The Sequel: “Modern Love: The Return of Nano”

“Whoa.  Dick and Jane go insane.”–Michelangelo

That bird on the lower right is either the weirdest rubber ducky ever, so someone who got very lost.

Written by: Eric Luke
Original Air Date: February 21, 2004
Teaser Narrator: Raphael
Characters and Concepts Introduced: Turtle Sub
Gargoyles episode I could make a very forced comparison to: N / A

The Beats:

  • April is finding her tolerance for her living situation pushed to the limit, as the turtles’ turtleness turns out to be too much for her.  It’s enough to drive her into the arms of one Casey Jones, who stops by the lair to borrow some tools, which he’ll use to fix some broken down machinery at Coney Island.  He asks April to join him, noting that she’s good with a wrench herself, and suggests maybe going out for cup of coffee later.  But it’s not a date.  April accepts.
  • Inside the junkyard in which it was last defeated, the nanomachine colony known as Nano reconstitutes enough of itself to be able to once again control machinery.  It turns on a TV, and watches an episode of an old fifties sitcom, which reminds it of the parents and family it once had.  Nano then changes the channel turns into a news report on one of those parents, Harry, who is being transferred to Riker’s Island. This apparently newsworthy because Harry and Nano, it turns out, managed to steal a million dollars in jewelry back in their debut episode.
  • Nano frees Harry from prison.  The con man and thief, happy to be free, wants to return to his stolen jewels, but Nano has other plans.
  • April is helping Donatello with his newest project–it looks like a sub, because it is –when Casey arrives for their not a date, with flowers.  After some ribbing from their friends, the two humans leave.
  • Nano takes Harry to the lab in which it was created, where Nano’s creator, Dr. Marion Richards, is currently working on version 2.0.  She is kidnapped, taken inside Nano, and placed besides a bemused Harry.
  • News of Harry’s escape reach the lair.  The turtles recognizing just who is behind things, and, after Donatello makes a case for treating Nano with compassion–it’s simply the product of a bad environment.  After finding Nano’s origins from the patent information still found in Donny’s records of their first encounter with the colony, they head out.
  • Its family now complete, Nano creates, inside the laboratory, a house in the suburbs with a picket fence for them to all live in.  When the two parents react negatively to this turn of events, Nano threatens them, forcing them to be a happy family or else, until it remembers what it is makes Harry happy: the jewels he’s got squirreled away.  After once again taking its parents into itself, Nano heads out.
  • At Coney Island, Casey suggests that April and he take advantage of being unsupervised at Coney Island before beginning any proper repair work.  Things get romantic, and the two are about to kiss when they are interrupted by the sounds of the arriving Nano.  It turns out that it’d taken the initiative of moving Harry’s stolen loot there, where all families would have the chance to enjoy it (it’s hidden in plain sight inside a pirate-themed tableau).
  • After getting his stash back, Harry asks Nano to let him go.  This is not the right reaction, and Nano goes berserk in response.
  • The turtles arrive at Coney Island and attempt to pacify Nano.  Nano, remembering the way the turtles hurt him last time, instead upgrades himself to take on the turtles.
  • The turtles attempt to battle Nano, but it goes as well as a battle with an endlessly regenerating colony of nanomachines can go.  It is only after Donatello gets the idea of using magic science to turn the amusement park’s roller coaster into an electromagnetic pulse generator that Nano is defeated.
  • As the police handle the night’s fallout, the turtles find Harry’s stash, with they give to April, suggesting that she turn it in, claim the reward for doing so, and use that money to rebuild her apartment building.  Donatello, in particular, is conflicted about this development, as he feels sad that April will no longer spend as much time with them.  April reassures them that even if this is the case, the turtles will always be her family and she will always be in their lives.

Continuity and Mythology Notes:

  • Nano, Harry, and Dr. first appeared in “Nano“.  Casey and April first met in that same episode.
  • The initial scene with April is a direct parallel to Leonardo’s scene in “The Ultimate Ninja“.
  • A report on the growing gang violence is briefly shown on TV.  It’s the second such report, with the first being on “The Ultimate Ninja”.
  • April’s apartment was burned down in “The Shredder Strikes Back” Part Two.  She has since been living with the turtles.
  • This episode begins a subplot that will culminate in “Junklantis”, in which Donatello builds a submarine and the means with which to take it from the lair and into the river.  Here, he is seen both discussing the tunnel, and working on the sub with April.
  • Donatello, it turns out, also built Michelangelo a hoverboard, which is important both here and in a latter episode.

