Live by the Sword of Tengu…: “Return to New York” Part 3

” This is my fortress.  My stronghold.  Did you believe you could defeat me here?”–The Shredder

Written by:  Michael Ryan
Original Air Date: October 11, 2003
Recap Narrator: Leonardo
Characters Introduced: N/A
Gargoyles episode I could make a forced comparison to: “Awakening”, Part 5.

The Beats:

  • The turtles temporarily team up with The Shredder to take on Baxter Stockman’s exosuit.  In the end, Baxter’s invention turns out to be his undoing: thanks to its redundant power systems, the turtles are able to turn one the suit’s severed arms against it, causing Baxter’s suit to blast off, Team Rocket style, before exploding.
  • The battle between the Shredder and the turtles resumes.  Shredder ekes out an early advantage by taking out Splinter, catapults him from the building with a kick.
  • Leonardo saves Splinter, and leaves his wounded master alone in an empty rooftop before returning to the battle.
  • Leonardo unsheathes the Sword of Tengu, intending to use it against its former owner.  He doesn’t get a chance to use it, as a a squadron of Foot Ninja on Razor Jets cause him to drop it.
  • The Shredder sends the Foot Elite against the Leonardo.  The turtles rally towards him and together, they defeat the foursome.
  • The Shredder sends a wave of Foot Ninja against the turtles to distract them while he searches for the Sword of Tengu (it has been burried under the wreckage of a downed Razor Jet) but these are intercepted by the Guardians, clearing the way for the turtles to deal with the Shredder.
  • Working together, the turtles manage to hold their own against the Shredder, even after he manages to recapture the Sword of Tengu.
  • Leonardo gets the Sword of Tengu.  The Shredder gets Leonardo’s swords.  Both leap…
  • …and only one comes down with his head still attached to his neck.
  • The turtles use the Sword of Tengu and the severed arm from Baxter Stockman’s exo-armor to explode the Tower’s power generators, disabling Foot Tower.
  • The turtles make their escape on a stolen Foot helicopter.  They swing by to pick up Splinter, but find that he is not where Leo left him.  Confused and saddened by this turn of events, they head home.
  • Back in Foot Tower, the Shredder rises, walks around, and picks up his head.

Continuity Notes:

  • This arc takes its premise from the comic book story of the same name, which was published in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Vol. 1) issues #19, #20, and #21.  The Shredder met his untimely (and in that incarnation, final) end in the last of those.
  • The Guardians were last seen mourning the turtles in “The Shredder Strikes Back,” Part 2.
  • Baxter Stockman’s exo-armor was developed from technology obtained from the exoskeleton found in “Darkness at the Edge of Town“.  He was given a chance to inspect it in “Tales of Leo”.
  • Leonardo first encountered the Foot Elite in “The Shredder Strikes Back”  part 1, where he was beaten within an inch of his life.
  • The Shredder claims that he was responsible for the Tokugawa Clan’s rise to power.  The Tokugawa Shogunate united Japan early in the sixteenth century and effectively ruled the country until the Meiji Restoration, which returned power to the Emperor.

—-

There’s three episodes left yet, but this episode has a definitive season or even series finale vibe; take away that final minute, and you’d still have a  satistisfying, fairly complete story.

While this is one of the highlights of the series, it’s one whose effectiveness largely depends on one going into the episode unspoiled.  If you’re operating under the assumption that the Shredder is human, as he has been presented so far, then the episode’s climax is probably the single most surprising moment in the history of western animation.  Death in cartoons, never the most common of events in the medium, had become a stunningly rare event by 2003, so seeing  the series’ big bad apparently bite the dust in such a final and explicit way as depicted here was, for me, actually jawdropping–this despite the fact that it’s a faithful adaptation of what happens in the comics.  Then, seeing him get back up(!) and pick up his head(!!)–something that most definitively was not in the original “Return to New York”–was enough to do so again.  However, like most stage illusions, it’s not nearly as special once you know the trick behind it, and the explanation behind this particular bit becomes so important for the series that it becomes a late-arrival spoiler.  The episode can live without it–it’s still a darn good piece of action–but it’s no longer as special as it once was–especially once future plot elements render it somewhat senseless.  But that’s a rant for another time.

