Weird Science: “Notes from the Underground” Part One

“OOOooh-EEEE-Ooohh…!” — Michelangelo

Written by: Eric Luke
Original Air Date: May 10, 2003
Teaser Narrator: Michelangelo
Introduces: Quarry (unnamed); Razorfist (unnamed); Stonebiter (unnamed); Foot Genetics Team Leader

Synopsis:

The turtles are investigating a  subway tunnel that’s one disturbance away from collapsing.   A giant monster appears in front of them and roars, providing said disturbance.

Intro.

Inside the lair, Michelangelo is watching a black-and white monster movie.  We see the scientist protagonist–lets call him Jimmy Bob–and his love interest, Velma, are facing the monster.    Mikey and Jimmy Bob simultaneously say what appears to be the movie’s iconic line: “There are some things man was never meant to tamper with”.

The movie goes to commercials, and so Mikey decides to turn the TV off and go pester Donatello, who is investigating a couple of the crystals they’d found when they initially moved to the lair.  Donny notes that they’re unlike any crystal he knows of–specifically, that their microscopic structure actually reminds him of mutated brain cells–which causes Mikey to draw comparisons to the monster movies he’d just been watching.  Michelangelo then takes both crystals and makes them touch, which causes them to glow and emit a reverbrating noise.  Said noise draws the attention of Splinter, Raphael, Leonardo…and of three monsters deep underground.  As Donatello separates the crystals, Splinter asks if they pose any danger.  Donatello doesn’t know.

Suddenly, and alarm goes off–something has set one of the security sensors Don had set out near an old subway tunnels.  The turtles check the security camera footage, and see a very large, very fast…thing passing through.  They decide to investigate.

The turtles take the Sewer Slider to the area in question.  Soon enough, they spot a series of very deep inhuman (and inanimal) tracks enbedded into the roof, leading all the way to a wall that has been melted off to create a tunnel.  Michelangelo notes that if this were a monster movie, it would be the part where the first victim, would die–which combines genre blindness and genre savvy in equal measures, given that if he know’s he’s in a monster movie, he should also know that his aggregate traits make it unlikely that he’ll die.  Donatello retrieves a piece of the melted cement to study, and the turtles return to the lair.

After investigating the melted rock, Don determines that its deterioration was created by some sort of creature.  The turtles, despite Mikey’s reluctance–he believes it’s that part of the movie when they need to find the monster’s weakness–decide to go on a fact-finding mission.  One “preparing-for-the-mission” montage later, and the four brothers set out.

The turtles follow the melted tunnel into a larger tunnel, this one a long-abandoned, decades-old part of the subway system that’s one disturbance away from total collapse.  There, they eventually find the creature’s  tracks and continue on the hunt.

As tremors above cause large amounts of dust to call from the ceiling, Mikey accidentally sneezes.  As he’s reprimanded for not helping with the ready-to-collapse-tunnel thing,  the turtle notices something far more dangerous: one of the monsters that they’d been seeking is right behind them.  With a roar, the monster causes the tunnel to collapse behind our heroes.  Fortunately, our heroes manage to outrun the collapsing debris and arrive at a cave.

Temporarily  separated from the monster, the turtles continue following the tracks, their only light source now the glow of the two crystals that begun this whole mess.  Eventually, they find a steep drop; with the help of some of the rope they’d brought they go down.  Their descent completed, they decide to make camp and rest for a while.

As Raph more-or-less stands watch, Mikey is having the sort of dream you know will eventually mean something.  In it, he’s inside the lair when he spots the elevator door glowing.  The door open, revealing a pathway to a city-sized structure designed in the same style as the lair.  As Mikey explores, he reaches a structure at the city’s center.  Suddenly, black smoke begins appearing, which tries to consume Mikey within its mouth.  Please refrain from the obvious Lost jokes.

Mikey is woken up by Raph, who reports that the monsters have arrived and are attacking.  The warning comes just in time, as one of the monsters has just pushed a gigantic round boulder down the cliff in order to homage his favorite Indiana Jones sequence–you know the one.

