The End: “Secret Origins” Part Three

“After ten centuries, I will not be denied my revenge!” The Shredder

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Written by: Marty Isenberg
Original Air Date: January 31, 2004
Recap Narrator: Splinter
Characters and Concepts Introduced: Leatherhead (In shadow)
Gargoyles episode I could make a forced comparison to: “The Gathering” Part Two

The Beats

  • Inside the Oracle Pod chamber, the turtles and the Utrom battle the Shredder’s forces.  Eventually, Shredder orders Stockman to stop fighting the turtles and leave the room in order to proceed to phase three of their plan.  Although Stockman initially disobeys, he is made to follow the command after the Shredder uses his voice to activate a program that hits Stockman with an electric shock.
  • The Utroms and guardians follow Stockman while the turtles prevent the Shredder from following.  Saki is more interested in the Utroms than the turtles, however, and uses the chamber’s computer console to both activate an escape tunnel and a program that locks and floods the room.
  • Disguised as a reporter, April, with Casey as her “cameraman”, unsuccessfully attempts to wrangle some information from the National Guard general.
  • After making the flooding Oracle Pod Chamber throw them up–because the fact that it’s techno organic apparently means it’s a stomach–the turtles follow the Shredder to the Transmat room, where the Foot leader is attempting to take control of the machine.
  • The battle continues.  The Fugitoid, following a suggestion by Donatello, uses his voice box to imitate the Shredder’s voice and deactivate the voice control program.  Free once again, Baxter attacks the Shredder, hitting him with enough electricity to make him go down.  Stockman then skedaddles.
  • Hun and the Foot Elite make their exit, carrying their fallen master.  As they leave, the unconscious Shredder drops a device that infects the building with a techno-organic (that word is yeoman’s work this episode) virus that will make the structure implode in ten minutes.
  • As the Utrom go through with their evacuation of the building, Leo calls April and Casey to warn them about the impending implosion, so that they may convince the National Guard to leave.  Although the General is initially disinclined to believe their story about a terrorist group called “Goongala Cowabunga”–and really, why wouldn’t he?–he changes his mind when he sees yet another beam of energy leave the T.C.R.I. building.
  • As the National Guardsmen exit the building, one of them walks by something with a rather reptilian  silhouette.   This is not significant in any way.
  • As the final group of Utrom prepares to teleport out, Mortu gives Splinter a present: an orb that serves as a mini-Oracle pod, allowing Splinter to access the Utroms memories of Hamato Yoshi, who, as Mortu reveals, was their most capable guardian, and died protecting their secret.  Mortu also invites Professor Honeycutt to join them in the Utrom homeworld, which our Fugitoid accepts.  Before they can teleport out, however, the control panel gets ninja star-ed, sending out arcs of electricity that fry the Utroms’ (discarded) exoskeletons.  The Shredder is back.
  • The Shredder sends away Hun and the Elite Ninja, telling them to search for Stockman.  Unfortunately for him, while he is doing this, Donatello manages to initiate the teleport procedure for the last few Utrom, their guardians, and Honeycutt, allowing them to escape.
  • With scant minutes to go before the bomb goes off, the Shredder decides that if he can do nothing else, he can prevent the turtles from escaping with their lives.  Unfortunately, his skill is unable to compensate for the fact that he’s outnumbered, and the turtles, for once, take him down with relative ease: after breaching his armor with their weapons, Donatello uses the Transmat console to generate an arc of electricity that fries the Shredder.
  • As a defeated Shredder lies on the floor, a cavity opens in his armor’s stomach.  From it exits the Utrom prisoner from “Secret Origins” Part 1, ready and willing to continue the fight.  The turtles have other priorities, however, such as escaping.  After programing the Transmat, the turtles and Splinter make their escape.  The Shredder does not.
  • Next to the Battle Shell, April and Casey witness the implosion of the T.C.R.I. building and fear the worst.  Fortunately, before they can truly begin to grieve, Transmat energy appears atop the armored vehicle, and the turtles and Splinter fall from the sky.  Many hugs ensue.
  • Reunited and now out of danger, the turtles and their extended family drive off into the night.  The end.

 

Continuity and Mythology Notes

  • This episode is adapted from the comic book Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Vol. 1) #7.
  • The Shredder was presumed dead after the events in “Return to New York” Part Three. He is not.
  • This episode features several nods to the original cartoon.  The outfit April dons in her guise as a reporter is a nod to her iconic yellow jumpsuit, and an Utrom extra who hates walking on his tentacles is identified as Krang.

Thirty-four episodes in, TMNT finishes its first–and longest–mega arc, with an episode consciously designed to be a crowd-pleaser.  There are a ton of “hell, yeah” moments here, all which serve to distract from a rather vital fact: the reveal sucks.

In order for a twist to work, there has to be a misdirection;  there’s not really one here.  In part one, we see the Utrom prisoner; in part two we are told that the Shredder is not what he initially seems, priming the audience for a twist of some sort in addition to the one in “Return to New York”.  When the Shredder is revealed as a Utrom, it’s less a surprise and more of a confirmation of everything we’d been none-too-subtly led to believe he was.  And yet it’s still played as a surprise.

