Last night, Multiclass Geek finished watching She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and, on completing it, asked, “So why do you like Catra so much? You said she was a cinnamon roll! But she’s the villain!”
Well, yes, she is. And by the end of the series, Catra does some very cruel stuff. But like Adora herself, I still love Catra and hold out hope for a redemption arc, and I think it’s worth talking about why. I’ve mentioned before the parallels between Catra and my own Leona Lioness, and honestly it wasn’t until I watched She-Ra that I understood why Leona resonated so strongly for so many of my readers.
Catra is all about the way pain twists you and leads you to make dumb mistakes– and then committing to them even when you realize what a dumb mistake it is.
Having lived her life in a never-ending series of no-win situations, Catra is a survivor of a very specific kind of gaslighting abuse. Shadow Weaver explicitly states that Catra’s only purpose growing up was to be “Adora’s pet,” and this is underscored later by the way Shadow Weaver treats Catra’s successes as Force Captain as being irrelevant. What Catra thinks is “I have to jump twice as high to get half the recognition” (which is already an injustice to begin with), is actually “You will never get recognition because you are not the favorite.”
Catra finally realizes this when she says to Shadow Weaver “After all I’ve done for you, it’s still Adora that you want?” This line is the beginning of her deciding to take her own power; it’s also the moment when she shifts from feeling mostly sad and betrayed at Adora’s defection, to being straight-up wrathful.
Catra is every minority dealing with the reality of privilege. Catra is every red-headed stepchild. Catra is every younger sibling who has to get out from the shadow of their superstar older sister/brother. Catra is every kid who got beat up by a bully, and then was sent to detention for fighting.
So to answer why I refer to Catra as a cinnamon roll, I can only point to the amount of time Catra spends crying. She is deeply unhappy throughout the entire series, and even when she does smile it’s a mean “How does it feel, bitch?” kind of smirk. Her only experience of power and agency have come through being the victim of cruelty and injustice. Even Adora’s attempts at kindness had to be filtered through that. Catra’s been indoctrinated that there is no good or bad, only strong or weak, and you can tell on some level she doesn’t really believe it (hence the little moment of heartbreak when Scorpia describes her as being a great friend).
This poison in her mind makes her see Adora’s love and support as patronizing. Catra believes herself to be weak, and assumes Adora believes that as well, and so it makes perfect (if misguided) sense to resent that. Catra is the darkest version of Entrapta’s kitchen staff believing that they can’t do anything because they’re not princesses.
The entire society of Eternia is built on this “Princess/Not-a-Princess” hierarchy, which is presumably why Shadow Weaver (having been raised in Eternia’s biases herself) is so fixated on Adora. She-Ra is at the absolute top of that hierarchical heap, being the one that even the other princesses answer to. The only way to be “as good as” Adora, for Catra, is to become her opposite.
As I say, this puts her in a no-win situation. And she knows it, and she hates it, and she doesn’t see a way out of it.
So, this is why I love Catra, because I’ve lived in that no-win situation. I know how it feels, and I know how it hurts, and I want her to escape, because on my dark days I have to escape it again myself over and over again.