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She-Ra showrunner Noelle Stevenson discusses the deeply personal themes of Season 4
When last we left Adora and the Best Friends Squad at the end of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 3, they had escaped their Fright Zone adventure intact but were back in Bright Moon infinitely changed by the experience.
Because of what happened there, the theme of embracing power is at the heart of Season 4 as Adora (Aimee Carrero) is more confident about her path as She-Ra, while Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara) is wrestling with her new role as the Queen of Bright Moon.
SYFY WIRE FANGRRLS caught up with showrunner Noelle Stevenson to get the details on how this 13-episode season gives the writers more time to explore how far these characters have come, and how much further they have to go.
As Season 4 gets going, you’ve already had 26 episodes to lay a lot of groundwork for these characters. How does that help define this arc?
This season we wanted to make sure that we were spotlighting as many of our characters as possible. I think they establish a new kind of status quo here, where the characters at the beginning try to set themselves up about who they think they should be.
Adora is like, "All right, I think I know how to be She-Ra now.” Catra thinks that she can be this villain who no longer is hurt by other people because she's distanced herself from her emotions. Glimmer thinks that she can be this perfect queen who leads everybody in the right direction and protects everybody. We explore that. Then we tear apart the characters' perceptions of themselves, and this season so many of the characters achieve what they think they want.
How would you define their wants as Season 4 begins?
Adora wants a destiny that is clear-cut. Glimmer wants independence. She wants to have power, and she gets that, just not in the way she thought. Catra wants to set herself up in a position where she's untouchable, where no one has power over her emotions anymore. And I think they all kind of get that before they realize that it's not what they want. It’s about who they want to be and how they realize that it's not making them happy. They realize that maybe there is something more than that.
Let’s talk about how the seasons have unfolded up to now. This is the longest run of episodes in a season since Season 1. Was that by design?
I think that, especially with the streaming services, it's always a little bit of an experiment about how these episodes are going to be released, then how they're going to be received, and how people are going to watch them. We had conceived of them as being 13-episode seasons. Season 2 wasn't originally conceived as part one of that season, but it was an experiment to see if we could have the seasons come out more frequently and what is most effective. This season, we're pretty passionate about it being one season. It has a really great arc from start to finish. It starts out a little bit more episodic and then becomes more serialized as it goes.
Women coming into their power is really at the core of the stories in Season 4. As a young creative also growing into your leadership, are you mining your own life stories more and more?
That is something very personal for me, but also for so many members of the crew, who are largely women. We were all doing our jobs for the first time. We had first-time directors, first-time storyboard artists, first-time story editor, and all of us were relatively young and new at these jobs. And as exciting as it is to see women move into positions of leadership, it's also an incredible burden. It can be really, really difficult to be the leader that your team needs, which is something that through Adora, through Glimmer, and through Catra, especially, we were exploring.
You’re making a point to feature stories about young women growing through their successes and failures. Why was it important to show that?
Because it is just a story that I don't feel you always get to see. The classic female character who's the princess, they're not expected to fully gain the power and the leadership of leading a group of people. So as princesses, they still get to follow their own whims and express themselves very freely. But as soon as you have people looking to you for leadership, you start to lose some of that. It's a very, very difficult story to tell, and it's a very, very difficult position to be in. And so I was really passionate about showing how hard it could be, and how challenging it could be.
There are moments for all three of the characters. With Glimmer, it’s like, "Oh, I can't go on this mission. I have to go to meetings. I have meetings all day!" With Adora, she is looking to this seer who came before her, and seeing that she had failed. The story that she heard about Mara was that she had washed out, and gone crazy, and snapped under the pressure. So she's trying so hard not to fall into that same trap. And then Catra's just full meltdown. Being alone, being isolated, and pushing people away.
All of those things are different ways that people, and especially women, deal with leadership positions when you're not supported in those positions. I just want it to show that version of female leadership and all of its messy glory, and show how these different young women are dealing with the power. Power can be such an incredible asset to have, but it can also be something that is a huge responsibility that is really, really difficult to deal with. I wanted to just show all the different shades of that story, of young people moving into leadership positions, and how they dealt with it.
Do you feel like any of the characters most reflects who you are?
I don't think any of them are totally me. So many of the crew members saw themselves in these characters, and that's what makes them feel so fully realized. So many people were relating to these characters' struggles and putting their own experiences into the characters. For example, the relationship between Catra and Shadow Weaver, many had a similar relationship like that, obviously exaggerated, but it was something that I think we really came together over. It felt like something that was very real to us.
But overall, I’ve felt, especially with Adora, Catra, and Glimmer, that they are each a facet of myself. Adora is this anxious part of myself. Glimmer is this insecure part of myself, and Catra is [the me] who has, in the past, lashed out at friends because of how I was feeling and hurt people. Maybe it was never as extreme as what Catra's doing, but to see a character really just spiral into that, and she fully collapses under the weight of her own rage, it was really cathartic to see a character deal with that. I don't feel that you always get to see characters, especially female characters, really be so free like that, in a way that isn't just like, "Oh, well, she's crazy."
It’s so true. Angry female characters get punished for that behavior in a way that male characters aren’t in most stories.
It's not a good thing, and it's not a healthy thing, but it feels really good to see somebody who just is so, so angry and that her arc is about her anger. Those are things that, they were personal, but they're also things that I'm hoping are personal for people who are watching this show. To recognize themselves and be like, "Oh, that's how I feel. I feel like I have to hide or suppress that part of myself." And it's OK to explore that aspect and explore where it comes from, and why you're feeling that way, and see a character maybe express it more so than you ever would. It helps, I think. It makes me feel less alone. It makes me feel less crazy, honestly.
Come back soon for a more spoilery conversation with Stevenson about Season 4.