There are few media phenomenons as perplexing as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It started as a violent spoof of 1980s comic books, but was transformed into a kid-friendly Saturday morning cartoon and toy line that dominated the minds of young viewers well into the 90s. And the multimedia behemoth didn’t stop there; there have been major motion pictures, 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 appeal to nonsense? 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.
A quick reminder: this episode is the second part of a very loose four-episode arc. The important parts to remember from the last episode is that the Turtles encountered a strange, unnamed alien who warns them that they have to track down the Eye of Zarnoth, which is apparently an incredibly power alien device that got splintered into three parts. Givena Zarnoth tracking device called the “crystal converger”, they are hoping to collect the fragments of the Eye before their menacing nemesis Shredder.
Premise out of the way, the Turtles and April are using the converger to track down the next fragment of the eye. Or they think they are (more on that in a second). There is an interesting short bit that was briefly alluded to in the previous episodes finale that wasn’t really addressed in our last article. This is obviously a big story for April, but she has to keep it to herself because if word got out the fragments of the eyes were laying around New York, who knows who would find them. This is an atypically reasonable logic for why April doesn’t just report about the events and have the biggest news story of the century.
Following the converger, the Turtles finally come upon that most common of sights: a street carnival just on the outskirt of Manhattan!
This carnival actually takes up an alarming portion of this episode, and spoilers: most of what happens here is not relevant to the back half of the plot in the slightest.
Before we explore exciting carnival antics, let’s check in with our villainous faction over in Dimension X. Shredder actually was allowed to return to Dimension X, but only because Krang wanted to study this fragment of the Eye himself. Only problem? Baxter lost the fragment.
Yes, in an actual plot point, the episode goes out of its way to point out that bumbling mad inventor, devoted toady and sandwich enthusiast Baxter Stockman lost the fragment of the Eye that they retrieved last episode. Krang is quick to use his Dimension X technology to track it down to the very same carnival the Turtles are arriving at. The villains go to retrieve the fragment for themselves.
All of this begs the question why feel the need to have the fragment be lost and then found again? The show has plans for Baxter that will be revealed soon enough, but this level of incompetence serves little purpose narratively. And if you wanted to have a four-episode story, you could have always had four fragments from the beginning. But the writer’s need to explain why they have to discover the fragment twice feels mainly interested in continuing to throw Baxter under the bus. For whatever reason, this footnote stuck out to me even more so than the magically appearing rural-style creepy carnival so wanted to share my befuddlement.
At the carnival, the turtles show up having forgotten their comically affective flasher disguises and decide that if anyone asks them why they are giant turtles, they will just say they are part of the freak show; later, they are said to be wearing costumes as clowns. This is one of those ongoing plot points the show never fully lands on how it feels: the turtles on one hand are supposed to be keeping their identity secret, but both seem very cavalier about it and are fairly well known figures in some episodes.
Whatever the reason, the turtle wander around the carnival without causing too much of a scene in search for the crystal fragment. They lose Michelangelo who is too busy winning carnival games and essentially burying April in teddy bears. I think this is meant as a joke.
Back in plot relevant territory, the crystal is discovered by two painstakingly designed “children of the 80s”, who immediately recognize it as a thing of value and try to barter it off for money so they can get more tickets for rides. The turtles finally track down the crystal as well, only to discover the brats who are holding it ransom. After seemingly threatening violence against children (Raphael in jest, and Michelangelo is seeming sincerity), April offers to try to barter it off of them. As she wanders off, the Turtles are more or less drafted in performing in the carnivals clown show.
Unable to bribe the children with a mere three dollars because like all reasonable people she doesn’t carry cash, April runs off to try to get more funds. In her absence, Shredder and Baxter see their opportunity to take the crystal themselves. But before we get to that: CLOWN ANTICS!
Yes at this point the episode drops all pretense of having anything to do with alien crystals and gives us a rather extended sequence of the turtles being trapped down a full clown routine. At one point Leonardo says it is all part of tracking down that fragment, which is objectively not true. If anything, their clowning around is wasting time. The whole carnival sequence in the front half of this episode feels pulled from an entirely different show, leaning on appreciation of Looney Tunes gags.
In the midst of all this, Michelangelo gives some money to April which begs the very important question: how do Ninja Turtles make money? This is addressed in some other series, but as far as I can tell the Turtles of the 80s toon just occasionally steal money to support their pizza habit. And Mikey has a fairly sizeable wad of cash to pass off, which he pulls from….somewhere.
While the Turtles are otherwise occupied and April is stealing money from Michelangelo that he rightfully stole for himself, Shredder and Baxter are able to steal the crystal from the 80s kids, and then retreat to another nondescript warehouse. While Baxter is studying it, the crystal brushes against some Dimension X plant life that is smeered on Shredder’s boots, causing it to be activated and begin to grow. Shredder of course sees this as he sees all developments: a means to defeating the turtles, as he menacingly laughs into our first commercial break.
The turtles return to their lair to tell Splinter they came up short on finding the crystal; not shown is them confessing part of the reason is because they spent half the day fucking around at the carnival. Just as they are debriefing, the lair starts shaking violently! Soon the plant lifeform from Shredder’s boot comes bursting through the wall, only now it is huge!
