Entrapta, She-Ra, and Autistic Representation

This is reprinted from Neurotastic and was a shorter version of my post a couple days before on the same topic.

When people think of autism, Raymond Babbit in Rain Man, Christian Wolff in The Accountant, or Sheldon in Big Bang Theory, may come to mind. These negative stereotypes persist in popular culture despite increased positive representation for autistic characters. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (SPOP) is different.

While the series rightfully received accolades for its LGBTQ+ representation, there is another aspect of the show: positive autistic representation. Entrapta (voiced by Christine Woods), a curious and sensitive hacker, scientist, and “geeky princess,” is a well-written autistic character. SPOP series creator Noelle Stevenson stated that autistic storyboarder Sam Szymanski played a huge role in shaping Entrapta.

Behind the Mask

Whether she is seen as “morally grey,” “adorkable,” or “chaotic neutral,” she is a smart character who makes her own decisions and tries to fix problems through a mechanical means. Unlike the show’s other protagonists, Adora, Glimmer, Catra, and Bow, around age 17 or 18, she is older, in her late 20s or early 30s. She struggles to connect with others, due to her occasional low self-worth, and sometimes hides behind her mask, affixed to her face. Her voice changes when wearing the mask, as she tries to cover up her autistic traits and appear neurotypical.

As Noelle described Entrapta, she struggles to communicate her feelings or understand what other characters are saying, seeing “humanity in everything,” whether clones, robots, or otherwise. In the show’s most recent, and last season, she begins to balance her love for machines and a desire to connect with others, while helping the protagonists save the world of Etheria, where the series takes place, from the villainous Horde Prime. One of the characters she humanizes is Hordak, former leader of the evil Horde. Their interactions, in the show as a whole, led some fans (and members of the show’s crew) to ship them as “Entrapdak.” This was confirmed as canon in a Black Lives Matter charitable Twitch stream hosted by Noelle and her wife, Molly Ostertag.

Noelle also stated that Entrapta, as a loving person, has a lot of robot boyfriends and girlfriends. The latter is reflected in the show’s most recent season when she flirted with technology, specifically the Horde Robot in the episode “Launch,“and the spaceship, which she named “Darla,” in the episode “Stranded.” Whether these are examples of robosexuality, referring to love or sexuality between a robot and a humanoid person, or not, there is not question it is part of her propensity to see humanity in everything.

System Failure

Entrapta freely makes her own decisions as an “underappreciated technowizard,” some of which are reprehensible. For instance, she helped the Horde destroy much of Etheria. Although she stayed loyal to her friend, Hordak, it is incorrect to call her the “worst kind of villain” or a person who cares only about pursuing knowledge despite the consequences. Whether she is fully aware of the planetary damage she has caused, she is undoubtedly morally ambiguous, with a “cheerfully wobbly” moral compass, different than the show’s other characters.

She thinks that her calculations and data will give her the “answers,” no matter the cost. As such, it is incorrect to say she lacks the ability to self-assess her actions or embodies stereotypes. After the Princesses unintentionally stranded her in the Fright Zone, she joined the show’s villains, the Horde, leading some to declare that she is a harmful form of representation, while others claimed she believed the lies of Catra, Adora’s romantic interest. In any case, Entrapta willingly stays with the Horde and the Princesses respect this decision while disagreeing with it.

There is a deeper reason she joined the Horde. When Glimmer and Adora meet her in her debut episode, “System Failure,” fighting the murder robots she accidentally created, Glimmer sees her as a way to impress her mother and win the war against the series villains. In contrast, Glimmer’s friend, Bow, sympathizes with Entrapta, calling her a “brilliant inventor,” praise she happily accepts. Despite Glimmer’s negative vibe, she stays friendly, and offers to cut off her leg to save them from the robots.

