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“Do I read this as platonic or romantic?”: Behind the scenes of the epic <i>She-Ra</i> finale

“Do I read this as platonic or romantic?”: Behind the scenes of the epic She-Ra finale

Graphic: Allison Corr, Photo: Eric Charbonneau, Image: DreamWorks Animation

After five seasons and 52 episodes, Netflix’s groundbreaking She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power has come to an end. With the final 13 episodes now available to stream, creator and showrunner Noelle Stevenson is proud of how she and and her team re-envisioned the 1980s cartoon She-Ra: The Princess Of Power for the new century. Here Stevenson answers The A.V. Club’s questions about the final season, the show’s evolving romances, and the possibility of future She-Ra adventures. She also reveals how America’s Next Top Model served as an unexpected inspiration. Needless to say, spoilers ahead.

The A.V. Club: You seemed to have had a lot of fun creating this final season.

Noelle Stevenson: We did! At the end of [season four], we kind of saw everybody’s perception of themselves break under the pressure. So going into the last season, that’s where we were starting from. These characters, they didn’t have anything to fall back on. What they thought was true about themselves is gone. They have to figure out now what to do next, who they are apart from who they expected they were going to be, or who they were pressured to be. It was a whole new game. The entire playing field opened back up to them.

AVC: You reflect the ever-changing character dynamics in the title sequence, which changed multiple times this season. What made you want to add that element?

NS: It was an idea that was kind of tricky to pull off, but I was particularly passionate about showing the princesses disappear from one card and maybe appear on another. It can be a little hard to keep everything straight, who’s with who, and where—and who’s evil right now and who’s not. It was very fun and all came from a kind of weird inspiration: If you’ve ever watched America’s Next Top Model, which I grew up with, someone is eliminated and they just kind of disappear from the lineup. I felt like, “We could do that, but the sad version.”

AVC: Fans really loved the cover of the theme song that AJ Michalka, [who voices Catra,] did for the season-five trailer. Why did you choose that theme song to represent the show?

NS: I really wanted to do almost like a modern power ballad. Like a “Holding Out For A Hero,” Bonnie Tyler kind of pump-up piece. It’s very confident in the characters’ ability to defeat that evil and come together. But, I think, as the show went on and the characters became less confident of their ability to do that, that sort of changed the meaning of the song a little bit.

AVC: One of the characters who loses their confidence is Adora, who struggles to channel She-Ra for most of this season. Walk us through the decision to keep your title figure out of the final season so much.

NS: Adora started on her path to being a force for good by finding this sword and accepting the mantle of She-Ra, but being a beacon of hope has always been a source of stress and fear for her. I don’t think it ever really fit her. She’s more comfortable bringing a kind of strategic force or focusing on her physical skills. And so, in season four, when she finds out that she was actually meant to be a force for evil, it just destroys everything that she thought she knew about herself.

So coming into season five, she is still motivated to protect everybody, and she doesn’t have any idea how to do that. She’s always thought she needed She-Ra, and she had to distance herself from her friends because her love for them would make her weak. But really, her friends don’t need She-Ra; they need Adora. And her power comes from their love. That’s hard for her to accept, and the further she gets from understanding that, the harder it gets for her to access She-Ra. In the end it becomes about her needing to be saved, about her needing to show that vulnerability and needing her friends to reach out to her and save her instead of her always having to be the savior.

Illustration: Netflix

AVC: How much did the show and characters evolve from your original plan?

NS: I always had a very broad idea of the plot points of all 52 episodes and each individual arc—and we stuck to that pretty closely, actually. But there were certain characters really did surprise me, like Catra. Catra ends every season with a promotion, that was part of my initial pitch—she betrays her immediate higher up, moves another rung up the ladder, and ends up being, like, one of the most threatening characters on the show. Her powerful connection to Adora was part of the plan, but it wasn’t until we were working on the first couple of episodes and we saw the empathy and very specific vulnerability that AJ brought to that character, and the chemistry between her and Adora, that I started to evolve the way that I thought about that character. It set her on the path to become a hero. But, in a lot of ways, I think it was inevitable that we would end in the places we ended up.

AVC: Scorpia reveals that Kyle had a crush on Rogelio. We don’t see the Horde trio much this season. Why did you want to give us that insight into those characters?

NS: The Horde kids made a decision that the Horde wasn’t where they belonged—and that was kind of the end of their individual arcs in this journey. I think it’s great that they’ve already begun this journey of exploration for themselves. I wanted to give that one little Easter-egg moment of them being in the Crimson Waste and sort of rebuilding their lives and adopting a kid. This last season was really a return to our core characters, but I wanted to check in with them so everyone sees that they’re still together, and that they are kind of this little family unit.

AVC: You give Catra a new companion, Melog. There was a minor character on the original She-Ra named Melog, but that was a mud creature conjured by Shadow Weaver. Why did you change the character so significantly?

NS: We actually wanted to make Claudine, Catra’s pink lion from the books [and original She-Ra cartoon]. But we couldn’t really use Claudine because she’s designed pretty much identical to the pink lion from Steven Universe. So we chose Melog because in the original show it’s just like a one-off monster, but it’s a shapeshifter. It’s a creature that is very fluid and can become different things, so it seemed like a fit. It was kind of a joke we had as a crew, but we referred to Melog as Catra’s therapy animal. [Melog] was initially voiced by one of our editor’s cats, Mingus. We did have to dub over it, unfortunately, but now it’s the voice of our sound effects guy’s cat.

