There are few media phenomenons as perplexing as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A violent spoof of 1980s comic books, transformed into a kid-friendly Saturday morning cartoon and toy line that dominated the minds of young viewers well into the 90s. But the multimedia behemoth didn’t stop there; there have been movies, endless toys, video games, touring concerts and inescapable merchandising for the last three decades.
But what caused the cultural impact of the Ninja Turtles? Was it the absurdist concept appealing to a childlike interest in the franchise? Was it the structure of a well-balanced team that allowed for every viewer to self-identify with at least one of the members? Was it the inescapable earworm of a theme song? The only way to uncover the strange alchemy is Ninja Turtles is to document and study every corner of this bizarre, seemingly endless pop culture phenomenon. May God have mercy on our souls as we dive deep into this odd vision quest.
You better believe you are going to get a recap: After returning Splinter home, the Turtles vow vengeance on the Shredder. But the Shredder is busy vowing vengeance on them, by hiring well-meaning but somewhat off-center inventor Baxter Stockman (certified white guy) to create him rat-hunting robots called Mousers. The turtles eventually triumph over Shredder, thanks to help from the bitter talking brain Krang, and then drive off in a van that they might have no wait totally did steal from Baxter.
This episode appears to pick up exactly where the last left off with the turtles, along with April and Splinter, speeding off in their newly acquired wheels. Having a taste for stealing stuff from dweebs, the turtles return to Baxter’s workshop to help themselves to more of his high-end technology to make the van (again, which they already stole from him) better at tracking down the Technodrome. This leads to a bit of the turtles having to get the van up to the top floor tech lab by pushing the van up the stairs, which would suggest that this building has very wide stairways.
Once in the lab, Donatello goes full chop shop on the van while Michelangelo and Raphael actually do a bit of rationalizing about how it is okay to take Baxter’s stuff because he got taken away by the authorities for creating the mousers that destroyed not one but two buildings in the city and did significant damage to the sewer system. But that kind of misses the point of Baxter. He was manipulated by Shredder, who took a hapless, zany inventor and took his misguided pest control device and made it a mass weapon. And even so, just because someone is in prison doesn’t mean you have carte blanche to just take their stuff.
This also leads to another weird bit. Donatello (who I can not emphasize enough is doing a serious mod job on this van) muses on how it really shouldn’t be the burden of just the four turtles to take down Shredder, when he’s the the humans’ problem. Even when April makes the valid point that Shredder seems to have animosity towards them so they are likely involved regardless, Donatello continues to argue that it is unfair that the burden falls upon the outcast in society. And just as you think Ninja Turtles is trying to make some sort of intellectual or socio-political point, Michelangelo points out it isn’t like they could get another job besides ninja superheros. This point convinces Donatello, but also is apparently a punchline as it is punctuated with an honest to god rimshot. If someone can explain to me how precisely this is a joke, I’d be grateful.
Moving away from our auto-thieving heroes, we go deep beneath the city to check in on the Technodrome. Krang is busy telling Shredder he is a big dummy for not being able to defeat the turtles, while secretly holding back the bit where he was the one who actually allowed them to win their last encounter. Krang also is continuing to demand Shredder build his new body. Shredder meanwhile is too busy mutating more of his punks and OH MY GOD HOW IS THIS A PLOT POINT I HAVE MISSED ALL THESE YEARS?
So yeah, all those other punks that Shredder had in those first two episodes? The ones that basically weren’t deemed good enough to become the Rocksteady and Bebop that run for the rest of the series? Yeah, Shredder also mutated them. He has a whole gang of diverse animal-human hybrids just chilling in the Technodrome. This includes those two dudes I said earlier disappeared from the series forever and now all I want is the ongoing adventures of Modal the Lizard, Ragtime the Bat and Dancehall the Very Sad Dog Thing. I’ll leave whatever that monster is standing behind him though.
