During the Saturday Supercast review of early episodes of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe over at Sugary Serials, the hosts mentioned that one of the favorite episodes of fans was “The Problem With Power”. Based on the Mattel toyline, the Filmation series as a whole is beloved, but if this episode was one of the big ones (The Supercast only focused on the earlier episodes), I figured it’s worth checking out.
Lucky for me, the series is everywhere. Joost has been hosting it (along with his sister, She-Ra) almost since the site went up, and now Hulu (who also has She-Ra) and YouTube (also joining the She-Ra bandwagon) have also taken on episodes. It’s Joost (unless we lose this feed like some of the other shows I’ve linked from Joost) that I found the episode in question, so let’s all take a look together.
UPDATE: 8/11/2012> I thought I updated this one so that it pointed to the new home on Hulu. My mistake.
UPDATE:10/8/2016> That option’s gone as well. Luckily the official YouTube page for He-Man still carries it. For how long is the question these days.
The plot is one I’ve seen before (for another good example, check out the SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron episode “Razor’s Edge“) where the villains trick the hero into thinking he has accidentally harmed an innocent. However, where in the SWAT Kats episode, the phony innocents were in the hospital, Skeletor does the feline foes one greater, and makes He-Man think the guy is dead! (Turns out to be a goblin, who apparently has other ways to push blood around their bodies.) Filmation, as I showed way back in the Bravestarr episode, isn’t afraid to touch on the subject of death, even if this time nobody was allowed to actually die.
For an 80’s kids show, there are a lot of strong moments, which doesn’t really surprise me. Look who’s on the writing staff for this episode:
Bob Forward is one of the best writers in kids TV, and I’m not just saying that for what he and Larry DiTillio did with Transformers: Beast Wars. Its one of those names I’ve come accustomed to immediate associate with a great story. And while I can’t recall Leslie Wilson’s name quite as readily (sorry, Leslie), Tom Tataranowicz, a name I really wish I could have copy/pasted from the image, is the director responsible for making the 90’s Iron Man and Fantastic Four cartoons go from suck to awesome in the course of a season. And if you don’t think the first season was horrid, I triple dog dare you to watch “The Grim Reaper Wears a Teflon Coat” without once going “that makes no [expletive] sense!”. I promise you that’s not happening. Worst Iron Man story ever until the Civil War nonsense in the comics. (Tom also did the good season of The Incredible Hulk for UPN before they messed up that formula–which wasn’t bad but definitely suffered.) So right out of the gate, this story is full speed fantastic.
(Some credit should also go to director Gwen Weltzer. She really put some great visuals, as did the animators who put a lot of effort into the “abyss” scene.)
Back to those strong moments. He-Man’s expression when he’s stopped mid-joke to find out someone has been hurt because of something he did (even if it was rigged that way, more on that in a moment). Everyone’s expression on top of Castle Greyskull when Adam drops the Power Sword into the Abyss, which also features the only time I recall when we actually saw He-Man transform back into Adam (complete with the different magic words). Adam’s expression when Teela volunteers to undertake a kamikaze move to destroy the real dimension gateway.
And there’s my one issue with the episode. Adam only decides to get the sword and become He-Man again, not because he realizes all these people count on their champion to defeat Skeletor, but because Orko tells him that he’s been tricked. Subtly hinted and letting the viewer realize along with Adam, the one life that may (or in this case may not) have been lost contrasts how many He-Man has saved since he “arrived”, and how many would be lost without him, both innocents and Palace forces alike. The news is always abuzz when the police take lives, and I guess it should be. On the other hand, we never really think about what our lives would be like–or if we’d even have them–if there were no police, firemen, military, FBI, or other groups that protect us, often at the cost of their own lives. I don’t know if the writers had this in mind in the scene when Duncan and Randor are discussing their He-Manless options, but it kind of stood out for me.
I really wish that it was this realization that drove Adam back to the power of Greyskull. After all, even if it wasn’t a trick, it doesn’t change that He-Man wasn’t paying attention before smashing the gateway section that they all knew was unstable (especially the guys who rigged it that way), and someone could have been hurt for real. It really doesn’t change what happened (unlike the aforementioned and linked to SWAT Kats episode, from what I remember). Only that there really wasn’t anyone stupid enough to stand next to a falling gateway, forcefield belt or not.
This one misstep, however, takes nothing away from Adam’s drama, or the wonder of the story. Personally, I wish Man At Arm’s moral at the end was about responsibility rather than wearing your seat belt and not playing with matches, but if this really is the #1 story among it’s fans, I certainly see why. Every moment, even the cute bit at the end with Teela and He-Man (that does hint at a closer bond I’ve noticed for years, so you know what you can do with your “gay jokes”, nostalgic talking head types–there’s totally a Clark-Lois-Superman connection with Adam-Teela-He-Man!), just makes this episode. If Joost loses this video (which it did, so I updated with the Hulu), go and find it somewhere. The DVDs are available It really is worth watching, especially for He-Fans.