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.

Episode 081 – The Arena

In which He-Man channels his inner Captain Kirk.

Responding to a distress call from Cestus III, Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise find the colony under attack by an alien race known as the Gorn. When the Enterprise pursues the Gorn’s ship into uncharted space, an advanced race called the Metrons intervene, decreeing that Kirk and the Gorn captain must decide the conflict by battling it out between themselves on a deserted planetoid. Kirk defeats the Gorn, but refuses to kill him, demonstrating the quality of mercy. Oh wait, sorry, that’s the Star Trek episode with the same name and exactly the same plot. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say, and I’m sure Paramount’s lawyers agreed.

Anyway, in the He-Man version, Man-at-Arms summons King Randor and Prince Adam to his lab, and explains that he has made contact with an alien being. Randor says, “Oh Christ, he’s been at the absinthe again,” but it turns out that on this occasion Man-at-Arms is telling the truth. On his viewscreen, he introduces Orm, a glowing ball of light, who is a member of a race that has evolved beyond the need for a physical body.

Arena 1
Man-at-Arms: “Jesus, Adam, I know King Randor looks a bit bozz-eyed, but you don’t have to get quite so pissed off about it.”

Orm states that it is exploring the galaxy for other intelligent life, and – perhaps misinterpreting the intellectual capacity of King Randor – expresses a desire to come to Eternia. Randor gladly grants this request, and Man-at-Arms prepares a landing site. Adam takes a moment to transform into He-Man, just in case Orm isn’t as peaceful as he claims.

Meanwhile, a goblin called General Tataran offers Skeletor the services of his army for the conquest of Eternia. Skeletor is taken with the notion and offers Tataran a large payment for the use of the army. When they arrive at the Palace, they do not even appear to notice Orm, who is – if I must I remind you – an enormous ball of light much larger than the Palace itself.

In a rather odd animation choice, Teela, He-Man and Man-at-Arms decide that the best response to Skeletor and Tataran’s attack is to climb, Gollum-like, straight up a wall, from the top of which they survey the assembled goblin troops and siege engines, as well as the dinosaurs that Tataran has randomly brought along. As Orm watches, a pitched battle begins between the Eternians and Tataran’s army.

Arena 2
He-Man: “Erm, slow down a bit there, Man-at-Arms.”

Suddenly Orm intervenes. Proclaiming that the battle will cause too much waste and needless suffering, it decides that the conflict will be resolved by a fight between one warrior from each side. Ominously, it also states that it will determine the fate of the loser. On the other hand, it selects He-Man and Skeletor as the champions, so the whole thing ought to be over pretty smartish.

A good portion of the remainder of the episode is devoted to Skeletor conjuring up a variety of stupid creatures to attack He-Man, including an evil tree, a snake, a giant spider, and a walking puddle of something that looks like melted candy floss. Needless to say, He-Man is not defeated by any of these efforts, and eventually the giant spider turns on Skeletor instead.

Arena 3
Skeletor: “There is no way I could have seen this coming.”

He-Man saves Skeletor from the spider and yammers on about the sanctity of life, an act of mercy that favourably impresses Orm. It sends Skeletor and his army back to Snake Mountain after erasing their memories of the evening’s events, then congratulates the Eternians on having love in their hearts, and flies off back into space.

 

In today’s adventure…

Man-at-Arms embarks on a confused monologue explaining that today’s conflict was resolved by a single act of compassion, that fighting is often not the right way to solve problems, and that sometimes it’s more courageous not to fight. He doesn’t explain when this is more courageous, or when fighting is the right way to solve problems. However, he does give us a dictionary definition of compassion, so he hasn’t completely wasted his time.

 

Character checklist

It’s very goody-heavy, this one. We get Prince Adam, He-Man, Man-at-Arms, Teela, Orko, King Randor, Queen Marlena, Stratos, Ram-Man, Orm, and lots of nameless extras. On the evil side of things, it’s only really Skeletor, General Tataran and the billions of goblins.

Arena 4
Man-at-Arms: “The great thing about going to Muse gigs is they really put on a good light show.”

 

Excuse given for Prince Adam’s disappearance

As with Disappearing Dragons a few weeks ago, we don’t see the transformation this week, which is rather pleasing. Despite the fact that Orm’s presence is an important diplomatic occasion which I feel Randor would expect Adam to attend, his disappearance goes completely unexplained.

 

Insults

Orm refers to Orko as a “little creature”, which, judging by his reaction, Orko takes as an insult. Orko later has a play-fight with an imaginary Skeletor, calling him a “bone-headed being” in the process. Skeletor does address He-Man as a “muscle-bound moron”, but reserves his main vitriol for his giant spider, which, in rapid succession, he calls a “filthy beast”, a “dim-witted animal”, a “stupid creature”, a “fool” and a “hideous beast”, all of which I have noted down for future use on the Doctor Who IMDB board when things get a bit heated.

Arena 5
He-Man: “Frankly, Skeletor just defeats himself sometimes.”

 

Does it have the Power?

Yes, this one’s pretty good, despite being a Star Trek rip-off. The main highlight is probably the battle between the Eternians and Tataran’s army, which lasts a good five minutes or so and has a very Star Wars-y vibe to it, with various ships and robots attacking each other. The sequence with Skeletor conjuring up endless magical opponents for He-Man in the arena is also really quite entertaining. All in all, I’d say this one doesn’t really put a foot wrong. It’s not a staggering work of genius, but it’s certainly worth a watch.