Each season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power explored different aspects and forms of love as its massive cast of characters clashed, made up, and chose their sides in the larger battle for the fate of the universe. Catra and Adora’s relationship was always one of the series’ most emotionally complex, and io9 had the chance to speak to actors Aimee Carrero and AJ Michalka all about it.
When we first met Catra and Adora in She-Ra’s first season, it was easy to interpret their dynamic in a number of different ways, but season five’s big finale made one thing about their bond abundantly clear. The girls started as both rivals and best friends living under the supervision of two villainous and oftentimes abusive parental figures in Hordak and Shadow Weaver. Though the two were a sort of family to one another—the kind that people form when they have shared traumatic experiences—She-Ra also never exactly shied away from the idea that Adora and Catra’s feelings for one another might have been romantic, if only they had the emotional headspace to contemplate and share those feelings.
Though Catra and Adora’s journeys do bring them back into one another’s orbits eventually, the time they spend apart from one another is rather sizable, and when we spoke with Aimee Carrero (who plays Adora) recently about why the series didn’t make a point of trying to rush them together, she explained that it was an intentional element of creator Noelle Stevenson’s vision for the show.
“[We] talked a lot about the toxicity that comes with growth sometimes and how in order to get closer to someone, sometimes you have to get away from them in order to gain the necessary perspective to have a productive relationship,” Carrero said.
As season five opens, there’s a massive gap between Catra and Adora that stems from the respective hardships they’re dealing with—for Adora, she’s still coming to terms with the grief of losing her ability to transform into She-Ra, and for Catra it’s a struggle to figure out what to do after being captured and subsequently mind-controlled by Horde Prime. But Carrero emphasized that even after the girls are able to jump over those initial hurdles, the internal issues they’ve been grappling with reveal themselves to be just as formidable.
“In Catra and Adora’s cases, they’re coming at things from such diametrically opposed positions that are linked to the very specific traumas they’re both dealing with,” Carrero told us. “Catra has her abandonment issues, and Adora’s got her whole savior complex and just so many other things that are really weighing her down.”
Carrero likened Adora’s larger arc in season five to the concept of the Dark Night of the Soul—a spiritual crisis that one experiences in the midst of a journey to connect with the divine. In a sense, that divine presence in Adora’s life is the magical energy that powers her transformations, but Carrero also explained how, in her mind, it’s Adora’s connection to the identity that’s most defined her over the course of She-Ra as a whole.
“She’s going for broke, especially towards the end because she’s worked so hard in the last two seasons to build up her identity,” Carrero said. “She went from, in season one, thinking she knew who she was to having her entire world turned completely upside down and learning that she’d been working against what she truly believed in for her entire life.”
To AJ Michalka, Catra’s voice actor, one of the major things that Adora and Catra come to realize in this final chapter is just how much of an impact learning the truth about the world they lived in had on them both—that some of the core roots of their traumas are one and the same. At multiple points in the season, Adora desperately implores Catra to come back to her and, mind control devices aside, the concept of Adora making a genuine effort to be close to her is something she has difficulty accepting. Part of the reason for that, Michalka said, was to make their reunion feel both earned and real.
“I think it was really important for Noelle and the rest of the writers that their relationship came across as extremely authentic because these two girls have always only had each other,” Michalka said. “You know, they were orphans who truly believed that what they were doing in the Fright Zone was the right thing. Catra’s been stuck in her ways for so many years, and Adora’s really the person who pulls her out of that.”
Another complicating factor in the girls’ healing is Shadow Weaver’s continued presence in their lives, which they’ve got every reason in the world to be suspicious of given her history of emotionally manipulating and pitting them against one another. Series creator Noelle Stevenson described how the seemingly conflicting nurturing and abusive aspects of Shadow Weaver’s interactions with Catra and Adora were purposeful and meant to give the characters a villain who would feel recognizable to audiences.
“It’s a complicated relationship, but it’s one that I think feels personal to everyone because we’ve all known someone like a Shadow Weaver, and whatever our relationships to those people were, at some point you have to make the decision to leave them in the past,” Stevenson said. “That’s metaphorically what’s happening there.”
There was little that Shadow Weaver could have ever done to prove to Catra and Adora that she’d truly turned a new leaf and was ready to make a good faith attempt to atone for what she did in the past. But Michalka reasoned that at the moment Shadow Weaver did choose to give up her life in order to save the girls from a monster in the finale, she was genuinely moved, but perhaps not fully forgiving.
“The idea that Catra had never seen someone else sacrifice themselves emotionally for her is something that really got me and that scene involving Shadow Weaver and Adora is just so, so powerful,” Michalka said. “Catra spent her entire life being humiliated by Shadow Weaver, but at the same time, Shadow Weaver always thought that Catra had a lot of potential but that Catra just wasn’t willing to tap into it. Catra and Adora getting to this point where that humiliation’s risen to the surface and there’s a bit of forgiveness and redemption, it puts them in a place where they can start to really heal.”
It’s through that healing that She-Ra was ultimately able to give Catra and Adora a space in which they could finally open up and admit the love they felt for one another was something beyond a deep friendship. That said, it wasn’t all that surprising, given how the show’s focused on a number of queer couples over the seasons (and how the fandom’s been shipping the pair from the jump). However, Catadora wasn’t something that was immediately obvious to Carrero, who admitted that being involved in the show played an instrumental role in broadening her perspective.
“It’s funny because something that was a real eye-opener for me personally was that when we first started this show, I was definitely coming from a place of heterosexual privilege that left me unable to fully see what Noelle was envisioning for Catra and Adora’s story,” Carrero said. “So when the series really became this, almost like, a voice for the LGBTQ community, I was sort of shocked, which again speaks to the place of privilege I was coming from. I remember having this conversation with Noelle, and she was like ‘Oh, yeah, like, they’re not sisters,’ and I thought ‘...Yeah, you’re right.’”
Looking back on She-Ra and the Princesses of Power in hindsight, it’s difficult to imagine how anyone could ever have doubted that the series had both the heat and the range to demonstrate how to make the animation space more open and inclusive as a whole. It’s the same kind of energy that’s made other shows like Steven Universe and Harley Quinn feel like such refreshing revelations, and it’s something future shows would be that much stronger for embracing.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power’s fifth and final season is now streaming on Netflix.
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