As the turtles try to  outrun the boulder, they eventually arrive at a broken bridge.  Thanks to some quick grappling-hook work by Raph (and a “cowabunga” from Mikey), they are able to make it to the other side and escape the boulder.

With their way back innacessible, the turtles continue on their trek.  Soon, they find what is probably the weirdest thing they’ve seen so far: a man-made structure, one that’s not almost a century old. Donny notices that the places thick steel doors were broken by something trying to get out, which Mikey notes “doesn’t make things worse; it makes things HORRYFYING!”

The turtles enter the structure, which is both trashed and abandoned, and which Donny tentatively identifies as a genetics laboratory used for the study of mutations.  As they explore the area, Mikey accidentally trips an alarm section, which causes a safety door (which is apparently different from the door that Donny had earlier noted had been broken open) to seal the turtles in, and for the crystal in the center of the room (which set atop some machinery and is the same type of crystal as Donny’s) to begin glowing; soon after, the crystal begins emmitting a forcefield that begins engulfing the room.  Worse still, the brothers soon find that while inorganic material can pass through the forcefield with no problem, living tissue can’t.  Too bad that’s exactly what the turtles are made of, as Raph notes.

As the forcefield presses the turtles against the facility walls, threathening to crush them, Don gets an idea, and asks Raph to throw one of his sai at the crystal.  Raph obliges, and while the weapons doesn’t manage to hit the crystal, it does embed itself into the machinery, shorting the device out, and causing the force field to dispel.

The immediate threat passed, the turtles are free to focus on another of the facility’s nasty surprises: a monitor screen displaying a familiar sign: the mark of The Foot.

Determined to get to the bottom of things, Don begins fiddling with the computers, and finds out that the screen is part of a video archive.  He access it–and suddenly, we get a recording of a portly man in Foot scientist garb talking into the camera–OOOh, it’s an apocalyptic log!

Long story short:

  • The Shredder believes his enemies have hidden underground, and has mutated humans in order to facilitate the search.
  • The genetics team succesfully managed to mutate the humans into the desired creatures, and although they appeared to lose much of their human intelligence and proved to be less-than-controllable, they do the job.
  • At one point, the Vlogger eventually utters the “perhaps there are some things mankind was never meant to tamper with” line.
  • The search team eventually found an underground city, which was initially believed to be that of the Shredder’s enemies.  It wasn’t, and thus the Shredder called for the project’s cancellation and for the elimination of the mutants.
  • The mutants, who were not as unintelligent as initially thought, eventually break free and trash the lab.  It is all but outright stated that they kill most, if not all, their former tormentors.

The apocalypse log finished, the turtles decide to leave the facility after they hear a roar from afar.  Before they cover much ground though, they see a segment of the cave wall melting before them: the three monsters have arrived, and this time there’s no escape.  “Guys…” asks Mikey “this isn’t the end of the movie, right?” No Mikey, it’s just…

TO BE CONTINUED…

—-

So far, Lloyd Goldfine and Co.’s original stories for the series–that is, those that aren’t in someway based on  existing comic book stories–have been strictly self-contained fare.  Introduce a brand-new threat, deal with threat, you’re done.  It had the effect of making these original stories feel like distractions between the meat that were the comic book adaptations.  Here, however, we’re getting something new: in giving this story three episodes to develop, the creators are saying basically: hey, this series isn’t just about the comic book stories.  We’ve got big plans of our own.

And big they are.  Not only has this story been subtly developing since the very first episode, it will continue to pay off all the way till the series’ fourth season.  In just this one episode, we get the Foot, mutant monsters, a mysterious city, and more hints about the Shredder’s enigmatic enemies.

The three-episode structure also allows for a rather leisurely first part.  The nominal antagonists of the episode–the monsters–appear for less than two minutes, which permits the writers to fill the episode with set pieces and exploration carried by the turtles’ interactions with one another, which in turn makes for some of the better episodes thus far.  It also allows for some variety from the mostly street-level action the series has featured.

