Such Waste: “Garbageman”
25 May 2010 3 Comments
“Greetings, filth.”—The Garbageman
Written by: Eric Luke
Original Air Date: April 5, 2003
Teaser Narrator: Donatello
Introduces: The Garbageman; The Professor
Teaser: The turtles infiltrate what appears to be a large landfill, avoiding various searchlights and patrol vehicles. They climb over a mountain of garbage and stare in horror at what appears to be a concentration camp amidst the trash. A pond of orange slime marks the center of the camp, and something is rising from within…
As a pair of homeless men scour through garbage bins for recyclables, a large, black garbage truck follows them silently. Eventually, the truck makes its prescence known and, after chasing the pair, it uses a pair of extendable mechanical arms to capture them.
Inside a garbage dump/ tent city/shantytown, the turtles (with the exception of Mikey, who’s skateboarding through the trash so as not to get bored and annoy the others) are doing some scavenging of their own, looking for materials for their lair. They walk towards a group of homeless people and thank their leader, a man they call The Professor, for a shopping cart he’d lent them. The Professor has some gifts for the turtles: a largely-undamaged circuit board for Donatello, and a comic book for Michelangelo, both of which they’d found among the trash. The turtles, in turn, have some blankets and clothing for The Professor and his people. The Professor waxes philosophical (which is apparently something he is prone to doing) about the origin of the universe and how the succession of Big Bangs and Big Crunches could be taken to mean that, like the things they are currently giving each other, everyting in the physical world is composed of particles which are, in effect, recycled. Donny comments that he himself has just finished a book on the Big Bang, and offers to lend it to The Professor.
Raph notes that the tent city seems emptier than usual, which it turns out is indeed the case. The Professor tells the turtles of rumors he’s heard: people say that somebody has been silently kidnapping homeless men and striking fear in the heart of the community. His name is…the Garbageman. Upon hearing the name, the turtles laugh good-naturedly; however, as they prepare to leave, Donatello asks The Professor to keep him updated on the missing people.
Some time later, The Professor is proselytizing on the space-time continuum when the tent city is attacked by a familiar garbage van. Although the various homeless try to escape, the van makes off with several of them, including their leader.
Some time later again, Donny rides into the now-wrecked shantytown (presumably with the book he’d promised his friend). As he sees the city empty and with copious evidence of wrongdoing–including huge tire tracks–he calls in his brothers. Leo asks Don to search the ‘net for anything about missing homeless, but Don’s already done that, with no results–nobody cares. Time to hit the streets–or, as Mikey says: “It’s trench-coat wearing time!”
It’s also montage time, as we see each turtle speak with different groups of homeless people in an attempt to obtain information. Once that’s done, they return to the lair, where Don collates the data and determines that the kidnappings have all been taking place near the docks.
The docks. Mikey, once again betrenchcoated, sits in front of an oil-drum fire, trying to draw The Garbageman out. The fish ain’t biting, though (which might have something to do with the fact that the Battle Shell is right there), and the turtles are about to call it a night when the Garbage Truck appears. Before it can snatch the turtle, the Battle Shell–driven by Raph–makes its entrance, picking up Mikey and slamming into the garbage truck.
The truck attacks the Battle Shell with its claws, but eventually decides to just drive away, using things like a flamethrower and buzz-saws to try to lose or disable the turtles’ van. The turtles, in turn, try to stop the truck by ramming it or firing missiles at it, with no effect. Finally, the garbage truck creates an oil slick which causes the Battle Shell and almost makes if fall into the river, if not for its built-in grappling hooks.
Stymied, the turtles watch as the garbage truck drives off a pier and into the river. It doesn’t sink, however; instead, it floats towards an offshore landfill.
Back at the lair, Don has found some info on the landfill–particularly, that it’s the best-run landfill operation in the United States, a fact that Leo immediately finds suspicious. “Something stinks on that island, and it aint’ the garbage.” Mikey says, doing a bad Ah-nuld impersonation.
The turtles swim towards the landfill. Once the arrive, they avoid the searchlights and patrol trucks as they climb over a mountain of trash and see the concentration camp set-up seen in the teaser. The turtles watch as their friends are made to work in chains to trawl through the trash with not a moments rest, kept in submission by trigger-happy guards armed with shock-sticks.
There’s an orange lake in the middle of the camp, and the turtles watch as the enemy garbage truck surfaces from within. After releasing its newest captives, the truck opens, revealing…well, this:
The turtles are suitably disgusted.
