Out from below, and into a one-person apartment: “Notes from the Underground” Part Three
27 November 2010 2 Comments
“You know, if there’s one thing that creeps me out more than monster movies, it’s a city of the dead.”–Michelangelo
Written by: Greg Johnson
Original Air Date: May 24, 2003
Recap Narrator: Raph
Introduces: The Entity
Raph recaps the events of the past two episodes, reintroducing mutants Quarry, Stonebiter, and Razorfist, the circumstances behind their transformation, and the reason why they’ve all decided to trek deeper underground, a journey that has culminated with Donatello’s sudden disappearance.
Stuck between a group of hostile mutants on one side, and going through the tunnel where Donny disappeared, the turtles and their mutant friends have little in the way of choices. They watch helplessly as more flying orbs appear at the scene, taking with them Razorfist, Stonebiter, and all but two of the enemy mutants. Still outmatched, Leo orders his crew to retreat into the tunnel, which he then seals off by removing the crystal that had been used to open it in the first place.
With nowhere to go but ahead, the party forges on. The tunnel is a short one, though, and leads into a huge cavern, where a lake of lava can be seen surrounding a huge man-made structure: a City of the Dead, according to Quarry—one that looks just like the one seen in Mikey’s dream two episodes ago. The mutant and Mikey are reluctant to go any farther, but Leo and Raph are adamant; whatever’s inside took Donny, and they’ll do anything to get him back. Soon, Leo finds an abandoned gondola leading into the city.
Meanwhile, back at the sealed tunnel entryway, a hooded figure–humanoid but not quite human–uses a crystal to open the door. The figure hides in the shadows and watches as the two remaining berserk mutants, attracted by the crystal’s emanations,speed into the now-open tunnel.
Over at the non-too-stable gondola, Leo tries to convince his comrades to use it to get to the city. Neither Mikey nor Raph are too fond of the idea, until an appearance by the two wild mutants makes discussion a moot point. The turtles and Quarry enter the car and high-tail it towards the city, but with a single leap, the two enemy mutants arrive at the transport’s roof.
As the two enemy mutants try to break inside, the ghostly figure, unseen by any of the mutants, launches a pair of glowing bola—the orbs which had caused the various mutants to disappear. Their target: the two mutants atop the gondola. Although his aim is true and the two mutants are vanquished, the turtles aren’t out of danger: the cable supporting the gondola snaps, sending the mutants falling straight into the lava below.
Actually, that’s not quite true. Fortunately for everyone involved, the car manages to smash against a rather pointy stalagmite, which breaks the transport completely, and gives the mutants a chance to leap towards safety.
Now safely inside the city, the mutants set out to explore. The party notes to rather glaring details; the city looks very old, and one heck of a lot like their lair. Eventually, Leo finds a trio of hover-scooters, which they decide to use (Quarry rides with Mikey). They don’t get too far before Leo spots somebody hiding in the shadows–the entity, although the ninja turtle doesn’t realize it. The TMNT leader enters the building where he saw the figure. Not long after, the remaining turtles, still outside, see a bright flash. They enter the building to find an abandoned hover-scooter: Leo is gone.
Distraught, the two brothers return to the streets and rejoin Quarry (who, upon being left alone, briefly went into hiding). Suddenly, the three mutants spot the entity,starring at the mutants across the street.
The entity runs, causing Raph to decide to follow him in his hover-scooter. As both the pursued and the pursuer disappear in the distance, Michelangelo and Quarry watch as a now-familiar flash goes off.
Now alone, the cowardly turtle and the terrified cowardly mutant ride the remaining hover-scooter in search of Raph. Soon they find the turtle’s abandoned vehicle. It’s too much for Quarry, who panics until a slap from Mikey slaps it back to its senses. “If there’s going to be any hysterics around here, I’ll have them!”
Michelangelo notices that the entity is once again watching them, this time atop a building. Quarry in tow, the ninja turtle rides the hover-scooter towards the figure, but doesn’t make it: not only does Quarry lose its nerve on the way and jump out, Mikey overshoots the target and crashes his vehicle against a pillar. He himself, however, is unharmed.
Quarry, on the other hand, has been found by the entity. Using one of its bola, the hooded humanoid attacks the mutant. Once the weapon reaches its target, we watch as Quarry is teleported into a machine which quickly envelops the mutant in a cocoon, and then releases a liquid which freezes the beast in place.
Now alone, Mikey sees a familiar structure in the distance—the obelisk from his dream. Out of better ideas, he heads in its direction. Once inside the building, the ninja turtle spots the various Foot-created mutants encased in separate crystalline shells. As he looks at Quarry, he notices a crystal at the base where the mutant is set. As Mikey is about to remove the crystal, he is stopped by a voice—the entity.
Mikey moves to attack the hooded man when he hears a familiar voice belonging to his brothers. They explain that the hooded man wasn’t seeking to harm the mutants, but instead wants to return them to their normal human state. The entity explains that, thanks to the energy emanating from a crystal moon—a large crystal lodged on the cave roof—the people inside the crystal chrysalis will eventually be healed.
Despite these apparently good news, Michelangelo remains incredulous. The entity tries to reassure the turtle that he belongs to a peace-loving people, one that lived underground for millenia in a symbiotic relationship with the Earth. Once they’d noticed the existence of humanity, and that the turtles’ lair was formerly an observation outpost they’d built in order to study homo sapiens from below. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, their civilization found it increasingly harder to survive, until it dwindled to one. The entity explains that this solitude is why he is restoring the mutants; once they are human once more, they will aid them in restoring the city.