A few episodes later, in “Princess Prom,” Entrapta geeks out, describing the prom as a “social experiment” which is the best place to observe social behavior. She pries into Glimmer’s uneasiness and becomes friendly with Catra. Later, after Adora pulls her aside, it is implied that Entrapta’s heart isn’t with the Rebellion. The forcefulness of Glimmer, Adora, Mermista, and Perfuma toward her throughout season one, may be a subconscious turn-off for Entrapta, with the Princesses not completely understanding her. While the Princesses mourn the “death” of Entrapta, unknowingly leaving her behind, they had used her for their own purposes (defeating the Horde). Catra does the same thing, using her to get back at Adora.

Finding Friends in Exile

Furthermore, Entrapta may have been unaware she defected to the Horde or cares what side she is on. In the episode “Ties That Bind,” she tentatively says she is with the Horde, telling Glimmer that she is on the side of science, but is living in the Fright Zone. Near the end of season three, considering what Adora told her, she tries to warn Hordak to not open a portal which threatens to destroy Etheria. Catra panics, electrocutes Entrapta, and tries to distance herself from her mistakes by sending Entrapta into exile onto the remote Beast Island. In the bizarre world created by the portal, Adora and her friends meet Entrapta who helps them figure out what is happening and thanks Adora for being a friend. In the following season, she is thankful that Bow, Adora, and their talking horse, save her from Beast Island, a place full of “technological monstrosities.” Although she left Beast Island for scientific discovery and data, she appreciates Bow as a friend.

Due to Entrapta’s track record with the Horde, the princesses are distrustful. This is shown in the season five episode, “Launch.” As Megan Crouse describes it in her article, Entrapta begins to clash with the other princesses, putting them in danger. When Mermista accuses her of not caring about them and being untrustworthy, she responds by not realizing the Princesses were angry with her in the first place. She retreats to apologizing, stating: “I’m not good at people, but I am good at tech. I thought maybe if I could use tech to help you, you’d like me. But I messed that up, too.” After this, Entrapta tries to get away, but Mermista pulls her back by her prehensile hair, like Horde Prime in a later episode, relenting only when convinced that Entrapta cares about Glimmer.

In the rest of the season, she works to earn the trust of the other Princesses, gaining more friends as she recognizes the reasons behind her actions and explores her feelings for others. While you could say that Entrapta does not see the full consequences of her harmful actions, she overcomes possible social isolation and helps the series protagonists save their friends (first Glimmer, then Catra) from Horde Prime’s flagship, the Velvet Glove. She also removes the mind-control chip from Catra’s neck and forgives Catra after she apologizes for her hurtful actions. In the final episode of the season, after trying to disable mind-control chips of those across Etheria, when held against her will on the Velvet Glove, she apologizes to everyone. Later, after Catra and Adora save the world with their love, she reunites with Hordak.

Entrapta Represents

In the end, Entrapta is a positive form of representation for autistic people and subverts the Entrapta from the original She-Ra series, a simple villain without a conscience.

“We wrote her that way”: Entrapta and autistic representation in She-Ra

Entrapta forgives Catra for exiling her to Beast Island at the end of Season 3, and being a jerk to her in the past, in the episode, “Taking Control”

In November of last year, I wrote about Entrapta, one of my favorite characters in the animated series, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, because she is morally gray character, a hacker, and a “smart and quirky chaotic neutral icon.” In that post, I examined her character in the first four seasons of the show, noting that she is an autistic character who makes her own decisions, acting as “a princess with prehensile hair who is [also] a scientist and inventor always trying to tinker with ancient technology. ” I also criticized some who claimed she is a “hurtful” representation of autistic people, noting that she is sweet and underappreciated, pointing out that Bow is the only one who sees her sympathetically, and that she stays in the Fright Zone by choice. I further noted that she is dedicated to science and research, sticks up for Catra when Hordak wants to send her to Beast Island, and stated that when she is rescued from Beast Island in Season 4 she “goes with them back to Bright Moon because of data and scientific discovery, not because of friendship or anything else.” I additionally made a comparison between her and  Peridot in Steven Universe, with storyboarder Maya Peterson (the same one who said Peri is asexual and aromatic, said she doesn’t interpret Peridot as autistic. I intend this post will be an update from my previous post, talking about her in the show’s final (and fifth) season, which started streaming on May 15th.  If you haven’t see the new season, please do so because this post is filled with spoilers! It is important to write about this because series creator Noelle Stevenson confirmed that Entrapta was autistic, basing her on an autistic person on the SPOP crew, a full-time storyboard artist named Sam Szymanski. [1]

