When Casey Met April: “Nano”

“You want a daddy?  You do what I tell you–I’ll be your daddy.” — Harry Parker

Written by: Eric Luke
Original Air Date: March 8, 2003
Narrator: Donatello
Introduces: Nano; Harry Parker; Dr. Marion Richards; 2nd Time Around

Synopsis:

In a lab somewhere in Manhattan, Dr. Marion Richards records  information on her project, codenamed “Nanotech”.  As she watches the nanomachine colony disassemble and re-assemble machinery, she notes that despite her attempts, the artificial intelligence controlling the nanomachines keeps personifying, exhibiting a personality akin to that of a 3-year old.  Complaing about a headache, she exits the room, and does not notice that the nanos which she had stunned into inactivity, have once again regained consciousness and forced their way out of their testing tube.  Using the room’s ventilation systems, the nanomachine colony escapes.

April O’Neil has plans to re-open 2nd Time Around, an antique store that once belonged to her father.  She has asked the turtles to help set up the shop, and they in turn have recruited Casey Jones.  Despite an initial mutal attraction, Casey immediately antagonizes April after he slights her decision to keep the shop open until she figures out what to do with her life, and after his attempt to help results in broken china.

Elsewhere small-time con man Harry Parker is complaining about his lot in life when he finds Nano, who has turned a cassette tape to create a tiny robot, and has decided that the crook his “daddy”.  Initially confused, Harry quickly realizes the potential applications of Nano, and succesfully uses him to dissassemble a jewelry store’s alarms.

Days later, April has once again recruited the turtles, this time for protection (there’s been a series of robberies near her store).  The turtles have once again called upon Casey, who stands watch outside the building.  Good thing, too, since Harry has decided to rob the store.

As Harry and Nano (who has stolen a series of masks in order to make himself look more expressive following a comment by Harry), they run into the masked vigilante.  Panicky, Nano absorbs a car in order to battle Casey, and  knocks him against a wall.  The turtles, hearing the ruckus, join the battle, eventually forcing Nano and Harry to retreat, thanks in part to Don’s timely application of a blowtorch to the A.I.’s backside.

As the turtles recuperate and try to figure out just what the shell happened, Don notes that Nano had left something behind–a small piece of himself, which is now moving independently.   As a now-awake April bandages a hurt Casey, Don inspect the nano remains and discovers what makes it tick.  Realizing the danger that a continously-multiplying, uncontrollable nanomachine colony poses, and noting its apparent weakness to intense heat, he stresses the importance of stoping it as soon as possible.  Asked how they’ll be able to track it, he notes that he should be able to cobble up a tracking device from the machinery in the Battle Shell.  Casey, however, declines an invitation to join them, as he lays on the couch under April’s care, a position he seems to be enjoying.

Inside a junkyard across town, Harry reflects on how Nano has turned his life around when the turtles’ Battle Shell arrives.  As the warrior terrapins do their best (which, unfortunately, is not good enough) to dissasemble Nano faster than it can reassemble itself, Harry tries to aid his “son”; after Don immobilizes Nano with a crane-mounted magnet, he deactivates it, not quite realizing that Nano had been positioned directly above a blast furnace.  As he watches his partner-in-crime scream in pain as it “dies”, Harry laments his stupidity and misfortune, until a squadron of policemen appear and take him away.

As the turtles drive back to April’s shop, ruminate on whether Nano’s fate was deserved, given its infantile demeanor and less-than-ideal father figure.  Once they arrive at 2nd Time Around and  overhear Casey bickering with April, they wisely decide to give them their space.

—-

I remember this episode not being terribly well-received back when it first aired.  I have no idea why, since I think its quite good–even more so when you consider that it’s the first story not based on existing canon.  Sure, it may not have much to do with the season’s overarching plots, but so what?

The idea of a monster made out of nanomachines is not a new one, but I think it was overall well executed.  You have a distinctive design—the mask motif is a nice touch; a solid motivation that makes the character sympathetic and thematically ties it to the turtles; and a good plot built around him.  He’s no Hun—for one, there’s only a limited number of stories you can tell with the character—but he’s still a worthwhile addition to the mythology.

Still, Nano really isn’t the star of this episode; Harry is.  In less than 20 minutes, the grifter manages to get some significant (if ambiguous) development.  Does he truly feel affection for his “kid”, or does he just see him as a meal ticket?  It’s incredibly hard to say.  In any case, he comes off as a rather likeable–if by no means squeaky clean–guy.  One wonders if he was similarities to Oliver Twist‘s Fagin are intentional or merely coincidental.

