Rest, Recuperation and “Reflections”
22 July 2014 3 Comments
“Come, let us sit and talk.” — Splinter
Written by: Roland Gonzalez
Original Air Date: February 14, 2004
Teaser Narrator: Splinter
Characters and Concepts Introduced: N/A
Gargoyles episode I could make a forced comparison to: N/A
As they spend a day in Northampton resting and recuperating along with Splinter, Casey and April, the turtles reminisce about their various encounters and battles with the Shredder, and reflect on the role their foe has played in making them who they are.
Continuity and Mythology Notes
- The turtles and the episode make reference to events shown in “Attack of the Mousers”, “The Shredder Strikes” Part One and Two, “The Shredder Strikes Back” Parts One and Two, “Return to New York” Part Three, and “Secret Origins” Parts One and Three.
This is not an especially well-crafted episode. Not only is this a clip show (one that includes various scenes that did not require revisiting, including some from the previous episode) the dialogue is especially clunky, and the episode’s most significant bit—the turtles’ realization that they owe their existence to the Shredder—is made in a way that makes three of the four turtles come off rather badly for not figuring it out. In the end, it’s not surprising at all that 4Kids would initially choose to air the episode out of order,with it and “The Ultimate Ninja” switching positions. Not only is “Ninja” super-fun, the fact that both episodes are standalones meant that the switch could be made without causing too much harm. And yet, the intended placement of this episode is anything but random. This is an episode with a very specific purpose, and while it goes about it in a questionable manner, the fact that it was attempted at all is one of those things that make this series singular.
One of the notable things about the manga (and anime) One Piece is that almost every arc features, as part of its conclusion, a chapter where the protagonists hold a party to celebrate their victory over the story’s villain. While formulaic, predictable, and repetitive, these scenes still nice to see: they’re creator Eiichiro Oda’s way of saying “you’ve stuck with me for months as I’ve tortured your favorite characters, so for your troubles, here’s a scene were they get to just be happy and have fun”. They also allow us to appreciate the magnitude of the victory: they’ve overcome great odds, and so they can’t just go on directly to the next threat; a moment of rest and recuperation, for both reader and characters, is required. It’s a way to reassert what they’ve just done is a Big Deal.
“Reflections” is the TMNT equivalent of these parties. It’s more low-key, to be sure, but it serves the same purpose. The series has just finished an arc stretching back fourteen episodes—or even, arguably, the entire series until now. The story has taken them to outer space, ancient Japan, and a skyscraper designed by videogame programmers, and has had them facing ninja, mobsters, aliens, and gladiators in the span of a few weeks. Big. Exhausting. And so, “Reflections” is a moment for everyone to catch their breath, and for the story to take a break before revving up again.
This sort of thing is an important and underappreciated part of serial storytelling. Works cannot be kicked up to eleven and remain there indefinitely. No matter how skilled a creator one is, what was once exciting will with time eventually become familiar, and then boring, and then background noise. What’s more, it’s not realistic. Life isn’t just drama drama drama; it’s drama, followed by calm, followed by drama, followed by maybe lunch. Even “Same as it Never Was” had space for genuine happiness. A story that only focuses on characters when they’re doing exciting stuff is one that cannot help but feel, to a degree, shallow. TMNT gets that, and it’s willingness to slow down and let the plot take a backseat to the characters and their interactions is one of the main reasons why it and its characters work, even when they remain relatively static. There’s chemistry, and the writers take care to nurture that chemistry.
Take, as a contrast, Gargoyles, whose many virtues did not include, in my estimation, a facility for character interaction, at least between the main characters. The members of the Manhattan clan, while reasonably well-developed individuals, collectively make up a whole that feels like it’s less than the sum of its parts and after sixty-five episodes, it is still rather hard to get a feel for what the dynamics within the group are. What is Goliath’s relationship with Lexington? How does Broadway feel about Brooklyn? What would a conversation between Hudson and Elisa sound like? While there are some established relationships within the group—Broadway and Elisa’s friendship for example—these feel like exceptions, and the Manhattan Clan, as a whole, tends to feel rather lacking in chemistry. Granted, Gargoyles as a whole has less need for it, given that the Manhattan clan is not the focus of the series the way the turtles are TMNT‘s, but still, it feels wrong that I can’t imagine what Gargoyles‘ version of “Reflections” would look like, and the fact that the show never attempted something like it feels like a rather major failing. I want to see the gargoyles when they’re not dealing with plot or furthering themes, and I very rarely got that.
This is a huge reason why, despite Gargoyles having one heck of a case for being considered the better series, I like TMNT more. In a subgenre that is often reluctant to allow to take a moment to simply breathe, Lloyd Goldfine’s take on the turtles stands out for its ability to recognize that there is value in the mundane. “Reflections”, although flawed, is the best representation of that ethos, which is why boring or not, I’m glad to have it.
- I really don’t like the way the Shredder’s role in the turtles’ creation was brought up. It’s important enough so that it definitively deserves mention, but having Donatello have to explain it to the others just feels wrong. There’s no reason why the others shouldn’t have been able to make the connection themselves.
- Fighting things you can’t see has been a recurring theme in the series, and here is where they established that it’s something Leo does better than the rest.
- After serving as their refuge from the Shredder, this episode establishes the Northampton as a place the turtles choose to go to; it is not a port in a storm, but a second home. I really like that.