Holodeck History: “Secret Origins” Part One

“We are Utroms.  We are one.  We shall not fail.  We shall not fail!” Mortu

Utroms at the console

Written by: Eric Luke
Original Air Date: January 17, 2004
Recap Narrator: TV News Report
Characters and Concepts Introduced: Ch’rell (Unnamed)
Gargoyles episode I could make a forced comparison to: “City of Stone”, “Legion”

The Beats

  • The beam of light that sent the turtles to D’Hoonib has drawn the attention of the media, the population of New York, and the military.  National guardsmen have surrounded the T.C.R.I. building, ready to prevent anyone or anything from getting in or out. This is not enough to stop Baxter Stockman who, inside a spider-like with barely enough space to fit his head, which is all that’s left of him–and who is in communication with an unspecified C.O.–enters the building the same way the turtles did. Meanwhile, inside the Battle Shell, April and Casey keep an eye on the situation, awaiting for the moment when they can make their move.
  • The turtles, along with Honeycutt and several Triceraton and Federation soldiers are transported back into the T.C.R.I. building, where the battle between the age-old enemies resumes. The brain-like aliens are having none of that shit, however, and blast the unwelcome aliens with a stasis beam, which immobilizes them until they can allbe sent back to whence they came…
  • …all except for one Triceraton, who unnoticed by anyone, makes his way through a tunnel and into the sewers.
  • With two sets of hostile aliens dealt with, the turtles prepare to deal with the third, until a very safe and very sound Splinter urges them not to, since the aliens, he claims, are actually allies.
  • After some introductions, Mortu takes the turtles to what he calls the Holodeck Oracle Pod Chamber, where they’ll be able to commune with the Utrom collective memory and in doing so learn just how they came to be on Earth.
  • Inside the virtual reality program, the turtles watch as an Utrom ship, captained by Mortu and transporting a captured Utrom criminal, crashes to Earth after said criminal escapes and sabotages the vessel.  The ship lands on eleventh century Japan, and the Utroms, realizing that the technology with which they can repair their ship does not exist, decide to wait until it does.
  • In order to facilitate their covert existence among humans, the Utroms develop the human-proportioned exosuits.   Unfortunately, as one of their number is off testing their first model, it is ambushed by the Utrom criminal, who then steals the exoskeleton.
  • Considerable time (within the story) later, the Utrom refugee camp is attacked by ninja sporting a familiar sigil and led by someone who resembles the Shredder far too much for comfort.  It is at this moment that, thanks to sabotage by Baxter Stockman, the simulator parameters change, changing the turtles and Splinter from unseen observers to actors.  The Pseudo-Shredder, bemused by the sudden appearance of mutant turtles+rat, attacks Michelangelo, seriously injuring him.  He orders his ninja to attack.

Continuity and Mythology Notes

“Secret Origins” feels in many ways like a coda: with the Shredder defeated and Splinter found, all that’s left is to tie up the remaining loose ends that have been brought up during the first season.  And indeed, the end of the arc has an unusual amount of finality for the series, and would have served as a finale without problem.

Perhaps not coincidentally, this arc also marks the moment when this series irreparably splits the series from its source material, as things take drastically different turns.  Not only do we discover a Foot Clan that has more or less always been tied to a Shredder, we also see that the Shredder himself has now been tied to the Utroms.  The latter in particular is a risky change, which executed badly could have left a core element of this particular universe feeling somewhat incestuous.  It doesn’t, and that’s since the really important bits in this arc won’t actually occur until the third part, that’s what I want to talk about here.

I’ve mentioned the IDW turtles before, and rarely in complimentary terms; it might be my least favorite incarnation of their universe. Even the Nick cartoon, which I hate with the fiery passion of a thousand nuns, at least feels like something that could have been good, if the execution were a million times better. The comic books, on the other hand, constantly feel like the sort of work that can never be anything other than workmanlike at best in quality (at least when it comes to writing—the art has often been excellent) and a lot to do with the particular way they’ve tied TMNT’s component parts together—an approach that while not dissimilar to 4Kids’, has several key differences, which critically harm it.

TMNT is, famously, a genre blender property. The first four issues of the original Mirage Studios comic feature, respectively, a ninja revenge story, a battle against a mad scientist, a mistaken identity caper, and aliens. All four feel like proper Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stories. This, I would argue, is the franchise’s defining quality, and its greatest strength; it’s why the Fred Wolf series feels faithful to the concept, even when everything about it is different.

