The Owl House Is A Metaphor For Grief I Wasn’t Remotely Ready For
Animation should never be afraid to tackle complex issues, and it’s often a more ripe playground for furthering representation and exploring larger than life characters than live action has ever been. We admire the medium, despite the mainstream habitually discarding it as a child’s plaything incapable of maturity. It always has been, even within the very demographics so many are quick to demonise it for.
Gravity Falls, Amphibia, Final Space, Steven Universe, Voltron, Avatar the Last Airbender, and Dead End: Paranormal Park are just a few modern examples. I would be here for days breaking down all the complicated themes and layered character work found across them, but I’d recommend seeking them out for yourself and embracing animation as a worthwhile storytelling space, and not one restricted to younger audiences and flashy visuals.
This brings me to The Owl House, as the first of three finale specials airs this weekend and ushers in a final act none of us are prepared for. Thanks To Them is dark, surprising, subversive, and a stellar opening act for the revelations to come. It takes place entirely in the human realm, positioning us at the ground floor as characters confront hard truths and contend with emotions that have remained on the backburner for months.
It is far more direct than I ever expected, taking narrative arcs to places few shows are willing to breach when it comes to confronting grief as a young, queer, neurodivergent teenager unsure of her place in the world. Luz Noceda isn’t a fish out of water anymore, but she still struggles to find a place to belong. After losing her dad and pushing away her mum, having any form of self-worth is a challenge in itself. As the screen fades to black, and we are left pondering what’s to come, these demons have been banished as our heroine moves on.
For all we know, Luz escaped to the Boiling Isles and refused to go home because she didn’t fit in, and refused to attend a camp that would suppress her eccentricities and hurl them into a box. Camila thought it was for the best, but didn’t understand how much her daughter was struggling, even without the disapproval of her only remaining parent. It’s so easy to dismiss this show as magical escapism with all manner of macabre oddities and call it a day, but ever since its first season, The Owl House has been deconstructing its own characters and allowing them to mature alongside the darker themes. Its serialised narrative has allowed callbacks to pivotal moments to be a regular occurrence, emphasising the consequences of character actions and making it clear that the passage of time is always moving forward.
We can’t run away from our past or escape the consequences of the present, while a future awaits us whether we are prepared for it or not. Thanks To Them is the exploration of this conundrum we’ve been waiting for, while simultaneously daring to unearth parts of its cast none of us could have expected. Camila Noceda and her role in Luz’s current predicament is brought into focus and hits us with the emotional resonance of a shotgun blast. Flashbacks show her laughing at Luz as she tears a string of sausages out of her outfit during a school performance, or cheering her on as she introduces fellow kids on the playground to a box full of dead animals. Before we saw these moments as reasons for pushing Luz away, but now we know it only ever brought this duo closer together. An ironic tragedy, and one that is only now just being resolved.
Not once does Camila suppress this part of her daughter. She laughs alongside them, barking out in defence whenever a fellow parent throws abuse at Luz for being weird or unconventional. It doesn't matter how she behaves if she’s happy and has that support, but The Owl House has only ever shown us one side of the coin. Camila isn’t a stuffy nurse convinced her daughter needs to start being normal or risk ostracization, but someone who knows the pains of bullying and rejection, and how these things can turn you into a bitter, hateful person who wants the world to swallow them whole.
Camila is shown to be drowning beneath the pressure in a dream sequence, alluding to being overwhelmed or even a previous suicide attempt, given she overcomes her fear and dives into the swamp to save Hunter in the special’s final moments. I’m probably making too dark an assessment on the imagery, but to me, it feels like a parent who knows how deep this hole goes, and how hard it can be to escape when one becomes overwhelmed. But Luz has somewhere to escape to, even if it meant temporarily locking away her problems and facing them when the time was right. Camila wanted her to straighten up and start being a normal girl because it would stop her from being bullied, from eventually hating herself from simply being proud of the hobbies, people, and things she loves so much.
This dichotomy grows more complicated with the loss of Manny Noceda – Luz’s father. The Nocedas moved across the country to accommodate his cancer treatment, and his eventual death tore the family apart. In his absence, he left behind a lifeline for Luz, a book she would cling onto and make her entire being. Good Witch Azura was that saving grace, a series of queer magical stories that would ignite Luz’s passion for witchcraft, sapphic romance, and a reason to be herself in spite of riticule. Grief allowed her to accept who she wanted to be, and live on in spite of her father’s death to make him proud. Camila sees so much of her husband in Luz, and it breaks her heart to tear that away in the hopes of protecting her.
Thanks To Them is a story of familial acceptance, of this mother and daughter coming to accept their flaws and the presence of grief that is still digging away at them. Losing someone is hard, and often impossible to overcome, and now we know that acting out and escaping to the Boiling Isles was an indirect symptom of dealing with it all. Camila was worried she drove away the one person in the world who mattered to her, all because she failed to be a good mother in the absence of a father who once brought out the best in their daughter. Staying together in the face of loss is very difficult, and to see Luz and Camila reconcile their differences and be stronger than ever in spite of it all is so heartwarming, even if the minute struggles lingering beneath the surface are still waiting to be addressed.
You don’t give up on people, or ever convince them that being who they want to be is a cause for concern. In a series of vlogs towards the episode’s climax we see Luz grow from a timid young girl overwhelmed by grief to a spunky teenager with a passion for fanfiction and anime. He isn’t around to see her grow up, but I’m sure Luz has become the exact person Manny wanted her to be.
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