Tuesday, June 11, 2013

TMNT "Random" Reviews: "Son of Return of the Fly II"

Fred Wolf Episode #79
Written by David Wise
Directed by Bill Wolf
Original Air Date: September 8th, 1990

--According to Wikipedia, this is the first of the episodes that aired after the series moved to CBS, but not the first episode of season four. I've got no idea either way, since I never kept track of the series’ change from syndication to network when I was young. I also can't say I notice any radical changes in tone or presentation from the earlier episodes, but I tend to be slow on the uptake when it comes to things like this. Only the very radical changes to a TV series’ tone and format do I notice.
--But this is officially my favourite Baxterfly episode, surpassing "Enter: The Fly" if we're talking about qualities besides "what came first" (with “Landlord of the Flies” being the worst). "Son of Return of the Fly II" is just so goddamn hilarious, one of those episodes of the original cartoon that hits the mark of being so ridiculous it's great, episodes that are too few in number. It’s also fairly well-plotted with some expressive animation.
--I can't look at the title "Son of Return of the Fly II" without thinking of the joke that "The Venture Brothers" made with "Return to the House of Mummies: Part 2", in which there deliberately never was a part one, just to make it more surreal and confusing. This episode’s title, however, is simply mashing up common B-movie titles like always. I enjoy that about most Baxterfly episodes: it’s cute.
--However, the early parts with Mr. Mellish and the Solid Energy Generator are dull, and there’s not much to say about them. A little payoff comes at the end, but otherwise, we’ll skip it.
--And does Baxter quote the Wicked Witch of the West when he says, "What a world!"?
--Crying Baxterfly might make you soft towards him, but you also realize that the reason he's crying is that he can't go back to Earth and get his all-important revenge. Still, it's an unusual thing for this series to show a villain doing, and I’m a little bit sorry for Baxter, of course.
--The crying also demonstrates how much more childlike Baxter’s new characterization is, though Baxter doesn’t act as infantile in his later episodes. And he’s hardly ever a bastion of maturity anyway, but in this episode his immaturity really sticks out.
--Of course, it's never explained how the ship's computer transformed into a desktop PC, or how Baxter got out of the inter-dimensional spider's web, which was the peril they were in at the end of the previous Baxterfly episode. But it doesn't matter that much, really, except to make me wonder if the ending of "Bye Bye Fly" was originally intended to serve as Baxter's gruesome offscreen fate. Whew.
--To add to the disconnect between this episode and the previous one, the computer's mannerisms seem different. He seems more mature, with a deeper voice and a leadership role, as well as now constantly calling Baxter “pal” and “buddy”.
--I enjoyed the previous episodes where Baxter acts largely on his own, him not being quite so reliant on the computer in "Bye, Bye Fly", but the whole thing with the computer is just wonderfully strange: Seth Brundle and HAL 9000 in a weird co-dependent relationship. The more I rewatch these episodes, the funnier that gets.
--Part of the humour comes from the possibility that the computer would betray Baxter if the need arose, meaning that Baxter's life would get even more hilariously terrible when his only ally betrays him.
----The relationship also sort of adorable, in a twisted way.
--Because it’s so much fun, I really wish the computer had a damn name. The fan name "Zee" or "Z" is used often, but nobody knows where it came from, and I'm reluctant to use it because it's fanon.
--(Also, when the computer gets that energy body, it looks like he's naked. There; now you can’t unsee that)
--Baxter going after the sugar makes me giggle. It also reminds me of the scene in Cronenberg's "The Fly" when one of the first clues that Seth is changing is how much sugar and cream he puts in his coffee. This connection is probably unintentional, given that there's a lot of evidence that the writers only drew on the original "The Fly".
--The computer's constant complement-feeding comes off as incredibly smarmy, especially since he can obviously can see how dumb Baxter is. But the fact that this is kept up without Baxter being sold out is interesting, since one character secretly manipulating another long-term is subtle by FW standards. And by those same low standards, the relationship is refreshingly ambiguous.  
--Baxter's side of it seems to be genuine, though, as he seems to chase the main villains back to Channel 6 because he knows they're going after the computer, and joins in the tug-of-war over the computer man. He calls the computer "My friend" and says, "Thank you," to him.
--Which is always funny to me because I remember the human Baxter hating artificial intelligence for some inexplicable reason in "The Mean Machines", and being unusually pissy about it. The writers probably don't remember the difference, but I like it.
--The funniest parts are by far how incredibly addled Baxter is. He's asked to kidnap April, and instead kidnaps Vernon, *twice* (“That’s not even a woman”), can't remember her name for more than a second, and keeps walking through walls. I know it's not the good way to write a villain, but I laugh so hard.
--At the same time, it's a tiny bit sad that a former scientist, even one as nebbish and evil as Baxter was, keeps losing his faculties, is unable to perform the simplest tasks, and doing things like thinking a portal or a plot device are food.
--The fuss made over Baxter's footprint has always struck me as weird, if for no reason other than Baxter's feet look almost the same as the Turtles' and nobody seems to notice. But naturally, Splinter is the first one to figure stuff out.
--As I said above, I think Baxter's computer is a parody of Hal 9000, and his taking over the station could be another homage to the film. Especially since "Invasion of the Turtle Snatchers" already had a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
--"Because I'm a big fly!" Impeccable logic, there, Baxter.
--I love the clock tower trap: very Adam West Batman. Though I also can't help but think of the Edgar Allan Poe story, "A Predicament", when a woman gets her head cut off by the hand of a clock.
--Raphael seems to be quoting Joan Rivers when he asks, "Baxter, can we talk?"
--Another indication of Baxter’s childishness is when he yells to the absent Shredder: "You come here now! Or else you'll never have revenge against Turtles! Never, ever, ever!"
--"By Ninja Law…." I can believe the Shredder made that up.
--I love Baxter smacking Shredder and Rocksteady's heads together using both sets of arms.
--"Only the most highly-skilled ninja master could get out of these ropes." [Leo cuts Donnie free] "Hi, Leonardo." Love that exchange.
--Veteran fans of the Fred Wolf cartoon like to point out that certain episodes had a more fluid, cartoony art style, and I’m pretty sure “Son of Return of the Fly II” fits into the slot. It suits the comedy in the episode, and is actually all-around nice and expressive, including rare background movement.
--I love the computer's facial expressions, too. He looks very smug and evil.
--Oh, hey, you can see Bebop's eyes near the end for a few seconds.
--The "Destruction of other people's property...." running joke is great here. Raphael being annoyed with Donatello over it also cracks me up every time.
--The twist that Mr. Mellish is a mercenary, money-hungry bastard and could have blown up that chip at any time but didn't because of the potential profit is also great. It's a little sharper than the show's normal humour, but that's also the style of cartoon humour that I prefer, and one I wish the old show dipped into more often.
--And there goes Baxter, stuck between dimensions. This is why I can't get so broken up over "Revenge of the Fly", when several Baxter episodes had already ended like that. It's just that his episodes stopped, not that there was real finality. And this encourages emotional attachments to have only the lightest touch, which also means it’s hard to get upset.
--Why the heck is Vernon shaving in the office, and just after a major incident? It's a really bad set-up for that final joke this show often makes, when it looks like the enemy of the episode might be back, but it turns out to be something harmless.
--But overall, this was the kind of hilarious, insane episode that makes the OT memorable. It's also well-plotted and executed enough to stand out on a different level. And again, my favourite Baxterfly episode.

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