Most of the commentary about the new season has focused on the mutual confession of romantic feelings by Catra and Adora, shipped as Catradora, who kiss in the show’s final episode, with their love literally saving the world (and universe) from destruction. This is the right focus, while some have noted the other LGBTQ characters confirmed like Seahawk (whose ex is named Falcon), Kyle and Rogelio, the relationship between Perfuma and Scorpia, or the romance between Bow and Glimmer, among many other topics. [2] After all, as Lindsey Mantoan, wrote in a CNN opinion, She-Ra is the “best queer representation on television.” In the process, however, little has been said about Entrapta. In fact, of many reviews I looked at, only a few even mentioned her in their analyses, despite her pivotal role in at least part of the season. [3] While one reviewer for A.V. Club (Shannon Miller) claimed that the show trades an in-depth look at Entrapta’s treatment for “heroics,” and saying there could have been “more reflection from those who have outwardly had more difficulty understanding Entrapta’s mindset, ” another, for Forbes, Linda Maleh, says the opposite. Maleh argues that Entrapta gets a lot “a lot of screen time as she learns to balance her love of machines with her desire to connect with people,” calling her entirely “adorkable,” and that her character gives viewers some of the most touching and funny moments of the show. I tend to agree with Maleh more than Miller. Similarly, I think that Heather Hogan of Autostraddle makes a valid point in saying that Wrong Hordak brought out the charming parts of Entrapta, stating that it was nice to see her understanding how to work alongside friends, express herself better, and her feelings, while the princesses “start to understand her for who she really is.” Although it is positive these reviewers noted her role in the season, there is clearly a lot more going on about Entrapta than what Miller, Maleh, or Hogan talk about.

Entrapta, who is between the ages 28 and 30, appears in every single episode of the fifth season, apart from episode 10, can be said to be the “smartest” character in the series. In the previous season,  she was rescued from Beast Island by Bow, Adora, and Swift Wind, reminded about her true friends while ancient technology continued to pull her in. In contrast, in this season, she struggles to find a place among the other princesses, as highlighted in the episode “Launch.” Since Entrapta has been a morally grey character in the past, it makes sense that the princesses are a bit distrustful. Even Emily, with her name as an obscure reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, turns away from Enttapta when it appears that she cares more about tech “than saving their friend.” After that episode, the princesses begin to understand her better. She later helps out Adora and Bow save Glimmer from Horde Prime’s flagship. Glimmer is transported through space by Catra, in her first likely selfless act. She then helps Adora, Bow, and Glimmer successfully rescue Catra from Prime’s flagship, called the Velvet Glove. She even does surgery on Catra, removing the chip in her neck. She, additionally, forgives Catra after she apologizes for treating her terribly. As a reminder, at the end of Season 3, Catra panicked when Entrapta tried to warn Hordak to not start the portal. She then orders her to be sent to Beast Island. She is shocked with what she is done (as is Scorpia by this cruel act against her), beginning her descent down a “dark, dangerous path.” Basically, Catra blamed Entrapta for her own mistakes.