Krang seems less enthusiastic about continuing to fund Shredders crazy eugenics projects, especially when he has a whole slew of Rock Soldiers waiting for him to summon them from Dimension X. This is as good a time as any to remind that Krang originally came from Dimension X, used to have a body, got turned into a brain when he was banished to our dimension, ended up aligning with Shredder for reasons that are entirely unclear and then basically got stuck dealing with Saki’s turtle obsession.
Still, the idea of rock soldiers from a reality dedicated solely to war is appealing to a dedicated revenge artist like Shredder, so he decides to use the trans-dimensional portal (a thing that apparently they have) to summon some of the soldiers, despite Krang’s objections that there is no way to know what could come through the portal. Apparently Dimension X is just popping off at all times, so there is no saying what could escape.
Meanwhile, back at Pimp My Stolen Tech Van, Donatello has finished refitting what now is clearly the toyetic Turtle Van. But of course they have to drive back down the stairs.
And that scene is over. This is a weird trend I’ve noticed the last few episodes; at least in the front half of these episodes, the writers seem to have more momentum for the villains to do, before having thirty seconds of comedy from our heroes and then getting back to the plotting. The back halves are more even, if only because our heroes are then reacting to all those schemes, but Shredders gets a fair amount of screen time in the first ten minutes of just about every episode.
Anyway, back at the Technodrome, Shredder is ready to open the portal, with certified losers Bebop and Rocksteady flanking him. Apparently Shredder’s actual plan is to open the portal, and expect for weapons to just pour out the he can immediately use. Apparently in addition to Star Wars, Shredder is a big fan of Zardoz.
Unfortunately for Shredder, there is a less than ideal circumstance where instead of a rainfall of guns and bombs for him to use, a hovering pair of 1950s Cadillac Elderado convertibles fly through with seemingly elven teenagers with Jetson hairdos at the wheel. This is me with the proper response from Bebop and Rocksteady who recklessly open fire in their secret base.
The elf-teens get away, but are followed close behind by a pair of stone soldiers in a hover-tank. If I haven’t mentioned it before, this show is never lacking in imagination. These new elements continually are being added, such as the nature of Dimension X, which just up the ante of the “anything can happen” quotient.
The turtles, using their new gear, are able to track the Technodrome to just beneath the World Trade Center (#neverforget), but just as they are about to drive down into the subdway (does no one involved in this show understand how wide vans are?), the teens in their flying Caddies zoom out from below. Thinking they are minions of the Shredder, the turtles give chase as we go to our first commercial.
Below, Shredder breaks up a fight between R&B and the stone soldiers. He takes the soldiers to go see Krang, who is very nonplussed about this whole situation. Shredder learns that the elf hot rodding teens are actually called the Neutrinos, who Krang describes as being a “gang of juvenile delinquents” who hate war and encourage people to have fun.
But the turtles don’t get any of this exposition, so they are still in hot pursuit of the Neutrinos. To show how cool they are, the Neutrinos generally throw shade at our dimension for not having things like “gyro burgers” and “asteroid pinball”. Yeah, well at least our society isn’t one that is constantly at war, so take that mouthy teenaged pasifists!
Aw geez. I could really use a gyro burger.
Back at the Technodrome, the stone soldiers are sent off in a sweet bit of gear called the TechnoRover, which they plan to take down the Neutriinos in. But the turtles are on top of them first and…and…and…
I should mention here that this episode jumps around A LOT. Nothing takes more then ten seconds to occur, so we constantly jumping between the turtles, to technodrome, the Neutrinos being dicks about our earth, and then back to the turtles. It all flows more or less perfectly fine for a passive viewing, but it makes writing a running synopsis a little difficult. I am going to assume that was absolutely not a concern of the producers, but also going to choose to take it terribly personally.
So yeah, the turtles track down the Neutrinos and launch themselves at their cars. As it turns out, they are able to get the cars down to the ground, but it is a hell of a risk to not either serious risk crashing these flying cars they have no idea of mechanics of, hurtling them offs to certain death or generally a dozen other very bad things to happen.