However, this is only half of the story, as the Mirage TMNT-verse would have been considerably less interesting if all of these stories had remained separate. What actually went and made it interesting was the way in which creators would then repeatedly take these separate concepts and have them interact—they took toys which which aren’t designed to fit together and can never do so perfectly and find a way to make them work. And while these experiments didn’t always result in what could be called good stories, what ended up on the page was often at least interesting. Not that this is especially surprising: the interplay between these two opposing elements—stories which weren’t meant to be tied together, but then are—is plays a considerable part in the basic appeal of shared universes and especially books like the original Suicide Squad, which drew from all over the 80’s DC universe for its cast, and James Robinson’s Starman, which took various characters whose only connection was the name “Starman” and weaved a connections between them spanning decades and planets.

However the key point here is “separate”; the various elements that are being brought together need to first have existed independently from one another. Bringing them together from the beginning as part of a single story—as the IDW incarnation does, by making Baxter Stockman, April, Krang, Shredder, The Fugitoid, and Fate all play a role in the turtles’ creation–sets a different set of expectations, in a way that is often antithetical to genre mashup stories.  While coincidence is a staple of both approaches, having it all take place within one story–the origin story, no less–has the paradoxical approach of both making the turtles feel superfluous, since they’re no longer necessary to tie everything together, and of making everything else to beholden to them, seeing as how they’re brought together solely to bring about the turtles’ creation.  What’s more, in making these characters central to the turtles’ existence, they are now an intrinsic part of the concept–it’s no coincidence that every story in the book has dealt with characters introduced in the origin.  The effect is clear: the universe is no longer one where anything can happen, but one designed to tell one specific story, one which doesn’t easily allow for things such as comedy villains or tonal or storytelling variety.  When the story finally decides to move Krang to the forefront, in  a story that takes the turtles away from Earth and into Neutrino, home of what the Fred Wolf cartoon described as the Hot-Rodding Teenagers from Dimension X,  the change of scenery is purely cosmetic, with nothing to distinguish it from a battle taking place in a Call of Duty game.  And the sad thing is that they could never have been anything else: once the decision was made to turn Krang into a “serious” villain–in the process stripping him of everything that made him interesting–all of the characters associated with him needed to become equally serious, at which point the whole thing disappears up its ass and loses all point.

There’s no question that 4Kids made their version of the TMNT ‘verse far more interconnected than they were in past versions, with things like Baxter Stockman as a subordinate of the Shredder (which, to be clear, was something first done by the Fred Wolf series), Casey being tied with the Foot via Hun, and, as we see here, the Shredder being connected to the Utrom. However, instead of being treated as a single large story, what we’re given instead is a series of small stories that allow the various characters to develop independently from one another. “A Better Mousetrap” / “Attack of the Mousers” are thus allowed to tell proper mad scientist story, one that exists in the same universe as “Fallen Angel”’s gang story and “The Search for Splinter” aliens-among-us tale. This is why the episodes that don’t further the seasonal arc–often derided as “filler”– actually serve a hugely important purpose: they show that the world is not just about The Foot and the turtles’ conflict with them, but a series of interconnected stories that all happen to share the same world. They don’t all need to be serious, or have high stakes. They can be comedic, romantic, intimate, or ludicrously epic and grim You can have a story about the dangers of being a vigilante who takes upon themselves the role of judge, jury, and executioner, and then follow it with a story about a nanomachine colony and its father figure. And occasionally, you can have stories about stories about aliens falling into ancient Japan.

Random Thoughts:

  • One of the things I really appreciate about this series is the way it portrays the progressive degradation of the masquerade, as the turtles’ world begins to bleed over into the general population, culminating in its more-or-less total disappearance by Fast Forward.  We begin to see the first few signs of that bleed here, as the events inside T.C.R.I. draw the attention of onlookers and the government.  The mundane world  for the first time becomes a character, as illustrated by the first-for-the series use of a news report as the teaser narrator.
  • This bleed raises one question, though: just where the heck is Bishop doing through all of this?  The real answer is “not existing”.  The in-universe answer, given that he tends to be rather hands-on?  I’m not entirely sure yet.
  • This is the episode where we learn that “Mortu” is not a cheeky alias, but apparently the character’s real name, or at least the closest English can get to it.  That seems unlikely.
  • While this series prefers to limit instances of addressing the audience to the intros, this episode features a rare exception, as Baxter punctuates his return with an “I’m baaaaaaack…” Back from where?  From his perspective, he was never gone.
  • For reasons I can’t really explain, I really like the concept–original to this version of the Utroms–of a stranded species willing to wait millennia in order for technology to catch up to a usable level.  It’s incredibly suggestive in a very appealing way.
Advertisements

7 Responses to Holodeck History: “Secret Origins” Part One

  1. Derek says:

    Regarding Bishop, I suppose he may have been thinking long term: perhaps he knew about TCRI and was waiting for the best opportunity to break in and claim Utrom technology (and there was an Utrom in one of his captive pods in the Stockman Fast Forward episode). And I suppose he may have directed, covertly, the military visit when the light beamed out of TCRI.