Unlike season 1, which divided its arc episodes and its one-shots more or less evenly, season 2 is structured more or less around the idea of tentpoles.  We have three big stories–“Turtles in Space” / “Secret Origins”, “City at War” and “The Big Brawl”, separated by longer , which deal with new concepts or double down on ones created for the first season.  With “The Return of Nano” we get the latter, as we revisit Nano, in what is effectively a sequel to his first episode, and one that, like most one-shots this season, really could have used more time.  There’s a lot of interesting concepts introduced or touched upon, and unfortunately, none of them really get the chance to get developed on anything but the most basic level.

The first plot point of the episode deals with ideas first introduced in “The Shredder Strikes Back”, as we’re reminded that as much as April loves the turtles, living with them is something she tolerates rather than enjoys.  On the surface, it bears some similarities to the standard “women are buzzkills” tropes, but there’s enough here to take it away from that and into something more worthwhile, such as, most notably, the fact that the scene is an intentional parallel to the one in “The Ultimate Ninja” where Leonardo is equally frustrated with April’s presence.  More important, though, is that April’s opinions are not presented in a negative light, nor is she painted as a bad friend for not wanting to hang out in the turtles’ house 24/7. She just needs her space–somewhere to call her own–and the show respects that, giving her the means to get it by the end of the episode.

The emphasis on April having her own space also suggests something I wish the show had dealt with more–that April apparently has her own life outside of the turtles, which has been placed on hold by all the Foot Clan-related drama (possibly–and I’m just spitballing here–because interacting with the people she knows would require lying which she’d rather not do).  Unfortunately, we don’t get to see a lot of it outside of the store and, later on, her family members, which is especially weird when one considers that past incarnations had made it a point to give April her own social circles, even if they weren’t all that prominent.  The Mirage comic had  Molly Rodríguez, even if only for a single non-canon issue.  The first cartoon had the Channel 6 crew.  The first film had her boss and his son.  The Archie comic had eventual roommate Oyuki, who was introduced in a turtles story but quickly became April’s.  The 4Kids cartoon, then, is an odd person out, and it’s a missed opportunity.

Casey, on the other hand, does get to have social circles of his own in this incarnation, and here we get a glimpse of another of his non-turtle acquaintances, one who entrusts him with amusement park repair work.  While we don’t get to see a whole lot of this particular friend, his existence suggests several intriguing things, including just how Casey makes his income–doing odd jobs people hire him for–and how, even with his quirks, he is apparently still widely seen as someone people can trust to help out when necessary, which is something I feel can sometimes be underappreciated.

This episode also marks the end of the first act of Casey and April’s romance arc, which began, appropriately enough, in the first Nano episode.  After finding their initial attraction stymied by the things they disliked about one another, this is the episode where the two decide that these things didn’t constitute enough of a reason not to hang out together.  After this episode, we’ll see them together without the turtles several times; while they won’t be dating–at least not on-screen–they are now at a point in which they can consider each other friends, rather than friends of friends.  And frankly, that’s loads better than what we’ve seen so far, in large part because it’s not embarrassingly executed.  It would have been nice to see them have an actual date, though, instead of arriving and just deciding to kiss because there’s not enough time for anything else.

One question is raised, though: While the episode, I feel, does a good job explaining why April  accepts Casey’s invitation–she really needs someone to interact with who isn’t the turtles, and  Casey is someone with whom she can do that with with a relatively small amount of bagagge attached to it –it is more coy on Casey’s own thought processes.  Clearly he like her, but what made him decide to go about things the way he did?  Could he clearly not come with any other date ideas?  Was he just interested in hanging out with April no matter what direction the night took?  Did he actually suspect that April needed time away from the lair, and contrived a reason to give her that time?

