I can not deny that as a young girl, I thoroughly enjoyed dancing in my living room to The Winx Club on my weekends and pretending I was a fairy in a candy-colored world where friendship, kindness, and fairy magic was all I needed. So, when I realized that a show called Fate: The Winx Saga was coming to Netflix and a live-action interpretation of the series, I was cautiously excited. But that excitement quickly melted into disappointment as I watched the trailer and then it solidified into a mild rage by the time I finished the six-episode first season of this abomination.
Created by Brian Young, a former writer and story editor for The Vampire Diaries, Winx Saga takes the light, friendly, effervescence of an animated fairy show and turns it grungey, angsty, and melodramatic. Of course, with a writing staff from The Vampire Diaries, the vibe of Winx Saga becomes pretty clear. Love triangles, teenage insecurity, and predictable plot twists are laid on thick, and it is hard to spot anything of the original source material beyond the concept of there being fairies.
Warning, I will be discussing the full season of spoilers for this show, so proceed with caution!
Winx Saga tells the story of Bloom (Abigail Cowen) a 16-year-old fire fairy, who was raised as a human in California, but has recently arrived at Alfea, a magical school for fairies and… non-fairies as well. Also, although they are called fairies, no one has wings. At Alfea, she meets her suitemates Stella (Hannah van der Westhuysen), Aisha (Precious Mustapha), Terra (Eliot Salt), and Musa (Elisha Applebaum). Also at the school are Sky (Danny Griffin) and Riven (Freddie Thorp), two “specialists” who are simply human guys who train in martial combat every day.
The animated series often featured the main six fairies and sometimes their corresponding male love interests/specialists, so when I realized that we were only meeting Sky and Riven, my first hope was that perhaps some of the main characters were going to be queer. Well, you’ll learn by the end of this article why that was a stupid thing to wish.
Love Triangles are F-Tier
Bloom is almost immediately mired in a love triangle within seconds of stepping onto Alfea’s campus. She meets the blandly attractive Sky, who is the ex-boyfriend of Stella, Bloom’s suitemate. Sky and Stella broke up last year after Stella lost control of her magic and accidentally blinded her best friend Rickie (Stella is a light fairy). The rest of the school thinks that Stella caught Rickie messing around with Sky and blinded her on purpose. The lie is perpetuated because Stella’s horrible queen mother (played by Kate Fleetwood, remembered by me only as the awful factory worker who pushed for Fantine to be sacked in Les Mis) wants to keep up the appearance of royal strength. Stella was emotionally abused by her mother when she was teaching her how to use magic and as a result, Stella’s magic has become unpredictable and she’s at Alfea to learn how to control her magic so that something like the Rickie incident doesn’t happen again.
This is all to say that, Sky takes Stella back because he knows the truth and he knows that even though Stella appears bitchy and acts like a mean girl, she is not actually the type of person who would blind someone on purpose. But, even though he’s ready to start anew with Stella, he spends the majority of his time with Bloom. During an episode where the queen visits and Stella asks Sky to stay by her side to support her, he spends the entire episode following Bloom around, flirting with her, and ignoring Stella’s calls. It’s hard to really justify anything Sky does. He is simply just a shitty boyfriend and Stella deserves better.
When he breaks up with her and she acknowledges that they were toxic and codependent (very little evidence to support this, but okay) I’m happy that Stella has finally cut the cord from the trash Sky. He can continue on his relationship with Bloom, the girl who drugged him and left him for dead, they deserve one another. Honestly I’m sad that they didn’t introduce Brandon, Sky’s bodyguard in the animated show. He’s Stella’s boyfriend and eventual fiancé in the show and, honestly, they are one of the best couples of the show. But, of course, we need a bitchy female character, so Stella gets saddled as the third prong in an exhausting love triangle.
Girl Power! (Not Really)
What The Winx Club is: a story about a group of best friends who face challenges within a magical world and overcome them together. What Fate: The Winx Saga is: a story about heterosexual romances in a magical world. Am I exaggerating? No. Instead of banding the main female characters together and keeping the majority of their interactions with one another, the show wastes so much time on their little romances. Bloom’s story heavily features Bloom on her own or with Sky. The characters are all broken up into their own storylines and rarely seen together. By the time it’s necessary for them to work together, they haven’t spent any time as a group.
