We Don’t Even get to See the Store Open: “April’s Artifact”

“You go,  jungle girl!” — Leonardo

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Written by: Marty Isenberg

Original Air Date: May 1, 2004

Teaser Narrator: April O’Neil

Characters and Concepts Introduced: August O’Neil (flashbacks)

Gargoyles episodes I could make comparisons to: N/A

The Deets:

  • April has invited the turtles and Casey over to place the finishing touches on her soon-to-reopen store. Attempting to prevent a tragedy, she forces them to give up their weapons, but the measure proves insufficient, as Raph’s  attempts to deal with a bug causes him an Casey to destroy a significant part of the merchandise. As punishment, April reassigns them both to garbage duty.
  • Raphael founds a curious object among the garbage and asks April about it. She identifies it as a puzzle cube belonging to her uncle August O’Neil, an explorer who went missing years ago. She fiddles with the cube and accidentally activates it, causing April and the turtles to disappear in a flash of light, leaving the puzzle cube behind.
  • April and the turtles arrive at what Donatello identifies as a parallel dimension, one that consists entirely of jungle environment with a river running through it.  They’re not their long before they’re attacked by a giant, hornet-like insect, which absconds with Raphael and Donatello.  By the time they manage to get free, they have traveled quite a distance away.
  • After the group reunites, Donatello informs them that while on the air, he spotted a man-made structure downriver. They agree to explore it, and so they prepare for the next step of their journey by making new weapons and crafting sailboards with which to traverse the river.
  • April and the turtles arrive at the dwelling, which it turns out was built by April’s uncle Augie.  Half-destroyed, the only things of note are a journal and a compass, complete with an inscription and a photo of the O’Neils. The diary indicates that August managed to find a second puzzle cube at a nearby temple, which he hoped would bring him back home.
  • Before April can read the diary in its entirety, the group is attacked by a swarm of the same bugs from earlier. They are eventually able to drive them off, but not before Raphael is stung, and the treehouse made to collapse.
  • Fortunately, it turns out that the effects of the insects’ venom is temporary, and by the time Raph returns to normal, April has finished reading the journal and discovered that her uncle Augie not only calculated the coordinates he’d need to set before the puzzle cube could send him home, but had also made an attempt to use it, leaving behind the compass and journal for anyone unfortunate enough to follow in his footsteps.
  • The group arrives at the temple, which the bugs have turned  over into a hive for themselves. While April and the turtles have managed to mask their scent and make themselves undetectable, an accident with Michelangelo’s makeshift nunchakku causes a swarm to emerge from their pupae and attack.
  • The group manages to reach the temple’s central chamber and lock the bugs out. They find the puzzle cube, but discover that it has not been set in the configuration that August had determined would get him home. Something had prevented him from doing so, and the group quickly discovers what: the insect queen is in the chamber with them.
  • The turtles attempt to fight the queen off while at the same time setting the puzzle cube to the proper coordinates. The queen manages to sting Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael, but eventually April is able to stab her with her spear and injure it, giving her and Donatello time to carry the injured turtles within range of the now-active puzzle cube.
  • April and the turtles arrive back home, where it turns out no time has passed since their disappearance. After washing up, they tell a confused Casey their story, and April affirms that while she has no desire to return back to bug world, she refuses to give up on her uncle Auggie.

Continuity and Mythology Notes:

  • Raphael’s hatred for bugs, which will be a recurring feature and make its way to other incarnations, makes its debut here.

—-

While she has yet to obtain a focus episode at this point, April is also one of the only one of our heroes to have something resembling an arc this season. Starting with “The Ultimate Ninja” and continuing through “Modern Love”, “What a Croc”, and “City at War”, we’ve seen how April has attempted to acclimatize herself to living in the sewers, failed, obtained the money to repair her building and re-open her shop, moved out, and worked to get her life back to normal. This episode will conclude that story, as April places the finishing touches on the new 2nd Time Around. Given how important this story has been, it is surprising then, that the A-story for this episode has nothing to do with this, or indeed, with anything we’ve learned about April prior to this episode.

What we get, instead, is a weird multi-dimensional adventure, the sort which doesn’t really suggest “April O’Neil”, but gets tied to her due to the introduction of a heretofore unknown missing family member. It’s fine, and actually rather interesting, insofar as there’s really nothing like it in the series, but it also suggests a lack of imagination: this is what they come up with, when they think of an April story?

And yet, it kinda works, implicitly if not explicitly, to illustrate how far April has come and accustomed she’s become to her drastically  changed life. A season ago she didn’t understand how her boss could attempt to kill her and fainted at the sight of turtles. Now she can deal with a jungle world easy-peasy, to the point where even the turtles are surprised at how at home she feels. It’s an interesting story, but one that might have worked better if these ideas had been brought more to the surface. This version of TMNT has generally been more interesting as (accidental) subtext rather than text, but in this occasion, at least, warranted a more explicit exploration of the ideas involved. Some self-awareness, either of the way she has become a whole lot like her beloved Uncle Augie, or simply how much things have changed, would have been nice. Without them, the episode doesn’t quite feel like a proper spotlight–it feels more obligatory than anything, something that exists because the writers (correctly) felt April needed an episode, rather than an episode existing to say something about her.

What this episode does say about April is that she’s grown quite a bit more capable than she was at the beginning, and in this way, it serves as a transition point from season 1 April to season 3 April, who is early on established as a capable martial artist in her own right. April’s martial arts ability tends to be a point of contention within segments of the fandom, many of which will complain any time she’s capable of holding her own.

To a degree, this is a complaint about consistency. If we’re told that it takes a lot of work and time to become skilled at something, and a character who had previously not exhibited that skill suddenly develops it without explanation, then it can bug. Even in this episode, when we’re told that April has heretofore unexhibited agility, thanks for her heretofore-unmentioned time as a gymnast during high school, it feels a bit like an asspull.

And yet, it’s important to note that April is by no means the only character whose skill level is portrayed with something less than total consistency. The same can be said of the turtles, whose skill level has allowed them to defeat successively stronger enemies, including some which in previous episodes had proven to be too much for the turtles. And yet few people complain when the turtles are suddenly able to defeat Foot Ninja with ease, when in the first episode those same Foot Ninja had them retreating in a hurry, and nobody finds it implausible that they’d be able to improve to such a considerable degree in the weeks between episodes.  So when it is this particular implausibility that consistently draws the most attention, it’s hard not to wonder if there might not something else behind it besides a simple bias for consistency.

(Spoiler: There almost always is.)

 

Random Thoughts:

  • Note on the immediately above: I have been guilty of this. So much. I’m fairly sure y’all could find examples of me complaining about how I found Elisa’s fighting skills unrealistic, if you looked. In this very blog, even!
  • Like “City at War” Part One, this episode features an original song. It is not good.
  • This episode yet again has the turtles lose their weapons and be forced to used improvised ones. Is this the fourth time? Fifth?
  • A notable absence this episode is that of Robyn O’Neil, who in the original comic books is April’s older sister. While she eventually becomes part of the cartoon canon, there is no evidence of her existence in April’s family pictures or in the flashbacks to her past. Headcanon: they’re actually half-sisters on their father’s side.
  • While this episode isn’t the character piece it should have been, it still manages to be interesting in other ways; it’s not quite like anything else we’ve seen so far. Sure, it’s not the first time the series has traveled away from Earth, as Michelangelo notes, but when they did, it was a big, five-part event; here, it barely rates a mention. It’s become normal.
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