Regular People: “Secret Origins” Part Two

“Uh-oh!  Here comes the Shredder’s great-great grandpappy!” Leonardo

Secret Origins 2

Written by: Mike Ryan
Original Air Date: January 24, 2004
Recap Narrator: Donatello
Characters and Concepts Introduced: National Guard General
Gargoyles episode I could make a forced comparison to: “City of Stone”, “Legion”

The Beats

  • Mortu and Honeycutt attempt to free the turtles + Splinter from the sabotaged Oracle Pod Chamber program.
  • Now actors instead of observers inside the Utrom virtual reality program, the Hamato family is forced to deal with the threat of the Shredder.  While Raph and Splinter retreat into the bamboo thicket with the injured Michelangelo, Leonardo and Donatello fight off the Shredder’s Foot Ninja until they, too, can escape.
  • The Shredder divides his forces, keeping most of them on the lookout for the turtles while he and a few others handle some other matters.  Leonardo decides to follow the Foot leader.
  • The Shredder arrives at a shop belonging to a swordsmith, in order to retrieve a job he had commissioned.  Taking the metal blade crafted by the smiths, he attaches it to a familiar-looking hilt, creating the Sword of Tengu.  He decides to test his new weapon on its creators.  Leonardo, who has been watching, returns to his brothers and informs them of this turn for the worse.
  • Back in the real world, the National Guard attempts to break into the sealed T.C.R.I. building, without much success.  The Utrom leaders tell Mortu to prepare for their exit via Transmat, a course of action Mortu is reluctant to undertake, since it would mean abandoning his efforts to rescue the turtles.
  • Inside the Oracle Pod Program, the turtles hear shouts of distress coming from a nearby road.  Deciding to help, the brothers soon arrive at the source of the disturbance: a group of Foot Ninja, fighting a young woman who is defending her family.  Before the turtles can enter the fray, however, two other ninja show up, and begin taking on the Foot.  Eventually, the fighters’  combined forces are enough to drive the Shredder’s goons away.
  • Despite the turtles’ assistance, their physical appearance proves an obstacle, as they are looked upon suspiciously by everyone but the young woman.  The travelers leave, leaving the brothers with the two new ninja, who sport familiar-looking medallions.  Although initially suspicious, the two newcomers decide to hear the turtles out after the bros accidentally namedrop the Utroms, and, after the turtles realize that they are speaking to old-timey versions of the Guardians, the two groups agree to set up a meet between the turtles and the aliens.
  • Inside T.C.R.I., Baxter disables security systems, allowing his outside partner to infiltrate the building.
  • Outside T.C.R.I., the National Guard manages to breach the building’s outer doors.  The Utrom Navigators once again call upon Mortu to lead the evacuation, which the Utrom captain initiates.
  • Leonardo, Donatello, and Raphael return to Splinter and a now–somehow–okay Michelangelo, who has–somehow–obtained a nice little spread of sushi.  Soon, they’re found by the proto-guardians, who bring with them the Oracle Pod Virtual Reality Version of Mr. Mortu.  Fortunately, the Utrom not only believes their story, he has a solution to their situation: a soft reset subroutine installed into the program.  Unfortunately, before they are allowed to access it, the good guys are attacked by the Virtual Shredder.
  • Using the Sword of Tengu, the Shredder defeats his opponents with ease.  Just as Shredhead is about to strike the finishing blow on Mortu, Leonardo, recalling Splinter’s words about the mental nature of their virtual reality, focuses really hard and manages to rewrite the program so that he, not the Shredder, has the super-sword.  Armed with his new weapon, Leonardo sends the Shredder blasting off again.
  • Using Virtual Mortu’s failsafe device,  the turtles deactivate the virtual reality scenario.  As it shuts down, Mortu attempts to give them a warning about the Shredder, which he does not get to complete.
  • The turtles return to the physical world, where they’re greeted by a much-relieved Mortu and Honeycutt.  Before they can celebrate or explain too much, however, they are interrupted by a very much not virtual, very much alive, Shredder.


Continuity and Mythology Notes

The most interesting part in this episode occurs in the middle, when a family is attacked by Foot Ninja in the Utrom’s virtual reality scenario, and it is the group’s sole woman who takes steps to defend them. Despite getting no real dialogue or character development and thus being essentially a extra who happens to get involved in the plot, this character, at the time, became the center of a fair amount of speculation.  What was her larger role in things?  Could she be somehow related to Karai ? (Ahem.)  As it turned out, there was no greater significance to the character–she was just a someone who happened to be able to kick ass. Why, then, does she remain the most memorable out of this episodes various minor characters?

Because normally, she wouldn’t have been there.

The character in question.

The character in question.

I’ve recently gotten into the newest iteration of Nikita,  the latest iteration of the story about a woman forced to work for a quasi-legal black-ops group.  In the latest version of the story, that organization, called Division, is part  SD-6 (Alias), part Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters: after faking the death of criminals in death row and erasing their identities, Division trains these “recruits”–usually older teens–to become super-spies.

Throughout the series, we see many cisgendered women work on Division.  While the gender ratio is far from being 1 : 1, we see women working as field agents, ops members, students at their “charm school”, Guardians charged with protecting the black boxes that make Division unassailable and even, for a time, as Director.  Where we don’t see them, however, is as mooks, be it as part of the supporting Alpha Teams or as guards in Division HQ.  The essential role of being nameless cannon fodder is apparently a man’s job.

This is by no means limited to Nikita.  The same phenomenon can be seen on the manga One Piece, where the story’s main peace-keeping body, The Navy, includes a few female officers but no visible female-coded grunts.   Apparently nobody has realized that if nearly 100% of the women on your staff are officer material, then hiring more of them becomes an exceedingly logical idea.  S.H.I.E.L.D., in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?  Same deal.  You have your Agents May, Hill, and Thirteen, but when you get to the agents who attack Captain America in an elevator early in The Winter Soldier?  Dudes.