A shining example of the lack of actual girl power is in Bloom’s character. An obvious Mary Sue, she only cares about herself, but we are meant to sympathize and be on her side. However, she never once demonstrates selflessness or asks about other people’s feelings. When her “friends” are bullied or suffering through their own problems, she will literally turn the topic back to talk about her issues instead. She is insufferable, self-obsessed, and manipulative. After alienating her roommate Aisha, never even trying to get along with Stella (romantic rivals aren’t supposed to have heart-to-heart moments, duh!), and spending maybe 20 minutes at lunch with Musa and Terra, I’m supposed to believe these girls would rush to Bloom’s side? Let her go! You’ll all live longer as a result.
The show has a disgusting habit of pitting female characters against one another. Musa hates Terra because she… feels too much? Musa is an empath fairy who rejects her powers, but only when it comes to her roommate. She had to live through her mother’s death, and I supposed, as a result, that means she must reject Terra’s overwhelming feelings of insecurity. The two things are connected! Not really. None of her past is explained until the final episode, so Musa’s emo teen schtick is exhausting after ten minutes. We are subjected to about three episodes worth of Musa and her noise-canceling headphones.
But then the show pivots! Instead of pairing her with Riven (as she is in the animated show) she inexplicably falls for Sam, Terra’s brother, in a clear move to cause friction between Terra and Musa. It’s a sweet romance but also incredibly boring and in a show that thrives on melodrama, they’re doomed. Anyway, Musa assumes that because Terra is soooo insecure about herself, she will hate her if she finds out she is dating her brother. At one point, she tells Sam, “Terra has a lot of feelings and when they’re negative, they’re not exactly comfortable.” Musa, are any negative emotions ever comfortable? But plot twist, Terra is actually just a nice person who has never exhibited anything but kindness to her suitemates, and the thought of her roommate dating her brother is good news. Yay for manufactured drama!
Adults are not exempt from this problem either. There is not a single friendship amongst the older female characters. Headmistress Dowling (Eve Best) is only friends with her male co-workers P.E. teacher Saul Silva (Robert James-Collier — Thomas!! from Downton Abbey) and plant teacher/gardener Ben Harvey (Alex Macqueen). She’s got an antagonistic relationship with Stella’s mom, Queen Luna, and has imprisoned Rosalind (Lesley Sharp), her mentor and the main villain of the season. As the only good adult female character, at the very least, her relationship with Bloom was nice. She was a competent character. Of course, that means she must die. So, now we only have evil adult women to pit against the young female protagonists.
I’ve already discussed Stella and Bloom being pit against one another for Sky’s affections. But, hey! How about Bloom against Aisha? Aisha is Bloom’s roommate and she immediately warms to her, befriending her and saving her life in the first episode. But guess what? Nothing gold can stay, so Aisha develops her own insecurity (she’s too “in control” of her magic…) and there is some manufactured conflict between them culminating in a reconciliation where Aisha is forced to comfort Bloom and Bloom ignores the problems that Aisha is facing.
This is one of those moments in the show that really made me hate Bloom as a character. She abandons her friend at a party, choosing instead to flirt with a guy with a girlfriend. She ignores her friend’s frustrations, drowning out and ignoring Aisha’s personal problems with her perpetual, “Me, me me.” And when Aisha tells her to shut up, she starts crying about how she’ll never find her “real family” and tearfully yelling, “I have to believe there’s something more!”
The Gross Adoption Rhetoric
Who is this “real family” you may ask? Well, in my eyes, her real family is the mother and father who raised her for 16 years, who she almost killed with her uncontrolled rage-fire. But in Bloom’s eyes, that family is a fairy family somewhere out in the magical fairy world. This show has a gross rhetoric when it comes to adoption stories. I would be shocked to hear if any of the members of the writer’s room are adopted because Bloom drops the phrase “my real family” so many times in this show, without thinking about the fact that she does have a real family, that actually care about her. In fact, when she finds out she’s a changeling, she starts ignoring her parents’ calls and is dogged in her pursuit of finding her “real family”.
Yes, it is totally reasonable for someone who finds out they are adopted to want to know their biological parents. But the way Bloom seems to put this before everything, including the safety of everyone at her school, is another strike against Bloom. Honestly, if the “Fate” in the title of this show was actually in reference to Bloom’s fate as the supervillain of this universe, I’d probably enjoy this show a lot more. But, no, Bloom is supposed to be our daring protagonist. I’m supposed to be on her side, even when she makes stupid decisions, I’m supposed to know why she’s doing it and advocate for her.