In the rest of the season, Entrapta continues to help the princesses and tries to disable all the chips before being transported to Prime’s flagship. She apologizes to everyone when captured by Prime, literally the head of a cult of mindless drone soldiers. Whether Entrapta has platonic or romantic feelings for Hordak, the latter shipped as Entrapdak by one of of the show’s story editors (and some other fans), it is up the viewer. [4] As some fans noted back in March, a few months before the recent season premiered, it is clear that there is “some chemistry between her and Hordak” and some even call their relationship “sweet,” although I’m not sure I would go that far. In any case, it does mean that Hordak is more than a one-dimensional villain like in the original She-Ra: Princess of Power series in the 1980s which was used to sell action figures for Mattel. Through some searching, I did find an interview with Stevenson (complete with unfortunate spelling errors by the person who wrote the transcript of her interview responses) where she specifically talks about how Entrapta grows in this season:

I think with a character like Entrapata [sic], we sort of live in a little bit of her own version of the world that the other characters don’t always understand…It’s not only Entrapta learning how to empathize and connect with others, but also for others to learn how to empathize and connect with her. And so I think with both sides of that, we see [Entrapta] growing this season. What I think has always been [Entrapta’s] strength is that, even if she might struggle with communicating her feelings or understanding other characters when they’re communicating their feelings to her, I think her strength as a character — kind of her superpower — is that she sees humanity in everything. Not just in humanoid or organic creatures, but she sees humanity in robots. She sees humanity in the AI that drives ships. She sees humanity in one clone in a million identical clones and knows their personality and knows who they are and knows how to connect with them… I think we see her make a lot of progress on that front, but then we also see her. I think she does more than almost any other character in humanizing characters who have never been humanized before by anyone….It’s so much of what is the heart of this show. It seems like that’s what makes Etherea [sic] special in general is that everyone who comes to Etherea [sic] isn’t getting broken by it a little bit. They end up making connections and falling in love in ways they never thought were possible. And I think Entrapta really embodies that.”

Furthermore, as a morally grey character, who played a “big hand in some of the Horde-led destruction on Etheria,” she still cares about her friends. While some may question her renewal of the individuality or “humanity” of Hordak, becoming his first genuine friend, later leading him to turn against Horde Prime, she clearly had a “unique perspective on the world that not everyone understands.” Earlier in the season, when she encounters Hordak before he is freed from Prime’s control, in an attempt to access the computer control center of Horde Prime so she can disable the mind-control chips, helped by Swift Wind, she tells Hordak “remember, your imperfections are beautiful!” When the essence of Prime is destroyed by She-Ra, he is freed, and is soon reunited with Entrapta, who says that she is “so glad” to see him back.

By this point, it is clear that Entrapta is not the “worst kind of villain” as some described her and is more than a person who “only cares about the pursuit of knowledge,” no matter the consequences, as Brett Elderkin described her, also calling her a “mad scientist,” but rather just a morally grey character, or perhaps “chaotic neutral” to use a Dungeons and Dragons term. That brings me to a recent article by Megan Crouse in Den of Geek appropriately titled “She-Ra: In Defense of Entrapta.” She states that while Entrapta occasionally embraces the trope of not caring about “people who might be hurt when dangerous experiments go wrong,” she is much more than that, and dramatically changes in Season 5. Crouse added that Entrapta in Season 4 was not truly happy as a hermit on Beast Island, although she maintained her fascination with science, missing people, and afraid that “her friends will inevitably abandon her.” She then talks about the episode “Launch” where Entrapta’s conflict with the fellow princesses reaches a boiling point, putting others in danger, with her actions “extremely, comically risk,” wanting to win at no matter the cost. After Mermista accuses Entrapta of not caring about any of them, and not being trustworthy as a result, she responds by saying she didn’t realize they were angry at her. She then retreats to apologizing, one of her many defensive mechanisms, stating

I’m not good at people, but I am good at tech. I thought maybe if I could use tech to help you, you’d like me. But I messed that up, too.