Moving on…

Casey and April’s relationship is a pretty unique in Western Animation.  With any sort of cartoon (and western television in general) the rule seems to be that happy couples are a thing to be avoided.  Writers will work their asses off to bring a couple together, but once that happens, it’s time to either 1) work just as hard to separate them, so that you can try to get them back together again or 2) end the series.  Most writers just seem incapable of conceiving the idea that a couple can be interesting to watch; conversely, they seem to believe that once two people get together, there are no more obstacles left for them to face (which further implies that couple obstacles are the only obstacles worth discussing, which opens up a whole can of worms I don’t plan on discussing right now).  Given that, the fact that April and Casey get together midway through the series and stay together until the end (except for that one time) makes the couple pretty damn special.

Even among the get those couples who manage to get together and stay together (which includes couples  such as Kim Possible/ Ron Stoppable and Xanatos / Fox but otherwise seems pretty exclusive) Casey and April’s relationship stands out for the way it evolves throughout the show: over the course of seven seasons, we get to see them meet, become friends, begin a relationship, and eventually marry—a quite satisfying arc which I don’t think any other cartoon couple can really claim.

More substantively, I like the coupling because, under the superficial differences—mostly stemming from their different upbringings—they’re actually a lot alike.  Even when you take away superficial stuff like their similar taste in movies (Rio Gato) or mechanics/engineering, they share similar cores.  I’m not entirely sure I could explain it, except that it has something to do with their mutual acceptance of the turtles as their surrogate family, and their apparent inability to form significant friendships outside of them (note that their wedding guest list is comprised almost entirely of people they’ve met through the turtles; while this is partly for the benefit of the viewer, it’s still quite suggestive).  The fact that they tend not to put too much of a premium on money also suggest quite similar world views.

Aaaaanyways…the whole point in bringing this up is to say that while I really like how the relationship ends, I really don’t like how it begins.  Until about midway through season 2 (specifically, the second Nano episode, which is a turning point for the relationship), the two characters follow the usual “they’re-obviously-attracted-to-each-other-but-are-embarrased-about-it” pattern (I’m sure TV Tropes has a specific  name for that; I’m not looking for it) , which is frankly, quite boring–it’s been done, guys.  While it starts promisingly enough—their discussion about April’s motives for reopening the store actually says quite a bit about the individual characters—it soon devolves into discussions on broken china and other inanities.  I know that we can’t have the characters meet and immediately have sex (kids’ show) and given that they haven’t had time to see through their differences, it wouldn’t really make sense anyway, but I do think there could have been a middle ground.  Fortunately, things get a lot better after this episode.

The most poignant bit in the episode is one that had initially flown over my head: April’s admission that she didn’t know what to do with her life.  Back when this first aired, I was a senior in high school with the next four or so years of my life planned out, so I didn’t think much of it.  Now, after going through very similar feelings of stasis, it feels like one of the most real, most mature scenes in the series, and its a pity (or perhaps not—things like these tend to work better as subtext with this series) that it’s really not really elaborated upon much, since I think this actually provides significant insights into April’s character.  It’s also sad that, as the series goes on, 2nd Time Around goes from being What April Is Doing Right Now to being What April Does, which clearly isn’t where she saw her life going; while we know that she eventually becomes the co-founder of a multi-billion dollar company, its disappointing to not see her recover from her initial setback within the series.

Random thoughts:

Viewers with good memory will note that the man seen at the beginning of this episode being scammed by Harry looks identical to the eventual recurring character the mayor of New York–obviously, the character designer took an existing design, gave it a suit, and told him “you, sir, will be my Michael Bloomberg substitute.  Have fun!”  I occasionally wonder if the similarity is intentional and they’re supposed to be related—or even the same character.  Given that the mayor eventually proves to be very gullible (or just very corrupt), it makes a certain amount of sense.

There’s a set amount of tropes for battling robots in a junkyard, and this episode hits most of them.  Trash compactor?  Check.  Magnet.  Check.  Blast-furnace?  Check.

Voice-actor check: Harry Parker: Eric Stuart.  Nano: Veronica Taylor.  Dr. Richards: Megan Hollingshead.

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One Response to When Casey Met April: “Nano”

  1. Pingback: La noche que volvimos a ser gente: “Darkness on the Edge of Town” « Monsters of New York

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