And as it turns out, for being extra dimensional counter-cultural pacifist youths, the Neutrinos seem to give zero fucks about potentially damaging or even killing those that get on their rides. One attempts to throw Leonardo and Michelangelo from the rear with an ejector seat, while Donatello gets a serious scraping against the side of a building. If nothing else, the turtles seem to be legit thrown for a loop by these strangers, so that is a nice change of pace.
Eventually though the turtles are able to overpower their opponents and force the hovercars to the ground. As with all such hero team-ups, the Neutrinos reveal that despite their misunderstanding, they are not with the Shredder. April pull up after the action and tries to get information, only to be informed that the Neutrinos aren’t just cool, they’re frozen, which I have to imagine is a reference to Dimension X’s version of Hey Ya. April, always the ray of sunshine, complains about how she never knows what’s going on. In her defense the editing on this one is a little chaotic. Thankfully they all go to work out what is going on…
….at what is clearly the Joker’s new hideout. Honestly check out the people working here.
Terrifying. Anyway, the turtles (sans costumes, but hey, it’s New York, fuggidaboutiteh?) and Neutrinos get to know each other over games of totally unasteroid pinball. It is reiterated that all the “grown ups” in Dimension X are just out to fight each other, while the Neutrinos literally just want to have fun. Now I’m not discounting fun, fun is great. But there is a weird mix of anti-war messaging and actual literal hedonism that I think give the impression of the Neutrinos as a bunch of a crazy-haired, laid back key party freaks.
Before the Neutrinos can describe any more of their libertine lifestyle, April worries about what else may have come over from this war-torn Dimension X. As if on cue, the clown-themed pizza parlor and arcade is destroyed by eyeball missiles because Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the single greatest television program to ever exist.
Of course the Stone Warriors are responsible for the rockets, so this ensues with a big fight sequence. Specifically, a vehicular combat sequence; the TechnoRover chases after the turtles, while taking fire from above by the Neutrinos (who clarify that they only have weapons on their flying Cadillacs because they are “required by law”) as well as additional fire from the turtle van itself. Eventually this overwhelms the TechnoRover, and the Stone Warriors have to retreat.
The heroes are about to give chase when the police show up (with tanks!) and they have to high-tail it themselves. There is an implication that the turtles are misunderstood by the public; this becomes a fairly major through line later on, and as a longtime fan of the X-Men franchise it makes sense. But in the show so far, the Turtles have been so paranoid about keeping their very existence covered that it is hard to imagine that the public would have an ability to form an opinion on them. If anything, this is their first major public outing, and it is getting involved in a very public gun fight in the streets of New York. So yeah. The police are going to respond.
The heroes retreat to the sewers to regroup and form a new plan. Meanwhile, the Stone Warriors also need to find a way to get back through the police so they can catch the Neutrino’s and stop them from having all that gross fun. So they use a “weather satellite” that can create new weather conditions which are supposed to take out the militant police presense. But what type of weather would cause maximum disruption?
That works. Though now I am unreasonably upset that “Total Chaos” hasn’t ever been part of my local weather forecast. The satellite is deployed, and it instantly starts raining Total Chaos on the entire city! No, wait, it takes two hours to deploy. That is…relatively uninspiring for an episode that has had nothing if not momentum. Either way, that leads us to our commercial break.
Before we go back to our heroes, we get a short scene where the Stone Warriors (who are very bad at both retreating and avoiding the police) attempt to steal a pick-up truck, only to be flummoxed by our puny not Dimension X vehicles. The police corner them, open fire, but their weird laser guns don’t seem to have any effect. So the Stone Warriors just kind of…wander off. I found this scene far more amusing that I assume it is intended to be, but it was a weird character moment for the throw away secondary villains that made me smile.
