Pay Attention: “The Way of Invisibility”

“Cloaking device? What are they, Klingons?” — Casey Jones

Written by: Marty Isenberg
Original Air Date: March 22, 2003
Teaser Narrator: Raphael
Introduces: Foot Tech Ninja; The Guardian(s); The Navigators

Synopsis:

As Raph wakes up, he narrates how, in old movies, private eyes always ask “Where am I?” after they regain consciousness.  Naturally, this is what he says.  As he tries to regain his bearings and figure out where he is–strapped to an operating table in what appears to be a lab, with Baxter Stockman watching behind a two-way mirror–he recalls that, before losing consciousness, he’d been fighting thugs with Casey.  A light turns on, and Raph sees a buzz-saw approaching him.

Theme song.

At the Ominous Tower of Tentative Data Analysis, Hun, Baxter Stockman (who is now minus his left eye) and The Master discuss a field report on the turtles. Hun theorizes that they’re costumed punks; Stockman dismisses the entire thing as a “fantasy novel”. The Master is not amused, however: whatever the green-skinned ninjas are, they’re too skilled to be mere punks, and too dangerous to be ignored. Hun theorizes that they may be in league with The Master’s old enemies; Stockman considers that they’re probably the result of a government experiment. The Master, however, wants concrete answers, and assigns his two subordinates to work together in order to find out everything they can about the new thorns on his side, and if necessary, to destroy them.

At the lair, the turtles are balanced on a series of vertically-positioned bamboo poles. The lesson: to combine the Way of Balance with The Way of Invisibility by moving between the bamboo beams to try to knock Splinter off-balance while avoiding his attacks. Splinter claps the lights off to begin the exercise, but the exercise doesn’t go too far before Mikey claps the lights back on. Splinter retaliates, making the turtle lose his balance. The Sensei claps the lights off again and begins a sermon on how mastering these lessons is the only way they’ll be able to handle the unexpected.

Cue Casey Jones, who enters the lair unnoticed, and, unable to see, knocks off the field of bamboo poles, and the turtles with them.
Splinter quickly attacks the intruder, but backs off when the turtles explain that this is Casey the “nutca–guy” they’d told him about, whom the turtles had told about the lair. The Sensei apologizes and welcomes his sons’ friend into their home.

After complimenting the turtles’ lair, Casey gets down to business: a series of disturbing graffiti has been appearing on the streets. He shows them an example: a purple tag featuring four turtles skewered by a sword. He doesn’t get to explain much, however, as he gets distracted by the Sword of Tengu laying on a stand. Noting that it looks just like the sword in the graffiti, he tries to touch it but gets shocked clear across the room.

As Splinter helps Casey up, he begins leading him outside, thanking him for the warning while informing him that the turtles really must get back to their training. Casey tries to argue, saying that the turtles should head topside and kick some ass over the tags, but finds no supporters; the tags sound like a set-up, the turtles explain, and since they can’t be hurt by bunch of drawings, it’s best to simply ignore it. They take Casey to the door, but before they get him to leave, Casey notices the turtles multi-tv entertainment system, and plops himself on the couch.

At the Ominous Tower of Tentative Tech Demos, Stockman presents his newest creation before an audience consisting of Hun (whom Stockman insults as a matter of course) and The Master. The invention is a suit of cyber-armor that grants its wearer enhanced strength, speed, and agility, as well as the ability to turn invisible. The Master and Hun watch as two ninjas sporting the armor–whom Baxter dubs “Foot Tech Ninja”–demonstrate.

Once the demonstration ends, Stockman notes that he obtained the technology for the cyber-armor from a small piece of the artifact The Foot had fished out from the East River. He tells The Master if he had any sense, he’d allow the scientist to study the entire thing. The Master replies that before that happens, Stockman will need to bring “the creatures” to him. Stockman guarantees that, as long as Hun is kept out of the way, his Foot Tech Ninja will do just that. The Master accepts that guarantee, and reminds Stockman that his failure has already cost him, and that future failures would carry even steeper prices.

Back at the lair, Casey Jones has overstayed his welcome, and seems intent on remaining on the lair, despite the turtles’ hints.   Finally, Splinter puts his walking stick down and asks Raphael to join Casey topside, a proposition that Raph accepts with glee.

As Casey and Raph jump from rooftop to rooftop trading insults, Casey hears the familiar sound of spraypaint.  They check the surrounding area and find a trio of Purple Dragons working on yet another turtle-themed tag.  The two vigilantes attack the street punks and defeat them easily, but not before one of them makes a phone call, saying that they’ve “got one”. Not long after, two Foot Tech Ninja appear and activate their cloaking devices.

Despite getting a few licks in–Casey, in particular, manages to drench one of the ninja with spray paint and then hit him with enough force to break his mask’s eyepiece–the two buddies prove no match for the invisible ninja, who knock the two hotheads against a scaffold, knocking them out. Their mission accomplished, they drag Raphael away from the scene, leaving Casey behind for the Purple Dragons to deal with.

