I start with my heart. She Ra on Netflix is the content I need right now. It is 5 seasons full of love, mercy, kindness, hope and it’s all out there – as incredibly brave as it can possibly be in the face of a culture which is cynical, grimdark, weak in its insistence on strength and venerating histories that never were.
The following contains MASSIVE SPOILERS, so if you haven’t seen it to the end (and I mean what are you doing?), stop right now and do that.
I am very nervous about writing this post for reasons which will become clear. However, after chatting about it with my friend Alasdair Stewart, I thought I’d take the plunge.
The reading I want to offer? That She Ra is one of the most radically Christian shows currently on TV. Now you’ve spat out your tea/coffee/gin let me explain. (There’ll be no referencing of bible verses here btw and as you’ll see later, this isn’t about trying to say the show is Evangelical or anything like that.)
The show emphasises that love conquers all but it’s so much deeper than that.
Take the bad guy – obsessed with himself to the extent he’s remade the universe in his image, so none can speak except with his voice. His rampant egoism is the very centre of what it means for people to be evil in Christianity. To make the individual the centre of all things oh, and by the way, his message? A classic death cult of which, in the end, he’s the only member. For me at least, the show tackles the central issue we all end up talking about at some point – the problem of evil and what it actually is. It offers up many examples and shows there’s only one which can’t be redeemed – and that’s Horde Prime’s self-obsession – their ego-centric certainty that they are the only really real creature in the universe and that they therefore have the right to treat others as less than real. In gamer’s parlance; evil is when you think you’re the only PC in the world and everyone else is an NPC put their for your benefit.
Or take the treatment of Catra and Scorpia by the Princesses. At every step mercy triumphs over judgement. Given the opportunity, it’s the very human side of She Ra, Adora, who advocates for them, who tries to reach them. And when they are reached, everyone knows their transition is fragile, that changing direction (repentance) is not a once only deal but something that gets worked out. The other princesses call it out, ask if it’s real and recognise how strange it is to forgive and, as part of forgiveness, to make room for those who’ve been forgiven to work their forgiveness out.
And as for Hordak’s awakening, his conversion…oh my word.
Take the explorations of difference and we see the central theme of ‘there is no male nor female, slave nor free.’ All are equal, all are accepted, all are welcome. It’s not always a welcome sentiment – in one episode Mermista questions how easy it seems for their enemies to get a break, to get accepted after they’ve ‘converted’. The idea of redemption is ridiculed and challenged but it is never let go and never surrendered as the destination the show wants to go.
It’s radically communitarian in a way which, frankly, had me crying with joy. The people love each other despite their preferences, their likes and dislikes. They struggle to grow but remain themselves throughout it all and in all their mistakes, sorry is never a bad word. Instead, sorry is the word which guides them to restitution and reconciliation. Every time.
There’s some fascinating stuff here about the kind of god She Ra represents with her disciples, the princesses of power, but it’s beyond the scope of this short blurting out of some random thoughts I had in my head. But it’s worth mentioning the themes – transfiguration, self sacrifice, the path walked which is only understood at the end but is walked anyway. It’s never made clear who her parents were either – a clear nod to the virgin birth.
When Adora destroys the sword and ‘loses’ She Ra there’s a resurrection which occurs and the new She Ra, the one who most resembles a god is subtly different to the one from the early seasons. The bombast is gone – replaced by a quiet humility, a thoughtful passion focused on others and this is true for both She Ra and Adora – which ever incarnation that character is represented by. And Adora/She Ra learns a crucial lesson in her apotheosis – that it is in relationship that we become ourselves. That the human alone is incomplete. (I don’t mean romantically here, I mean simply by being in meaningful relationships with people who love us).
The last thing I want to talk about is the show’s view on redemption – namely that all can be redeemed, recovered, if they’re given the opportunity. Catra and Adora come from the same place. They have the same world at their back, the same baggage and eventually they both find their way to love and forgiveness – of each other and themselves. Hope never dies. Nor is it seen as powerless, waiting for violence or power to save it. Hope is shown clearly as it’s own power, driving to achieve the very things it is hoping for. Faith, hope and love and in the end love remains because the need for the other two has gone. I’ve always maintained that for the Christian God to be who They claim to be they would centre dignity – because it’s a concern for the dignity of the Other which drives redemption, love, fellowship and mercy. This show cares for the dignity of its characters from the first scene to the last.
There’s also stuff here about how the show doesn’t shy away from the consequences of our actions, both on ourselves and on others – but again, it’s beyond this piece. The paths we set ourselves on which, in the end, can drag us down to places we would never have chosen but, bit by bit, accept for ourselves. Most clearly this is shown by Shadow Weaver’s arc. Shadow Weaver’s history (more so than Catra really) is one where she explored morally grey areas with good intentions but the choices she made left her wrecked and ruined, ostracised and excluded. The road to ruin started long before she ended up on the wrong side but once she was on it, it seemed like the only destination she could reach. Her redemption is replete with an exploration of the damage our choices do to us, how they shape us and can, in the end, break us so thoroughly that our redemption looks like nothing anyone else can recognise. Her arc could be seen as cliched (especially in the denouement) but I’d say that misses the touching beauty of how her character realises who she is, who she truly is, and acts within her own boundaries to do something for others as an attempt to make it right.
Many people will probably have a knee jerk to what I’ve written above – be it because they’re fundamentalist christians whose only real care is that love in the show isn’t as they define it (wrongly if they were to read their bible more carefully) or because people of difference colours are free to love one another, or because women are at the heart of the show with their own agency.
Others may well puke because for them the only Christianity they’ve ever known is the one I’ve just described above – a Trump/Johnson voting monstrosity of a corrupted faith which, as far as I can see the thing itself, actually pretty much exists for the poor, the weak, the downtrodden and wants only to lift them up.
Yet, for me, regardless of intent, this show’s focus on love, on kindness and mercy. On the idea that Love is POWERFUL in its own right and doesn’t need others to save it, that mercy triumphs over justice. These are the most amazing messages and they’re ones I want to hear right now. They’re ones I want my children to know are true. I want them to see how you can face evil, cynicism, misery and cruelty and yet love, and yet hope and yet be merciful. There are so many voices crying out an eye for an eye. I am not one of them and this show feels like it was made for me. BLM and peace out.