Except, I just feel bad for everyone associated with her. I feel bad for her parents, who love their daughter, even though she nearly burned their house down after a petty argument. They’ve agreed to let her go off to what they think is a Swiss boarding school and call her every day to catch up with her. They’re supportive parents (admittedly sometimes with questionable parenting techniques). I can’t help but imagine that they would be heartbroken to hear Bloom go on and on about finding her “real parents.”
Insecurities, with a Captial I
Although it is pretty much a given that a show with teenagers will come with characters who have massive insecurities, I don’t think I can think of many shows that approach it with so little nuance. Bloom is the obvious first victim of this problem. She’s strong-willed, but when it comes her identity as a fairy, she isn’t content just to be a fairy. Stella (and like fourteen other people) out to the school that she’s a changeling, and Bloom is immediately terrified of being seen as a monster.
Except, before being outed, she was already an outsider. She was the only person from our regular world at the school. And after finding out her identity, she becomes obsessed with finding out if she’s special or not. Yes, special beyond having fire powers and being a literal fairy.
Then, there’s Terra. Oh, Terra. On paper, she is one of the more enjoyable characters. But she suffers from crippling insecurity. She is fat-shamed by multiple characters (including her suitemates) and gets slotted into the Sad Fat Girl trope. This is an uninspired trope and instead of having Terra grow and move toward a body-positive mindset, she is trapped within her trope. Even her friends can’t stand her insecurity, especially not Musa. They’re callous and instead of supporting her, they push her to the sidelines or ignore her.
She also gets saddled with the awful trope of “Sad fat girl who falls for a gay man because he’s nice to her and ultimately has her heart broken because he’s gay and not attracted to her.” This is obviously a little muddled because Dane (Theo Graham) is likely bisexual, but he still is not attracted to Terra. We’re forced to watch Terra’s heart get broken when Beatrix (Sadie Soverall) records Dane fat-shaming and humiliating Terra on Instagram. I will not hear any good words about how Beatrix calls out problematic comments, she knew what she was doing. This is made worse when you think about the fact that she has probably faced this type of humiliation before when Riven decided to go from soft plant boy to asshole and also decided to stop being friends with Terra.
Of course, as the only queer character, Dane has also been done dirty. He goes from an awkward and sweet first year who becomes fast friends with Terra into a weed-smoking, arrogant bully. He is constantly prodded with questions about his sexuality by Riven, who is a raging bigot. He is manipulated by Beatrix, who sees that he is vulnerable and uses that to get him on her side. He petulantly says, “[Beatrix is] the only person here who ever made me feel like being different was a good thing,” despite spending two episodes with the completely accepting Terra before he meets Beatrix. He ends up hating Terra for cutting him out after “one bad thing,” but fails to acknowledge that he barely apologized and publicly humiliated her for something that he knew she was already insecure about. He ends up with no true storyline, just an obsessive dedication to Beatrix.
Musa, who might come off as the chillest member of the suitemate group, is inconsistently insecure, specifically when it comes to her powers. She’s insecure when the writers deem it is most dramatic for her to be unsure about her powers. I found myself wishing that an empath could be a little more emotionally mature, but instead of growing because you have the power to empathize with other people, Musa decides to shut other people out. This is sort of attributed to the trauma of losing her mother, but that backstory reads like an eleventh-hour addition that adds a bit more of that melodrama the writers love so much.
Quite frankly, the only character’s insecurities that make any sense is Stella’s because of her relationship with her mom, but I’ve discussed this above so let’s move on.
The Aisha Problem
But then what about Aisha, you ask? Well, she has her own section. For The Vampire Diaries viewers, you’ll know The Aisha Problem also as The Bonnie Problem. Yes, Aisha is not just burdened with insecurities. She’s the character who has been forced to become the Black friend who exists only to help the protagonist. They’re not subtle about it.
When we first meet Aisha, she is defined by her determination, her athleticism, and her confidence. She exists to pull Bloom out of her shell and rarely has moments in the first half of the season when she isn’t talking to or about Bloom. At one point, someone literally asks her why a friendship with Bloom is so important and I have the same question. Who would want to befriend someone like Bloom?
After Aisha saves Bloom’s life in the pilot with her power to control water, she quickly saddled with a non-problem. She is “too controlled” when it comes to her magic. This makes absolutely no sense, but it’s put there to make you think Aisha is getting some development. Except, she isn’t. She never really resolves this weak plot point. Her issues are pushed aside. Bloom can’t wait to change the subject so they can talk about her problems and she can cry over her family instead. We never even learn about Aisha’s family. We learn about every other girl’s family except Aisha’s.