The turtles immediately see a flaw in the entity’s thinking; once cured, there’s no reason for the human to remain underground. They try to explain this to their host, but he will have none of it; furious, he states that the mutants will stay with him whether they like it or not, as will the turtles themselves. Using the crystal amulet around his neck to get his earthbending on, the entity attacks, quickly immobilizing all but Mikey. Eventually, however, the lone ninja turtle defeats his foe by hurling one of his own teleport-bola at him and imprisoning him in a crystal cocoon.
After noting how hollow their victory seems–the entity was more irrational-via-loneliness than evil–the now-freed turtles turn to freeing their mutant comrades. Donatello figures out how to deactivate the crystal cocoons, which has done its purpose and has returned the mutants into their normal state, as they soon see with Quarry, who is not only very naked, but also very female. Shades of Samus!
Soon, as the turtles and the no-longer-mutants walk away from the city, they approach the doorway where Don first disappeared. Before they are able to cross the threshold, however, they are horrified to learn that the man who had once been Stonebiter has begun reverting to his mutant form. They soon conclude that the Entity’s words had a more significant meaning: they will remain “cured” as long as they remain in range of the underground city’s crystal moon’s energies–i.e.: they’re stuck there. The turtles selflessly offer to stay with their comrades, but Quarry refuses the offer, saying that if they can still return to their lives, they should. The turtles acquiese, but not before promising to do whatever is necessary to cure their friends permanently.
Downcast, the turtles return to the sewers. Before they can return home, they notice a disturbance in the area: Foot Ninja are about, searching for something or someone. As they hide from their foes, the turtles are found by Splinter, who explains what he believes the Foot is specifically looking for them, and in so doing have completely cut off them of from the lair. They’re going to need to find a new place to stay, and Mikey has an idea of where…
April’s front door, which April opens, wearing a bathrobe, and mudmask. Not the best time, but the turtles don’t particularly care, as they immediately make themselves at home, with Splinter being the only one courteous enough to properly thank their friend for her cooperation and their imposition on her everything. April looks af she’s not sure what she’s gotten herself into.
And so the cartoon’s first big all-original story ends–for a certain value of “ends”, anyway: while the characters aren’t in the same place where they began, “Underground” Part Three feels less like a conclusion and more of a “we aren’t finishing this now, okay? We’ll get to the end when we get to it, alright?” Much like this blog. It’s kind of cocky, for a series that, if I’m not mistaken, was not guaranteed a second season by the time this was written. Even long-term storytelling pioneer Greg Weisman always goes for a sense of closure with series.
The whole underground storyline is one of the weirder bits of plot in the series. When introduced in this season, it’s given a fair amount of heft (three episodes! a connection to both the turtles’ lair AND the Shredder!), only for it to get reduced emphasis in season 2 (whose single episode resolves the Foot mutants’ fate and sets up a minor-but-significant subplot), and finally a rather tepid one-episode conclusion in season 3, which ends up contradicting several of the things “established” here. One wonders if this was always the writers’ intentions–I suspect that at this point, it wasn’t, although it was by season 2 it was.
Then again, maybe the finale isn’t the point, or at least not the main one. It sort of feels like the Gargoyles‘ world tour in that way, in that it’s less about the actual story and more about an opportunity to introduce several concept in the fictional world. And we do get those–thanks to the underground shenanigans, not only do we get the lair, but the Turtle Tunneler, the Foot Mutants (and I really wish we’d seen more of Quarry/Sydney–I’ve always felt that she’d fit right in as a sort of mutant consultant for the E.P.F. (*cough* spoiler *cough*) or something to that effect), Raptarr and the Avians, and a way to tie up two sets of “monsters” to a greater story.
And of course, here we enter one of the rare bits of TMNT lore which is actually pretty well represented throughout the different incarnations: the turtles’ stay with April. First appearing on the original comic book, this story lasted from issue 3 of the original series all the way till issue 10 (and curiously, lasted more than a year in story-time, with the turtles spending two different Christmases with their friend). While previous versions of the story had the turtles forced to relocate there almost immediately after meeting April, here, the turtles have already known her for a few months before subjecting her to the inconvenience of their extended company–which ironically, serves to make their bond seem more prosaic (although perhaps more realistic). Movie April, in particular, had already grown to love the turtles by the time they move in with her, although the same cannot be said about this incarnation of the character with any certainty.
* I’ve mentioned before that there’s an interesting parallel between the way both the gargoyles and the turtles lose their home in their respective series’ first episodes, but it wasn’t until I rewatched this one that I realize that the parallel goes further than that. Just like the gargoyles are officially driven away from their home midway through season 1, the turtles are driven away from theirs. Of course, the turtles regain theirs much quicker than the ‘goyles do.
* It’s hard to know what to think about the “Quarry is a GIRL” reveal. It’s a nice surprise, sure, but still, the way it’s combined with her “Quarry is kind of a coward, for a monster” characterization makes me uneasy. Would the character’s characterization have remained the same if she’d been conceived as a man? Would the character have worked if it were not cowardly, regardless of gender (Quarry’s fearfulness is meant to play off Mikey’s)? While fear or even panic isn’t an altogether unreasonable reaction to the situation–City of the Dead and all–but still, there are some uncomfortable implications here, if one would care to find them.
* One of the things that initially bugged me about this episode was that I couldn’t see why the turtles couldn’t access their lair via the warehouse entrance. While there are probably several good reasons–for example, fear that their prescence inside the lair would actually tip the Foot off–but it still bugs me that we didn’t get an on-screen explanation.
* On a similar note, I like that the Foot is using what they’ve learned so far to try to track down the turtles’ lair. Given how the old toon Shredder seemed to have cameras everywhere in the sewer system and still couldn’t be arsed to try and find it, it’s nice to see them make the effort here, particularly since they’re apparently close to the mark.