Let’s face it: Shadow Weaver is awful. With few redeeming qualities to her name, the sorceress is outrightly manipulative, abusive, and unapologetic about it all. Even her voice actress, Lorraine Toussaint, comically agrees.
Despite her many flaws, Shadow Weaver plays an integral part in She-Ra’s story, influencing the protagonists from whichever side better suits her in the moment. Season One primarily focuses on painting Shadow Weaver’s character, highlighting the ways in which she groomed both Adora and Catra during their upbringing and extrapolating on everything she continues to do to them in order to get what she wants. The following seasons inform us about her past, including the way she used Micah to her advantage, and heavily alluding that she intends to do the same with Glimmer.
What is perhaps most interesting about Shadow Weaver’s character is her methods of abuse towards Adora and Catra and how it shaped their characters. While Shadow Weaver has inflicted abuse on several characters on She-Ra, it’s undeniable that Adora and Catra are the two characters who suffered the most under Shadow Weaver’s tutelage. As a disclaimer, we aren’t saying that abuse is good and we certainly don’t approve of Shadow Weaver’s methods. Instead, we are using her patterns to examine Adora and Catra’s characters and personalities, and how her methods ended up shaping two completely different pathways.
Between Adora and Catra, it’s fair to say that the effects of Shadow Weaver’s abuse are most outwardly apparent in Catra. Her behavior, motives, and overall character arc are deeply rooted in everything she experienced at the hands of the person who raised her. Acting out in the way Catra does in the beginning of the series–showing up late to training, talking back, bullying the other cadets–is typical of abuse victims. It’s not uncommon for victims to take on traits from their abusers, either, which is exactly what we see transpiring throughout the course of the series.
As Light Spinner, Shadow Weaver developed an obsession for power and recognition. When she was unable to reach her goals herself, she turned to manipulating Micah and used his power for her own gains. Catra, similarly, climbs the ranks of the Horde in order to receive the validation she never received from her guardian, utilizing everyone at her disposal to do so, regardless of how it may harm them. This is especially apparent in season four, when her previous teammates are forced into dangerous situations and long, gruelling shifts. Even when they beg for a break, she refuses, convinced that her objective of crushing the rebellion is more important than their safety.
What’s even more painful is that at the tail end of Season Two, Shadow Weaver admits that the reason she was so hard on Catra is because she reminds her of herself. However, this scene is yet another example of tactics abusers use to get what they want from their victim, as Shadow Weaver only said it to break down Catra’s guard and get the feline to unknowingly aid in her escape. Unfortunately for Catra, this moment was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and destroyed much of her mental psyche.
Let’s shift gears and talk about Adora. Because of the obvious favoritism, Adora might seem unaffected by Shadow Weaver’s injustice at first glance, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Adora’s upbringing wasn’t free from abuse; her experience simply differed from Catra’s and manifested in different ways. From birth, Shadow Weaver had her eye on the blonde-haired First One. She saw great potential, just like she did in Micah. And just like with Micah, she would stop at nothing to use it for her personal gain.
While Catra received nothing but criticism and denouncing, Adora received constant praise. Adora was rewarded for every shared victory while Catra was punished for every shared misdemeanor. Adora was promoted while Catra was scolded for being second-best. As a result, Catra developed a sidekick complex, and Adora, the savior complex. Even when Adora stood up for her friend, Shadow Weaver used it as another opportunity to groom the girls.
“Promise” demonstrates the above entirely. During a memory of their childhood, Catra and Adora snuck into the Black Garnet chamber. However, Catra was the one caught, paralyzed by Shadow Weaverʻs magic, and threatened. When Adora stepped in, the sorceressʻ entire disposition shifted to that of a loving mother. She gently requested that Adora keep Catra in line, as though Catra is a pet requiring discipline. This was the first time we really got to see the dynamic that Shadow Weaver forced them into, resulting in their rivalry and eventually all-out war.
While Catra’s mental psyche battles with constant negative disposition, Adora grew up convinced that she must live up to Shadow Weaver, and thus, the world’s standards. She was always told she was special, that she was destined for greatness, but this had adverse effects. With such expectations to live up to, Adora can make no mistakes. Failure would mean letting those she cared about down. It would mean punishment for Catra. She was taught from a young age that everyone relied on her, that she was responsible for the safety of others. With such a weight on her shoulders, it’s no wonder she has a savior complex.
After Adora leaves the Horde, however, her outlook slowly begins to change. The rebellion supports and encourages Adora in a way she never received in the Horde. She begins to understand her self-worth, even when Shadow Weaver corners her and preys on her insecurities. During “In the Shadows of Mystacor,” she haunts Adora and attempts to bring her back to the Horde. She tries to convince Adora that the princesses could never accept her, that they’re just using her for her abilities. But by now Adora understands the truth: that Shadow Weaver was the one using her all along.
From the very first episode, Shadow Weaver has done all she can to make Adora feel like she owes her. When Adora questions Shadow Weaverʻs plans for her, we can always count on some guilt tripping. Shadow Weaver uses her position as a guardian to make Adora feel indebted, even going so far as to say that she will be nothing without her. However, thanks to Glimmer and Bow helping her realize that she is not only a valuable soldier, but a cherished friend, Adora is able to turn Shadow Weaver away and break the sorceressʻ control.
Despite being raised by the same person in the same environment, Adora and Catra had vastly different experiences growing up. They were both subjected to the manipulation of Shadow Weaver, and they both found their own ways to cope. Catra is a prime example of a victim who has internalized her abuserʻs words and actions, and displays her pain through violence and spite. Adora similarly internalized Shadow Weaverʻs words, but has managed to overcome much of the damage inflicted on her as a child with the help of a great support system. While she still struggles with trying to be a perfect protector, sheʻs finally understands her worth as an individual.
We know Catra has a long way to go, but the end of season four gives us hope that she will be able to grow in the way Adora has. Finally, Catra has put herself in harmʻs way to protect someone else—someone who was supposed to be the enemy, no less. Once all is said and done, maybe they can continue to reduce the damage done by Shadow Weaver and flourish by each otherʻs sides. With a decent support system in place and more positive feedback, weʻre certain that Catra can be on the path to healing.
What do you think of Shadow Weaverʻs development and the effect itʻs had on Catra and Adora? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!