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.
Recurring characters are tricky business.
On the one hand, as a writer working on an ongoing series you want to create new ideas and textures to the world you are contributing to, especially within the context of being (relatively) early in a show’s development. New characters are a key part of that world building, especially when your setting is the broadest stereotype of New York City. Fresh blood keeps things fresh and unexpected.
By the same token though, if characters are introduced into the world and then never heard from again, they don’t actually help the growth of that show’s mythos and instead become special guest stars. They are on-off concepts that make for a string of disposable faces, monsters-of-the-week that feel interchangeable. At the beginning of this season, when Baxter Stockman reappeared, there is a sense of that character carrying on after they leave the scene. But in that case, it was for Baxter to join the main cast for a grip of episodes before being replaced once again by Rocksteady and Bebop. This show has not yet had characters that pop in and out; they either are here for their sole episode or are an ever-present aspect of the tapestry of the Turtles’ New York for multiple episodes. This is partially due to timing; we are only 15 episodes (only) into this journey, so expecting minor characters to make a re-appearance is maybe a big ask.
But that changes today, as Michael Reaves gives us our second Neutrinos episode. And if you are confused about the title, don’t worry, I am too. The last time we saw the Neutrinos, the ill-defined rebel teenagers from Krang’s home dimension, it was in Season 1 highlight “Hot Rodding Teenagers from Dimension X”. This is their second appearance, which is simply called “Teenagers from Dimension X”. It would almost make more sense if they were given a new verb to be defined by, but their title just became more nondescript. I am sure next time they show up it will in an episode called “Just Some Teenagers”.
Our episode opens with the Turtles watching a black-and-white Turtle kaiju movie, of course rooting for the giant monster. Turtles got to stick together. Weirder is the way that Michelangelo refers to it as a love story, which is more or less a sloppy way for the rest of the Turtles to remind us that he appeared to have a crush on Kala, the female Neutrino.
The topic of interspecies relationships is an ongoing challenging topic that the Ninja Turtle franchise regularly has to tackle in its varied incarnations. April has been the subject of attraction for various turtles over the years, as well as committed romantic relationships with mutants of other species at various times. It is the nature of the Turtles being treated as more-or-less humans, and romance being a hard-baked concept in the superhero genre.
While Michelangelo insists he never thinks about Kala despite literally pining over an 8×10 he has of her, the Neutrinos themselves are just kind of cruising around Dimension X aimlessly because that’s what teenagers do I guess? They happen across the Technodrome and decide to go harass Krang because teenagers? The Neutrinos motivations are fairly loosely defined in the best of times.
No matter their reasons, the Neutrinos tap into Krang’s frequency with Shredder and eavesdrop on their latest diabolical plan. Krang is wanting to send a mental neutralizer to Shredder, but reminds it works on a “precisely frequency of 10 trillion megahertz”. The Neutrinos helpfully point out that whatever that means, it is the exact same amount of power that runs their cool floating Eldorado.
The Mental Neutralizer cross the transdimensional portal, landing in Shredder’s new hideout at an abandoned amusement park (a classic villain hang), and says that once he’s able to get the neutralizer up and running, it will render the Ninja Turtles brain dead. Then Krang will put them on display, which I have to say is slightly more gruesome than Krang’s typical plans, and one time he tried to completely disintegrate Baxter. I would also call all of this expositioning between Krang and Shredder fairly convenient for the Neutrinos to get hip to the plot, but honestly this is not at all a dissimilar to Krang and Shredders every other conversation.
The Neutrinos are reasonably concerned about the threat to their friends the Ninja Turtles and then say that since their car and the neutralizer operate on the same frequency they will be able to cancel out the other. I would say that I’m fairly sure that isn’t how frequency works, but I also am not even sure how a car and a mental neutralizer run on “frequencies” so I’ll let it go. Also, we get to a see Foot Soldier! Been awhile since one of those losers showed up!
The Neutrinos dip on the Technodrome and then reveal they have the ability to create their own portals to and from Earth, which is handy given the trouble they had getting back home last time. Krang, as always freaked out by the idea of free-wheeling teenagers, informs Shredder who (as always) is into the idea of having a way to get into Dimension X without Krang’s blessing.
