Northampton Bound: “Tales of Leo”

“It is said that the voice of a loved one can guide a lost spirit back to its home.”Splinter

Written by: Marty Isenberg
Original Air Date: September 13, 2003
Recap Narrator: The Shredder
Gargoyles episode I could make a forced comparison to: N/A

Synopsis:

Thirty seconds before the explosion at the 2nd Time Around store, the turtles, April, Casey, and Splinter are trapped inside a storage area inside the building.  While Raph and Mike try to break through the barred door, April moves some furniture, exposing a sheet of metal covering a hole in the wall, (the remnant of a cooling unit that had been removed back when the O’Neils first bought the building).  After removing the covering, our heroes escape from the building, unseen, just before it explodes.

Now safe outside in the pouring rain, April cries in Casey’s arms as her home and livelihood burn.  Meanwhile, the group tries to consider their options: they need a place to recover and to treat the unconscious Leonardo, and the lair is still being watched.  Suprisingly, it is Casey who appears to have a solution o that particular problem.

The next day, snow falls as  Casey drives the group towards his grandmother’s old farmhouse, a family home made in the classic old New England style–pretty and comforting, if it weren’t for its serious state of disrepair.  He seems somewhat cheery, which makes him the only one: April is still depressed over the events of the past day, and the turtles are miserable due to a combination of cold and concern for their brother.  Once inside the house, they set Leo in a couch near the fireplace and try to keep him comfortable.

Back in New York, Saki has his own worries: with no bodies to be found at the scene of yesterday’s battle, he requires an alternate way to confirm his enemies’ demise.  Enter Baxter Stockman, who looks considerably worse than the last time we saw him: not only is he wheelchair-bound, he is also missing his left arm and sporting a neck brace.  The arrogant scientist makes a proposal: in exchange for the evidence the Shredder seeks, Stockman will be granted full access to the exoskeleton the Foot retrieved with the Sword of Tengu, which, he believes, would allow him to create technological breakthroughs of the sort that resulted in the Foot Tech Ninjas.  Saki agrees, with a caveat: if Stockman can’t provide the evidence of the turtles’ deaths, his next punishment will be his last.

Meanwhile, at the farmhouse, Leo’s family keeps a vigil around the unconscious turtle, waiting for a sign of recovery.  Donatello, hoping that Leo can hear him, begins talking to his fallen brother, assuring him that he can, will, and must pull through.  He recalls the time both turtles had been milling around the sewer, playing with Don’s remote control car when, after a misjudged turn, the car falls into the debris-strewn waterway.  Don tried to retrieve it, falling into the water himself. Unable to swim back to safety due to the strong current, Don is swept away into a central part of the sewer.  His foot trapped under debris, he would have been drowned by the rapidly rising water, if not for Leo–because that’s what he does, Don punctuates: he comes through for people, and he’s sure that Leo will do again.

Raph interrupts Don’s reminiscing, disparaging his attempts to get through to Leo.  Ironically, Leo appears to react to Raph’s comment, which only convinces the group that talking to the unconscious turtle is the thing to do. Michelangelo decides to take a turn, asking Leo to focus on his voice, the way he usually focuses on his ninjitsu.  He reminisces of a time when he tried to distract Leo from practicing his katas, to no avail, and insists that if Leo could remain laser-focused then, he can do so now.

Raph once again comments on the uselessness of trying to bring Leo back from the brink: after his defeat at the hands of the Foot, the turtle leader is too scared to come back and face the world.  His anger soon subsides, as tears begin to well in his eyes.  He recalls how he’d once felt that he’d be the most natural leader of the group, and would compete with Leo for the spot.  One particular time, the two turtles had been playing follow the leader when Raph took them to a part of the sewer Splinter had forbidden them from entering.    A mistake, in retrospect–it’s not long before Raph is attacked by an albino crocodile, and, were it not for Leo, Raph would have died trying to fight it.

Present day New York, 2nd Time Around store.  Baxter Stockman, aided by his mouser robots, has finished searching through the wreckage, with no success–there’s absolutely no conclusive evidence that anyone died in the fire.  Inspired by a mouser carrying a piece of red cloth, he decides that if no evidence exists, he’ll just have to create it.

Back in Massachusetts, Splinter takes his own stab at getting through to Leonardo, telling him that he must gather his courage and confront his fear.  He reminisces of a time, long ago, when Leo had a rather pronounced fear of heights, one that no amount of coaching would solve.  It wasn’t until Splinter appeared to be in mortal danger that Leonardo managed to conquer his fears, in order to rescue his sensei.  Splinter begs his son to return to them, which appears to be enough, as Leo slowly opens his eyes.

The atmosphere in the room suddenly becomes jubilant,  (including a rather overlong hug between April and Casey).  An exhausted Leo thanks his family: if not for them and their words, he would not have been able to return.  Splinter responds by telling Leonardo that it is he who fought his way back to the world of the living, and that the credit belongs to him.  With the danger past, he orders the others to leave Leonardo to rest.  As the group leaves, Raph tells Leo to give him a call if he needs anything.

