Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Kraang Conspiracy, review
April O’Neil gets the spotlight in a mythology heavy episode of Nickelodeon's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episodes usually follow a formula; focus on one turtle, create a problem based on their personality/characteristics, and introduce an opponent that personifies (or more accurately, mutantifies) the problem. “The Kraang Conspiracy” follows that formula, but throws in a welcomed twist; instead of focusing on Leo, Donnie, Raph, or Mikey, the episode revolves around April. The episode treats her as one of the teenage mutants which is fitting, because by the end of the episode she’s officially part of the mutant family.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been building to April becoming a true member since the beginning of the series. April has always been a supporting cast member, although she needed the Turtles' support more often than the other way around. She’s received ninja training from Splinter and was strong enough to leave the Turtles after they mutated her father in the season premier, but she eventually forgave them when they helped save her.
“The Kraang Conspiracy” focuses on April’s struggle to be viewed as an equal to the Turtles. April is nowhere near the Turtles’ level of training; they have 15 years of ninja experience on her along with being gigantic mutated turtles. She spends a chunk of the episode frustrated at having to be repeatedly saved by turtles.* During the climax, she’s captured yet again by the Kraang; the Turtles assume that they have to rescue her, but the show pivots and instead she saves herself (and the day) with psychic powers and brute force. At the end of the episode, Donnie discovers that the reason the Kraang want her is because she’s half-human/half-alien. She’s earned her equality with the Turtles not just by becoming a hero, but also by being a mutant.
* It’s a bit odd that she would flounder so much against the Kraang when she’s been able to fight the Mutagen Man and Karai, but those were both close-range and she still needed assistance against them.
The franchise has tried before to include a fifth member (plans for a fourth live action film included a turtle named after Jack Kirby and The Next Mutation had the maligned Venus) but never succeeded. This is the closest the franchise has gotten to a fifth member that fans might accept; April still won’t be a major character in every episode (and she’ll still occasionally need help), but the show has laid down enough groundwork that there’s no doubt that she can be an asset to the team.
Along with developing April as the fifth lead, this episode worked as a tribute to X-Files mythology episodes. ""The Kraang Conspiracy" introduces sci-fi writer and conspiracy theorist Jack K. Kurtzman (voiced by Robert Forster, who disappointingly never played a member of the Syndicate) and his hilarious collection of classical-style artwork with Kraang drawn in to them. He informs the Turtles that the Kraang have been around for centuries as part of a vast conspiracy to terraform the Earth and that it somehow involves April (and his creepy candid photograph of her in school). Kurtzman’s stalkerish nature gave him a Lovecraftian horror vibe; I’m honestly surprised that it wasn’t revealed that he was part of a cult intent on helping the Kraang take over the Earth.
April’s involvement with the Kraang is finally revealed this episode; she is the link between humanity/Earth and the Kraang/Dimension X. The Kraang need her as part of their plot to take over Earth. April is somewhat reminiscent of William, Scully’s child from the end of X-Files. The child was somehow tied to that show’s alien conspiracy and also had telekinetic powers. "The Kraang Conspiracy" also saw the return of Rosanne Barr’s Kraang Prime, who last appeared in the first season finale during their failed invasion attempt. Most importantly, we learned that the Kraang-droids recharge in cubicles and their elevators play Muzak, which is adorable.
I LOVE THE '70s: Kurtzman, whom Raphael called a stalker, is likely inspired by the short lived 70s TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Kolchak was a low rent newspaper reporter that tracked mysterious supernatural and sci-fi cases that the police wouldn’t handle and whose wardrobe included a beaten up seersucker suit and straw porkpie hat. It’s a shame Forster didn’t get to play Kolchak in the 2005 reboot because he was great at this role.
HER?: Massive credit to Mae Whitman for not only portraying the nuances of an increasingly frustrated April, but for also playing April Derp, which might have been the silliest performance the show has ever used.