The Neutrinos’ first order of business is to make a general nuisance of themselves at the Channel 6 building, doing the cosmic-car equivalent of donuts. April O’Neil informs the Turtles about the Neutrinos unexpected return. In addition, Shredder catches a news report, meaning he also converges on the Channel 6 building. Just as the Neutrinos attempt to tell the Turtles about Shredder’s plan, they get shot out of the sky and kidnapped by Rocksteady and Bebop. Cue an exciting van versus glider chase sequence, which ends in a crash into a fruit stand. But the Neutrinos are still captured, and that gets us to our first commercial break.
Back in the Turtle Lair, Michelangelo is understandably stressed out about the one girl who seems vaguely interested in him being in peril. He attempts to meditate, which is rudely and comically interrupted when Donatello comes barging in on the newest in the line from Playmates: motorized skateboards, referred to as Cheapskates! He also has a handy Neutrino tracker, because Donatello spends half of his time creating hyper-specific tracking devices.
Elsewhere the Neutrinos get the true kidnap-victim treatment by waking up on dirty mattresses. As they wake up, Shredder demands that they share their dimensional portal technology. The Neutrinos reveal that the portal technology is connected to their car, the Starmobile, which was shot down but not collected with them. Rocksteady and Bebop are sent to find it, and then immediately run into each other instead. Classic.
Unfortunately for the baddies, the city impounded it, which is fairly impressive for a car with no wheels. There doesn’t seem to be anything that phases the New York that TMNT takes place in. Just as Shredder gets this bad news, the Turtles and their patented cheapskates bust into the scene. Rocksteady and Bebop lay down suppressing fire while Shredder attempts to start up the mental neutralizer. But he is thwarted when Dask attacks Shredder and the Goons with a roller coaster.
Worth noting, the proportions on the Neutrinos this episode are horrific. They have giant head, broad shoulders that taper down to perfectly triangular bodies held up by toothpicks. Kala looks generally okay save for the gigantic head, but both Dask and Zak (which are the other Neutrinos by the way; Dask is Mr. Blue Hair while Zak is Shades to his friends) are relentlessly unpleasant to look at.
The Neutrinos hitch a ride on the cheapskates as they all go to the city impound to get the Starmobile back. This lead to another showdown between the baddies and our heroes again, but the good guys once more get away and Shredder literally has a temper tantrum about it. Reaves in the past has treated the villains of this show more seriously, but here is really leaning into them being hopelessly inept.
On their getaway, the Neutrinos try to get back to their home of Dimension X, but the Starmobile’s portal device isn’t working. Checking under the hood, they discover that their “Carnithiam crystal power source” that fuels the portal was broken in the crash earlier. Michelangelo suggests they just build one, to which Donatello snidely points out it would take a particle accelerator, having approximately zero time for Mikey’s idiocy. But of course Leonardo knows where there is a particle accelerator.
Wait, what? Why does Leonardo know where a particle accelerator is? Moreover, it is revealed that it is located in a part of New York City that apparently got bombed out at some point. Donatello starts to try to use the highly sensitive, highly technical scientific equipment to repair the crystal, explaining if the slightest thing goes wrong it would cause a radioactive explosion. Also, it has a robot arms with Mickey Mouse hands. Because science is very serious, but can have a fun side. Anyway, the crystal heats up rapidly and Donny warns of an impending explosion as we toss to our final commercial.
While the Turtles and Neutrinos debate if they should just bail on the Crystal, Krang informs Shredder where all of his biggest headaches are. Rather than seeing the way his luck is going today, Shredder rushes into more inevitable humiliation.
Donatello is able to avoid the aforementioned nuclear explosion, completing the repairs on the diamond. Also, Michelangelo continues to flirt with Kala in increasingly insufferable ways. He also makes this face, which more or less sums up his general demeanor throughout this entire episode.
Another slight plot point is explained here. As Shredder and the Goons arrive, Bebop is confused why such sensitive scientific equipment would be located in the literal wasteland. Shredder explains that clearly whoever placed this lab here recognized if something went bad and there was a major meltdown, it would at least only be affected the shitty party of the city. More on this soon. Oh also, more robot guards appear so that Bebop actually has something to shoot. It has been a few minutes. The Turtles don’t have a monopoly on reckless robot maiming.