    Yet those possible explanations open additional problems: wouldn’t he find it strange that some guy walks into the building with a toaster and a baseball bat? Or that turtles were climbing the building with a pigeon puppet?

    Mortu going by the same name either as a human or as an Utrom was bothersome, especially when later episodes (the Hamato Yoshi origin story) erase any name separation. It’s a minor point, but it’s similar to other series in which a character uses the same name whether incognito or not (I recently got into Soul Eater, and having the obvious villain go by the obvious name of Medusa in her civilian guise is a headscratcher).

  2. DarthEmpress says:

    I feel this is where the narrative of the Shredder’s origins could’ve been handled better. I love the Utroms and the concept of them being stranded on Earth and waiting centuries until technology is advanced enough…but I feel like Ch’rell himself could’ve been revealed in a different way. It just felt so anti-climatic to have the turtles discover he’s an Utrom inside TCRI. I think it would’ve been more engaging to have that mystery of ‘how the hell did the Shredder survive decapitation’ linger until the series finale. Of course, season 2 ended with The Big Brawl…but I feel that could’ve been pushed forward and a finale focusing on the Utroms and the Shredder being revealed as Ch’rell could’ve been more engaging. I just felt it was handled in a very weak manner.

    I love these Utroms, though :3 I wish Glurin would’ve appeared! He was a riot ❤

  3. Ian says:

    Derek: Mortu going by the same name either as a human or as an Utrom was bothersome, especially when later episodes (the Hamato Yoshi origin story) erase any name separation. It’s a minor point, but it’s similar to other series in which a character uses the same name whether incognito or not (I recently got into Soul Eater, and having the obvious villain go by the obvious name of Medusa in her civilian guise is a headscratcher).

    My issue is less that he uses the name in both capacities–although it’s really a massive security risk–and mainly that his real name is the word “Utrom” backwards. It places him in the same realm as characters like One Piece’s Captain Smoker who smokes and has smoke powers in being waaaaay too on-the-nose.

    DarthEmpress: I feel this is where the narrative of the Shredder’s origins could’ve been handled better. I love the Utroms and the concept of them being stranded on Earth and waiting centuries until technology is advanced enough…but I feel like Ch’rell himself could’ve been revealed in a different way. It just felt so anti-climatic to have the turtles discover he’s an Utrom inside TCRI. I think it would’ve been more engaging to have that mystery of ‘how the hell did the Shredder survive decapitation’ linger until the series finale.
    Of course, season 2 ended with The Big Brawl…but I feel that could’ve been pushed forward and a finale focusing on the Utroms and the Shredder being revealed as Ch’rell could’ve been more engaging. I just felt it was handled in a very weak manner.

    While I’m not sure I would have necessarily delayed the reveal–partly I haven’t really thought about it–I agree that the execution was botched, and part of why I wasn’t initially sold on the character. I’m saving my thoughts on that very topic for the Part 3 review.

    I love these Utroms, though :3 I wish Glurin would’ve appeared! He was a riot ❤

    Yes! More individual Utroms in general would have been lovely. Both him and Professor Obligado would have been much appreciated, had there been more seasons.

  4. Pterobat says:

    Uwagh, I never realized “Mortu” was “Utrom” spelled backwards until you pointed it out!

    Yes, I do wish for more Utroms with names and individual personalities. They didn’t have much of that in the cartoon, and it made their species seem very one-note with the exception of Ch’rell. And the whole “one bad member of a fundamentally good race” character type is silly on its own.

    Ch’rell is cool, though. I like Ch’rell. I don’t have a problem with The Shredder being an Utrom, likely because I was never all that invested in The Shredder as a character or a person, so his not being a human just pings off my shield, as long as he’s an entertaining villain.

    (Though I’m not even averse to the idea of Baxter Stockman as an Utrom, something Peter Laird apparently toyed with in some movie concepts—and I don’t mean Professor Perry.)

    Ch’rell’s species was part of the larger merging of formerly separate Mirage universe concepts, and I think it makes the 4Kids series very interesting to do it. It gives the 4Kids cartoon its own flavour, beyond just being kid-friendly Mirage adaptations.

    Spider-head Stockman is a wonderfully creepy image, especially the way he’s presented in terms of the angles and lighting.

  5. Pingback: Rest, Recuperation and “Reflections” | Monsters of New York

  6. Pingback: Metal Gear Solid 2 in a Ship: “Rogue in the House” Part One | Monsters of New York

  7. Pingback: “Rogue in the House” Part Two | Monsters of New York

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: