I’ve been waiting for a story about the Horde cadets—Kyle, Lonnie, and Rogelio—since Season 1 of She-Ra. ‘Protocol’ finally delivers, giving the trio ample time and space to demonstrate their personalities, priorities, and group dynamic. Also in this episode, we join Adora and Light Hope in the malfunctioning Crystal Castle, where the two are forced to become more familiar than they’ve ever been. Through their interactions, we gain more insight on Light Hope’s motivations, backstory, and connection to the First Ones. Both stories in ‘Protocol’ feature emotional bonds that lead characters to disregard their given directives, connecting to Season 4’s focus on relationships and free will.
This episode takes place entirely within the Whispering Woods, starting off with a short sequence of the cadets traveling in a Horde vehicle. We next enter the Crystal Castle, just a short distance away, where Light Hope runs training simulations for a very jaded She-Ra. When Light Hope observes that Adora isn’t valuing her training, she explains that she needs answers rather than instruction. Adora gives us a little refresher from last season, asking specifically about Mara’s fearful message and the mysterious weapon developed by the First Ones. Light Hope says that all will become clear when She-Ra balances the planet, unmoved by Adora’s interrogation.
In another short scene, the cadets discuss their purpose in the woods—transporting special armor at Catra’s command. Their mission goes awry when their vehicle shuts down, damaged by the acidic spores floating through the forest.
Adora’s pretty fed up with Light Hope, and attempts to leave the Crystal Castle. Light Hope says that she must stay until the dangerous ‘spore storm’ ends, and as soon as she mentions it, the castle shuts down from the external damage. Light Hope reboots as a dimmer version of Janet from The Good Place, giving Adora the perfect opportunity to ask all the questions she’s been storing up.
Lonnie leads the cadets outside to investigate the damage, complaining about Catra giving them such a dangerous mission. Kyle notices the spores first, opening his mouth to catch them on his tongue like snow. The cadets discover that the spores aren’t snow at all—and they burn. They take shelter inside the vehicle, realizing the severity of their situation. Ironically, Kyle is excited to be stuck with his friends, since lately things have been more stressful than usual in the Horde. Catra interrupts his jubilation over FaceTime, demanding that the cadets get the armor back to the Fright Zone regardless of their situation. She’s definitely growing more unstable as Hordak’s second hand, messing up and then fixing her own hair as she lashes out. She offers neither sympathy nor support before she hangs up, leaving the cadets to solve this on their own.
Back in the Crystal Castle, Light Hope’s reboot is only at 22%. She’s more playful with Adora as they chat, and is surprisingly hurt when Adora implies that she’s not usually fun to be around. When Adora tries to ask her burning questions, she’s disappointed to find that Light Hope’s information banks are still loading. She has, however, learned how to control gravity in the castle, and essentially turns the room into a Gravitron.
The cadets have decided that one person will have to brave the storm to repair the transport’s exterior tech. In order to determine the unlucky mechanic, they place a Horde-ified version of Rock-Paper-Scissors called Bot-Shield-Laser.
For just a moment we cut back to the castle, where Light Hope has learned to make spiders. Adora is not happy with this development.
Bot-Shield-Laser ends up inconclusive, so the cadets consider other games that could determine who goes outside. The cup-and-ball toy from Season 1’s ‘The Sea Gate’ returns briefly before Kyle breaks it, sending Rogelio on a devastated face journey.
She-Ra grapples with the spiders, which you might also remember from Season 1’s ‘Promise.’ Light Hope informs her that she’s stuck at 36%, and in order to complete her reboot and activate the castle’s defenses, they’ll have to reach the core processing unit. The hologram tries to help by drowning all the spiders, endangering Adora again in the process.
Kyle throws the ball into a nearby helmet, declaring himself the winner of the game he designed. Lonnie, who time and time again has demonstrated herself to be the only stable and capable member of the Horde, isn’t satisfied with this conclusion (although she does put on ‘the hat’). Kyle throws the ball again, and it bounces around the room before colliding with his face. Unfortunately, the fun times end there—the spores are starting to break down the vehicle’s exterior, making matters urgent.