Melog, Catra, and Adora
Melog, Catra, and Adora
Illustration: Dreamworks Animation

AVC: When did you decide to make the two major pairings—Glimmer and Bow and Adora and Catra—romantic couples?

NS: You know, it’s actually funny, I think that the fans didn’t quite pick up on [Glimmer and Bow] much, but it’s actually been something that we’ve been a big fan of on the crew. Since we started out, I had ideas of which couples I was passionate about. I think Bow and Glimmer actually ended up being a mirror of Catra and Adora: childhood best friends who know everything about each other, and then at some point they realize they don’t actually know each other anymore and they drift apart; their relationship kind of breaks. Glimmer and Catra both get kind of blinded as they set out on these paths to do what they think they need to do and don’t realize they’re hurting the people who love them.

So after Bow doesn’t forgive Glimmer right away and she has to win him over, it felt right that they were coming back together, being vulnerable with each other, and they grow past where they started. I think that they’re perfect for each other and have been in love for a long time. But we weren’t sure how much we were going to make this a canonical relationship, at first. It wasn’t until we were recording with [Karen Fukuhara, who voices Glimmer] and she got to that line that she has, where she tells Bow that she loves him. She stopped before she read it, and she turned to me and said, “Is this romantic? Do I read this as romantic or platonic?” In that moment, I made the decision. I was like, “It’s romantic, read it romantic.”

Netossa, Glimmer, Bow, and Adora
Netossa, Glimmer, Bow, and Adora
Illustration: DreamWorks Animation

As for Adora and Catra: At the very first meeting I had after getting the gig to write the pilot, I was talking to my development exec at the time, Beth Cannon, who had grown up a huge fan of She-Ra. And she sort of gave me her list of what she really wanted to see from the reboot: She was like, “You know, I always thought that She-Ra and Catra should have known each other. They would have grown up together. Why didn’t they ever seem to have any kind of connection to each other? They didn’t seem to care about each other at all.” And that really stuck with me. I was like, “Okay, that’s really cool, because what’s going to happen when Adora becomes She-Ra and leaves Catra behind? Is there more than just jealousy? Is there more than just the betrayal?” But keep in mind this was almost five years ago, and it’s not a small thing to say, “Hey, She-Ra The Princess Of Power is gay and has a female love interest.” I was under no illusions that this was going to be an easy thing to pull off. But it was something that I was passionate about from the start—and, honestly, I got in trouble for it a little bit.

AVC: How so?

NS: I think there was a little bit of like, “Whoa, what are you doing here?” And I fought really, really, really hard to keep it. In the end, I understood that I could keep it, but I had to back off—but I never let it go. So when we were writing the final season, I shared with the writers where I wanted to go with it, but I didn’t reveal it to the executives until a little later. At that point, the first season had come out and we’d gotten this incredible fan response to Catra and Adora. That’s sort of what I’d been waiting for. So, I sat down with my executives and I was like, “This is where I think we need to end up.” And I got their blessing. We got every single person who needed to sign off on it on our side.

AVC: What went into planning Catra and Adora’s kiss?

NS: I wanted to make sure we got there in a way that made sense. Obviously we’d been building the reconciliation. But, for me, their reconciliation and their romantic relationship were a little separate. They’d grown apart so far that they needed to rebuild their friendship before they could rebuild whatever romantic relationship they’d had. They were not open about their feelings with each other, and I don’t think they that’s what they felt about each other in past seasons. Catra begins to realize it first, but she has to go through a personal evolution before anything romantic can develop. It takes a lot for her to be vulnerable and ask Adora to stay for once. And for Adora, it’s important for her to realize she can be more than this heroic figure—she can rely on her family and friends and Catra. And this really was the whole arc of the series. We hinted at [their love] throughout the season, but it wouldn’t have felt right to me to have it happen any time sooner.

Perfuma, Frosta, Adora, Scorpia, and Bow
Perfuma, Frosta, Adora, Scorpia, and Bow
Illustration: DreamWorks Animation

AVC: Adora ends the series saying they’re headed out into space to bring magic back to the entire universe. Are you already planning more She-Ra adventures?

NS: I’m conflicted. When you spend so much time in a universe, the characters become more than just characters. They become your friends. So it’s hard to say goodbye, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. There are some great sequels, but I think we’ve all seen some that didn’t need to exist. You don’t always want to see those characters you loved again. It seems weird, but you want to remember them how you left them. And if you do a good job of wrapping it up in a very satisfying way, so much will happen in the imagination of the fans. I want people to be imagining what their adventures are and where they go next. I want them creating their own original projects inspired by our work. But, while I would love to revisit this world from a personal place, it would involve introducing further conflict. Like, it wouldn’t just be a fun reunion with characters that we love. You’d want the characters to continue to grow and change, and that would involve our characters going through hardship.

There’s a part of me that wants to do another season that’s just a slice of life: They’re hanging out in space and absolutely nothing bad happens and everyone’s fine. I would really enjoy that. But it’s like, “Does it need to happen or is it just me wanting to spend more time with the characters?” So it’s a complicated question. I think I’d definitely be open to it, but I want to make sure that this ending has meaning for being what it is, which is an ending. So… we’ll see?

A.V. Club Editor in Chief...but really just a She-Ra, Schitt’s Creek, Grey’s Anatomy, Survivor, Big Brother, Top Chef, The Good Place superfan.