TMNT (2012): “The Gauntlet” (Spoilers)

(Content Note: Swearing)

What the fuck was that?

It couldn’t last.  Despite a promising start, I think it didn´t take long for me to realize that the new TMNT wasn’t for me.  While the series definitively delivers on giving us a looser, funnier take on the characters that doesn’t feel beholden to past incarnations, which I was totally ready for, there were plenty of bits which I didn’t care for, which I feared would eventually overtake the parts I did like.  Mikey’s overwhelming stupidity.  The various sloppy bits of plotting, which give me the impression that characters and concepts don’t exist when they’re offscreen, and that the plot would have been resolved already if we’d had smarter characters.    Anything pertaining to Donatello’s Nice Guy crush on April.  And now, in what is meant to be the series’ mid-season climax, it’s finally happened.

“The Gauntlet”  is easily the most packed episode in the series.  Not only do the turtles find Kirby O’Neal and attempt to rescue it, they also get to defuse a Kraang mutagenic bomb and fight both Bradford and Xever and The Shredder.  There’s also a mutant pigeon who stalks April.  It would almost work, if the various parts managed to be individually satisfying.

Mikey’s antics have ceased to be amusing and have now made him into that person at the bus who strikes up a conversation even though you really want to read your book, goddammit.  I could name several examples, but the one that most comes to mind is when he presses the button that opens the door to Kirby O’Neal’s cell door—the door Leo has spent minutes trying to pick open—activating the alarm.  It’s something that can be directly linked to the turtles’ lack of success, and yet he is never called out on it, and he never feels remorse for doing so.  It pisses me off both in principle, and because I really disliked that Kirby wasn’t rescued.

This is also the episode where Shredder flunkies Chris Bradford and Xever are mutated, which would have been somewhat surprising if the online TMNT community wasn’t violently averse to spoiler tags.  It´s a shame, because while I was already invested in the characters as humans, it wasn’t to the degree that I’d feel bad for them to be changed; instead, I just cringe at the lost potential—I really don’t see how their transformations are an improvement, dramatically speaking.  Not only that, it only comes about because of dramatic cheating: the mutagen, we have been led to believe, works by mutating its victim using the last animal or plant they touched as a base.  Here, Bradford and Xever mutate after fighting the turtles, and yet they turn into the dog and fish that they had respectively touched earlier in the episode.

You can see where the problem lies.  Either we’re meant to believe that they never touched the turtles during hand to hand combat, or that the mutagen works in whatever way the writers want it to.  Neither is an example of good writing.  What’s more, the way the mutations come about is baffling, in that I can’t understand how things turned out the way they did without invoking author override.  I don’t get the physics and I don’t get the motivations, and I get the impression that the writers don’t, either.

The fights, as usual, were a series highlight, but as far as introductions to the Shredder go, this one carries less weight than it should have, and feels like a pale imitation of the intro in the 2k3 series.  Part of it is almost undoubtedly due to age–I was far younger when the earlier episode aired, and had different standards*–but it also has to do with the way he’s been dealt with so far:  the appearances of the Foot so far have themselves been weightless.   The situation at the end of “New Friends, Old Enemies” is more or less identical to the way it was before it, and the same can be said of “Never Say Xever”; the story’s world remains unchanged despite their presence.  The previous cartoon, on the other hand, imbued the Foot with the capacity to change things, which made them vital in that first season’s cosmology, and made the turtles’ first fight with Saki feel like an actual culmination.  One could connect the dots from that episode all the way back to the pilot and get a nice drawing, while with this show we doing so would only give us lines.

And because it always bears mentioning, we’re nine episodes in, and April is the only female character to have any lines or to appear outside of flashback cameos.  Don is also still a creeper, now with “my April” Freudian slips.

I probably won’t stop watching the series—like it or not, TMNT is in my blood, and the completist in me won’t allow the part who likes good shows to simply skip it.  Still, my hopes that the show would get better as it goes along are starting to seem a mite unjustified.

Edited to add: Several people at the Technodrome have noted how several of the shots in the turtles’ fight with the Shredder are homages to panels from the original fight all the way back in the first issue of the Mirage comic.  Poster Ninja Donnie has a nice collection of them here.  It doesn’t change my overall opinion of the episode–my problem was never with the flash, but with the substance, which this has no bearing on–but still, pretty damn cool, Nick storyboarders.

* The bolded font indicates stuff which has been added after the fact.

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4 Responses to TMNT (2012): “The Gauntlet” (Spoilers)

  1. Trey says:

    (Content Note: Spoilers, Auditing of Opinions)

    WTF Is this Reviewer on?

    The Episode was Amazing and the best in the Series. The Humour was great and the action scenes were Badass! Did you even read the 1st issue of TMNT Comic? The battle with Shredder was Exactly like that in this New Series first encounter with The Shredder! Aside from that Epic Fight, The Episode had a lot of suspense which was great! And your complaining about the limited Female characters? Need I remind you we have a Female Ally Character (April) who is getting great character development and the soon to come Karai is confirmed for this show!

    Btw this is a kids show, and your making the Dumbest criticisms for it! If you don’t like it, that’s fine but know that you’re in the minority here.

  2. Ian says:

    Welcome, Trey. Thank you for speaking your mind. One thing, though, I would appreciate it if you didn’t audit other people’s opinions; I’m allowing it this time because you’re doing it to me, but please note that any further attempts to do so–or any attacks on commenters or posters here–will result in me not letting your posts through.

