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.
This episode opens when a bit of deja vu: after Donatello has created a new tracker for the fragments of the Eye of Sarnath (I looked up what the official spelling is; I prefer mine but here at Cowbloga Industries we aim for accuracy), the Turtles are on the hunt and wearing increasingly ridiculous and not terribly helpful disguises. This time they opted for sanitation workers with Amish beards and killer shades. Raphael is reasonably cross about the look.
The Turtles are on the fragment hunt, but because Baxter was able to guess the trajectory of the fragments when the spaceship blew up (a nice plot point carry-over from the last episode), Shredder and Baxter have the jump on them already. They literally fish the fragment out of the bay and Shredder goes to combine the three fragments to complete the Eye of–
Wait a minute, why does Shredder have the second fragment of the Eye? At the end of Mean Machines, the Turtles defeat O.M.N.U.S. and the baddies have to flee because of course they do. But if the fragment was what game O.M.N.U.S. its supreme intelligence in the first place, wouldn’t they have necessarily left it behind?
This leads to a general observation I think I can make now as we round the corner on this particular set of episodes: I don’t think the connective tissue is especially helpful in establishing a theme across these four episodes. Between the awkwardness of needing the bad guys to lose the first fragment so they could just find it again in the second part and now this weird continuity hiccup, it becomes increasingly difficult to reason out why these stories have this connective tissue. It is especially odd because the powers the fragments have felt arbitrary at best, barely connected and not creating a rising tension but rather a slight reminder of “There are these power crystals that are causing this to happen” before digging into the story they could easily told without the McGuffin. Mutagen in a weird way becomes this later, when whole stories are based around the effects of mutagen but barely have anything to do with it in the proper plot.
That grumble aside, the Shredder does finally combine the three-could-have-been-four fragments together to complete the eye. But perhaps more importantly, we get a rare, full on maskless shot of Shredder’s face!
This is both a big deal because it is so unheard of, but also because it drives home a point that is important to remember: Shredder is Japanese. This doesn’t seem important (especially in a show that stars four mutated reptiles, so representation isn’t exactly a serious need), but it is still a significant thing to see. Perhaps more significant? This is the voice of Shredder.
That’s right, in case you didn’t know, James “Uncle Phil” Avery was the voice of shredder for much of the 1987 cartoon’s run, and easily the best actor in that series to play the role. Again, in the broad history of representation, being the voice for a somewhat bumbling but still menacing villain in an honestly erratically entertaining cartoon from the late 80s-early 90s is probably a small victory. But I remember seeing these moments in the cartoon as a child and finding it really fascinating that Shredder wasn’t white, that he had a face and an identity that made him…different somehow from other villains, and from me. This scene really drove that home again.
Oh also, Baxter (who WAS whitewashed remember) has a ray gun that we’ll find out throughout this episode basically does whatever plot dictates. For instance: when he realizes he is being trailed by the Turtles, his raygun causes their disguises to disappear, which attracts the attention of some especially anti-Turtle dockhands who proceed to get into a fight, allowing Baxter to get away. This is very convenient, but it is also by far the most reasonable thing Baxter’s ray gun does in this episode. More on this later.
Anyway, after handling these dock hands, the Turtles are able to track down Shredder again just as he has completed the Eye’s melding. Krang, who is on the communicator with Shredder, points out correctly that Shredder (and we the audience) have no idea what the eye can do; Shredder doesn’t seem deterred by this, and focuses simply on finding for it to destroy the Turtles, who take that as their cue to show up.
Donning his mask, Shredder reveals that he now knows (unlike literally ten seconds before) that the eye is capable of transforming anything into anything else. This is…a rather loosely defined power, both because it basically is a license for anything to happen. For his first act of molecular manipulation, Shredder decides to turn a dragon on a Chinese take-out box into a real dragon!
Very cool! He follows that up by turning Leonardo’s katana into…ice cream cones. Less impressive though we do get to learn that apparently Leo is grossed out by ice cream, which is real rich given some of the actual garbage the Turtles put on their pizzas.
Shredder then sics his pet dragon on the Turtles. In the scuffle, Donatello loses his crystal tracker, Michelangelo and Leonardo catch a ride on the dragon and Raphael’s sai is turned into some pretty flowers. This whole fight sequence is a great combination of silly and actually exciting, which is when this show is most itself. I know I knock on this show’s sense of humor a lot, but it is mostly good natured and can have some genuinely charming (if not quite funny) moments.
All of this exciting action is broken up to introduce us to a new character in the rich TMNT lore: Blodgett! WIth a name like that, I would excuse you for thinking this is an exciting new alien creature, but no this is another Channel 6 employee, namely the driver for April O’Neil and Vernon Fenwick’s “mobile unit”, also known as a van.
Here is what you need to know about Blodgett:
-He’s a nerd
-Vernon is a dick to him, but fuck Vernon
-He’s generally well-meaning if a bit ditzy
-Spoilers, he won’t be around long. Not because anything especially tragic happens to him, he just kinda disappears after this one and only appearance. Despite the fact that other characters are introduced to who just as easily could be Blodgett, and he’s generally five percent more likeable than all the other non-April Channel Six employees, which is to say he is only marginally punchable.
