, Bow, and Adora come upon Huntara and her companions where they are exulting in their spoils. Melee is joined, and Glimmer and Bow dispatch their foes with ease. Adora has a harder time of it, but still emerges victorious; her ensuing transformation into She-Ra prompts Huntara's surrender. Huntara confesses her Horde origin and her desertion from its army. Adora invites Huntara to the rebellion; she reluctantly agrees and takes the trio to their destination in the Crimson Waste: Mara's ship.

Discussion

The seemingly romantic (oddly rendered as "friends" despite earlier depictions of romantic couples in the series) exchange between Hordak and Entrapta attracts some attention. For one, it offers some sympathetic view of Hordak--though only some, as he remains a conqueror even if given something like a motivation and something like a love interest. (Earlier comments about Richard in Galavant come to mind as a parallel.) For another, it rings of commonly-understood tropes of courtly love; Hordak makes awkwardly formal declarations on Entrapta's behalf (including an overt challenge to any who would speak ill of her) after she gives him her token (note the purple jewel in his collar, not unlike a tag on a pet's collar, visually). In Malory and in other sources, even antagonistic knights tend to act in such ways. ("Tend" being key; there are many, many exceptions--but the same is true even of the "noble" Round Table knights, such as Gawain.) And while the idea of worthy adversaries is hardly unique to the medieval, the combination of the token amid an armoring scene with the declamation on Hordak's part mark the exchange as a refiguring of medieval/ist tropes, grounding the series just a bit more in the medieval.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Rewatch 3.1, "The Price of Power"

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry here!

After a short second season, the series resumes--and grows more serious.

3.1, "The Price of Power"

Written by Noelle Stevenson, Shane Lynch, Josie Campbell, Katherine Nolfi, and Laura Sreebny
Directed by Roy Burdine and Steve Cooper

Synopsis

It's enough to disturb, certainly.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Adora sleeps fitfully in Bright Moon as Shadow Weaver looks over her. She wakes, confronting the obviously ill Shadow Weaver, who collapses.

Angella and Castaspella make to interrogate the now-captured Shadow Weaver, conferring briefly. They are joined by Glimmer, Adora, and Bow, and Adora presses to be admitted to the interrogation; Angella refuses all three of them, citing safety concerns. Adora tries to puzzle out the situation, and Glimmer tries to support her mother's decision. Adora tries to sneak in, regardless, but is interdicted. For her own part, Shadow Weaver refuses to answer the questions put to her by Angella, saying she will only speak to Adora.

Also a disturbing way to wake up.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In the Fright Zone, Catra wakes imprisoned in the cell that had held Shadow Weaver. She considers her circumstances briefly before Scorpia makes to free her; Catra is to be punished publicly. Catra refuses the effort in despair and mocks Scorpia's concern.

Adora persists in her desire to defy Angella's edict and visit Shadow Weaver, sneaking away from her friends in the night--repeatedly and unsuccessfully. She argues to her friends that others in the Horde deserve the same chance at redemption that she was offered; Glimmer and Bow are moved by the argument.

Another wonderfully disturbing thought, this.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Interrogation continues, with Shadow Weaver resisting the relatively inept attempts of Angella and Castaspella to elicit information. The captors confer about their captive's status and likely motivations. Bow distracts Angella and Castaspella while Glimmer and Adora sneak in to question Shadow Weaver. Shadow Weaver tries to manipulate Adora into aiding her, and Adora is motivated to heal her, despite not knowing how to do it. Shadow Weaver offers to teach her magic and control.

Entrapta makes her case.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In the Fright Zone, Entrapta reports to Hordak about her progress, noting new technology and asking for Catra to retrieve it. Hordak notes Catra's failures, which Entrapta refutes based upon the Horde's overall improved performance. Hordak is not quite convinced.

Adora struggles with Shadow Weaver's lessons before being interrupted by Angella's angry entrance. She does accomplish the healing, however, restoring Shadow Weaver; Shadow Weaver confesses that she has been betrayed and cast out, and she details Hordak's plan to summon his fellows through a portal he means to build. Entrapta's skills are noted as key to Hordak's plans, and Adora is cited as evidence that portals can work. She flees from the revelation, seeking advice from Light Hope and finding confirmation of Shadow Weaver's account--as well as fatalistic discourse.

Adora returns to Bright Moon with questions. She purposes to quest for answers; Glimmer and Bow move to accompany her. And in the Fright Zone, Catra challenges Hordak; he has agreed to Entrapta's plan, and he sends her to the same place for which Adora is bound: the Crimson Waste.

Discussion

There is an interesting issue handled in the episode. As Adora continues to try to talk to Shadow Weaver, Glimmer and Bow counsel her to do otherwise, noting that Shadow Weaver is evil because she is from the Horde; Adora replies that she is, herself, from the Horde and opines that she is only accepted because she is She-Ra. The language used in the exchange parallels many of the less fortunate discussions of race and ethnicity: "You're not like them," Adora is told, not unlike the "You're one of the good ones" trotted out unthinkingly by people who belong to prestige groups as they talk to people of other groups (such as attested here and here among many, many other places). Going back to the idea of Adora as Arthurian amalgamation (and the healing scene brings Lancelot to mind, among others), I find myself thinking of Sir Palomides, the Middle Eastern outsider acknowledged as a worthy member of Arthur's court--seemingly the only one in such narratives as Malory's. It is the case that race and ethnicity were considered differently in the European medieval than they are now, but it is also the case that the lines were as problematic, though drawn in different places. Palomides is "one of the good ones" no less than Adora, and if they are accepted because they assimilate:
  1. The reminder that they are "the good ones" is a reminder that they may not always be perceived so, and
  2. Others might similarly be among "the good ones," frustrating the kind of sharp division that too many people want to see between too many groups.
Perhaps the only clear line to be drawn is between those who want such sharp divisions (largely because they overtly desire supremacy or tacitly benefit from it) and those who know that matters are more nuanced and mixed.