As she barrels ahead, Mermista pulls her back by her hair (just as Horde Prime does later), and is finally convinced of her good nature when Entrapta declares “Glimmer needs us!,” indicating she is willing to put herself in harms away as much as anyone else. As Crouse further outlines, while Entrapta’s action is similar to what she has done in the past, as she begins to explain how and why she acts and feels the way she does, gaining more friends along the way. Even so, she still clearly has trouble reading people, which is not “magically cured throughout this season.” While Crouse says that it would “have been nice to see Entrapta really feel the consequences of her dangerous actions,” I would counter and say she did grow a lot in this season. On the other hand, I agree with Crouse that it is “sweeter to see her pursue science and friendship” than just tinkering with technology on Beast Island. While I can see why she argues that Entrapta is annoying, she makes a good point that Entrapta is not letting her “loner tendencies turn into complete isolation, but nor does she have to completely change who she is.” As a side note, Entrapta cuts her own bangs, as Stevenson said once, although this is terrifying considering her power tools! Yikes!

Now, lets get to the elephant in the room: Entrapta flirting with technology. The first time this happens is in the episode “Launch,” declaring flirtatiously: “Hello. You are very technologically advanced” before almost being blown to smithereens by the Horde robot. Then, in the episode “Stranded” she says: “Darla and I are going to spend some quality time together,” again in a flirtatious manner, leading to confused looks from Adora, Bow, and Glimmer. Now, robosexuality, a term seemingly coined and/or popularized by Futurama, means the “love and/or sexuality between a humanoid and a robot.” From these two interactions you could say that she is robosexual. Let us consider what Stevenson said about Entrapta: that she is learning to connect and empathize with others, and sees humanity in everything, knowing their personality and how to connect with them. One fan put Entrapta very well, remarking that she is a functional adult who can make full decisions, arguing that she is “chaotic good with a bad moral compass who likes to fuck space nazis,” saying she makes bad decisions. I can agree with that to an extent, except to say that it makes sense why she ended up working for the Horde, since the princesses had not really liked/understood her before that point. Another fan noted, correctly, that Entrapta (and Scorpia) but had to earn the trust of the princesses in their own ways.

That’s all! Comments are welcome.


Notes

[1] In her first tweet, she responded to a fan who asked if entrapta is autistic, saying that “many of us relate to her and love her so much and it would mean a lot if we could get confirmation of her being autistic.” She responded by saying: “yes, we wrote her that way. One of our crewmembers was on the spectrum and related to her specifically, and had a huge part in shaping her story and character!” She further explained that “the crew member was board artist @Sizzlemanski. His first episode was Entrapta’s introductory episode in season 1 [System Failure] and he had a HUGE hand not only in defining her physical acting, but also pitched me several ideas for her arc early on! He basically became our go-to for Entrapta.”

[2] As Stevenson stated on Twitter, she hopes that in the future we stop thinking about LGBT representation as a “race or a contest” and as more of a “community effort to uplift voices that have not yet had their stories told,” with each individual piece of media as a “broadening of horizons.”

[3] When Noelle Stevenson was interviewed by comicbook.com, Nerdist, Gizmodo, A.V. Club, L.A. Times, Polygon, Digital Spy, GLAAD, EW, and CBR, the interviewers understandably focused on the Catra/Adora slow-burn relationship, but never asked a question about Entrapta. One interviewer for Collider asked “…So we’ve got Bow and Glimmer, we’ve got Sea Hawk and Mermista, we’ve even got kind of an interesting relationship with Entrapta and Hordak, and then obviously CatrAdora. But did you know from the beginning how everybody was going to pair off or is that something that kind of developed over time?” but she never specifically replied about the “relationship with Entrapta and Hordak.” Reviews of the show in The Mary Sue, PinkNews, LA Times, tor.com, and ScreenRant do not even mention Entrapta at all!

[4] On Instagram, Noelle Stevenson said that Entrapta would follow Hordak to Beast Island as his community services for his crimes and as a result, the “two would develop a romantic relationship and reunite with the bot she left behind in Season 4, keeping her promise to return,” so it sounds like it is leaning toward romance, as noted in a summary on her fandom page. Also see Emily Hu who noted they did board a scene with Entrapta and Hordak but it never ended up being included. There is clearly a connection between Entrapta and Hordak, but I’m still not sure if it is romantic or friendly. It could really go either way.