    I have, in fact, read the first issue of the book; however, since it is not especially relevant to my critique, I didn’t feel the need to mention it. Notably, the original comic book did not set up the turtles/Shredder fight episodes (or issues) in advance, and therefore didn’t have the weight of expectations the way this version of the fight does, which was my entire point. You obviously(? Correct me if I’m wrong) felt that previous episodes did a good job of setting up the fight here as something to get excited about. I did not, and I explained the reasons why I felt that way.

    Yes, we have one female character. We’ve also had at least fifteen male characters, not counting extras, so forgive me for finding the male:female ratio a bit skewed. It’s skewed now, and, unless there are some rather drastic changes, it will remain skewed when Karai is added. Both characters are (or will be) exceptions in an world that is male by default, which is highly problematic, not only because it is highly unrealistic, but because this type of depiction both reflects, and feeds back into, a real world in which men are treated as the default. Or to put it another way, if only one of the characters in the series were male, it would not go unnoticed, so why not this? Heck, I’m fairly confident in believing that if every single one of the show-created characters were women, people would still be finding it weird, despite the fact that the ratio then would be truer to life than what we have now.

    Yes, the target audience for this show is mostly kids, who have just as much right to smart, challenging writing as everyone else. Shows like Adventure Time and Gravity Falls and Gargoyles and TMNT (2003) manage to have that, so I have no reason to expect any less from this iteration of the TMNT. I’m just not finding it.

    Finally, I am perfectly aware that I appear to be a minority when it comes to opinions on this episode, which is why I didn’t attempt to spoil other people’s enjoyment by posting this anywhere else. Aside from that? I don’t give a damn.

  3. Scott says:

    As for your comment about why Xever/Bradford weren’t mutated into Turtles since they came into contact with them after the fish/dog, remember the Turtles are already mutants.

    Perhaps the mutagen doesn’t change you into something that’s already a mutant, if that makes any sense.

    I also find your pondering about the lack of female characters quite odd for the following reasons:

    – Neither previous cartoons, or even the comics, had many notable female characters outside of April and Karai.

    – Old toon had April and Irma…and I guess Lotus Blossom who was basically a Karai expie.

    – 4kids series had April and Karai…and Quarry who was seen more in her mutant form than human. We got Angel, who appeared in maybe 4 episodes at the most, and the rest of the female characters didn’t come till much later until the Ninja Tribunal and Fast Forward arcs.

  4. Ian says:

    Welcome, Scott.

    Your idea regarding the mutagen is an interesting one, and one I did not originally think of when watching the episode. Given how Hun was mutated by touching a mutant turtle (either 1988 Don or 2003 Raph) in Turtles Forever, I perhaps took it for granted that it worked that way here as well. That said, I still think that this is the sort of thing that shouldn’t be left for the viewer to theorize. Given that no explanation for the mutagenic ooze’s properties have been given, I feel it is of the utmost importance to at least be consistent in how it is applied. Adding this rule mid-stream without explanation just feels as if they’re using it to do whatever the heck they want, which is not a writing technique I’m particularly fond of–magic A should always be magic A–especially when that bit of magic is a piece of nonsense as the mutagen as conceived by Fred Wolf is.

    You say that historically, the TMNT franchise has been very skewed towards male characters. You are right. I have a tendency to not be as harsh on Eastman and Laird for the disparity in the original books because they’re two guys who might not necessarily think about these things, and because the Mirage books eventually got considerably better when it came to women. The same can be said about the 4Kids toon in relationship to the original one: it wasn’t perfect, or even all that great, but it was better. Being an optimist and somebody who thinks stuff like this is pretty damn important, I expected and hoped that the next toon could be even better in this regard, and instead, it is in fact worse than its ever been.

    Also note that it’s not just that April is the only female character involved in the story, it’s that she appears to be the only woman in New York period. Extras don’t generally get thought about a lot, but they do matter, because they give us a glimpse of how creators see the world. For example, we can tell the people behind Avatar: The Last Airbender see women as a vital part of the world, because they are actually seen all over their fictional universe: as leaders, bureaucrats, fans, shopkeepers, teachers, mothers, etc. Conversely,Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, despite making Gotham City central to the narrative, features a version of the city that is overwhelmingly–as in, like 95%–male. In a city of millions, there were less than five female cops, there were no female prisoners that weren’t also Selina Kyle, and apparently no female orphans. Not coincidentally, just about the only women who have an impact in the narrative are love interests. If you’re interested, the blog “Culturally Disoriented”has a breakdown of the situation and why it’s a problem.

    Now, this may not be the case outside the first season, which I am most familiar with, but the original cartoon, while having only two women as consistent parts of the narrative–April and Irma–did strike me as taking place in a world that included women, such as gun-toting Benjamin Franklin lookalike on the first episode. They may have only appeared in limited, somewhat stereotypical roles, but they were there. Likewise, the 4Kids cartoon had, in addition to the women inside the narrative, a world that included women as reporters, bank tellers, security guards, gang members, scientists, victims of illicit mutation experiments by the Foot, super-heroes, cosplayers… While annoyingly absent in some fields–I would have very much appreciated seeing women among the Foot or E.P.F. rank and file, for example, there was still that sense of progression I noted earlier.

    Now, the new toon has some very specific issues when it comes to extras–namely, they can’t show a lot of them. However, among those they have shown, none have been women. Combined that with the fact that none of the new characters they’ve created have been women either (with the exception of Miwa, who has shown up in one shot), and it becomes damn near impossible to believe that it’s accidental. And whatever Ciro Nieli may believe, visibility matters. Show women treated as exceptions enough times, and people eventually start acting as if that were the case.

    Now, I don’t mention this anywhere in the original post, and that might have been a mistake. I’ve been writing about this for a while in my other blog, and didn’t wish to repeat myself any more than I already was. I apologize for that.

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