As the three Purple Dragons prepare to enact some payback, Casey unexpectedly douses them all with paint from their discarded cans, allowing him time to escape–but not without picking up the discarded Foot Tech Ninja eyepiece.

Raph wakes up at the examination table from the teaser, where he’s quickly accosted by Hun.  After they trade barbs–Hun compliments Raphs’ sai and breaks his shell cell; Raph insults Hun’s tattoo and mother–Hun gets down to business–namely, finding out “just what kind of freak” Raph is.

The lair.  The turtles are once again doing the bamboo beams excercise when an unsteady  Casey Jones arrives and knocks them all down again.  After seeing his bruised state, the turtles demand answers.  Casey informs them of the “invisible ninjas” (eliciting guffaws from Mikey) and shows them the  eyepiece he retrieved from the scene.  As Casey breaks several pieces of furniture in despair, Don tries to track down their kidnapped brother, first attempting to track down his Shell Cell, and then by trying to tap into the Foot Tech Ninja’s comm signals in order to track their location.

At Hun and Stockman’s Chalet of Torture, Hun and Raph are at a stalemate, and Hun is getting impatient, saying that if the “freak” won’t answer his questions, then his DNA will do the talking for him.  As he’s about to cut Raph with a buzz saw, the turtle, taking advantage of a loose strap, breaks his arm free and hits Hun with a dose of anesthetic gas from a nearby mask.  Taking his sai and Shell Cell remains, he escapes the room, only to find that he’s actually on a boat in the middle of the river.  Thankful for being an amphibian, he jumps ship and swims toward the docks.

Back at the boat, Stockman berates Hun for letting the turtle escape.  A self-satisfied Hun explains that that had been his plan all along; once Raph rejoins the others, the squadron of invisible Foot Tech Ninja following him will have them all.

Don has finally got a beacon on Raph, and realizes that he’s not alone: there are several people tracking him–the invisible ninjas, they conclude.  Realizing the that Raph cannot be allowed to return to the lair, they decide to meet him halfway.   The three turtles plus Casey head out, but not before Don hands them a series of thermal goggles he’d built, which will allow them to see the ninjas heat signatures.  They split up, with Casey and Mikey scanning the streets in the Battle Shell, while Don and Leo search the sewers in the Sewer Slider.  It’s the latter group that actually finds Raph, who’s stopped for a second at a drainage junction, still followed by the Foot Ninja.  The two turtles attack, explain the situation to a bewildered Raph, and are eventually joined by the other party.

Thanks to the thermal goggles, the turtles find the Foot Tech Ninja to be much less formidable than Casey and Raph initially did.  With the tide now in their favor, the turtles begin to give the Foot Ninja a sound trashing–until they realize that one of them has taken Casey and is holding him over the drainage suction–a huge whirlpool that sucks in anything that falls into it.  He tells the turtles to surrender.

As the turtles comply and try to figure out what to do, they realize that one of their number, Mikey, is missing.  They eventually spot him walking on one of the pipes over the Foot Ninja, unseen by his foes.  Mikey attacks, freeing Casey and causing the ninja to fall into the whirlpool.  Thinking quickly, Don uses his bo to rescue Casey, before he, too falls into the whirlpool.  With all of them now out of immediate danger, they easily defeat the rest of the ninja.

Victorious, Casey comments on how tired he is, and asks if he can crash at the turtles’.  Terrified at the possibility, the turtles do their best to convince him to return home.

At the Foot HQ, Hun, Stockman, and the defeated Foot Tech Ninja face a very displeased Master.  Stockman tries to deflect the blame towards his partner, but it doesn’t work: the Master says that Hun’s plan was sound, and it was  Stockman’s Foot Tech Ninja that failed to successfully complete the mission.  With a wave of a hand, he dismisses the Foot Tech Ninja, who carry a dumbfounded Baxter Stockman outside.

The Master asks Hun what he gleaned from his interrogation.  Hun tells him that he believes they have no connection to the Masters enemies.  The Master considers this information, saying that if that is the case, the creatures could prove to be useful in the future.

Somewhere else, a dark-skinned man wearing a trenchcoat, a conspicuous medallion, and sunglasses approaches a trio of people sitting on what appear to be high-tech wheelchairs.  He tells them that their suspicions were correct, and that their enemy has discovered their presence in “this city”.   Speaking with the same voice, the three wheelchair bound people–two men and one woman–ask their subordinate of the four mutant creatures; he replies that more information is needed.  He is tasked with finding more about the creatures, and to determine which side of the conflict they lie on.  If they’re not in league with their enemies, they’re to be left alone; if they are, then they are to be neutralized.

—-

Even with six competent-to-good episodes under its belt, TMNT until now has been little more than your average Saturday morning cartoon series. This episode, however, kicks things up a notch, showing that Lloyd Goldfine and Co. have loftier goals, and a pretty sizeable set of balls.

