“Master Splinter made our quest clear. It’s time to begin, ninjas.” – Leonardo
Leonardo is continuing his recovery in the forest while honing other ninjutsu elements (Including his skills with a bow and arrow). After being beaten up by a buck, Leo returns to the others with a realization that the ninjas must become one with nature if they’re going to grow and improve their skills. They begin deep in the forest with their spiritual refinement, honing their mental refinement with each passing moment.
Before long, the deer Leonardo fought returns, only this time it’s represented as a humanoid deer – and of course the boys attack it under the misguided assumption that it’s a mutant. When the deer disappears again, the turtles return to camp, and are confronted by the spirit of Master Splinter in their fire. Splinter speaks to each of his sons about their greatest weaknesses, and in the morning each turtle constructs new armor and weapons, preparing for individual journeys into the spirit realm.
Each turtle encounters Foot Soldier apparitions, beating their enemies, but still falling victim to their spirit quests (which include apparitions of Shredder and his henchmen). The battles prove difficult for each turtle, until Michelangelo masters his spirituality and defeats the Rahzar apparition. Soon, the others master their own faults, too, and Shredder’s henchmen fall. Finally, Leonardo overcomes his bad knee, and defeats the Shredder apparition. The turtles return to the farmhouse, having successfully completed their spirit quests, and moving one step closer to becoming ninja masters. Now all that’s left is to return to New York City and defeat their enemies once and for all.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this episode was that the spirit quest aspect was a natural extension from an underdeveloped part of the first feature film. When the turtles saw Splinter in the fire in the film it was all they needed to go back to New York. However, there was no growth there, or development into better ninjas. So seeing actual spirit visions and quests that provided real growth and resulted in four new, stronger, better turtles than before was an immeasurably worthwhile addition to that type of plot element.
However, the vision quests should have been significantly longer than they actually were. For as much time as the show has spent this season on filler episodes out in the woods, they should have devoted at least as much time to the turtles’ vision quests (or had those quests built in to the horror throwbacks in some way). There’s no reason that each spirit quest couldn’t have been an entire episode on its own, showing the true potential of the turtles as they move on to the next step in their ninja development. Even if that would have taken the show to the season’s midpoint, making their return to New York the midseason finale or something, it would have shown an appropriate amount of time devoted to an aspect that actually needed it. As it existed here, the vision quest felt rushed and not as spiritually satisfying as it should have been. (With any luck, though, there will be more about it later, including the nature/purpose of that deer.)
Seeing the turtles master new weapons, skills, and spirituality can only mean that the return to New York will be an epic showdown with the Kraang and Shredder. There’s no doubt that for plenty of episodes to come, the turtles will be kicking butt in new and amazing ways. Let’s just hope that things stay that way moving forward. This show has done plenty in terms of character development in past episodes that was then thrown out or forgotten later for the sake of maintaining certain character traits (how many times does Raphael need to confront his anger before some of these lessons start sticking with him?). So if the turtles remain the powerful new versions of themselves that they are now, then only good things will happen. It’s time to take on Shredder, the Kraang, and every other villain that might come their way.