Not only is this disappointing, it’s a stark contrast with the way the Shredder’s origin had been hinted at in the beginning.  The Utrom figure in the Sword of  Tengu was utterly missable, in that it’s a small detail that wasn’t explicitly focused on.  The Shredder disrobing but leaving his stomach covered had various other plausible explanations, as did the fact that losing his head did not kill him. With “Secret Origins”, though, any and all subtlety is lost, to the point where “The Shredder is an Utrom” makes for a far better red herring than twist.

And then there’s the fact that this creates several plot holes.  The fact that the Shredder is an Utrom means that getting decapitated did him zero physical harm.  The lead guardian, who should have known this, saw his decapitated body and reported him “destroyed”, and was still under the impression that he was dead by “The Search for Splinter” Part One.  There is no explanation for this. Even if the guardians for some reason had not been told of the Shredder’s true nature (which doesn’t jive with the fact that Virtual Mortu wasn’t trying to keep it a secret), then the Navigators would have almost certainly told their subordinates to at least check the body.   Add things like the fact that the first thing we see him do is sipping tea, and it’s clear that the writers have not been playing entirely fairly.

The Shredder reveal remains one of the more controversial things about the show, and not without good reason: it’s a rather huge change, and one that says a lot about the showrunners–and Peter Laird–and their approach to the material.  In making the Shredder an Utrom, the writers stripped the Mirage version of the character from the few defining characteristics the book deigned to give him–his relationship with his brother,  his status as a Foot Clan renegade, and even his martial arts skill, as we generally understand it (*).  And yet, that’s perfectly consistent with the way the Shredder has historically being treated.   Despite being by far the turtles most recognizable enemy, he’s never really been a character to be developed and empathized with and felt strongly about, but merely someone who exists to move the story along.  Thus, the actual details of the story can be changed at will without corrupting the character’s soul or making him seem like the only things that tie them are a name and similar iconography.  Or at least, that’s the way I feel.

(Which doesn’t mean it’s okay to whitewash him.  That’s still unforgivably racist.)

The showrunners do two very interesting things with their take on the Shredder.  First, they made the changes they did in large part so that they could adapt the comic books more faithfully, which as a translator makes me respect the hell out of Lloyd Goldfine and company.  Would a Shredder with the same background as his Mirage self have made the cartoon more like the book?  Sure.  But pretty soon the showrunners would have gotten into trouble: how does one include Oroku Nagi and Tang Shen and their deaths when you could barely portray Hamator Yoshi’s?  How do you have the Shredder die, come back to life, and then die again?  Turning the Shredder into an Utrom doesn’t solve all of these problems–it will be two seasons until Tang Shen and an Oroku Nagi stand-in will be able to have their stories told–but it does allow for adaptations of TMNT #1 and Return to New York that would not have otherwise been possible.  The letter has been altered in order to present the spirit, and it works: the scene in “Return to New York”  is easily one of the top three moments in the series, and even in western animation.

On the other hand, the change also allows the Shredder a greater active role in the narrative; whereas the original comic and film make him feel like an afterthought–oh, he’s there, too–this series makes him vital without making him toothless.  And while this may have been possible without making so alien–literally–I’m not exactly how it could have happened.  In connecting him to the Utroms, the Shredder is allowed to have a plot that is not immediately connected to the turtles; he now has goals at which he can succeed, which is something the Mirage version didn’t have and other versions have not been entirely successful in establishing. Similarly, the change allows him to feel larger than life in a way that feels very logical.  Of course, he’d be able to inspire fanatical devotion in some of his followers–he’s been around for a thousand years knowing things normal humans couldn’t possibly know.

In the end, the changes in the Shredder showcase just how much thought has been placed into this incarnation.  While the execution behind the reveal leaves much to be desired, the changes made played a vital role in making him work, and thus helping the series work for as long as he did.

…and yet, he is not the be-all end-all of the series.  With “Secret Origins”, the Shredder is placed back in the toybox for a while, and it won’t be until next season that his second big story will begin.  He won’t be entirely absent–the next episode is largely about him–but for the moment, he’ll be at the margins, letting other people shine.  With his origin revealed, season 2 can truly begin.

Footnotes:
(*) Which isn’t to say that fighting the way he does  doesn’t require great skill–controlling his exosuit the way that he does is obviously something not every Utrom can do–it’s just that it’s more akin to being a great pilot than being a great fighter.

 

Random Thoughts:

  • One of the important things to note here is how much the Shredder’s defeat during the final battle depends on the fact that he is alone.  Up to this point, the series has consistently shown that a large part of why Saki presents such a challenge for the turtles is because he has his Foot Ninja to back him up, so seeing the turtles just wail on him feels cathartic without feeling unearned or contrived.
  • I’m generally wary about gratuitous fan service and things that feel of pandering, but I have to said, I really liked this episode’s two bits of gratuitous fan service.  I’m weak.  WEAK!

 

 

 

 

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8 Responses to The End: “Secret Origins” Part Three

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  6. Chimalpahin says:

    Another great post! As to the Utrom reveal, I guess it’s kinda interesting that he could theoretically have any body but always chooses to look like a Japanese man.

    It’s still not as bad as what the Bay movie tried to do. Heck some people still don’t see the problem with it.

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