Anyway, Blodgett is left in the van as the actual journalists get the story, but oops there are dragons and shit around and Blodgett’s fight or flight kicks in and he has to jet. Blodgett is almost-sorta likeable, but he follows the fine Channel 6 tradition of being kind of bad at his job.
Meanwhile, the Turtles continue to fight with Shredder. Eventually Donatello is able to knock the helmet off of Shredder, which means that he isn’t able to keep all the things he changed with the eye. This is good! Except that Leo and Mikey were still riding that dragon (not a euphemism), so they begin to plummet to their seeming death as well as our first commercial break.
We return to the scene of falling Turtles, only for them to fall harmless into the swimming pool of the yacht as opposed to the miles of ocean surrounding it. False alarm on the whole hero death, as Shredder runs off and the Turtles regroup.
Elsewhere, on the pier, Blodgett is still driving away in panic and eventually abandons his van rather than using the breaks. Again, Blodgett is very bad at his job as a driver. The van sinks, but Blodgett discovers a mysterious helmet on the pier, which go their by…circumstances I suppose. Apparently the yacht was closer to shore than it seemed. Blodgett gets fired, and seems generally nonplussed about the whole thing.
In his lonely apartment, Blodgett complains to his cat Mortimer about getting fired from four jobs in one year, which at some point you might want to reconsider your work practices. I would continue to give Blodgett a hard time for this, but I am a bit distracted by just how gosh darn cute his cat is.
Hi Mortimer! Good kitty Mortimer!
Ahem. Blodgett listens to a self-motivation tape called “How to Fix Your Messed Up Life”, a title which is both not punchy and entirely too judgmental but hey whatever works for you Bloddy. Blodgett lays down and listens to the tape, which is basically an 80s version of the Secret. Instructed to think of a limousine, Blodgett does exactly that, which in turn transforms his couch into a limousine. Blodgett, rather than thinking anything fishy, just decides that the power of positive thinking has worked for him in a very literal way it has never worked for anyone else ever. Maybe I am beginning to see why Blodgett doesn’t show up again.
The Turtles, regrouping in the sewer, don their second example of a pizza delivery boy disguise, which looks suspiciously like their sanitation worker disguises earlier with a pizza now plastered across the back. I know I joked last episode about how the Groucho Monks outfits would have been a great toy, but at this point I don’t get the point of the regular costume changes for the Turtles. Especially when ten times out of ten, they immediately jump out of them as soon as anything happens.
We get a brief glimpse into the domestic life of Shredder and Baxter as Shredder complains about having lost the Eye just after forming it together. Baxter tries to explain that he has a method to regain it, thanks to the fragment tracker that Donatello dropped (they call it Sarnath-o-meter, but I refuse). But Shredder isn’t hearing it, too upset and more or less tells Baxter off. So having had enough, Baxter walks off to find the helmet and the Eye himself. This continues the trend we talked about last episode, where the villains of this show aren’t always on the same page.
Baxter is an especially interesting case because he is written so unevenly. One moment he is a completely dedicated, to the point of obsessive, sycophant to Shredder; the next he is plotting his own schemes to undermine his boss. And remember he was originally a mad inventor who Shredder manipulated into working against the Turtles. Baxter has another major change coming up shortly, but suffice to say that has one of the few traceable character arcs of anyone on this show, and is one of my personal favorites. Here though, he mainly serves the function of complication to an already tricky plot.
We then cut back to Blodgett, who wonders now that he has a limo in his living room (the ultimate sign of opulence), where is he going to put all those comic books he’s been meaning to collect? Thinking about comics causes said limousine to turn into stacks of comic books that like suspiciously just like normal books, which then tumble, causing Blodgett to confirm his dweebish status by crying out “MOMMY!” Convinced something is going on beyond just the power of positive thinking, he turns his attention to the magic helmet he’s still wearing. Which begs the question, why is he still wearing it?
Just as Blodgett realizes he doesn’t need a job because he’ll just create money (which is a bad idea by the way), Baxter finds him and utilizes maybe the coolest thing that this show has unveiled yet.
HIS LASER GUN CAN CREATE GIANT CARTOON LEGS AND ARMS. The fact that the show just does this as a matter of fact is great, because it doesn’t feel the need to justify, warn or prepare you for a leg-and-arm-gun. It just does it, under the pretense of “Baxter invents weird shit, so this falls in line”. It is just a madcap, random moment that I love it. Anyway, using his ARM AND LEG GUN, Baxter steals the helmet from Blodgett and leaves him tied up. He also discards the…sigh…Sarnath-O-Meter, because what use could it be to him? He seems to have missed the part where it might be of use to someone else to track him down. You know, like he did to Blodgett.
The first order of business for Baxter is to turn a burned out warehouse into a literal replica of the Taj Mahal for his new home. He also calls it, and I am quoting here, “an Oedipus that reflects my genius”, a phrase that I am still unpacking and not sure what to do with. Either way, the Turtles, who have been looking for Shredder’s helmet by literally staring at the ground, get a break when they see Baxter with the helmet right in front of them. Stripping off their super important disguises, they rush into battle.
