The second half of Netflix’s Masters of the Universe reboot premiered right before Thanksgiving weekend, and it was… pretty good? I don’t think the back half was quite as strong as the first, but the writers made some interesting choices.
Once again the voice acting was fantastic. Chris Wood is good as Adam—slightly less whiny than the original, which is fitting since this version of Adam isn’t as dedicated to playing the Clark Kent to He-Man’s Superman—and I really loved the way he leans into the character’s sarcasm. Sarah Michelle Geller is perfect as Teela, Lena Headey imbues Evil-Lyn with pathos and menace, and, no surprise, Mark Hamill is a perfect Skeletor. I should also note that I am a simple person, of simple tastes, so when a character named Fisto glares at Skeletor and says, and I quote: “I’d like to fist him!” I laugh like a hyena. When I get to hear Mark-Hamill-as-Skeletor say “This abattoir of a universe is teeming with the dead because men and women are born solely to die!” well, I consider that time well spent.
That said, the second half of the show felt a little more rushed than the first half. The quips were fun, and I thought the plotlines set up in Part I were resolved pretty well, but I also thought the writers needed a little more room to breathe as the battle scenes and, well, revelations piled up.
Given that this is the second half of a season, I’ll need to get into some spoilers to talk about anything of substance, so click away now if you still need to finish the show!
Opening the second half with the revelation about Duncan and the Sorceress, and Teela’s parentage, was an excellent way to grab people back after the show’s break. Having said that, I had a few issues: First it explains the mystical powers Teela exhibited earlier through her lineage, a plotline that bugs the crap out of me in any context; it forces us to invest in Duncan and the Sorceress as doomed lovers/separated parents only a few episodes before we watch Duncan watch the Sorceress die; it doesn’t give quite enough room for Teela to learn her powers before she’s going to need them.
I loved the idea of Skeletor having the power, and at first it’s every bit as terrifying as you’d expect: He looms over the sky and threatens everyone, cackles maniacally, bullies Evil-Lyn, the usual. But then the writers make it clear that that’s exactly the point: His evil rule is the usual. Having wrested the greatest power in the universe from the Sorceress and He-Man, having murdered the Sorceress, having subjugated all of Eternia, all Skeletor wants is to murder He-Man. That’s it. And the fact that this lack of vision is what finally makes Evil-Lyn snap is just gorgeous.
For those of you hoping for more He-Man in your He-Man show: You’re still outta luck! Sort of. Prince Adam remains Adam for the first episode, and gets terribly wounded again until Teela calls on her inherited Sorceress powers to heal him. When he faces of with Skeletor a second time and announces that he’s going to call down The Power without the conduit of the sword, I figured he’d turn into Super He-Man or something. I love that the show instead made him an uncontrolled, primordial rage monster. I thought Adam’s slightly snarky, slightly arrogant tone when he informs Skeletor that “the spark came from me” was delicious, but the way the show uses that moment to prime us for a Return of He-Man, only to show us that anyone who tries to wield the power without any control or humility will bite off more than they can chew? So good! And showing us that the only thing that can bring Adam back is an apology from his shitty dad? UGH. I know it’s kind of basic but I DON’T CARE.
The downside, though, is that we still have to wait a while for He-Man’s return. But of course when he does come back it’s incredible, and I thought the writers did an excellent job of balancing between He-Man, Superpowered Skeletor, the fight between Evil-Lyn and Teela, Orko’s return—it was a lot to juggle, but everyone got a few significant moments.
Okay, speaking of Orko the White: Part of me was hoping he’d stay dead, because I have a personal grudge against fantasy shows finding ways to reverse death. I think that between Joss Whedon’s oeuvre and the second half of the Harry Potter books, killing characters off became a cheap way to inject meaning and emotion into a story—and I haaaate cheap storytelling. But I also love Orko and I don’t want him to be dead? So you see my conundrum! I was excited to see the writers deal with this in a satisfying way. By having Evil-Lyn bring all the dead back from Subternia (and presumably just from Subternia, as I didn’t see any of Preternia’s heroes around) the show provided an organic way for Orko to return, with far more power than he had during his life. I loved that he was able to be the main character fighting Scareglow, and I extra sparkly loved that it was Evil-Lyn who grabbed him and held him when the rest of the dead went back to Subternia or Preternia, and that she called him Oracle. Here, too, though, I feel the show’s ending was a little rushed, because we don’t really see Orko again after that moment. Is he staying on Eternia as a ghost? Is he happy about being a revenant? What’s his undead deal?
And really I could say that about the whole show. The writers made a bold decision to show us the Valhalla-esque Preternia, and the fairly Hell-ish Subternia, while also implying that only really good or really bad Eternians get to go to those places. Everyone else just kind of dies, I guess? Outlining this, and making it clear that if Prince Adam dies again he can’t go back to Preternia is a great way to add tension. Having Adam say of two fallen comrades “Their souls were honest and true. If I know anything about the afterlife, both Fisto and Clampchamp are already in Preternia!”—again, this is exactly my jam. To follow that line up with Skeletor seemingly snuffing the souls of Fisto and Clampchamp? Perfection. But as the second half rolled along, I thought it lost some of that urgency.
The thing I was most taken with, however, is a fascinating choice Masters of the Universe makes about halfway through its second half: It embraces nihilism. Evil-Lyn has a vision of the birth of the universe—seeing the same cosmic explosions that Skeletor has been watching like a dad dazed and drooling in front of Peter Jackson’s Get Back. Except where Skeletor sees an opportunity for more power, Lyn sees chaos, death, and despair. The universe doesn’t care about its inhabitants. The universe has no master, and can have no master. It’s just a freefall into void.
Seeing this, Lyn decides that the best thing to do is seize power and end existence. The biggest mercy kill of all time.
Now if you’ve read any of my stuff, you can imagine the grin that spread over my face when the show took this turn. I love it when writers actually grapple seriously with meaning and death and all that stuff. And especially seeing MOTU:Revelation Part II do this—this is a reboot of a kids’ show whose entire purpose was to sell toys, but suddenly the character who used to just be the villain’s hot girlfriend has gone full Rust Cohle. I was ecstatic. (I was also glad that the show eventually rejected her nihilism, but I was pleased that it went there for a bit.) And I think the one genuine problem with the second half of the season is that its turn to optimism doesn’t land quite as well. Teela sees the same vision as Lyn, but through her eyes the birth of the universe is a beautiful, multifaceted moment that creates the magic that flows through all of existence. This is good! Except that Lyn has been studying magic her whole life, where Teela has only just realized she can kind of sort of work spells because of her inheritance from her mother, the Sorceress. She doesn’t have the years of study behind her, so it never feels quite as powerful.
But still! I appreciated that the show went there at all, and, as in its first half, took the source material seriously as a sword-and-sorcery-and-also-magic-and-green-tigers-and-advanced-tech-and-let’s-not-forget-stranded-Earthling-astronauts epic. I enjoyed the reboot overall, and I’m pleased that they’ve set up a sequel series that might deal more with the science vs. magic holy war that was such a plotline in the first half. I’m also hoping that if the show continues, the writers keep tackling the show’s cosmogony and digging into the surprising emotional depths that Masters of the Universe has revealed.
And again, not to belabor the point, but MORE ORKO.