For the Glory of the Republic: “Rogue in the House” Part Two

“Sirs! Tell them Zog fought bravely. For his comrades. For the republic. For victory!” — Zog

vlcsnap-2016-08-04-09h56m04s272

Written by: Ben Townsend

Original Air Date: April 24, 2004

Recap Narrator: Zog

Characters and Concepts Introduced: N/A

Gargoyles episodes I could make comparisons to: “The Edge”

The Deets:

  • Michelangelo and Zog fight off the Foot Ninja, remove the ship’s moorings, and successfully make their way into the ship itself.
  • Donatello rigs the ship to explode in half an hour and escapes the engine room, fighting Foot Ninja along the way.
  • At the bridge, Leo, Raph, and Splinter succeed in launching the ship, but are overwhelmed by Hun and the Foot Elite and taken prisoner.
  • Karai, upon learning of the turtles’ capture, tries to argue for their lives, noting her past pledges. The Shredder ignores her pleas and in fact tells her that is she who will execute them.
  • Karai arrives on the bridge and moves to do as ordered. Hun, being a shit, decides to make things interesting by freeing Leonardo giving him his swords back, and ordering him to fight Karai.
  • After a brief duel / argument, Leonardo lowers his defenses and dares Karai to strike him down, which she proves unable to do.
  • Hun moves in for the kill, but is interrupted by the arrival of Michelangelo, Donatello, and Zog. Their arrival turns the tide, and the Foot Elite and Hun are defeated (the latter by being thrown off the ship).
  • The turtles leave Karai behind, but not before imparting some encouraging words for the Foot princess. They make their way onto the deck, where they run into the Shredder and his new battle robots.
  • The good guys’ combined efforts are eventually enough to defeat the Foot robots, leaving only the Shredder standing. With the freighter about to go boom Zog decides that he will hold off the Shredder, giving his new comrades an opportunity to escape.
  • Save back on shore, the Turtles watch as the Foot ship sinks, and mourn their fallen comrade.
  • Some time later, a Karai flies a helicopter over the river, and retrieves a still living and conscious Shredder. Baxter, equally alive and conscious, is not rescued.

Continuity and Mythology Notes:

  • Zog’s story and his alliance with the turtles are adapted from elements in the comic book version of “Return to New York”.
  • Zog was first seen in “Triceraton Wars”. We see him escape into the sewers in “Secret Origins” Part One.
  • Karai, Hun, and the Foot Clan were last seen in “City at War” Part Three. That is also the episode where we learned that the Shredder is alive and recuperating from the events of “Secret Origins” Part Three, and where Hun discovered the whereabouts and status quo of Baxter Stockman.
  • The Foot Bots seen here and last episode are based on enemies created for a recent Konami TMNT videogame.

—-

Considering where the series is at this point, “Rogue in the House” is a somewhat surprising story. It takes a specific element from the comic book and places it on an entirely new story, and yet ends up in more or less the same place. It is unexpectedly heavy, especially for an original story coming at the heels of the disappointingly bloodless “City at War”. It tastes quite a bit like filler—the events here will not be referenced again in detail—while at the same time being crucial stepping stone in the series’ progression.

After this episode, the series will head in a markedly different direction—less beholden to the comic books, and less prone to walking on eggshells. Consider season 3 of the series; it’s hard to understate just how different it is from what preceded it. “Same as it Never Was”, by all accounts, would have been impossible to make a single year earlier, and yet there it is, featuring a battle the likes which cartoons very rarely see (“Future Tense”, its natural parallel over in Gargoyles, is a fantasy sequence). Consider how its story arc is completely different from anything in the Mirage comic, and how the role of adaptations has shifted, as they have gone from serving as the main drivers of the story to being stand-alone stories helping develop the universe at the margins. While the shift becomes most defined in that season, one can argue that it truly starts with this story—consider how “Return of the Justice Force”, which comes just two episodes after this one, is a story about the secret lovechild of a dead superheroine, looking for revenge. Logistically, there’s nothing in the story which prevents it from having been set earlier in the season, but I’m still not sure that would have been an option, given the way “City at War” deals with death as if it were something that had been left at a gas station restroom for months.

Among the big changes heralded by this two-parter is a new status quo for the Foot Clan, with the Shredder back in charge and Karai as both his second in command, as well as someone with a (ahem!) foot in each camp—working to advance her master’s interests, except insofar as they involve killing the turtles.  Hun and Stockman, meanwhile, are now fully back in the Foot fold, although their mutual enmity is largely set aside in the face of other threats.

It’s a very solid status quo, allowing for some emotional complexity and fun set-ups.  It’s also one that de-emphasizes the Shredder in favor of his underlings, which is a wise decision at this point: not only are Hun, Karai, and Baxter more interesting, the Shredder, now that he has been defeated multiple times, works best behind the scenes, rather than someone the turtles fight continuously. We won’t see them actually do battle again until the season 3 finale, which is still quite a long distance away, and something I don’t imagine another cartoon doing—except, appropriately, Gargoyles, which features far fewer Goliath / Xanatos fights than one might expect.

Zog’s story was originally told in the comic books as part of “Return to New York”, and even if it hadn’t been impossible to include him in the show’s adaptation of that story—Triceratons weren’t part of the universe yet—one can still imagine the writers deciding to excise him: not only would he be a last-minute addition to a long-term story then in its final act, and a tangential one at that, the fact that the story ended with the Triceraton’s death made it a difficult fit for the show.