Plantlife soon joins robots in the “Things the Ninja Turtles Can Actually Use Their Weapons On” list.After getting sliced up, the plant retreats, giving the turtles a chance to get back to searching for fragments of the crystal. But before they can, they declare it time to take April home because…reasons? To make matters worse, when April gets dropped off she hangs out with Irma. Quick reminder: Irma is the worst.
The two gossip about work and how they don’t have dates and you know girl stuff April gets a signed note by the Turtles. Even though this is literally never how the turtles have tried to communicate with her ever, even though she has a proto-cell-phone they actively told her they’d call her on, April questions none of this and goes where the note tells her to.
But oops, it is a trap! Surprise! Shredder captures April. Using her own turtle com, because apparently he knows how to use those, Shredder tells the turtles that he is holding their friend hostage. Because the Turtles are able to spot a trap unlike April, they decide to devise a plan to catch him off-guard: they disguise themselves as four pizza delivery boys!
This leads to my favorite exchange of this episode.
Knock on the door
Shredder: See who that is!
Baxter: It’s four green pizza delivery boys!
Shredder: I don’t remember ordering any pizzas….especially green ones!
That is some good clean adjective confusion humor there. Regardless, the ninja turtles just bust in anyway and starting kicking shell. Shredder tries to shoot them with a laser gun, but apparently went to Stormtrooper Firearm Academy and can’t hit any of them. We have completely returned to the villains of this show being easily cast off. Oh well, we’ll always have that one scene in that last episode.
Shredder and Baxter get away (again), and Leonardo says they need to get back to fragment hunting when uh-oh the building is shaking again! Returning to plotline B again, the turtles see that the alien plant they encountered is now emerging from beneath the city to the topside. Worried this might be their defeat, Leo makes this face to commercial break number two.
We come back and all chaos has broken loose. The plant-monster, which must be massive, has vines emerging from cracks in the street and causing panic across Manhattan. The Turtles, seeing that the situation is getting rapidly out of control do the most logical thing: they shoot lasers at it! This seems to anger the plant monster (understandably) and it’s…head? Bloom? The top of the plant emerges finally and is way smaller than you would assume given the number of vines it is throwing around but still pretty gnarly.
The plant attacks the Turtles van, which in turn leads to the them responding with their own brand of violence. The plant, despite more or less mopping the floor with the Turtles, seems to get agitated and retreats back into the underground. Of course that means it is going back to the sewers, which is problematic for the Turtles because that is where they keep all their stuff. They return to Splinter for a hand in tracking down the monster-plant.
After some standard and not especially helpful platitude from Splinter, the Turtles find a slime-path for the plant and start to track it down. Their search leads them down to a dead end in the sewer, The plants root-mouth or something then crashes through the wall! Taken by surprise, the plant grabs Donatello, threatening to gobble him up whole!
Luckily for him, the Turtles had devised a secret weapon, a cunning last-resort tactic that will surely win the day!
And it is Michelangelo in plant-based drag. I may have been pre-emptive in describing the clown scene from before as Looney Tunes as we are literally pulling out a of the Bugs Bunny playbook now. Plus the whole things plays out with a whole lot of weird snicker-snort gay panic, not even approaching the issue of plant-reptile coupling being problematic.
Thankfully the plan for this secret weapon is revealed before the inter-species breeding, as the Turtles go to the old standard of hit-and-stab-it-bunches. This causes the plant to stick his actual literal neck out there (which the show describes as its root but fuck you that’s a neck), which Leonardo sees an opening with and stabs the monster to death.
Just in cased you missed that, our fearless leader stabs the villain in the neck to resolve the conflict. Yes it is a plant-based lifeform, but it also has eyes and a mouth and a neck that Leonardo stab until it is dead. I believe this is the first time that the Turtles in the cartoon have killed anyone. It is mildly disturbing, but the show plays it as an act of great bravery as it withers away to nothing. Also, apparently Mikey is into his whole plant-drag lifestyle now. Which, not going to yuck any yums, you be you Mikey.
There is an outro scene where April, seemingly over that whole kidnapping episode gives the guys a venus flytrap as a plant. And it bites Mikey. Hilarity ensues, roll credits.
Gang. This was a bad one. Not as bad as some episodes are to come, but the plot here is loosely hanging together. It starts being about this carnival, then a plant alien lifeform. It takes a short detour for April to be kidnapped by Shredder, which goes exactly nowhere before jerking back to the plant lifeform. It all feels like three or four incomplete ideas that are jammed together, rather than having a cohesive A plot that it really wants to tell. Nominally that would be the plant monster, but it also is invested with continuing the story of the crystal. And again, what’s up with that bit of the villains losing their fragment, only to immediately get it back again?
There are a few nice moments, and to see Leonardo unquestionably kill a living creature is a real trip. But this episode is the worst example of the herky-jerky plotting this show has had so far, to the point where there is no solid ground to it. Hopefully the next two parts of this four-part saga will be more coherent.