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.
Hey hey what do you say, time for a recap today: Not going to lie, last episode was pretty wild. Shredder opened a portal to Dimension X, allowing two Stone Warriors and the totally rad Neutrinos to pass through. Working with the turtles, and using their newly kitted out Turtle Van, the good guys were able to banish the Stone Warriors back to their home dimension. Frustrated, Shredder finally agrees to build Krang’s body.
After the events of the last episode, the Ninja Turtles have garnered some attention from the public. A news story runs that places the blame of the attack by the Stone Warriors at the feet of the unknown, giant turtles. A story, it is important to note, not filed by homeless and heroic Happy Hour News correspondent April O’Neil, who is too busy hanging out with turtles to actually be on TV to talk about them.
Naturally the turtles are a bit cross about their public image being tarnished, and sense a new urgency to take the Shredder down and clear their name to the public. April promises to get a news crew to actually cover what she has been investigating, an ongoing struggle for her since she got mugged way back in the first episode after wrapping a report. Meanwhile, Donatello shares a turtle communicator to help her keep in touch with the heroes in a cartoon that exists before the inescapability of cell phones.
Just as they are in the process of forming their plan, Shredder takes over the TV airwaves to taunt that he has actually created a retromutagen ray. This claims to undo mutations, which then demonstrates on Ragtime the Bat.
This an important revelation because, as you might remember, the turtles seemingly primary motivation is to revert Splinter back to his human form. The turtles are all too eager to fall directly into this obvious Shredder trap, but Splinter wisely states that he must go alone to attempt to take the plot device ray gun because if the turtles were to attempt to steal it and get zapped, they would be helpless, ordinary turtles.
With April off in the “Turtle Van”, the Green Boys attempt to use the flying car that the Neutrinos left behind in the previous episode to take Splinter to the Technodrome, only to discover it runs on Plutonium and they are fresh out. Donatello remembers some technology that he spied at Baxter Stockman’s lab that they somehow hadn’t stolen already, but quickly runs off to fix this gross oversight. Meanwhile, the other turtles are ambushed by a seemingly hyper-motivated Bebop and Rocksteady.
It is nice to see these characters treated as slightly more of a threat each time they show up. They are still thickheaded and don’t get very far, but the turtles appear more intimidated and overwhelmed than their first few encounters when they easily quipped their way through. Between Bebop actually attempting to choke out Splinter and hurling cars, while Rocksteady continuously just dumps shells, these versions of the characters aren’t simple pushovers. Which allows their eventual (and admittedly embarrassing) demise of being burried in wet cement that much more satisfying.
Back at the Technodrome, Krang continues to whine about not having his body. Only this time, his belly-aching (do brains have bellies?) turns out to be pre-mature, as Shredder shows that the body is indeed complete. Krang is pleased with the process, but asks Saki to add a molecular amplification unit to the body. Luckily the body is compatible and soon Krang is being installed into the body that it turns out looks like a cyberpunk version of King Kong Bundy.
And then the show goes full Frankenstein, in what is the laziest form of homage the show has dealt in yet. Shredder even yells “It’s alive!” as the body starts to twitch. Still, this is a major moment that has been teased out for multiple episodes at this point so emphasizing it seems entirely appropriate.
Unfortunately for the baddies, the heroes arrive just as Krang is starting to gain consciousness, so Shredder sends off foot soldier robots to fend off the intruders and usher us into our first commercial. The Foot effectively split Splinter off from the three turtles who made it here with him (even though I believe the plan was for him to go alone?) Anyway, foot soldiers battle kicks off. As they goes on, we are given a short look at what Donatello is working on.
Hmmm, mysterious. Anyway, the fight with the foot resolves when the turtles realize that sewage pipes are hanging above them because, you know, sewers, and so the heroes literally win by washing their opponents away with literal piss and shit water.
Over at the Channel 6 offices, April interrupts her boss (whose name is Burne, a fact that has been brought up before but I believe I forgot to mention) having what appears to be phone sex to demand a news crew so she can do her damn job. Initially Burne refuses, but when April reveals she has been working with the turtles, he becomes…nervous? So April, having learned a new set from her ninja friends, lies and says the turtle gave her a “hyper turtle death ray” which she threatens to destroy the building with. Amazingly, this terrible plan and lie works and Burne does what she demands.