Back in New York, Baxter presents Saki with his (fake) evidence. The crime lord takes a look at it, and proclaims that he is satisfied: Stockman will receive the exoskeleton in the morning. Saki leaves the room, leaving Stockman alone and free to gloat: with the exoskeleton available to him, he’ll be able to get his revenge on the Shredder once and for all.

Continuity Notes:

  • The first part of this episode is an adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Vol. 1) #10 and #11, both of which had previously been adapted in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.
  • Baxter Stockman’s mouser robots were last seen in “Attack of the Mousers“.  They will not be seen again (at least in this form) for the duration of the series.
  • In this episode, Casey makes a throwaway mention of his cousin Sid, who appeared in Mirage’s Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 1) #1 and who will make his TV debut on episode 4.01 “Cousin Sid”.

So we finally arrive in Northampton.  This was a key part of the original TMNT narrative, the moment when Eastman and Laird showed that they weren’t all about the wacky action and set pieces, and could write more varied, emotional stories.  After their defeat at April’s apartment, the turtles retreat to Casey’s grandmother’s farm house to heal their physical and mental wounds, and spend a year there doing…well, they’re not particularly sure. A lot of key turtles adventures take place in Massachusetts area, to the point where it’s arguably a more important location than New York is.  While it’s not as important at this point in the animated series–only two episodes are spent there before returning the turtles to New York–like the comics, it will become the turtles’ second home, and the place they’ll return to to recuperate after particularly tense battles, or simply whenever they feel like going out in the sun.

In the original comic books, this first Northampton issue was used mostly as an opportunity to take stock of the situation, using April as the viewpoint character, and part of its theme was that the sudden exile had affected them all in different and subtle ways.  Here, however, perhaps because the story begins and ends the very same day they arrive at Northampton (the comic begins after they’ve been there for two weeks, and deals with their arrival in the form of a flashback), the focus is much more narrow and urgent, as the turtles and their friends keep vigil over Leonardo, telling him stories in an attempt to feel like they’re doing something.

It’s a good concept, particularly since, when you think about it, there really isn’t anything they can do for Leo that they can’t do later–he’s presumably not bleeding externally, broken limbs aren’t fatal, and anything else would require equipment they can’t access–all they can do is hope.

Unfortunately, the tales don’t really say anything particularly interesting about the characters–the only interesting bit, that Leo was once afraid of heights, is never really brought up again. Although perhaps the point is precisely that, that the things one remembers are often not those one would consider very significant.  Does Leonardo himself remember those things?  It would be interesting to know.

Much more intriguing are the bits with the Foot, which highlight just how brutal this incarnation of the Foot can be, and how it can backfire: so focused is the Shredder on hunting down the turtles (and it’s nice to see him refusing to underestimate the heroes–it’s not something we usually see in cartoon villains) that he fails to see the more immediate threat. It’s actually kind of odd: even after getting betrayed time and time again by Stockman, Shredder never treats him with the same seriousness he does the turtles, and I wonder why that is.  Is it because Stockman isn’t a physical threat?  Is it because he believes he can deal with whatever he throws at him (Stockman’s blows are rarely disabling, at least until the very end)?  Or does he simply believe that his contributions to the Foot outweigh his potential treachery?  In any case, the chemistry between Saki and Stockman has always been entertaining, and this is probably their best episode together, since Stockman gets off some wonderful bits of snark here.

Random Thoughts:

  • This episode hints at a side of Hun we don’t get to see much; while he’s usually presented as more moderate character than the Shredder–something like “letting the floating city of Beijing fall into the ground in order to obtain some crucial tech” would never really occur to him–he is, nevertheless, a pretty dang brutal guy: you can tell he enjoyed gouging out Stockman’s eye, and snapping his arm off, and breaking his legs, and twisting his neck.  It calls back to his first encounter with Raphael, and it’s a nice, subtle bit of character building.
  • The origin of the car and trailer the gang takes to Northampton is never explained, and we never really see it again–it’s simply adapted wholesale from the book.  Who does it belong to?   Probably not April–she’s eventually revealed to be the owner of a Volkswagen Bus (also from the comics) and it doesn’t really make sense for her to be the owner of two cars.  Casey has his bike (or had, as it was most likely lost in the fire), and I just don’t see him owning a car, given that he’s an underemployed New Yorker.  A loan from a friend of Casey’s?  Possibly–but it’d be nice to see it confirmed.
  • This episode, I think, marks the first instance of what would be come a rather unwelcome and overused gag, where Casey and April spontaneously demonstrate some sort of affection for each other, only to retreat once they realize what they’ve done.  It’s unsubtle, it’s unfunny, and thankfully doesn’t last long, disappearing after the first big Casey/April episode, “Modern Love”.
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