Sure, guest-stars who suddenly put all their ambitions aside to sacrifice themselves for the protagonists are plentiful in television, but very few of those exist in children’s television. Even fewer are literally mentally disabled and delusional, which adds an unprecedented degree of fucked-up-ness to the whole story; as transparent and contrived as this sort of story often is, the writers at least tend to put in the work to make it seem consensual. Here, that is by all appearances not the case, as there’s no telling that Zog would have made the same sacrifice had he been at all aware of the truth. That the turtles nevertheless benefit from his state is odd, to say the least.

Now, from a character perspective, this isn’t as troublesome as it might be in a different show. Not only has the series established over and over again at this point that the turtles are less concerned about some greater good than they are their wellbeing, there’s the fact that there just aren’t a whole lot of options available to them when it comes to dealing with Zog.  They have no way to assess his physical or mental health, let alone come up with anything resembling a diagnosis or a treatment.  They have no idea what his conception of the world is beyond “bikes bad, turtles good”, and they have no idea how stable this view was—for all they knew, he could regain his senses at any moment, or they could deteriorate to the point where he’d begin seeing even them as a threat. They could attempt to convince him that he really should be trying to kill them, which, if successful would leave him just as stranded as he’s been since “Secret Origins” and would possibly leave them dead. They cannot leave him alone, and they cannot leave him with anybody else. Just about the only thing they can do is abandon their own immediate plans to become his caretakers and wait and see if he gets better on his own, a job they did not ask for and should not be expected to undertake.  While actually letting him sacrifice himself is iffier, it’s not out of character, what with the turtles been “family first” since the beginning. It’s when looking at things from a writing perspective that this story raises questions.

The sort of thing one needs to note about this kind of story—and really, any character death, but especially so in this context—is that it usually carries an implicit value judgment; it’s a determination about whose life is worth more. This is seen in both sides of the story’s coin: not only has Zog determined that the turtles’ life is worth more than his, but the writers have determined that it is the turtles’ story, not the disabled Triceraton’s, that is worth continuing. Putting aside for a moment the fact that the turtles are the protagonists and Zog isn’t, it’s important to note that Zog being the one to die fits a pattern, where it is often the people who are marginalized that are chosen to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Consider the TV show Sleepy Hollow, which is probably the most egregious example of this trope. Its two co-leads, man-out-of-time Ichabod Crane and police officer / FBI agent / Elisa Maza-for-a-new-decade Abbie Mills, are meant to be partners, equally as important to the story. Despite this equality, it is Abbie, a black woman, who over and over again is placed in a position of sacrificing herself for Ichabod, not only by taking responsibility for his upkeep, but also in more substantive measures, such as by allowing herself to be trapped in purgatory so that Katrina Crane, Ichabod’s wife, may be freed in her stead; stopping a plan by the evil Pandora in a manner that leaves her trapped in a limbo dimension; and finally by sacrificing her own life. Ichabod makes no similar sacrifices. Consider Person of Interest, which is full of women who sacrifice themselves: there’s black woman Joss Carter, who takes a bullet for the show’s protagonist, white man John Reese, and dies; Sameen Shaw, a queer woman of color who sacrifices herself to allow her otherwise-white team to escape; and Root, a queer woman who dies saving her hero Harold, another straight man. Consider Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, where Alice, the brightest magician in her class, sacrifices herself during an adventure she didn’t wish to have in order to save her garbage fire of an ex-boyfriend. Consider The Good Wife, where private investigator Kalinda Sharma, a queer woman of color, ends up having to leave town, having run afoul a local crime boss in her attempts to help her straight white employers.  It may not do so intentionally, but over and over again mainstream fiction writers choose to write stories where the marginalized are made to think of others before they think about themselves.

What makes this tendency so troublesome, though, is the way it is easily justifiable. One can argue, for example, that this trope places the characters doing the sacrificing in a heroic light; sacrifice is something good people do. While true as far as it goes, it also smells of double standard: if the characters who remain alive don’t need to die in order to have their heroism affirmed, why do other characters need to die in order to affirm the same? One can also say that this is just the way every one of these characters would naturally react to these situations. And yet, these arguments ignore the artifice inherent in these situations. Abbie, Alice, Root, and Kalinda aren’t real people who get to choose what happens to them; they’re characters whose personalities and traits are chosen for them by writers, writers who have it entirely within their power to decide who lives or dies. And when those decision follow a pattern, it’s worth asking oneself why.

To be honest, though, I find it hard to be terribly offended about Zog’s death. As characters go, he’s a minor one, only really remarkable because of the circumstances of his final days. And yet, given how rare death has been in the series so far, it gives me pause to consider that his is the first big notable one since Hamato Yoshi’s. Would the writers have done this story if Zog had been human? Would viewers have reacted differently? Were alternative takes on the story necessary at all? After all, even if Zog’s death was imperative, his dying while believing he was serving the Triceraton Republic was not. Or is the fact that he’s delusional the point?

Random Thoughts:

  • This episode includes what is by far the best intro narration in the series so far, and probably the series’ best. This device has always been about subjectivity, even to the point of including scenes which aren’t in the episode itself, and this takes it to its natural conclusion, as we hear Zog tell the story so far from his addle-brained perspective. It’s a simple thing—obvious, even—and yet it does so much for the story.
  • A detail I really like is that the Foot’s new robots are called into battle even when incomplete, which means that one of them has no head and one has no arm.
  • Some thing I really like about this series is that despite having some rather concrete power rankings, there is still space for unexpected outcomes. Here, for example, we have Hun actually defeating Splinter in combat, which is a cool detail.
Advertisements

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: