Episode 110 – The Problem with Power

In which King Randor reveals that he thinks Skeletor is subtle.

This magnum opus begins at Snake Mountain, where General Tataran (last seen in the Star Trek rip-off The Arena) has popped by in response to Skeletor’s invitation. Skeletor has a cunning plan to defeat He-Man, which requires the presence of Tataran because as a goblin, he literally doesn’t have a heart – and thus, he doesn’t have a heartbeat. This seems very important to Skeletor, who declares that with this advantage, he can arrange for He-Man to defeat himself.

Problem 1
Skeletor: “Whassat, pal? Startin’ trouble?”

Shortly thereafter, word reaches the Palace that Skeletor has enslaved a village by the Crystal Sea and is forcing the inhabitants to build a giant construction. King Randor is worried, claiming that “it’s not like Skeletor to be so obvious in his actions.” Who the hell are you kidding, Randor? Skeletor is the very definition of obvious. His picture is next to the word ‘obvious’ in the OED. Despite his new-found and demented belief in Skeletor’s grasp of subtleties, Randor sends Adam, Man-at-Arms and Orko to investigate.

Arriving to find that Skeletor’s new structure is an enormous dimensional gate, Adam notices that one of the support beams looks weak, and opts to transform into He-Man – presumably in order to offer his services to Skeletor as a skilled construction worker. While He-Man is transforming, Skeletor occupies himself in disguising General Tataran as a human worker, equipping him with a forcefield to protect him from harm, and instructing him to stand near the weak support beam.

Problem 2
Skeletor: “Oh, is that the time? Got to dash, I’m late for my lunch date with Evil-Lyn.”

He-Man approaches Skeletor and trades the usual pleasantries, until Skeletor shoots at Orko, thus provoking He-Man into attacking. Skeletor dodges round the weak support, dishing out taunts mercilessly until He-Man punches the support beam in frustration. The disguised Tataran activates his protective forcefield and allows himself to be crushed by a huge falling rock.

He-Man unearths Tataran and checks for a heartbeat, but of course cannot find one, and concludes that he is dead. Skeletor – now disguised as another villager – claims that Tataran was his brother, and denounces He-Man as an irresponsible killer. The rest of the villagers join in, and turn their backs on He-Man, who walks sadly away.

Problem 3
He-Man: “This situation is actually a bit more serious than a facepalm, but there we go.”

Orko tries to persuade He-Man that it was an accident and that such things happen. He-Man, however, is utterly devastated: he believes that because he acted unthinkingly, a man has died. This is a violation of a promise he made when he first became He-Man: to do the right thing and to protect the innocent. He sends Orko away, and mooches off to Castle Grayskull, where he stands on the topmost tower and concludes that, having broken his promise, he is unworthy of wielding his power. He draws the power sword, turns back into Prince Adam, and drops the sword into the abyss surrounding the castle.

Problem 4
He-Man: “Every other piece of work about this episode includes this picture, so who am I to argue with tradition?”

Some time goes by – exactly how much is unclear – and word reaches the Palace that Skeletor has rebuilt the dimensional gate, big enough to bring an army of goblins through. Randor suggests calling on He-Man for help, but Man-at-Arms explains that He-Man is not available. An all-out assault by the Palace Guard is ruled out, in favour of Teela going on a stealth suicide mission with a mesotronic bomb to destroy the gate. As he watches his friend go, Adam realises the full ramifications of his rejection of He-Man’s power.

Meanwhile, Orko has discovered the truth about Skeletor’s deception, but on his way to inform He-Man, he is captured and taken to Snake Mountain. Finally escaping, he returns to the Palace and tells Adam. Adam flies straight to Grayskull, retrieves the sword from the abyss, makes his transformation and finds time for a barney with a giant spider. He then heads to the dimensional gate, arriving just in time to save Teela from the mesotronic bomb blast, and then carry her off into the sunset.

Problem 5
He-Man: “I have definitely earned this dramatic end of the episode.”

 

In today’s adventure…

Man-at-Arms thinks that the most relevant take-home from today’s adventure is that we should always wear a seatbelt when we’re in a car, and we should never play with matches because we might destroy our toys, our home, our family and ourselves. Really and truly? After this downright excellent episode teaching us the importance of using power responsibly, the writers felt that wittering on about seatbelts and matches was the point to hammer in? I despair sometimes.

 

Character checklist

The stars of today’s outing are Prince Adam, He-Man, Man-at-Arms, Teela, Orko, the Sorceress, King Randor, Queen Marlena, Skeletor, General Tataran, Trapjaw, some other goblins, a load of villagers, and a giant spider.

Problem 6
Trapjaw: “Hey, Skeletor, check this guy’s funky dance moves.”

 

Excuse given for Prince Adam’s disappearance

On the first occasion, Adam evidently feels that because only Man-at-Arms and Orko are in immediate proximity to him, he doesn’t need to offer an excuse. He seems to be overlooking the fact that he makes his transformation while standing on a ridge in full view of the entire village and – more importantly – Skeletor. Even so, he gets away with it.

On the second occasion, Adam is alone in the abyss with the giant spider, so I think we’ll forgive him for not offering an excuse in this scenario.

 

Insults

Not only is this a fantastic episode for its story and its message, it’s also brilliant if you hate Orko’s guts and want to see Skeletor ripping him to shreds with such cutting remarks as “little vermin”, “worthless wizard” and “foolish Orko”. He also finds time to call He-Man a “fool”, all the goblins “cowards”, and sneeringly address Man-at-Arms as “tin-hat”, while positioning his clawed blue hand in the campest possible pose.

Despite only appearing in one scene, Trapjaw manages to antagonise General Tataran to the extent that he is addressed as a “walking can-opener” and described as “not too bright”. Skeletor himself is the recipient of a number of unkind comments, including “evil creep” from Orko and the slightly odder “evil face” from Teela. Orko also says that Skeletor is “silly-looking”. Advice to cartoon producers: it’s best not to draw attention to this sort of thing.

Problem 7
Skeletor: “Silly-looking? Takes one to know one, Orko.”

 

Does it have the Power?

I’m not sure if it’s possible to be intimidated by a He-Man episode, especially if you’re 34 years old and reasonably sane, as I consider myself to be. Nonetheless, if such intimidation were possible, it’s definitely how I felt as I approached this episode. It has a staggeringly high regard among the dedicated fans of the show, and if that weren’t enough, it’s the only episode of the original Filmation He-Man series that I’d never seen before. High stakes indeed.

I’m happy to report that it’s absolutely superb, aside from the very minor quibble about the completely off-topic moral. This is the sort of story that could only be produced in the 80s, with a hero who is so completely heroic. Most fictional characters now have greater shades of grey, and heroes have dark sides. A modern day He-Man would probably have considered Tataran’s death to be an acceptable loss; he’d have felt bad, but wouldn’t have been so completely destroyed as He-Man is in this episode. It’s interesting that a story with such a moral quandary actually only works with a hero who is so black-and-white.

Problem 8
Prince Adam: “This is more of a double-facepalm situation. That seems about proportionate.”

So here we have He-Man being provoked into angry destructive rage, and – to all intents and purposes – killing someone. (The fact that he actually didn’t is, I think, immaterial – it’s eminently plausible that he could have, and in fact, apparently early versions of the script specified that he did.) Was He-Man’s response proportionate? He considers himself a failure for having caused one death – but in rejecting his powers, he was likely to cause many more. It’s actually a He-Man episode for which you can debate morality, and presents the conundrum remarkably well.

I genuinely wonder what I would have thought of this if I’d seen it as a child. As an adult, all I can say is that this has to be the best episode of He-Man ever produced. Incredible stuff.

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6 thoughts on “Episode 110 – The Problem with Power

  1. A fantastic review owen and yes its an absolute instant fav of mine the best of the best hell the number one he man episode! Eatocks review of this is spot on too when he says that this is bigger than the series itself, it really is, episodes like teelas quest, into the abyss, the rainbow warrior are amazing even classics like evilseed, the dragons gift and the search for example all classics and comfortably sit in my top 10/20 best he man episodes but the problem with power is on another level a level all on its own, I think some for the sake of it like to be contrary but this really is the greatest he man episode of all time and by far imo none of the others come even close to this unbelievable story! Your review owen is spot on as you touch on many great points, as you say maybe on another cartoon this terrible mistake (he man believing hes accidently killed someone) wouldn’t be such a crime but its been built up over the entire series he mans qualities and his morales your right he is disgusted with himself, when he relinguishes the power and throws the sword down the abyss its the series most soul crushing moment, thanks too bob forward who wrote this episode he made it all work it is a master piece from start to finish (minus the end morale agree about safety) but of course it doesn’t matter, a clever trick from skeletor using a goblin as well as they don’t have hearts probably skeletors most evil and vindictive plot ever, I really think it was so much better the way this episode tured out ie he didn’t actually kill anyone as this fits in again with filmations limitations and he mans morales, hope you appreciate some of my comments owen the ending is another thing as well he man carrying teela off into the sunset a perfect ending to a perfect episode, my last thought owen that I think deserves a mention is the two voice actors for he man and teela john Erwin and linda gary they were both amazing and at there very best, 10/10 as if it didn’t need saying! the greatest he man episode of all time if you are only going to watch one he man episode this is the one takecare..

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    1. That’s true John, I often don’t appreciate the voice acting – I kind of don’t notice it unless it’s really bad. But yep, John Erwin and Linda Gary completely sell it this week!

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    2. One minor criticism of the episode. It’s probably not Adam’s place to throw the sword away, rather than returning it to Grayskull. The power of He-Man is basically a loan from the Sorceress and she might have wanted to recruit someone else to be He-Man.

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  2. Quite interesting, that in this episode BOTH Skeletor and Orko became much more competent and capable than in most of second season. Skeletor plot was fairly elegant and actually well thought-out – MUCH better than his usual dumb ideas of most of the 2nd season. Orko also became much more reasonable and useful and much LESS annoying.

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  3. I agree with dilandu’s comment skeletor was much more competent and evil in this episode he was much more like the season one skeletor, as for orko I liked his reaction to he mans mistake saying to man at arms “you go he man needs me” !! Orko was more annoying in season two imo than the first season but here he was surprisingly mature and very understanding towards he man showing much sympathy. I think it’s nice they gave orko this dialogue rather than written to be just funny or annoying (depending on your feelings towards orko) made a nice change reminded me of teelas quest when he showed genuine concern for teela when she decided to go off on her dangerous mission to the crystal sea. Anyway a personal fav if mine the problem with power, bob forward also wrote the classic episode the rainbow warrior but this one for me was on another level to all the other episodes imo.

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