When the headmistress’s assistant dies, Aisha takes a temp job on top of her school work helping the headmistress. But, she is only there to help Bloom, no other reason. Even when she’s trying to save Bloom from herself, Bloom calls her Dowling’s little helper, to which Aisha replies, “I am not Dowling’s little helper. I’ve been spying on the woman for days, for you!” This comes as much surprise to us as it does to Terra, who immediately says, “What?!” incredulously.
Aisha never gets a love interest, not even an inkling of romantic tension. Her feelings are never taken into account even in scenes when they should be. When the girls ban together to unleash Rosalind, Aisha is the only one who doesn’t go with them. And when Bloom hears this, her response isn’t to go to the first friend she made at Alfea to try to hear her out. Aisha saved your life, Bloom. Instead, she shrugs and smiles and replies, “I guess, that’s as good as I could ask for!”
Then her friends call her a snitch when Bloom’s selfishness nearly kills the entire school population (I am not exaggerating, the entire school could have died) and Aisha realized that it was time to inform the adults that the girls planned to release a terrorist to the public. Aisha is competent and smart and she is punished for it. Sure, she eventually ends up back in the girl group because she has to be, but this friendship doesn’t make sense in the first place. As the only woman of color in the group (the writers conveniently erased the East Asian and Latina characters from The Winx Club) Aisha gets a downgraded storyline and serves a singularly utilitarian purpose. She exists to further Bloom’s story. She deserves better, far better than this trash show.
Plot Twist! You Probably Saw This Coming
I love a good plot twist. I love it when you never see it coming, but upon re-examination, the clues were all there. I love being given pieces to a puzzle, where the writers trust that I will be an intelligent viewer and put them together without heavy-handed hints dropping left and right.
So, because I love all of these things, I hated the plot twists of Winx Saga. Among the kids, plots consist of endless he said, she said. But, because most of the characters are coded “good guy” and “bad guy”, it’s pretty easy to figure out who is telling the truth and who has changed the perception of their words.
And then there’s the big Rosalind elephant in the room. Of course, this incredibly important character that is mentioned with gravitas isn’t dead. We are repeatedly told by Dowling, her protegée and someone who knew her very well, that Rosalind is manipulative and evil and self-serving. So this makes it impossible to be on Bloom or Beatrix’s side when they’re talking about how heroic Rosalind was and how she grew a conscience after massacring a village.
The war crime that Beatrix accuses the teachers of taking part in was a mission that Rosalind lead. So it goes from a war crime, to a justified massacre when we find out that the village was full of blood witches! Except Rosalind is definitely evil and so is Andreas (Ken Duken), the hot dad we thought was dead but really has been alive for the last sixteen years and been in hiding for… some inexplicable reason. So, I’m sure it will flip flop a few more times between being a heinous war crime and a necessary evil.
I hate twists that are only twists because you don’t know the full story and the show refuses to give you any breadcrumbs because they want to save the shock for the reveal. Of course, this somehow also makes the show super predictable. They mention the dead hero Andreas every chance they get. So, this must mean he’s alive and he is a villain. Beatrix keeps trying to make us think Rosalind is a good guy. This must mean she’s actually the big bad.
There’s even a moment when Bloom comes to the very obvious conclusion that everyone must be doing things that they think are right. This is supposed to played like a big “revelation” but isn’t this obvious? No one actively makes the wrong choice with all of their conviction. Zealots believe they’re doing the right thing all the time. That doesn’t mean that it is actually the moral and ethical thing. This moment isn’t supposed to show how immature Bloom is, but it does. It also does no favors for my opinion of the writers’ room.
I’ve covered the main points, but there is still so much overtly wrong with this show that I’ve simply had to make it into a list. Winx Saga is a trope machine. If you plugged in these tropes into a bot and had it write you a story about girls in a magical fairy world, I’m almost positive you’d get The Winx Saga pilot script. This is the show that doesn’t turn away from overused archetypes and tropes, it double and triples down on them. Here are just the ones I saw in my watchthrough.
- Troubled “ordinary” protagonist is super interesting to everyone who meets her for the very first time and is secretly very special and The Chosen One.
- Female protagonist in a magical show is a redhead. (Not entirely Winx Saga‘s fault, Bloom is a redhead in the animated show too.)