The Crystal Castle suffers damage from the storm as Adora and Light Hope reach the core processing unit. Adora has only one activation crystal and the unit has two slots, because nothing in Adora’s life can ever be simple or easy. Light Hope is 36% sure that the slot to their right will restore her to full functionality, and Adora hesitantly obliges. Unfortunately, that slot reboots Light Hope again, undoing the 36% progress she had made.
Tensions rise between Kyle, Lonnie, and Rogelio as they try to determine who should brave the storm. Lonnie accuses Catra of prioritizing her plans over her lifelong friends, which upsets Kyle. He comes to her defense, joining the ranks of Catra Apologists everywhere, recalling the time she threw Adora a party and the cadets all had a really good time. Dumbfounded, Lonnie reminds Kyle that this memory occurred in the ‘weird fake portal reality,’ canonizing the fact that everyone remembers the alternate universe’s events. After this sidebar, Lonnie makes the bitter reflection that loyalty is meaningless in the Horde. Kyle tugs on a helmet and heads for the door, since everything important to him is meaningless anyway. He pushes past Rogelio and leaves his friends arguing about where they went wrong, reminding us that Catra and Adora aren’t the only emotionally stunted child soldiers in this show.
Light Hope is back at 36% and Adora’s patience finally expires. She calls the hologram useless, which Light Hope views as failure. In an attempt to fulfill Adora’s request for information, she replays a memory from her permanent data bank. Hologram-Mara approaches another Light Hope—her Light Hope—holding a bouquet of flowers, speaking to her as though she’s a close friend. This Light Hope seems to have genuine feelings for her administrator, creating a massive field of flowers just to make Mara smile. As Adora’s Light Hope watches the memory, she recalls a sensation of warmth. Although they aren’t as close as the women in the memory, Adora and Light Hope bond over a shared feeling of inadequacy—Adora as She-Ra, and Light Hope as her guide. Adora hopes that someday they can be friends, just like Mara and her hologram.
Kyle struggles to make his way to the broken panel, woefully unprotected from the acid spores. He manages to weld the broken fuse before passing out from the pain, stirring Lonnie and Rogelio to action. They grab the armor they’re supposed to bring Catra and use it to rescue their fellow cadet, destroying it in the process. Lonnie goes down fast but Rogelio’s a tank, carrying both of his friends to safety. The vehicle finally resumes its journey to the Fright Zone, thanks to the Power of Friendship.
Adora and Light Hope return to the core processing unit, where Adora places the crystal in the left slot. It restores the castle’s functionality and reboots Light Hope immediately. Adora is disheartened when the hologram returns to her toneless taskmaster persona, but she’s clearly more endeared to Light Hope than before. She bids her farewell and leaves the Crystal Castle, since the storm has now conveniently passed.
En route to the Fright Zone, Rogelio and Lonnie dress Kyle’s wounds. Although they’re both burned up, he’s by far the worst off. The cadets’ interactions demonstrate that if anyone in the Horde is loyal, it’s the three of them. Rogelio gives a rousing speech of incomprehensible growls, which Lonnie and Kyle appreciate but don’t seem to understand. Lonnie elevates Kyle’s leg, uncharacteristically soft, and my heart melts.
Alone in the Crystal Castle, Light Hope re-watches the memory with Mara. Cold and resolute, she purges it from her permanent drive. The hologram reminds herself of her purpose—seeing that She-Ra completes the Heart of Etheria Project. What is that, you ask? Judging by the sinister final shot of Light Hope’s eyes, I think we can assume it’s nothing good.
Both stories in ‘Protocol’ revolve around personal bonds and their impact on given directives. While the cadets end up choosing their friendship over Catra’s commands, Light Hope does the opposite, rejecting Mara’s companionship because it contradicts her programmed purpose. She-Ra’s thesis is that our relationships make us strong—therefore, it seems likely that the cadets are on a path to redemption, while Light Hope is slated for something far more sinister.