As a life long TMNT fan, it’s hard not to be excited about “Lone Rat and Cubs.” Written by Kevin Eastman himself, the episode proved to be equal parts sentimental and action packed. Getting to see not just the original incident that created the Turtles and Splinter, but what life was like for them in the aftermath was a special treat. It was also great to see more of Splinter again, and Hoon Lee was in peak form throughout the episode.
Despite being more of fan of the origins where Splinter is a rat who is mutated (versus a human made rat), it’s hard not to like this origin. The reason for that is the time the episode takes to show how difficult life is for the once Hamato Yoshi. We see the personal despair Splinter experiences. His life has been filled with tragedy. He lost his wife and daughter and now finds himself mutated, his humanity stolen from him. Now, he lives on the run, taking care of four babies, trying to avoid the very creatures that turned him and the turtles into what they are. It’s a captivating story.
We also see that Splinter doesn’t immediately bond to the Turtles. Considering he originally picks them us pets, it’s compelling to see the transformation over the course of the episode. He takes care of them to protect life, but slowly over time the relationship changes. He begins to see them as a means of atonement, then finally a second chance at being a father. It’s an important moment of character growth that we don’t typically see for Splinter. Except in the case of the IDW comics, where Splinter is literally the Turtles reincarnated father, he has always been their adopted father. In fact, Splinter (in most versions of the TMNT, but maybe most of all in this) is probably the best step-father and single father in media. Whether the team at Nickelodeon intended it or not, they’ve given their audience insight and a positive role model into what is surely a difficult experience.
The growth of this relationship is the core concept of “Lone Rat and Cubs,” but the episode is also about the discovery of home. Splinter takes his new family all over New York, trying to avoid the Kraang, all while scavening for food and trying to stay out of the public eye. They find shelter in an empty water tower, under elevated train tracks, and in a warehouse, but the Kraang seem to find them at every turn. Of course, these moments where Splinter is discovered bring us the action. And boy, what action it is!
Splinter is such a bad ass in this series. It never gets old watching him take on all challengers, and the creative team have done such a great job of giving him a distinctive style. Of course he knows how to use each of his sons’ future weapons. They learned from him! It’s something so simple, but smart to show us.
What’s more, this is a young Splinter. He’s the closest to the Hamato Yoshi we learn he was. Brash and passionate, with a clear aggressive streak. It’s always been easy to see how Splinter and Leo connect, but how cool is it to see how much closer he was to Raph in personality when he was younger?
The episode also gave us insight into the Turtles as children. We get to see bits of their personalities. Mikey’s appetite. Donnie’s ingenuity. Raph’s energy, and also the origin of the scar in his shell.They’re a handful, but cute. And when the five of them get swept away in a sewer current trying to escape the Kraang, the four Turtles come together to rescue their adoptive father, guiding him to land and ultimately what will become their home.
“Lone Rat and Cubs” treated us to the full origin of this version of the TMNT. We got to see Splinter name the Turtles, discover the Lair, and eventually present the four with their signature weapons. All wrapped up in a story focused on the growth of a mans love for his adopted charges. It’s great to see Mr. Eastman be so flexible with the property. You can tell he loves these characters, and carefully crafted a tale that would fit within this particular versions boundaries, but still be classically TMNT.
It’s been mentioned in these reviews before, but TMNT has always been at it’s best when it’s a story about family. This is certainly true here. As we march forward in these Tales of the TMNT, I’m grateful for the opportunity to take pause and look at the past of these characters. In a season that promises demons, monsters, and parallel dimensions, it’s great to take a step back to basics. TMNT will always be about a family surviving in a big city, and taking on the forces that wish to do that family harm. It’s why the characters are so timeless and relatable, despite being turtles and a rat who practice ninjutsu.