And so it goes.  While women are already underrepresented in crowd scenes, this representation becomes even more minimal when talking about stereotypically male fields, such as anything having to do with physical combat–even in universes in which gender disparities aren’t supposed to exist.  Why is this the case?  Not out of concern for realism, certainly. The U.S. National Guard, for example, currently has women make up roughly  15 percent of its more than 450,000 members (*)–not a majority, but far from an anomaly, either, and similar numbers can be seen within the other branches of the armed forces.  Speaking more broadly, women who fight have existed all throughout history, in far greater numbers than popular modern-day narratives would have us think.

Faced with a story which doesn’t feature female mooks, we can conclude two things about the universe it takes place in. We can conclude that those women are not visible because they don’t exist within these fictional universes at all, or we can conclude that they *do* exist, and are “merely” unseen. Either way, we’re left with a pretty clear double standard, where guy mooks need to do nothing to be allowed to appear, while female mooks have to jump through additional hoops before being allowed the same benefit.

To be fair, I could see paradigms under which not including women among the rank and file makes perfect sense: if the calculus for including women in a work is that they fit one or more of a limited number of stock roles, then there’s no reason to include them as extras, since extras, as characters designed to remain in the background as cyphers, cannot, by definition, fulfill any of them. A female mook can’t easily be objectified, be made a love interest or a distressed damsel, stuffed into a refrigerator, or fit into the virgin / whore dichotomy.  In short, she can’t be treated differently from her male counterparts without becoming something other than an extra, or without the story becoming about a world that’s like Star Trek (original series) in its codification of gendered double standards. What’s more, since  these exclusions often carry no immediate consequences, producers often feel as if there’s there’s no real market-based incentive to avoid them.

However, “no immediate consequences” doesn’t mean “no consequences”. In addition to presenting a inaccurate view of the world and reinforcing gender-based double standards, limiting the ability to kick ass to a handful of women, instead of saying “women are awesome and can kick ass because the ability to kick ass is not limited by gender”, often instead says “these few exceptional women who can do this ‘masculine’ thing are not like other women, and thus are awesome” which has the effect of throwing all other women, and femininity, under the bus.  Or, as Melissa McEwan of Shakesville notes:

The problem isn’t that individual female characters can’t convey to girls (and boys) that women can be awesome. The problem is their solitary circumstances, and how that lonesomeness communicates that there simply aren’t as many awesome women as men. While simultaneously tasking the token with being representative of the monolith. Tokens are at once lionized as above average, and diminished as interchangeable with the rest of their kind. — “Star Wars Casting News.  And Exceptional Girls.”

It doesn’t help that the women who generally get to kick ass are tend to follow some very specific archetypes–you don’t see many middle-aged African American architecture enthusiasts fighting off ninja.

This is why I really appreciate characters like the girl in this episode, and the female member of Xanatos’ goon squad: because they don’t need a story-related reason to exist. Because their ass-kicking is presented as normal, instead of something that’s only available to Special Snowflakes. Because they aren’t part of a larger argument that women need to be able to inflict violence in order to have agency or be considered awesome (not that either show argues that, but other works do, including Nick’s version of the property). They won’t by themselves solve all of the problems—and alone, they can’t, since having lots of kick-ass women in the background but not in the spotlight would in itself present a major problem—but they’re a start.

Unfortunately, martial artist girl turned out to be somewhat of a fluke.  The Foot Clan never got any female members besides Karai, and the E.P.F. only ever got one female scientist in a couple blink-and-you’ll miss it shots.  The Back to the Sewer Purple Dragons got three female members (out of twenty-two individual designs) but I’m more willing to credit those to a need for distinctiveness rather than will.  And thus, whatever positive message can be gleaned from ninja girl becomes substantially diluted–a pretty good microcosm of just how well this version of TMNT did with female characters.

(*) Extrapolated from here and here.

Random Thoughts:

  • One of the very notable things about this season is the amount of times it contrives to strip the turtles of their weapons and force them to improvise new ones, and this episode features the least successful iteration of that concept.  Sure, they lost their weapons for unexplained reasons.  What the heck is stopping them from picking up the ones belonging to the fallen Foot Ninja?   While it’s funny to see stuff like Raph’s “sai” being utterly ineffective against blades, it’s not enough to stop this detail from being annoying.
  • A cute bit in this episode is when Donatello, after witnessing Leo mentally reprogram the virtual reality in order to take the Sword of  Tengu away from the Shredder, accidentally calls him “Neo”.  Eventually we’ll find that one of his favorite movies stunts comes from The Matrix: Reloaded, which is a nice bit of consistency.
  • After a first season that seemed to indicate that the series’ policy when it came to realistic   firearms was to make it a policy not to include realistic firearms—a perfectly normal position, at the time, and one that is talked around here—the appearance of the National Guard last episode raised a few eyebrows.  Last time the series was more or less forced to deal with this question, with the mob in “Lone Raph and Cub”, they decided to forgo firearms entirely, a move they could not really get away with then, and would be absolutely ludicrous here.  Their solution here–to design a weapon that could plausibly be coded as both “real” and not–is much more elegant, and one of the better solutions to the various BS&P obstacles they would face this season.
Seriously, look at that thing.  That is a gun drawn by somebody who doesn't want to commit to anything.

Seriously, look at that thing. That is a gun drawn by someone who doesn’t want to commit to anything.

  • One of the frequently problematic things about this cartoon is 4Kids’ tendency to rely on a limited pool of voice actors, particularly for their one shot characters and extras.  In episodes like this, that means having a bunch of Japanese people voiced in painful ways by very much non-Japanese actors.




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