There’s a scene part way through the season premier where the turtles have to stop a Krang spaceship from delivering mutagen canisters to Shredder. The turtles, having spent a year beating up Krang, function on autopilot and show off. After a strong first season and being picked up for a third earlier this year, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could be like its leads and coast. The comedy and action are strong enough and the cast likable enough that they could rest on their laurels and stick with lighter stories. Instead, head writer Brandon Auman pushes the series forward by making the turtles responsible for a chain of events so horrific that they will be dealing with the ramifications of it for the rest of the series.
The turtles lack of focus in their fight with Krang causes canisters of mutagen to rain down upon Manhattan. Some canisters survive the fall, but others break on contact, including the one that hits Kirby O’Neil while protecting his daughter April (who had tricked him to go outside to help the turtles). April accidentally pushes Kirby off the ledge and faster than you can say “Yes father, I shall become a bat,” he crashes through a colony of bats and mutates into Wingnut. The turtles capture him, but he escapes after April learns that the turtles were responsible for his transformation. Along with being responsible for the widespread release of mutagen, the creation of Wingnut, and April leaving, the turtles’ interference with the mutagen led to Shredder deciding to expand his army without Krang’s assistance. Oh, and there’s a cameo by Mutagen Man, because the turtles don’t deserve nice things.
Even with the world falling apart, the show still has its humorous side. The failed attempt to catch Wingnut involves Mikey dressing up as a fly to be bait and the Krang villain they fight is a giant robot primate suit with a rear end that opens up to reveal “butt cannons” that make farting sounds when powering up.
The animation continues to be clever on a limited budget. The show plays with spatial relations well, this time by having the flying saucer tilted on its back, giving the turtles more opportunities to bounce around and a shot reminiscent of the centrifuge effect in 2001: A Space Odyssey, if Dave were a ninjato-wielding turtle. However, Wingnut’s design is the animation highlight of the episode; his transformation sequence is partially done as a shadow, giving it a classic werewolf transformation feel. The mutated design is beautifully disturbing; he looks like a deformed mash-up of Man-Bat and Bat Boy.
This episode is a solid start to what will hopefully be a season long arc about what it means to be a hero. Some all-ages shows avoid having their leads be in the wrong and want them to always be perfect. TMNT embraces that its characters are teenagers and will screw up. As Shredder told them, “do not dwell on the past;” both the show and the characters continue to move forward and grow.