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.
We have reached a landmark: the end of the second season of our seemingly lifelong journey of watching the 1987-1996 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon! The season, while less cohesively a singular story than the first five-episode mini-series, does hang together fairly well. So let’s recap real quick:
After being banished to Dimension X, Krang sends Shredder back to Earth. Krang also offers little support, wanting Shredder to prove himself capable of taking care of the Ninja Turtles on his own. Immediately proving he can’t do it by himself, Shredder recruits his old partner Baxter Stockman to help him, and generally sets about trying to kill the Turtles. This routinely doesn’t go well.
This is followed by a series of connected episodes where the Turtles attempt to track down fragments of an alien crystal that grant seemingly random powers. This culminates in the crystal being destroyed. After a brief brush with some very original looking alien monsters, we have a bit of a shift as Baxter Stockman is mutated into a fly man, allowing Rocksteady and Bebop to return as the standard sidekicks for Shredder.
At this point things get a bit more monster-of-the-week, introducing some new mutants, new enemies that are immediately forgotten, a new robot, some old friends and that one episode I kind of hated. There is little to tie these episodes together except one thing: Shredder becomes increasingly convinced that he needs to find a way back to Dimension X without Krang’s help, while also telling Krang that if he would just bring the Technodrome back things would be much easier. The overarching threat of the back half of this season is very much that if there was a way to get to and from Dimension X, things would be Very Bad for our Turtles.
So it is little surprise when we get here to the end and we are promised a return of the Technodrome, especially in a script from Michael Reaves who at this point is becoming a seal of quality for this show (even though that Neutrinos episode was a little disappointing). And as this is establishing the status quo for the next season going forward, there is a degree of anticipation involved as well.
So imagine my disappointment when the episode opens with Irma bugging April about when she is going to see the Turtles next. That is another theme that has run through this season I suppose: we were introduced to Irma, who immediately became obsessed with the Ninja Turtles when she got the idea that April and the Turtles were friends. Now that she met them last episode, she assumes she is part of the club because of course that is precisely the kind of friend that Irma turns out to be.
It also is a slow news day at the office, so April is told to go out and find something to cover. Technically she is told to make news, which typically is frowned upon in the world of journalism but Berne never struck me as especially interested in sound journalistic practices. Anyway, April goes off to find something to report on and Irma stays behind to swoon about the Turtles. This is our final Irma sighting this season, and serves no purpose than to remind me that I hate Irma.
Down in the sewer, Splinter is just preparing to set off on a three-day pilgrimage that he goes on annually. This doesn’t strike April as an especially exciting story. This is of course all a feint; the general agreed upon trope of comics and cartoons is that when things are slow and dull, it just is a telegraphing that things are about to get big and exciting.
Shredder’s hangout this week appears to be an abandoned hotel lobby. As is typical, Krang and Shredder are having an argument, where Krang says that Shredder’s attempt to kill the Turtles have basically wasted his time and now he is just going to do a full-scale invasion anyway. Shredder and the Goons eventually push back, then realize ‘oh wait having the Technodrome here would actually be super useful, this is a good thing’. Rocksteady and Bebop share a sweet high-five in celebration.
Only problem is that the amount of power needed to open a portal that big is fairly substantial. Luckily Earth has just such a power source: the Niagara Falls hyrdoelectic power plant! Given technology specifically the siphon power transdimensionally, Shredder is given his marching orders. Cut to Shredder taking over a major power plant with zero resistance.
Elsewhere Splinter wanders off for his sojourn literally at the same time April informs the Turtles there has been a major blackout across New York City. Leonardo uses his Jedi-sensing powers to deduct that Shredder and Krang are involved. Which seems a bit unnecessary because it is literally always Krang and Shredder, but I will give Leonardo this one. Also there is a line-reading which has Leonardo looking directly into the camera which is a comic device this show uses sometimes that I don’t like one bit.
Shredder’s day just keeps getting better as Krang finally gives him a battalion of Foot and Rock soldiers to help defend the power plant he has taken control over. Shredder somehow thinks this is the big difference maker between his recent string of failures and this venture. This somehow means he forgot how even when he had Foot Soldiers available to him, the Turtles still mopped the floor with them.
The Turtles, investigating the blackout, are able to tap into the communications between Shredder and Krang, learning the outline of their plot to bring the Technodrome back to earth. Hoping in their blimp, they “hurry” to Niagra Falls, or at least as fast as you can traveling across New York State. I hear an airplane flight is around an hour and fifteen minutes, so a blimp is I imagine slower? But that is nothing compared to Splinter, who apparently walked all the way to Niagra Falls as quickly as it take the Turtles to fly their in the blimp.
The next morning, the Turtles arrive at the power plant, canvassing the area from above in their blimp. The problem being they make an easy target and are immediately shot down by Bebop. I need to start a tally of how many episodes go to commercial break when the Turtles are basically shot out of the sky in their blimp. Because this would be another one. This one has the additional crisis of then careening over Niagra Falls.
Using a until-now never disclosed remote control feature of the Turtle Blimp, Donatello is able to draw it close enough to drop a line that they can grab onto and get to safety. As they regroup, Splinter walks out of the forest to reveal he is a very speedy walker and also the giant portal behind them that they somehow missed.
Realizing that he must be using the power of the plant to open the portal, the Turtles decide they need someway to shut down the power supply which will help shut the portal and Raphael makes a crack about hiring beavers to build a damn and Donatello makes this face and it is everything I ever need from this show.
Eventually the plan becomes to seemingly rush the control room for the mechanical dam that controls the water flow. This involves April acting as a sexy distraction (Reaves how could you)
Michelangelo and Donatello struggling to take care of a single foot soldier and rock soldiers,
and Leonardo basically clowning all over Rocksteady. Oh also, “sleep spice” that Splinter had on him.
