Guardians and Pigeon Puppets: “The Search for Splinter” Part One

” Give me toaster or give me death!–Casey Jones

Written by: Greg Johnson
Original Air Date: October 25, 2003
Teaser Narrator: Leonardo
Characters Introduced: Mr. Mortu (Referenced)
Gargoyles episode I could make a forced comparison to: N/A

The Beats:

  • The turtles and April have been systematically searching for Splinter for days, with no results.   After Raph goes on a rampage, chasing a carjacker in the most destructive way possible, it occurs to them that the guardians, who disappeared after the battle with The Shredder, may know something about where he is.
  • The turtles draw one of the main Guardian to the Shredder’s tower, where they outright ask him about Splinter.  Although he doesn’t give them answers he can use, their actual objective–to plant a turtle tracker on him, is successful.
  • The turtles follow The Guardian to a nondescript office building, and use a hand-held mobile camera to search inside.  The camera is eventually destroyed, but not before they come to they discover that the building belongs to the Techno-Cosmic Research Insitute, a.k.a. T.C.R.I., a.k.a. the name on the canister of ooze that initially mutated them.
  • Now with an even greater reason to see what’s what, the turtles plan their infiltration.  They find out as much as they can about the company–including the name of their C.E.O. (or something), a man the media calls “Merciless Mortu”–and decide on a three-pronged strategy: Casey will provide a distraction to allow April to sneak into T.C.R.I.’s security offices, where she will be in a position to allow the turtles to infiltrate the building from the roof.
  • While Casey manages to get April inside, she soon finds herself out of her depth, as the security room she sees is nothing like what Don expected her to find, looking far more sci-fi.   Still, she eventually manages to get a bead on the tech and help the turtles.
  • The turtles tight-rope their way onto the top of the T.C.R.I. building, only to find that, like the security room, it’s not what they expected.  The ventilation system actually wasn’t, and the windows proved impossible to break.
  • After holding his own against the two security guards, the tables quickly turn after the T.C.R.I. employees order a lockdown.  Displaying heretofore hidden strength, they get Casey on the ropes.
  • April finds the turtles a way in via a fake window (it’s actually a hologram), but Mikey’s decision to enter without looking proves hasty, as a system inside the building creates a fireball and launches it at the turtle. Mikey dodges it but loses his grip on the wall, plummeting to the streets below and taking Don with him.

Continuity Notes:

—-

It’s hard not to give the show’s writers points for guts.  These last two episodes had to have been conceived before a second season for the series had been assured, and yet here we are, introducing entire new concepts that may or may not see a payoff.  Had we not been able to see a continuation to this season, this final arc would have ended the series on a very weird note, but we did, and so it didn’t.

Still, it was going to end here, it wouldn’t be a bad place to do so, as these are two very solid episodes.  This one, in particular, manages to balance drama and humor in a way that very few episodes manage to match.  And overall, it has a good sense of rythm.

It’s also worth noting that this adaptation of the story of Splinter’s disappearance and the turtles’ investigation of T.C.R.I.  takes place at a different point in the turtles’ journey than it does in the source material.  In the original, Splinter goes missing while the turtles investigate Baxter Stockman’s lab in the second issue, and T.C.R.I. is discovered not long after.  Here, it only takes place after the main plot involving the Shredder, which took most of our time during this season, has been given a sense of closure.  It’s one of the better examples of how this series tweaked, cleaned, and polished the original stories in order to give us a more coherent adaptation.

Up until now, the story of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been a relatively grounded one.  Even with the occasional sentient nanomachine colony or ancient underground city, the action mostly took place in and around New York, and the antagonists have tended to be the sort of thing street-level heroes like Batman usually deals with.  This story however–which will continue uninterrupted for ten episodes–suddenly and sharply expands the turtles’ world.  No longer is the turtles’ story limited to one or two cities; now it’ll involve galaxies.

All in all, it’s a shift that could have been very jarring and/or contrived.  Here, however, it manages to feel like a natural expansion without feeling telegraphed or obvious.  The turtles have defeated their main threat, and continuing the story would have required an escalation–bigger threats, bigger stakes, bigger world, and the story begun here does that.  On the other hand, it doesn’t come out completely out of the blue, nor is it entirely divorced from what has gone on before–indeed, the writers have been planting the seeds of this story ever since episode two, and the various strands will come together in both the short and long terms.  And it’s one of the thing that really manages to make TMNT stand out when it comes to storytelling–even Gargoyles, for all of its storytelling acumen, went through some growing pains when it became time to expand its universe (*1).

Of course, in order for this to work, this sort of thing requires a good transition, and “The Search For Splinter” delivers.  For most of the episode, we’re still dealing with season 1 rules and characters–ninjas, mysterious bosses and corporations that are more than what they seem may not be exactly mundane, but they at least fit what we’ve seen before and what we’ve been trained to expect.  And then the T.C.R.I. doors shut down, their security guards’ eyes start glowing, and air vents turn out to not be air vents.  Things have started getting capital-W weird, and the turtles’ world will never be the same.

ETA: (*1)  Of course, Gargoyles never had the advantage of hindsight TMNT had, which makes all the difference.

Random thoughts:

  • Given how competent the turtles are consistently portrayed as being, it feels a bit contrived that they only though of the guardians several days into their search. Yet, I’m not sure what, short of massive changes to this episode and last could have been done to allow them to figure out this potential course of action earlier.
  • On the other hand, I really quite like the turtles’ Xanatos-like ploy to be able to follow their guardian ally.  Like their bit with the Battle Shell in “Return to New York”, its one of those welcome signs that the turtles can be downright devious at times.
  • April mentions driving her grandmother’s tractor.  While there’s no evidence that this is anything other than a throwaway line, it’s one that coincidentally creates a subtle connection between her and Casey. who, of course, spent a significant part of his youth in his grandmother’s house in Northampton.  I like it.
  • A small bit I appreciate is the fact that one of T.C.R.I.’s security guards is a woman.  Oftentimes in animation and elsewhere, occupations like security and police are portrayed as ones occupied exclusively by men, and while there are sometimes actual reasons for works to act as if that were the case–for example, it allows cartoons to use one character model for an entire group of what are essentially extras–it makes me super-glad when shows like Gargoyles–with the Xanatos Goon Squad–do otherwise.
  • While my feeling on the ongoing fandom debate on whether April works as a martial artist are…complex, I have to say that if an incarnation doesn’t make her a fighter, then using her as is done here is probably the best way to go.  This episode contains some of her best moment this season, as she infiltrates T.C.R.I. and figures her way around alien technology.
  • On a similar note, while this series tends to play characters’ attractiveness as something divorced from any sort of sexuality, April in her suit is one instance which I feel is an exception.  Maybe it’s the Melrose Place skirt.
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One Response to Guardians and Pigeon Puppets: “The Search for Splinter” Part One

  1. Pingback: WTF?!: “The Search for Splinter” Part Two « Monsters of New York

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