We then cut to maybe the most inexplicable scene in Ninja Turtles history thus far. Donatello is still working on something in Baxter Stockman’s lab, something that requires her wear a welding mask. As he’s working, a member of the custodial staff arrives, telling “Mr. Baxter” to not mind her as she clean. Donatello attempts to politely ask her to leave, but she doesn’t take the hint. He then attempts to scare her off, removing his welding mask to reveal–gasp–he isn’t Mr. Baxter at all but a giant turtle! Only…the custodian doesn’t seem to notice a difference. The implication seems to be she is either oblivious, potentially blind from the art. It is…a worthless comedy moment that doesn’t work and never goes anywhere, and in an episode that has otherwise relentless energy and drive it is completely out of place. A strange side-step, but at least a memorable one.
Elsewhere, Krang finally wakes up from his transfer into his new body. Please to discover the molecular circuit he had installed does indeed work, first showing an ability to shapeshift his hands to helpful tools. The turtles, searching for their master after defeating the foot army with poo water, find Krang in his new body.
To break up the action, we have a short scene where April almost gets stopped from getting her news crew afterall (as Burne has enough time to rationally call the police or building security), but she is able to convince the members of her news crew to come along with to get the story.
In the Technodrome (see, this episode keeps clipping along well when it isn’t slogged down by weird cleaning lady scenes), Splinter finally locates the retromutagen ray. Or so he thinks, but in reality the Shredder springs a trap. Soon the two engage in combat, giving a conflict that has been promised since the very first episode.
Krang attempts to contact his armies in Dimension X, who he can now properly lead to conquer Earth. But before he can open the portal, the turtles attack. But Krang has a trick up his sleeve, as it is revealed the molecular amplification unit allows him to grow the size of his body. Soon a giant robot with a brain in it’s stomach is chasing after the turtles and this show is alright. The threat of Very Big Krang carries us all the way to our commercial break.
Krang soon takes the surface, seemingly having forgot to summon his stone warriors and deciding to break skyscrapers. The turtles seem in a bad way, but then Donatello finally arrives with his secret weapon: the Turtle Blimp! Because nothing says fearsome crime fighting ninjas that your own blimp!
And here the action has really picked up. Shredder and Splinter battle it out, Vader versus Kinobi style in the Death Star/Technodrome. The turtles, with the help of the turtle blimp take on the massive Krang robot, with Leonardo and Donatello literally diving into the body of Krang to attempt to find a way to shrink him down to a manageable size. And April with her rogue news crew attempt to capture it all.
This is high action, and it is all pretty thrilling. Eventually the stories converge, as Leonardo and Donatello do get Krang to shrink. But Shredder bests Splinter, or at least captures him in an electric cage. So just as the Turtles are about to outnumber Krang, Shredder gets the drop on them with the retromutagen ray, famously threatening the “Tonight, I dine on turtle soup.” Thankfully, the clever rat Splinter was able to escape, and in the nick of time destroys the retromutagen ray, both saving his students but destroying the one path back to his humanity. It is very Shakespearean, if Shakespeare wrote about ninjas and giant talking animals.
Retreating back to the Technodrome, Krang and Shredder attempt to open the portal to Dimension X, which was Krang’s plan in the first place. And…wait what is this?
WHY ARE THE MUTAPUNKS IN A PRISON CELL? And when did Ragtime get reverted back to a bat?
Important questions aside, the baddies are attempting to release the Dimension X stone warriors but the heroes come to save the day. This leads to a final furry of punches and kicks and mechanical manipulation. Eventually the portal’s “mechanism is reveresed” which has the effect of sucking the technodrome and everyone in it into Dimension X, leaving behind the victorious turtles.
After a short scene of Shredder and Krang bickering over their new home of Dimension X, we get a final scene of the turtles enjoying their good friend and favorite hostage April O’Neil finally filing a report about the crazy events that have unfolded over the past five episodes. Essentially the feeling of the story is that a real youth movement has grown around the turtles, while the olds are still not so sure. Splinter of course gives fair warning that he doubts their encounters with Shredder and Krang are truly finished.
Little does he know.
And that’s it. The final episode of the first season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If you couldn’t tell from all my gushing earlier in this write-up, I like this episode a lot, mostly because this is the point in the story where the momentum really heats up. These first five episodes consist of more or less a single storyline that served as a mini-series to introduce the concepts of the ninja turtles to a large populace. And this conclusion absolutely pays off the four before it. We see Krang’s body, April finally getting her big story, Splinter and Shredder squaring off. The promise of Splinter being returned to human form is explored, but then stripped away. And we get that weird, weird scene with the cleaning lady.
And the turtles clearly struggle in this episode. They have to think creatively to overcome impossible odds and when they stand victorious in the end, their relief is earned. As we go forward to watch many, many more episodes that will not really play to the strengths of these five, it is worth remembering that this show can legitimately be very entertaining, well paced and propulsive. And it is very easy how off of the strength of this opening series of adventures, the Turtles were an instant sensation that capturing the imagination of the world’s youth, and have held on for decades to follow.