Even without that twist, the arc as a whole still feels like a surprising direction for the series, given the medium.  Like death, going all Code of Hamurabi on a villain had long been in the list of things cartoon heroes didn’t do, so, even with the knowledge that the show was trying to do a faithful adaptation of the original Mirage stories,  I don’t think anybody really expected “Return to New York” to be one of those things they could adapt.  In doing so,  this episode highlights what I consider to be one of the chief philosophical and thematic differences between this show and Gargoyles, specifically those outlined in “City of Stone”.

Like the events surrounding the Shredder in the original  Ninja Turtles comics (less so in the cartoon), City of Stone” is a story about the cycle of revenge and how it affects everyone within it. Throught their original lifetimes, Demona and Macbeth become embroiled in generational vendetta with The Hunter, and, eventually, each other.  However, unlike Eastman and Laird’s original story,whose conceptions of revenge are loosely based on Japanese concepts like bushido–which includes tenets that made it dishonorable for one to let the killer of one’s master live–Gargoyles’ moral code is more akin to that of super-hero narratives, under which, given the heroes’ involvement as agents of the state, things like taking judgement onto one’s own hand is not considered kosher, and the refusal to do so is one of the things that distinguishes them from villanous lawbreakers.

Or, to put it in another way, it’s “A samurai cannot live under the same sky with the killer of hir lord” vs. “if you kill hir you’ll be just like hir”.

While I don’t particularly have a problem with the latter in the abstract, I’ve never felt that Gargoyles has felt quite at home with its moral code, not only because it never felt like something the gargoyles actually believed, but because the way the show used it ignored the fact that well, people are not all the same and not all circumstances are equal.

Let’s go back to “Return to New York”, where the turtles head to The Shredder’s headquarters with the specific aim of killing him.  They more or less succeed.  Would this make the turtles evil, under the gargoyles’ (*) code?  Would the gargoyles have attempted to stop them and save Saki?

What’s more, it’s worth noting that while the turtles kill, this is the only case where they set out to specifically kill someone, rather than just stop them.  “Killing” the Shredder does not change them in any significant way; while Leonardo eventually feels that he was wrong in doing so, he does so because the Shredder’s demise becomes the catalyst for badness, rather than because anything having to do with revenge.  While it doesn’t make them heroes, it will take some very persuasive arguments, and possibly charts, before I could consider their actions immoral.

—-

Random Thoughts:

  • This is the high point of Baxter Stockman’s arc, where he decides that he’s mad as hell and not going to take it any more, and is in a position to actually do something about it.  While he’ll continue to be a threat later on, this is the time where the danger he represents is as its most immediate and visceral.  And it works, nicely highlighting both his strengths and weaknesses in a way that makes him distinct from the Shredder.
  • I’ll talk about this more when the next episode comes along, but it’s worth noting that this is the first episode where we see a gun that actually shoots bullets.  Granted, it’s a gatling gun and not something that kids will find in their parents’ closet, but it’s still notable.
  • Speaking of Stockman’s four-armed exosuit, it’s rather disappointing to see the artists not be perfectly consistent about what arm does what.  The missile arm is seen shooting flame, and the gatling gun arm occasionally launches missiles.  The inconsistencies are consistent enough to it make me suspect that it wasn’t unintentional, but it still bugs.
  • More weird inconsistencies: we have a story in which the Shredder is beheaded, and we still see Foot Ninja who invariably deploy parachutes or fall to safety when their flying machines are shot down.
  • I like the show’s reference to the Tokugawa shogunate;  while the Shredder’s talk of bringing castles to the ground and defeating armies is suggestive, this seals the deal, outright stating that the Shredder is much older than he seems–or at least, it does if you know what they’re referring to.

—-

Notes of The Foot

(*) Or, rather, Elisa’s moral code, which the gargoyles follow because she wouldn’t be their friend otherwise.

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