But let’s jump right back into the fray with some good ol’ fashioned horror! Remember Dr. Victor Falco (voiced by the superb Jeffrey Combs) from the episode “Monkey Brains”? Good, because he’s back after escaping the turtles and he’s trying to recreate the gene that gave him his psychic abilities. Only this time he’s experimenting on rats in a rundown facility with some questionable wiring hanging above him. Wouldn’t it just suck if a couple of rats chewed through the wiring and it caused an explosion, setting a fire and trapping Falco in the blaze? And what if – now just hear me out – what if, Falco used his psychic abilities to call for help and discovered that his experiments with the rats led to an ability to control rodents specifically? Again, very glad you heard me out, because “I, Monster” gives us the birth of The Rat King!
For those of you who remember the ’87 cartoon, and for those of you who don’t, the original Rat King was somewhat of a Pied Piper figure who controlled rats with a flute. Later on, his powers were upgraded or retconned as the psychic ability to control rats – Splinter being one of those affected. What were The Rat King’s motivations for villainy? Well…he just generally thought rats were a superior species and tried, over the course of several episodes, to destroy humanity in favor of a ratocracy. The updated version, however, is the result of genuine character development and world building. Did anyone really see Dr. Falco turning into The Rat King? It’s yet another reason to applaud Ciro Nieli and the show’s writers that an entertaining, horror-themed episode like “Monkey Brains” would actually serve as set-up for the evolution of a popular recurring villain. Everything about The Rat King makes sense. He’s suitably motivated for revenge after being thwarted by the turtles and shunned by the scientific community. The fire that burns and blinds him forces him to rely on his psychic abilities to control the rats and use them as his eyes. And in focusing his power specifically on rats, he becomes aware of one rat amongst them all who can serve as his ultimate protector: Splinter.
The juxtaposition between The Rat King and Splinter is the main conflict of the episode and one of the strongest self-contained stories the show has done yet. Momentarily bested by Leonardo during a training exercise, Splinter begins to understand the sad reality that there will come a day when his sons no longer need him, that they will eventually surpass him as ninjas and perhaps leave him behind. As Hamato Yoshi, he’d already lost everything he loved when his wife and daughter were killed, but he managed to build a new family with his four sons as a mutant rat. Knowing that he could lose his family once again is all the leverage The Rat King needs to start meddling with Splinter psychically. The scenes in Splinter’s mind are chilling and also rather poignant as we get one of the first instances where Splinter’s “humanity” is explored. Falco embraces his monstrosity, turning it into a position of power through fear and manipulation. Splinter may have been transformed into a rat but he doesn’t see himself as one. He chose to retain his humanity, the best example of that being the four turtles he raised as his children, which eventually gives him the advantage over The Rat King’s control.
The episode itself is fairly straight forward. Now in control of the rats, The Rat King sends hoards of them throughout New York to cause havoc and drive out the vermin…ya know, people. When April is trapped by the rats on an electrical pole, the turtles go to rescue her. They then figure out that a higher mind must be controlling the rats, which sends them straight home out of concern for their father. Having seen into Falco’s mind as well, Splinter tells his sons where to find him, but when they get there, the boys find that they have to face down their own sensei in order to save him. Like I said, straight forward plot-wise. The turtles function as the much-needed comic relief of the episode, but definite kudos all around to the creators for making the meat of the episode about the psychological idea of what makes us human and what makes us monsters.
- Mikey is not pleased that he didn’t name The Rat King
- The Rat King looks so awesomely creepy!
- April’s ringtone on Donnie’s phone
- “I will smack you out of your shell!” – Sean Astin continues to be a fantastic Raphael
- Donnie’s Tarzan rescue of April
- Did Leo just incinerate a bunch of rats? Yeah, I think he did.
- Mikey poking Splinter
- “I just had a horrible realization. He’s been going easy on us all these years!”
- The way Leo says “Father” to try to reach Splinter…stupid emotions!
- Splinter gets the last laugh. Heh heh.