With the Crystal repaired (and significantly shrunk), the heroes attempt to return to the Starmobile, only for Shredder to finally get the upper hand and knock out Turtles. Having the crystal and the Starmobile, he now is able to open his own portal to Dimension X. He also leaves the unconcious Neutrinos behind, stating that “the vermin that live here will finish them off”, raising questions of just how aggressive the rodent population is in TMNTNYC. Or it would, if the Neutrinos didn’t wake up immediately after Shredder drives off in the Starmobile. Never trust vermin to finish your dirty work, Saki!
Concerned and stranded, the Neutrinos meet up with April O’Neil who tells them that they are on the wrong part of town. As she is trying to get out the neighborhood, we finally learn why: the area is protected by a Mad Max style biker gang called the Cyber Punks. This is a concept added to this episode of a 22 minute cartoon with a full four minutes left. It also still doesn’t answer the question of A. why the Cyber Punks have a particle accelerator or B. why Leonardo knew about it.
In a nondescript dump somewhere (what happened to the amusement park?), Shredder reveals his original plan before he got all obsessed with carjacking interdimensional teenagers. The Mental Neutralizer is revealed, as well as how it works: subjects are loaded into it, then their brains are drained. Um. That’s it. They’ll get brain drained. Which definitely sounds bad.
Back in Cyber Punk territory, April almost escapes with Neutrinos but are stopped when their road is blocked by an overturned bus. Thinking quickly, April uses the flash of her camera as a flashbang and then flees into the sewers with the Neutrinos to make an escape. The Cyber Punks are mystified but keep patrolling their turf.
Back at the A-plot, Shredder finally sits down and…randomly pushes buttons in the Neutrinos car in search for the ‘open portal’ button. Instead he pushes the ‘freeze me in my seat while my enemies escape my technological brain drain machine trap button. Furthermore, the Turtles use stray fire from the Goons to laser-off the rope that was used to tie them up, and the Neutrinos show up, AND the Cyber Punks roll in. All of this leaves the baddies with one choice: time to run away.
Everyone climbs into the Starmobile and rockets off, leaving the Cyber Punks behind. And like Captain Hoffman before him, the Cyber Punk are never seen again. I understand this omission slightly more than Hoffman; a group of post-apocalyptic style bikers who have one portion of New York they protect as their turf isn’t that wild in the grand scheme of things that show up on Ninja Turtles, but it also isn’t a concept that can be returned to as easily. Plus they are bizarrely crammed into the last moments of an episode which itself is already all over the place. This seems like another story seed Reaves is trying to plant for future work, but not shocked it never goes anywhere.
In our outro, the Neutrinos say their goodbyes, including Kala telling Michelangelo how much she is going to miss him. Mikey, being an emotionally stunted turtle, expresses his affection the literally only way he knows how: sharing pizza. To be fair, sharing pizza is a major sign of sacrifice for him so take what you can get Kala.
As I stated at the beginning, bringing characters back is important but tricky. I really like “Hot-Rodding Teenagers from Dimension X”. It has the same frantic, all-over style this episode does but just congeles in a way that feels anarchic rather than nonsensical. By comparison, this episode has that sense of speed and free-flowing energy, but is also much more tonally inconsistent. Shredder and the gang are treated like dopes for the majority of it, whole plot regarding a major mind altering device leads to absolutely nothing, there is a romance plotline which mainly consists of Michelangelo trying to hard and then a portion that establishes a dystopian neighborhood in New York.
One of the things I like about Reaves’s scripts is that he has a way of throwing lots of different things together that don’t necessarily seem to fit but then has them interact in interesting ways. “Splinter No More” has Shredder summoning an extradimensional demon as a B plot. But this episode just doesn’t have that connective tissue that holds the set together. It feels clumsy by comparison, as if the pieces are being made up as they go along. It is an improvised story that adds, forgets and then returns elements as it sees fits, not looking back. There is something admirable about the wild abandon, but both the writer and the characters have been better in the past.
Plus the title really is inexcusably identical to the last Neutrino episode.
Next Time: April is feeling a bit catty, and Irma has to save the day! Oh boy, lots of Irma content! Can’t wait!