It’s a Bit Clangy, and a Bit Jammy: “Turtles in Space — Part Three: The Big House”

” SPOOOOOOOON!!!”— Raphael

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Written by: Marty Isenberg
Original Air Date: November 22, 2003
Recap Narrator: Professor Honeycutt & Michelangelo
Characters and Concepts Introduced: Prime Leader Zanramon
Gargoyles episode I could make a forced comparison to: N/A

Synopsis:

After discovering and capturing the stowed-away turtles–who survived the decompression of the cargo hold using ninja techniques to slow down their breathing and heart rate–the Triceratons take our  heroes to their  homeworld, where they are placed in prison until their usefulness as bargaining chips is past.

Meanwhile, the equally-captive Professor Honeycutt is taken to meet the Triceraton council, where Prime Leader Zanramon makes his demands: the Teleportal in exchange for his new friends’ lives.  The Fugitoid refuses.

The turtles waste no time on trying to make their escape.  They fail, and are taken to “the games”–Triceraton gladiatorial combat.

Continuity and Mythology Notes:

—-

One of the big similarities between Gargoyles and this iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is that both series have extended “away from home” plot lines which ended up annoying fans in their length.  With Gargoyles, you had the world tour, in which Goliath, Elisa, Angela and Bronx traveled the world on a canoe and lasted precisely forever.  With TMNT you had the equally-long Fast Forward, and to a lesser extent, this.

The problem with either isn’t necessarily that they’re bad, it’s just that, as interruptions in the larger, ongoing story, they’re not what the audience necessarily wants.  And while it’s one thing if the “away from home” episodes in turn help set up larger stories, it’s another thing entirely when they don’t.  This is one of those cases, and this one doesn’t even have the excuse of being an adaptation of the comic book: while it’s fun seeing the turtles do “The Great Escape”, it’s hard to deny that the story’s purpose in the larger scheme of things is, like with last episode, simply to get the turtles from point A to point B.  And yet, the episode doesn’t quite manage to feel superfluous, because skipping that step never quite feels like an option.

So yeah, this episode.  One thing I really like about it is just how competent it portrays the turtles as being, able to break out of prison in two days like its no thing.  Granted, they’re helped enormously by the fact that the prison doesn’t seem to use the surveillance set-up that it has–or maybe the Triceratons decided that the cameras weren’t needed once the tattoos became a thing–but in any case, here we see the tortuga brothers working as a finely-tuned machine, in a way that really helps sell the idea that yes, four ninjas can take on small armies and win. And while portraying the turtles as still having a lot to learn–as in the current cartoon–is an equally legitimate approach, I prefer this one, particularly since it means, in turn, that the villains also have to be legitimately competent in order to present a viable threat.

However,  in the end, the turtles don’t succeed, and that’s important too.  One thing I feel the series did very well is making not only their badass victories feel earned, but their defeats as well.  Yes, the turtles are formidable; this does not mean that they can pull off impossible victories.  Place them against wave after wave of Foot Ninja, or people with firearms ten feet away, and they’ll lose.  The correct balance isn’t always struck–the series writes itself into corners quite a bit , making the deus ex machina a tool they rely on more than I’d like–but in the end, this balance is what helped the series remain viable for more than a hundred episodes.

Random Thoughts:

  • One of the weirder quirks about season 2 of the show involves the relative frequency with which the plot requires the turtles to somehow lose their weapons, forcing them to improvise new ones from whatever’s handy.  This episode features the first use of that device, as the turtles create weapons out of bathroom supplies.  Just why a people whose technological level allows for faster-than-light flight still clean using plungers is a mystery left unsolved.  In any case, I don’t mind the idea here, since a) it makes sense, and b) the replacement weapons make for some good bits, such as Raph’s homage to The Tick and that one moment Leo uses his plungers’ ability to stick to walls to good effect.
  • I mentioned last time that D’hoonib suffered from Generic Sci-Fi Planet syndrome, and while the world-building for the Triceratons isn’t fantastic, there’s enough here to make them feel distinct.  I am particularly enamored with the ships made out of pieces of their blown-up planet,  which translated perfectly on the screen.
  • The writers have become more comfortable with the intro narrations, and this one is especially fun.  It’s the only time we’ve gotten two intro narrations, and it’s kinda weird that they did so.  Yes, Honeycutt can’t  account for the stuff he hasn’t seen, such as the turtles’ entrance into the Triceraton drop ship last episode, but still, given that the intros have always been fourt-wall break-y, I don’t think it would have been a problem.  Still, I like Mikey’s assist.
  • I’m unsure what to make of the fact that the writers kept the turtles’ method of survival unchanged from the comic book original.  While the original comic book was loose enough in its storytelling that the idea of them using secret ninja skillz kinda works, the animated version is hampered by its greater consistency (see also: Savanti Romero, who’s much sillier in the original book, and I kinda wish they’d gone into another direction with it.
  • What prison places their floor wax in the canteen?
  • I find it somewhat strange that the prison seen here doesn’t seem to include any actual Triceraton prisoners.  Does that mean that the Republic has specific Triceraton-only complexes?  If so, I wonder what those would look like.
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