It’s a tough call on this week’s Thundercats. Though it’s hard to go wrong with Clancy Brown and Kevin Michael Richardson voicing Grune and Panthro, their back story is a little predictable. Yet, the pedestrian story of one friend betraying the other didn’t bother me nearly so much as the fact that it got in the way of a much more interesting conflict between Lion-O and Panthro.
Week four opens with the Thundercats standing around a disabled Thunder Tank. Despite last week’s rescue, Panthro displays little outward respect for Lion-O’s capabilities as a leader. Indeed, the General seems more concerned about Lion-O standing on the tank’s samophlange than he does bending a knee to his sovereign’s authority. In this opening movement we are introduced to two things: the episode’s quest and the episode’s theme. The former is rather straight forward; get more “Thundrillium” to fuel the Thunder Tank. The latter explores the question of rank attained through experience versus a title gained through inheritance.
Though Shetara once again comes to her king’s defence, reminding Panthro that he is obliged to obey his monarch, Panthro doesn’t care. The old soldier even goes so far as to marvel at how the cats got this far without “adult supervision”. Begrudgingly, Panthro agrees to let Lion-O, Tigra and Shetara join him in search of more Thundrillium at the lizard controlled Cloud Peak Mine. This journey sets up the first of three flashbacks in the episode. But before they leave, the team seals up the cubs inside the Thunder Tank’s crew compartment without their delivering a single line. I should love this episode for that fact alone.
The first flashback devotes plenty of screen time to exploring Panthro and Grune’s youth. Friends through the vicissitudes of war, Panthro is depicted as a good soldier, willing to fight for king and country, while Grune fights only for personal gain. Beyond Grune’s natural dispensation toward being a dick, nothing particularly relevant comes out of the sequence.
Back at mine’s entrance, Lion-O and Panthro once again come into conflict over how to proceed. Lion-O favours a direct assault on the mine’s two guards while Panthro insists on waiting for cover of night. It’s really quite clever to see Lion-O demanding loyalty, as is his royal right, only to have Panthro answer back with “You’ll have my loyalty when you show me you can do more with that sword than carry it around.”
Disregarding Panthro’s suggestion, Lion-O charges into battle only to be ambushed by a couple dozen lizards. Panthro saves the day without much fuss and the episode transitions to another flashback. This time an older Panthro and Grune are standing before King Claudus. Therein, Claudus informs the duo that neither will be appointed General of Thundara’s army. Instead, they will be charged with seeking the Book of Omens. Once again, there’s nothing new to this information save for the fact that Grune feels he is being unfairly passed over for promotion. One travel montage later, a sequence that includes a scene of Panthro and Grune eating what can only be described as a Pig-Rat, and Grune and Panthro are sitting in the rain. Under a leaf canopy, Grune confesses his suspicion that the quest is a pre-emptive exile from Claudus, who has become fearful of Grune’s ambitions. For his part, Panthro is surprisingly stoic in light of this statement. A few nights later, Grune hears a voice calling out to him with the promise of ultimate power. After leading Panthro through the desert for three days, the two cats come upon Mumm-Ra’s pyramid.
The episode’s third act begins with Grune entering Mumm-Ra’s pyramid. Inside the Technodrome pyramid, Grune finds a sealed sarcophagus built into the Leno-esque chin of a large, rather freaky looking, statue of a head. It’s no real surprise when Grune throws open the…chin, and out shambles Mumm-Ra. Now freed from his prison, Mumm-Ra demands the Sword of Omens, an object he claims was stolen from him long ago. Panthro refuses to help and as a result is sucker punched to the bottom of Mumm-Ra’s pyramid.
It’s never explained how or why Panthro was unable to return to Thundara and warn of his former friend’s betrayal before Grune showed up with a conquering army of lizards. Neither is any light shed on how he came to possess the Thunder Tank and its pew-pew laser of doom. With half the episode dedicated to flashbacks that explained things I already put together on my own, addressing the actual plot holes never comes up.
The episode’s endgame is predictable and disappointing. Inside the mine, Grune and Panthro face off against each other. Grune beats a hasty retreat and leaves the battle in the hands of a transformer – seriously a transformer – named Driller. You can guess the rest from there. Thunder Thunder Thudnercats, Ho. Lion-O swordfights the transformer, and Panthro suddenly recognizes Lion-O’s capabilities as a warrior. Before the mine collapses Shetara grabs a handful of Thundrillium and all is well that ends well.
It’s hard to say if this week’s episode is any better than last week’s offering. Some will call the flashbacks filler. Others will likely suggest they are necessary to give Panthro a strong introduction. I would have rather seen the flashbacks curtailed and more time given to the Panthro/Lion-O leadership struggle. Remember, Tigra has been nothing but reticent about his brother’s leadership. Why not legitimize his hesitant obedience by adding Panthro as stronger dissenting voice?
Overall, I’m starting to feel that the show is caught between worlds. The writers literally wrote the Thunder Kittens out of this week’s story. That tells me they are content to ignore the younger audience. At the same time, each episode has approached big themes of leadership, themes that would work great in any one-hour drama. But with only 22 minutes per episode and very little carryover happening from one story to the next, none of these themes are being resolved in a meaningful way.
It’s not awful, but it’s a pattern that is becoming very unsatisfying.
Yeah yeah, I know what you’re going to say. “Shut up, Shaftoe. It’s just a cartoon. Isn’t there anything real you can write about on a Monday.”
Until next week…
Episode Score: +2
Series Score to Date: +2.5