Back in the sewers, the Neutrinos explain that the Stone Warriors are followers of Krang, who was exiled and lost his body which hey didn’t Mikey talk about meeting a talking brain? Seems less crazy now doesn’t it? Soon the good guys connect the dots that if Krang can bring his Stone Warrior army over to this universe, he could easily conquer and defeat. Which would be bad. So the heroes decide to go find the Technodrome (their favorite weekend activity!) and push the Stone Warriors and Krang back to Dimension X. The fact that the Neutrinos are so dedicated to protecting this unknown version of reality seems a little suspect, but they agree. Also Michelangelo appears to have a crush on the girl Neutrino, Kala. This will come up again.
Using their Get Smart style phone booth elevator, the whole hero gang comes up to discover that it is literally snowing giant blocks of ice in June, weather better describe as total chaos! Using their new tracking gear, the good guys easily find their way to the Technodrome, which is helpfully parked right next to a giant tunnel so all their vehicles can get through.
Because apparently the Technodrome has zero security, the heroes (sans April who gets left behind because the turtles secretly actually hate her) quickly infiltrate and discover the transdimensional portal. Donatello, who it becomes increasingly clear does anything of actual importance on this team, attempts to figure out the functional operation of the device by trial and error pulling and pushing levers, which is always a good choice when dealing with completely alien technology.
Eventually the hench-squad shows up, while the Neutrinos and some other turtles track down the Stone Warriors protecting Krang. This leads to a two-part battle where the Neutrinos, Raphael and Michelangelo attempt to take down the main enemy squad, while Leonardo takes on the JV team all by himself. Okay, with a little assistance from Donatello.
Eventually these fights unite at the portal. The turtles once again are actually faced with opposition as they discover that because the Stone Warriors aren’t their typical robo-opponents, they can’t just smash their weak components. Thankfully there is a helpful barrel of “silicon lubricant” that makes the floor slippery and the Stone Warriors are easily slip-slided into the portal.
The Neutrinos are next on the list to exit through the portal. Kala makes the valid point that they would much rather stay behind, even if their weren’t any gyro burgers to have. But their duty is back home, and so they agree to jump back through the portal to continue the fight against Krang. And by fight, they mean thumbing their nose at authority and worshiping the very notion of fun. They fly off, and Michelangelo literally is crying as they go.
And now it is time for the FINAL CONFRONTATION BETWEEN TURTLES AND SHREDDER except just kidding the weather maker distracts them for a half second and the Shredder slips away and clearly they are very bad at just stumbling across him. The Turtles once again exit the Technodrome to go upside to go save the day.
Luckily the Neutrinos left behind one of their flying cars. The weather maker now is the center of a massive tornado, threatening to destroy the city. Donatello flies the car close enough for Leonardo to be the big dumb hero and jump out, slicing it in half with his sharp katana, thus saving the day. It is maybe the coolest thing that Leonardo has and continue will do on this show. Leonardo is kind of a chump, but this is a legit awesome move.
Back at the Technodrome, Shredder is apparently at his wit’s end when it comes to the turtles, and comes to the conclusion that maybe he will complete Krang’s body after all. Which is a nice confluence of inspirations for our villains.
The episode ends back at the sewer where April is, no joke, reading a bed time story to the turtles in their completely impractical four-story bunk bed. Between her driving them the majority of the episode in the Turtle Van and this, it is increasingly clear that they see her less as their only true human friend than as as their mother.
As the other turtles go to sleep, Leonardo walks in and declares that they need their rest because they are going to find the Shredder and finish him. He says this while sharpening his sword. Leonardo is straight ready to kill the Shredder, there is no other way to read this scene. Maybe Leonardo isn’t such a chump after all.
And that is the end of this very odd, very high-energy episode. Again, the propulsion of this one is nice compared to the first two; there is really no down time, and even the bits that are technically not fight sequences are mostly filled with worthwhile exposition or character building. Plus this is another episode that is just throwing so many ideas at the wall that it is hard to be angry at it. It gave us eyeball missiles after all.