Thursday, April 4, 2013

TMNT "Random" Reviews: "A Thing About Rats"

Fred Wolf Episode #3
Written by David Wise and Patti Howeth
Directed by Fred Wolf and Vincent Davis
Original Air Date: December 16, 1987

--This episode is one of my favourites, due to my childhood Splinter obsession, and my new liking for Baxter Stockman, which exists be side that attachment to Splinter. It's not the first time I've liked characters who try to kill each other, and this is really small on that scale.

--That being said, I can't remember if I actually saw this episode as a kid, or that I only had the Random House colouring book adaptation, called "Rat Trap", which was one of my favourite things, and still in my box of treasured childhood possessions.

--The continuity as this episode opens is nice, as the Turtles are still focused on restoring Splinter to his human form, though soon he'll decide he is comfortable as a rat. Story arcs are always a good thing, and I wish this series had more of them.

--One thing I like about this episode, as opposed to some later ones, is that even if Splinter and even April are at a disadvantage and end up being rescued by the Turtles, they stand up and fight back before that happens.

--For example, I love the scene of Splinter and April facing down the Mousers in her apartment, respectively armed with just chops and kitchen equipment--they might not win alone, but at least they get up and try. I wish the secondary characters showing more initiative was a consistent thing in this show, but I appreciate it when it happens, here and in some of the Sarnath episodes.

--And Splinter keeps this up for longer, which is why I don't mind it when he gets captured. Even if he is captured often, Splinter is still treated with respect and can stand up for himself. April, on the other hand, often can't, and this makes her a less appealing character.

--Baxter fascinates / annoys me because unlike any other incarnation of the character, he starts off ordinary and unvillainous but later turns evil, and we never know exactly why. It's doubly odd when he might have been raceswapped to avoid having another black villain, but then didn't appear evil at first anyway. In fact, this easily could have been Baxter's first and last appearance in the series.

--As for the question of Baxter's innocence, well, a distinction between knowingly and unknowingly doing evil should be made, but it doesn't mean he gets off scot-free. He gave Shredder the Mousers, and stood back and did nothing, so there's something on his conscience at least, something deserving punishment.

--At the same time, I can't believe that the apartment building collapse was ever "meant" to suggest that a mass death had just taken place, but that the whole thing is an oversight on the writer's part, so I can't put the death of hundreds of people on the little guy's conscience. Just massive property damage.

--I've seen others prefer Baxter's sane and subdued characterization in this episode, but my impression is that it's not really greater self-control that makes him quiet. It's more like he belatedly realizes what he's gotten himself into, but isn't strong enough to walk away, so he freezes up and hopes nobody notices him any more than they need to, and that he can walk away unscathed.  And so much for that!

(I can't help but think of the David Bowie song, "God Knows I'm Good")

-- Steve Murphy's concept art for FW Baxter's first design:

--I like the personality in Baxter's character animation when he first appears: very twitchy and eager as he shows off the Mouser to the potential buyer. He should've gone to Alberta: we would have loved him up there!

(For those who don't know, the province of Alberta has been a rat-free zone for sixty years:$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex3441?opendocument )

--When asking "Why does he give his invention to an obvious supervillain?" I think the Shredder in that scene is supposed to be cloaked in shadow, so at least Baxter can't see he's dealing with a villain, but it still doesn't make sense in terms of pure logic.

--However, character-wise it fits with what else we see of White Baxter. Despite his engineering skill, Baxter is both stupid and arrogant, and here he goes with the Shredder because it means somebody thinks he's worth it, reinforcing his own arrogance. "It's about time somebody discovered me!"

--He also leaves his name on the Mousers, which suggests the same thing. Donnie actually calls Baxter an idiot for this, and if someone in this show calls you an idiot, you've really screwed up. Pride mixed with desperation can get some terrible results, and despite his cowardly nature, Baxter does have pride.

(After I while, I noticed that FW Baxter is rarely called by his last name, while the 4Kids version is most often called "Stockman", which might accidentally show the lack of respect the FW version has / earns)

--Anyway, I like it whenever the series comments on the Turtles possibly messing up April's life and routine. It's the kind of wryness I wish the series had more of: a more modern, sharper style of humour that I practically feed on.

This is why I approve of the apartment chaos that goes on, instead of being mad that it makes the Turtles look too childish.

(Also, like me, April loves her giant purses.)

--Hey, maybe it's the wanton destruction of property that's inherent in Mousers that was the real problem, you think?

--I flip-flop on how much I agree with the notion that season 1 was the "ideal" for the original cartoon. Sometimes I like the upgraded goofiness of later episodes, and often season one isn't as refined as others make it out to be.

--The collapse of the apartment building and how everybody laughs it off is one of the worst examples of that second thing, though I imagine that the writers either didn't care, or assumed it was an edited-Dragonball-Z-dub deal, where the rest of the building was "conveniently" empty.

--I can't help but think Baxter's warehouse apartment reminds me of Seth Brundle's, though I'm sure that's not intentional.

--It's really, really hilarious the way Raphael threatens to stab Baxter in the face, and the way the Turtles steal his van like it's no big deal.  It's one of those times when a story doesn't feel the need to prove its heroes are heroic, and just trusts that anything they do is good because of that label.

--Though it could pass as modern, sadistic cartoon humour. I laughed, anyway.

--At the same time, this is one of the few moments where I'll agree that Baxter is being treated poorly without any of that pesky evildoing getting in the way.

--And oh yeah, some continuity errors. Showing the Foot Soliders taking off from the Technodrome instead of the abandoned house. And how did Krang get to that house on his little tripod?

--But I totally believe Krang was desperate enough for a body that he would help the Turtles in order to clear the Shredder's schedule. Dysfunctional marriages….

--Some bits of animation and art in this episode are good, others are bad. It's a really mixed bag. Like, near the end when the Mousers start to look like birds, and the Turtles have feet like the Roadrunner.

--It's a fun one. There's a bunch of good moments all together, and also with some bullshit. Not explosively special, but fun. FW Baxter is probably the least interesting he'll ever be, and is mostly enjoyable in light of how much he'll change, there are some good wry jokes, and it's part of a smaller piece of continuity. I like it.

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