- Black best friend with no purpose other than to be the best friend, emotional support, and moral compass for the main character.
- Bitchy blonde girl who is jealous of the female protagonist for no obvious reason and her meanness exists to fuel a love triangle where she is the loser.
- Moody emo girl who warms up to a soft and sweet boy.
- Shady student who asks too many questions and is obviously a spy, but no one catches her because then the plot would dissolve.
- Girl having a secret relationship with her friend’s brother keeps it from her because somehow it will hurt her friend’s feelings.
- Bigot bad boy who is set up to have a redemption arc complete with a sad backstory.
- Fat girl who is insecure about her body and covers it up with exuberant friendliness (even if people are mean to her) and a lack of a gaydar.
- Girl who is mean-but-woke, so she can do a lot of evil but hey she pointed out some problematic shit so she is giffable and quotable.
- Girl who is Not Like Other Girls. (This one goes to both Bloom and Beatrix, so I guess they’re like one another!)
- Kids who feel like parents do not get to keep any secrets from them because they are Adults Now! at the age of 16 and demand answers immediately and at inopportune times.
- Magical people are all British. All of them.
- Dark angsty teen show must have a lot of cursing and mentions of sex and drugs.
- The couple where one is ordered to spy on another to manufacture angst. (This plot lasts for 15 seconds.)
The List Continues
And after all of these problems, there are still more. Again, I can’t emphasize how awful this show is other than to list out the things that stuck out to me the most with just a cursory glance.
- The dialogue is bad. It is cringey and written by people who are out of touch with actual teenagers.
- There is barely any queer or people of color representation. And when there is, it is handled poorly.
- Egregious overacting, unfortunately coming from Cowen and Soverall.
- Only three teachers seem to exist in the school, and only one teaches magic.
- There is a confusing gender divide, the specialists are mostly male and the fairies are mostly female. This is obviously to offset the more overt binary from the animated show. There was an attempt, but like everything with this show, they just didn’t try hard enough.
- The costuming and makeup are horrendous. The party episode has everyone with eye makeup from a child’s birthday party. The “armor” specialists wear is merely a waffle knit sweatshirt and some pleather straps.
- Alfea: a school for students. Also, Alfea: a prison for a terrorist.
- For some reason, Flora, Terra’s original counterpart from the animated show, exists as Terra’s cousin. I assume the renaming was because Flora might be confused with Bloom?
- Oh right, also the fact that Terra is supposed to be Latina and Musa is supposed to be East Asian. I didn’t forget that. I still hate it. No explanation for whitewashing, but then again, there never is.
- The Burned Ones are a big issue… except Bloom took out like six of them within a minute. So, they’re not really a big issue.
- Truly heinous editing in Episode 5 during Stella’s chat with Musa about what happened to her at home. This occurs around the -24:44 minute mark.
- The absurd moment when Noura, one of the specialists, dies and manages to face time her boss and also vlog her death so that we can further the plot. I genuinely cracked up in this scene, so I guess this show has unintentionally brought me some joy.
- Time has no meaning. Have they been in school for a month? A whole semester?
- I personally can not wait for a Reylo moment where someone tells Bloom that her parents were nothing and nobodies who sold her for drinking money. I know I’ll never get it. But I want this.
- The CGI fire is bad.
So after six hours of viewing and four thousand words, I think I have made it clear what I hate so much about this show. You might ask, Therese, why did you waste all this time talking about something you hate? Firstly, because someone needs to. Someone needs to call out these very obvious and egregious issues. There was potential for Winx Saga. Potential for it not to end up looking like another Riverdale or Sabrina. Potential for this show to embrace its cheesy, colorful, and fun origins. They could have embraced darkness by adding the school of witches connected to Alfea, but instead, they wrote them out. The potential was squandered.
I didn’t think I was going to get the world with this series, I just didn’t think it would fail me this hard. There is a moment when the girl group hugs after the hardship of the battle where I felt absolutely nothing. I am an emotional person, but I found myself wondering why would this group of people be friends? Why would they go home with this person who is so crazy, bratty, and myopic?
Normally, I’d say it’s because they have a strong bond of friendship that overcomes all. But there is no friendship. The writers have their priorities in the wrong place. It ends up being just another teen show that failed so miserably it’s only worth a hate-watch. But, I can’t even recommend that because I’d rather Netflix use their money to produce a decent show than waste another penny on this mess.