Unfortunately for the Turtles, Baxter is ready for them and turns a giant cowboy billboard into a giant Clayface that Baxter calls his personal chef, plus the old standard of a turtle soup joke as we fade out to final commercial.
Before we get back to the main action, Blodgett is still tied up in his apartment, when his sweet little kitty cat Mortimer frees him. Running out and finding the tracker, he then rushes in to where Baxter might be.
Meanwhile, the Turtles battle Baxter’s giant glob monster. Leonardo argues the goop could be deadly, which is immediately proven to not be the case and then has the most Leonardo line delivery ever in “Don’t worry Michelangelo, I will set you free!” as if he was auditioning for an Off-Off-Broadway production of It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman. Between this and being yucked out by Ice Cream earlier, this is a very good episode if you like laughing at Leonardo.
The Turtles never formulate a plan that is more than “run at the monster and hit it”, and so are all quickly overcome. Thankfully someone comes to their rescue: Shredder shows up and is so pissed at Baxter for stealing “his” helmet and tries to reclaim it. Baxter, proving himself a big monster fan creates a second one, this time made out of electricity.
While the Turtles are dealing with that, Shredder single-handedly gets past the glob monster (again proving himself the Turtles’ superior), and then attempts to take his helmet back, only for Blodgett to show up and also lay claim to the helmet. This leads to a great tug of war, and through sure will and determination, Blodgett it able to steal the helmet away from the master ninja criminal mastermind and his brilliant inventor sidekick!
Just kidding, Shredder punches Blodgett in the face, then he takes the helmet and the Sarnath-O-Meter because he recognizes why having both is practical. This has the unfortunate side effect of making all the monsters Baxter created disappear, which means that Turtles never actually have to figure out a plan of how to defeat them. But Shredder reveals his own masterful evil intentions: he traps the Turtles in a magic shrinking plastic bubble!
Maybe give the eye back to Baxter. Shredder then pulls a Bond villain and leaves his enemies to perish because what could possibly go wrong there? He then floats off on a flying carpet to destroy the rest of New York. There is a cryptic bit where Leonardo passingly mentions that he has both the Eye and the Sarnath-O-Meter, which Donatello mentions make him a walking time bomb. But no time to explain what that means, April and Splinter are here to save the day! Splinter splits open the magic shrinking bubble with…ninja-moves. A nearby wall falls on the Turtles for reasons of dramatic tension, only for Blodgett to have a moment to do something worthwhile as he rescues April.
They have a moment, as if to suggest Blodgett may be developed into a character of import. I can not emphasize enough that this does not happen. What does happen is Blodgett informs April and the Turtles that the Eye doesn’t seem able to affect gold, thus they’ll need something that will exploit that weakness. April thankfully has a museum curator friend who is willing let her borrow ancient Roman shields made out of gold, and then presumably lose their job as a museum curator.
Taking a page out of Baxter’s playbook, Shredder creates an army of giant stone monsters that are attacking the “Interstate Bridge”, a term that is not especially helpful as I am pretty sure that describes all the bridges in New York City. The Turtles use the blimp portion of their Turtle Blimp to take care of the monsters. Then they attack Shredder who immediately lose his helmet again. Maybe add a chin strap to that thing my dude.
Shredder rushes to retrieve his helmet, but the eye and the Sarnath-O-Meter come into contact with each other. It is only at this point that Donatello explains that the Sarnath-O-Meter (I guess I’ve come around on that term) was expressly designed to cause a massive explosion if and when it came into contact with the Eye, thus destroying it and keeping it from getting into the wrong hands. Shredder, in a moment of reasonable self preservation, chucks both into the water.
In the resulting typhoon, Shredder escapes. While Michelangelo wonders if he “bit the big one,” Leonardo speculates that they aren’t going to be so lucky. So there you have it, Leonardo praying for the death of their greatest enemy. They also say he’ll be back sooner than they may think. Spoilers: Shredder is back next episode.
We close out with the Turtles hanging out in Blodgett’s apartment. He apparently got rehired at Channel 6 thanks to April, despite the fact that he not only drove his van into the bay, but he seemed to be a driver who was unclear on how breaks work. This is another scene that seems to suggest that Blodgett is being added to regular supporting cast. Again, this is his first and only appearance on the program Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Also Raphael does some channel surfing, shows some familiar-but-not-trademarked programs he skips past before finding a weird Rambo-but-as-a-turtle show. There is a lot of gags going on in this final segment.
The episode of course closes on a pizza joke which basically boils down to Blodgett will be poor forever because he is bad at his job, and poor people eat pizza. Goodnight folks!
This little mini-saga over, I have to say that the back half was far more enjoyable than the first. But I stand by my sentiment this never was served by being a loose, overarching narrative. For better or worse, I don’t know when this happens again; the series finally settles now into telling more isolated stories, which works better for the syndicated nature of the show anyway. But we’ll always have the Sarnath-O-Meter.
Next time: The pizza bites back! Except not at all! Also, more trademark infringing!