Like with last episode, the POV turtle is once again Michelangelo, as we learn that he’s very definitively the Shaggy and Scooby of the turtles’ Scooby Gang.  Despite those two characters’ status as an international credit card (bonus love for whomever catches the reference), it, along with his already annoying habits, did not endear the character to the older segments of the audience.  Personally, while I think it could have been toned down a smidge in other episodes, I think it works well here, and is in fact necessary.  Take him away, and you get three well-adjusted turtles in what is effectively an extended travel montage, and the episode falls apart.

On the other hand, we get more indications that Mikey is the most genre savvy of the four characters, which is not a skill without its uses, particularly as the turtles are indeed in the kinds of stories that he believes they are.

One important thing we learn this episode: no matter what the continuity, the Foot sucks at the mutant-making business.  While the ones here are more competent than say, Mutagen Man, getting his entire division killed isn’t exactly a success story.

Random thoughts:

  • According to the Apocalyptic Log, the entire project from start to untimely end took some two and a half years.  While I like this nod to reality, it’s strange that even so, the victims are still made to mutate in the span of moments.
  • By this point  in the series, it becomes clear that despite the fact that turtles share top billing, not all of them are created equal, as we follow a Michelangelo-focused episode with…a Michelangelo-focused three-parter.
  • According to e-mails released by Peter Laird,  the Foot lab seen here was originally going to be much more prominent than it ended up being, making appearances further down the line.  Fortunately, thanks in part to Laird’s imput, it didn’t happen.
  • One very weird piece of blocking is having the turtles go outside to investigate, then back to the lair for less than a minute, and then back to investigate again.  While its justified well enough, it still feels quite off.
  • In this episode, like with last one, we see a grappling hook mishap.  This time, we see the grappling hook begin slipping, incapable of supporting the turtles’ weight.
  • Three of the four incidental characters in this episode–Jimmy Bob; the used-car salesman in the commercial that interrupts the movie; and the Foot Geneticist–are all played by Michael “Garbageman” Pollock.  The other remaining extra, Velma, is played by Veronica “April” Taylor.
  • Strangely enough, the Sewer Slider apparently has a stealth mode whose only effect is to…be more quiet.  The reason why they don’t always have it on remains unexplained.
  • At this point in the series, the writers were pursposely trying to avoid overpopulating their fictional world with mutants, particularly those of the sentient variety–these three, along with Leatherhead next season (and maybe the Rat King), are the only ones we’ll see–a stark contrast to the original series, which had mutated humans up the wazoo.  Non-sentient mook mutants, on the other hand…those’ll eventually become a dime a dozen.
  • One wonders which is the more difficult bit of fake science.  Mutating humans to develop characteristics of other animals, such as what Sevarius does in Gargoyles, or turning them into brand new species, as seen here?

Next episode: more monsters!

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3 Responses to Weird Science: “Notes from the Underground” Part One

  1. Gina66 says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one to see the Mysteries Inc references from Mikey (see “Adventures in Turtlesitting” in season 4). I haven’t seen these eps in a while, so I may have missed some of the Scooby phrases, but I actually did enjoy these.

    I have noticed that, despite growing up with Original TMNT cartoon, I actually enjoy Mikey & the others in this reincarnation than I do the first. The individual focus eps (on everyone) give insights into the characters, which – to me anyway – shows there’s more to them than what their outward personalities are. For Mikey, I think that shows up more in Season 4, with sprinklings from season 1 and upwards.

    Mikey is so the comic relief, but sometimes he just ‘gets it’ and has a real mature side. He really is the baby and attention getter, though he can be mature and responsible (he just doesn’t like to always).

  2. Ian Perez Zayas says:

    Actually, when I was talking about the Scooby Doo reference, I wasn’t talking about anything that was said in the episode itself, but instead alluding to something a certain someone–I won’t say who–once said about the characters–specifically, that simply saying the names Shaggy and Scooby abroad was tantamount to having an international credit card.

    Which isn’t to say that TMNT doesn’t reference Scooby now and again. I don’t particularly remember the incident you refer to, but I do remember at least one in “Fast Forward”, where Mikey referenced a standard Scooby Doo plot–in “Turtle X-tinction”, I believe.

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

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