The terrapin foursome listen as The Garbageman gives an “inspirational” speech about how his slaves were nothing more than human garbage until he’d given them purpose–recycled them–by using them to build his fortune. The landfill camp is just the first step, he announces, in what will become his empire. His discourse is interrupted by The Professor, who declares that the Garbageman is wrong: living on the streets was infinitely preferable to their new conditon as slaves. This pisses The Garbageman off, and he orders his guards to silence the insubordinate.
Finally, finally, the turtles decide to strike. Wasting little time with the mooks, they free the prisoners, which then attack the guards which whatever they can find. After checking in on The Professor, they turn towards The Garbageman. “It’s garbage day, fat man,” Mikey say. “Time to take your can out to the curb”. Like all of Mikeys quips this episode, it falls flat.
Despite the various weapons in The Garbageman’s mini-tank, he’s no match for the turtles; eventually, they drive him back to the river. As he sinks, the turtles, realizing that he probably can’t swim, uncharacteristically attempt to stop him from drowning. He’s nowhere to be found, however, which means he’s perfectly position to torment the viewers once again. Ugh.
Sunrise. The community of homeless watch as the various mooks are taken to the mainland in what I assume is a police ferry (it’s unmarked). The Professor informs the turtles that his community has decided to remain in the landfill camp, since it has food and shelter and various thrown-away things they could use. Raph warns his friend to watch out for the Garbageman “Something that evil always comes back.” Upon hearing this line, Mikey becomes disappointed–how come Raph can make those kinds of lines works and he can’t? “Quit recycling the old ones, Mikey,” Raph says. “Keep looking for something new.”
This is by far the worst episode of the season, and one of the worst in the series. It’s oddly paced, features a completely unappealing villain, presents some weird inconsistencies, and feels oddly preachy in parts, to boot.
To be fair, the premise isn’t bad at all; the story may have never stopped feeling like a discarded Captain Planet plot, but I feel it could have worked on those terms. Even with Oroku Saki already filling the show’s “corrupt corporate executive” spot, having a relatively mundane Looten Plunder type of character as the villain could have helped give the story some genuine weight and made for a genuinely unsettling. As it is, it’s actually a pretty decent episode until the Garbageman shows up and ruins everything (more of this in a minute). The set-up is a pretty nice one. It’s always made sense to me for the turtles to befriend homeless people, and having them being kidnapped into secret slavery is something that always seems scarily plausible. However, by the time the villain actually gets introduced, it’s too late to do anything with him but have him beat down.
The Garbage Man has exactly two things going for him: he manages to look as disgusting as the writers clearly wanted him to be, and he’s voiced by the always-awesome Mike Pollock. Aside from that, he’s an easy favorite for the “worst original character in the series” title. His motivation, if it can be called that, is undercooked. The conceit that he is also a successful businessman feels incredible, in the original meaning of the word. He does not feel like a physical threat, and doesn’t really have a thematic connection to the turtles. His ability to recruit mooks seems dubious, particularly when The Foot is hiring across town and doesn’t require one to wear a gas mask. All in all, a bust. Unfortunately, this isn’t the last we see of him–he’ll get a sequel episode next season (and one which manages to be even worse), and he’d have gotten a third episode (one which *shudder* would have revealed him to be Hun’s separated-[as in “cojoined twins”] at-birth brother) had it not proven too dark for 4Kids and (mercifully) scrapped.
On the other hand, I really like this episode’s other featured character, The Professor, and wish he’d shown up more in the series. I just really like the idea of a guy talking philosophy and quantum physics with the people least likely to be interested. Plus, I’d really like to learn about his backstory. And for those people paying attention to my stories, yes, he is aware of The Labyrinth and its unusual citizenry in the Monsters-verse.
This episode features two largish inconsistencies with what we know or will know, which are never really adressed. The first is the ambiguity surrounding when exactly the turtles met The Professor and Co. The context seems to suggest that they’ve known each other for a while–longer than they’ve known Casey and April, at least–except that that doesn’t really jive with everything we’ve learned about the turtles so far, which seems to suggest that April was their first human friend. The second is the turtles’ decision to try to save The Garbageman after they cause him to sink, which again, is inconsistent with what we see of them in the future. You can see why the scene is there–the turtles still aren’t allowed to leave bodies behind, and given the character’s physique one can’t just assume he’ll swim to safety–but given their blatant and explicit attempts to kill the Shredder later on, it feels out of character for them.
Fortunately, the following episode is a far better one, as the turtles finally meet the Shredder, and we get the second (which is actually the first) part of their origin story.
- This episode features a pair of homeless men with a not-terribly funny running gag: one talks about the action, bemused, while the other responds with an “yup”. The bit will be reused in the season three Christmas episode, although not with these two particular extras–apparently, the animators weren’t paying too much attention and animated the guys in the picture above instead.