TMNT (2012): “The Gauntlet” (Spoilers)
17 November 2012 4 Comments
(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.