Then there’s Nano, who has changed a bit since its first appearance, but not a whole lot.  The nanomachine colony hive mind is more assertive, less prone to manipulation, and more sure about what it wants, but it still remains, essentially, a child, one with incredible power and a tendency towards temper tantrums.  Given its mental state, it makes perfect sense for it to develop a need for a family.  What’s particularly interesting is just what family it decides it needs.

TMNT has never had all that much to say about “traditional” families (which I’m defining here as families consisting of two opposite-sex/gender parents and their biological children), and this is especially the case with the 4Kids version, in which there is only one character–Starlee Hambrath–whom we know was raised by their two biological parents, and even then that’s an assumption.  Thus, it is hard to say just what it is the show is intending to say when it has Nano fixating on the sort of Pleasantville-style nuclear families that often feel as if they only existed in fiction.  Was this episode something the writers had in mind when the writers made Nano’s creator a woman?  Were they gendered with the express purpose of giving Nano mother and father figures?  Would the creators have attempted this bit if Marion hadn’t been a woman?  Lots of questions.  In any case, it’s sort of interesting how the actual people are vague inversions of Nano’s dream family.  In reality, it’s Marion who’s taking on the more traditionally masculine role, with her being a detached and successful genius scientist, while Harry is in some ways, embodies more traditionally feminine qualities–he’s certainly the more nurturing of the two “parents”, as seen in “Nano”.  The question is: is this actually all intentional–did the episode intend to go somewhere with that?  If it did, the episode needed more time to actually go and bring its themes to the forefront, because as is, it just makes for interesting details, but nothing more, and that’s disappointing, because so much could have been done with this.

Heck, as much as I hate the show, I’m curious to see how the Nick cartoon would deal with something like this, particularly, since that show tends to be very aesthetically oriented when it comes to its references.  It would likely be unbearably sexist, because casual sexism is how they roll, but still, it feels more up their alley than it is this show’s.

With all this going on, the turtles, rather reasonably, get pushed to the background.  There’s some plot movement on several fronts, and there’s Donatello’s argument that Nano deserves some sympathy due to its upbringing, which will be thematically significant later on when yet another child of a bad parent is introduced.  Unfortunately, despite the turtles’ best intentions, Nano turns out to be less than controllable, and so the turtles are forced to go with plan B and “killing” it, which they do without hesitation, something for which I’m grateful for. Yes, Nano’s situation is worth some sympathy; no, that sympathy shouldn’t override the fact that it is harming people.

All in all, it’s a blah sort of episode.  While Nano was, I feel, very much worth revisiting, this episode doesn’t manage to do enough with him to make the episode memorable, or to replicate what made him work the first time, something that will become a pattern in this run of episodes.

Random Thoughts:

  • For the longest time, I just did not understand the logistics of the events surrounding Harry.  For some reason, I thought the loot that was being referenced here was different from the stuff he stole in “Nano”, which he had somehow obtained off-screen between episodes before being arrested.  I never understood, then, how Nano could have taken the money from its original hiding place, when it couldn’t have known its location.  It wasn’t until watching the episode for this post that I realized that the four-day crime spree mentioned in the episode is actually the one we see on “Nano”.  Sometimes I am very dense.
  • One wonders how much money April made from turning in the jewels.  I think I’ve heard banks offer up to $5,000 for information leading to the recovery of stolen money, and if the same applied to jewels, I could see April making quite a bit, since Harry was supposed to have stolen from multiple places.  Still, that seems unlikely, and I’ve always gotten the feeling that whatever she got wouldn’t have been enough to repair the shop.
  • You guys, this episode was so close to airing on St. Valentine’s day.

4 Responses to The Sequel: “Modern Love: The Return of Nano”

  1. Hey there! I couldn’t log into my WordPress right now but I wanted to respond.

    This isn’t specific to this post but it is related to April. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of ejumpcut, have you? Well they reviewed the very first Ninja Turtles movie way back in ’91, specifically about how children perceive women in their media. It’s an interesting read

    *A bit off tangent but they even reviewed the original rocky waaay back when 78 and discuss its modernization of old racist tactics in film.

  2. Ian says:

    I haven’t heard of it! Will read when the chance arises. Thank you for the heads up!

  3. Pingback: Mount Everest: “City at War” Part One | Monsters of New York

  4. Pingback: Landfill(er): “Junklantis” | Monsters of New York

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