This episode compensates for its simple A-plot, by going full throttle with the sub-plots, effectively declaring “yes, you have to pay attention to every story”. Not only do we get the return of The Sword of Tengu and Baxter Stockman, but we a bit more info on the Shredder’s enemies, meet a new mysterious group, and finally get some development on Hun, who proves to be more than just Saki’s muscle.

First, lets talk about Hun.   We’ve been seeing him in the background for about three episodes now, mostly as a sounding board for The Shredder, and doing nothing that would take away the impression that he’s merely The Muscle. Here, he’s given his first chance to shine, and he makes the most of it by showing that he’s not just a brawler; he’s got tactical chops as well.  Given how ingrained the “strong guys are mentally slow” trope, it’s a worthwhile development, and one that pays of handsome dividends, as he eventually becomes a much more interesting character than his boss.

The episode’s second biggest surprise is, of course, the fact that Baxter Stockman now sports a nasty scar and is sans one eye–the initial step in a running gag that will drive his character arc throughout the series.  Given that most cartoon Big Bads are usually forced to tolerate failure after failure from their subordinates–the status can’t remain quo if incompetent subordinates are let go/punished–its refreshing to see one who actually treats it as a punishable offense.  Granted, it’s a tad counter-productive when it comes to morale, but Saki’s never really cared about that.  And then there’s the fact that, well, the series has a running gag involving the progressive mutilation of a character, which when all is said and done, is more South Park than Batman–even if the writers didn’t mean for it to be funny.

There’s also an interesting bit of subtext to the gag, for whomever cares to find it–and that’s the fact that Baxter Stockman, a black man, is the only regular character getting punished in this manner while the caucasian Hun–who eventually accrues his own share of failures–doesn’t.  Setting aside the logical details–it doesn’t make sense to mutilate a guy whose one asset is his physical prowess, on a better known show, this would probably have elicited a minor brouhaha, particularly since, given Stockman’s status as a fugitive, he’s pretty much Saki’s slave.

What does exactly does this mean?  Had Stockman been the only African-American on the show, I would call it a sign that the showrunners are, at best, tone deaf.  However, since that’s far from being the case–African Americans introuduced this season alone include the guardian, The Professor, Angel (who appears to be bi-racial, given her grandmother) and Silver Sentry (whose race comes as a minor subversion, given that he’s a Superman analogue)–I’d be comfortable saying that this is a case where cigar is just a cigar.  Even so, I wonder if this subtext ever actually occured to the writers.

Finally, the third surprise is the out-of-nowhere appearance of the Guardian and the Navigators in the  episode’s final scene–an Omniscient Council of Vagueness–which was when I first realized that the show was something special.  Not only does the scene not have anything to do with this episode–they’re actually discussing things from the last one–it’s a scene that serves only as foreshadowing, which is something rather rare, even those with continuing arcs.

Random stuff:

* One thing that bugs me about the Foot Tech Ninja is that they never seem to use their swords while they’re actually invisible and have the best chance of actually striking succesfully with them–any contact they make is inevitably presented as being blunth trauma.  Sure, it can probably be fanwanked away–maybe the cloaking device doesn’t cover the swords when they’re unsheathed, but it’s yet another reminder that this is still a Saturday Morning cartoon.

* On that note, the fact that the Foot Tech Ninja are also stronger than the norm never really comes into play after this episode.

* Also, I’ve always felt that the Foot Tech Ninja would feel right at home in a Metal Gear Solid game, as the final mooks before the Metal Gear encounter.

* During one of the scenes where Stockman is thrown around, you can see that he apparently wears no socks.

* I’ve heard at least one person suggest that Casey’s terrible houseguest etiquette was part of a gambit by Raphael to be let outside.  Even if there’s really no evidence for it, I rather like the idea.

* Speaking of Casey, he’s still firmly in his “kick-ass” phase here, as he actually does better than Raph during their first encounter with the invisible ninjas.

* Once Casey enters the lair after Raph is kidnapped, you can see that he’s bruised all over.  While it’s a nice idea–if you can’t show blood, bruises are an acceptable compromise–they don’t really work–they end up looking too much like purple paint.  Fortunately, the artists eventually get better at depicting them, although they won’t use them as often as they do here.

* One nice detail I like so far is how the Foot has been dealing with the turtles so far.  Most, villains, I think, would have immediately placed the turtles on their shit list, but Saki is actually finding out everything he can about them without drawing conclusions–smart.

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3 Responses to Pay Attention: “The Way of Invisibility”

  1. Pingback: Rumble in the Jungle: “The Shredder Strikes Back” Part Two « Monsters of New York

  2. Pingback: Welcome to Northampton: “Tales of Leo” « Monsters of New York

  3. Pingback: The Third Act: “Return to New York”, part 1 « Monsters of New York

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