All of this leads to being able to cut down the water supply which in turn shuts off the power, which is a serious problem for keeping the portal open. Crisis averted!
Well not really. Basically the Turtles did the right thing, but too late as Krang has enough supplementary power to push the Technodrome over the one yard line. So just as Shredder comes in to stop the Turtles, the portal to Dimension X is able to stay open just long enough for the rest of the Technodrome to come through. Surrounded by bad guys, and staring down the barrel of a weird-laser from the Technodrome, the Turtles are in a bad spot as we head to our final commercial break of the season.
Luckily for our Green Boys, the Technodrome’s power supply is so drained by keeping the portal open that it is unable to fire the weird laser cannon. This emboldens the Turtles to realize they are really good at beating up nameless Foot and Rock soldiers and get to work just tearing through Shredder’s vast army. Using their blimps remote control again, they escape away to regroup and plan their next line of attack. Totally over it, Shredder has a full on meltdown that I’ve watched about ten-thousand times and still cracks me up.
With the Turtle’s away, Krang has his army restart the power plant so that he can generate more power for his ultimate plan. Specifically, he wants to use massive drills to cause manufactured seismic events, resulting in New York City being evacuated due to cataclysmic earthquakes. Then, once the city is deserted, Krang’s forces will take over the city and begin their conquering of the planet. Which by the standards of this show, is a solidly villainous plan.
Krang soon makes his demands clear as Earthquakes start to rock New York City, and Krang literally broadcasts to the city that they will continue until the city is completely emptied. Again, this is far more menacing and scaled at a level this show rarely works at; Krang is literally holding the people of New York hostage until they GTFO and leave it to his nefarious means.
The Turtles aren’t so confident they can do anything to stop Krang’s plan, but of course they have to try. Soon we are wandering around subterranean Technodome tracks and I am having serious Season 1 flashbacks. Soon enough they come across it, and they plan their attack. Which starts with Donatello using his own explosive shurikens, which we last saw used against the Turtles by Shredder.
The Turtles thus invade the Technodrome, with Splinter and April at their side. Splinter soon “senses” Shredder nearby and wanders off to confront his old enemy once more. These two have already had their Vader/Obi-Wan moment once before (sans the sad death part), but seeing how the Technodrome is literally just the Death Star with tank treads and an eyeball it isn’t like this show is above recycling Star Wars references.
And like a Star Wars movie, we start intercutting between various sequences. Splinter and Shredder have their latest showdown along a vaguely defined catwalk, while the Turtles face off against Rocksteady, Bebop and a grip of Foot soldiers. Shredder and Splinter both seem very into selling this as the final confrontation between them, which only reads as false advertising if you have the hindsight to know there are literally 180 more episodes of this show to go.
The Turtles do battle with the Goons (assuredly for the final time), but before long are able to overcome their enemies and switch circuitry. What precisely this means is unclear, until Krang decides to up the ante of his manufactured Earthquake plan: essentially the drill has been set to reverse, so rather than causing earthquakes on the surface, they just dig straight down.
The Turtles evacuate, along with April as the Technodrome begins to sink deeper into the Earth. Almost forgetting Splinter, they look back just in time to see his killer gymnastics routine used to make a final-second escape. As they run off, the Technodrome sinks deeper and deeper until it gets to the literal core of the earth which as we all know is a giant puddle of lava that the Technodrome disappears into, presumably killing everyone within and never being seen again.
Back at the sewer, the Turtles celebrate saving the world the only way they know how: eating more goddamn pizza. April of course got a very good story for her local news channel, and then randomly points out that she is the only full-human being in the lair. This is then played as a joke and we’re out of here!
And we did it! We made our way through two whole seasons of Ninja Turtles! And with an exciting Final Battle With Shredder Ever We Promise to boot! This episode actually does have a certain weight to it, and is definitely the biggest evil plot than any of the baddies have executed. It is somewhat undercut when the final solution is “Put the thing in reverse”, but Krang in particular is treated as a major threat. And this show traditionally has been very good about peppering out those big confrontations all along. It help raise the stakes when these moments come.
I am a little sad that we have to introduce whole new bad guys next season. Yes it was exhausting dealing with Shredder and Krang all of the last two seasons, but there was a certain comfort in there. I just hope all the characters I know are coming up, like Rat King and Leatherhead, can help fill the void left behind by these iconic villains.
Next Time: Shredder and Splinter fight, Krang has a plan for world domination, everything was a lie and time is a flat circle.
Also you may have noticed I have been posting a lot of these lately. This is largely because I have the time and no other work to do right now, so dedicated my every waking free moment to this for now. But all good things must come to an end, and I think the “Post new blogs whenever I can” format works in the summer but I need deadlines to force myself to keep on track. To that end I am going to announce a new formal format for future entries.
The plan as of right now is to keep Cowabloga as a three-times-a-week project, which will mean updates on Tuesday, Thursday and of course Satruday morning.
This will also help my sanity as we enter the dark night of the soul which is the third season of this series. At this point the show entered both five-days-a-week syndication, plus Saturday morning episodes aired exclusively on CBS. So the quality of these individual episodes vary wildly. Some are still fairly enjoyable, but some others are really rotten.
Also, as we reach them chronologically, I plan to cover other video medium that incorporates that Turtles. I don’t have any plans to cover any Ninja Turtles comics at the moment (though I highly recommend IDW’s reprints of the Archie comics series based on the television show but rapidly went in their own wild direction), but I am going to cover the movies. And that music tour they did. And that one time they were on Oprah.
Yeah things are going to get weird.