"Prepare for trouble!" "And make it double!"
Thus begins Showdown in Pewter City, one of my favorite episodes of the entire Pokemon anime. This episode starts (as all episodes really should) with a focus on Team Rocket – and specifically on James: the flamboyant rose-wielding homosexual who did his part to increase the presence of the LGBT community on television way back in the 1990s. Team Rocket are busy constructing their very first ever pitfall trap (soon to be their signature Pikachu catching technique) – or rather Meowth is busy constructing it; the artistes Jessie and James abhor the thought of manual labor (although James might like some man-ual labor) and would much rather theatrically perform the Team Rocket motto (James with his totally masculine rose in hand). Meowth eventually convinces his beautiful comrades to get their hands dirty digging the hole to catch Ash and Misty. Unfortunately for our villains well-laid plans, they next discover/introduce the second part of the classic Team Rocket pitfall scheme – they have disguised the trap so well that they forget where they put it and inevitably fall into it themselves.
One title screen later, the action shifts to the continuing journey of Ash and his angry red-haired stalker. The show's protagonist expresses relief at finally making it out of Viridian Forest, but Ash is barely even on the outskirts of Pewter City before the country bumpkin from Pallet Town gets his first big city eye-opener: he runs into a drug dealer. Flint (who bears a passing resemblance to Dave Chappelle's Tyrone Biggums character) is a shady dude who hangs out by the side of the road and sells "rocks" to passersby. Poor, ignorant Ash, who still hasn't realized he isn't in Kansas anymore, incredulously asks Flint, "you mean you sell rocks?" "They're Pewter City souvenirs" replies the drug dealer euphemistically. Realizing that these kids are not interested in his wares, and also that the girl is still a little young to be turning illusions for money on the street corner, Flint offers to take them to the local Pokemon Center – after Ash pays him a $2 surcharge for sitting on his rocks, of course.
Inside Pewter City's branch of the socialist Kantonian universal Pokemon healthcare system, Ash struggles to comprehend the concept that all of the Nurse Joys in the entire world look and sound the same (which doesn't make sense if you think about it, but then neither does the idea of pre-teens engaging in cockfights with semi-sentient monsters). Misty directs Ash's attention to a nearby poster advertising the Kanto Regional Pokemon League Championships. In order to enter, Pokemon trainers must first defeat eight gym leaders from the region and earn their badges as proof. And thus we are introduced to the device that will drive the plot for this (and every subsequent) season of Pokemon. Ash must earn eight gym badges so that he can compete (and lose) in this region's Pokemon League Championship tournament. Now that Ash has a slightly more realistic goal than capturing literally every single Pokemon in the world for his secret father, Professor Oak, the task falls to his woman to shoot down his hopes and dreams (a tale as old as time itself). Misty condescendingly asks Ash whether he really thinks he can defeat eight different gym trainers, at which point Flint throws in his two cents as well. However, instead of stroking Ash's ego (and then selling him rocks) as any good drug dealer should do, Flint literally laughs at the notion that Ash could ever defeat Brock – the Pewter City Gym Leader.
Later on, the two lovebirds head over to a nearby diner for a lunch date, but Ash is still fuming about getting dissed by Flint back at the Pokemon Center. Misty explains that Gym Leaders really are tougher than your average trainer, but she offers to help Ash in his battle with Brock if he asks her very nicely (thereby giving us the first hint at the big secret she will reveal two episodes hence). Ash has no time for women or their advice, however, and scoffs at Misty through his chopsticks and bowl of rice (this show used to be so Japanese). The short-fused Misty storms off in anger, but not before Ash seems to take an initial appreciation at the junk that she is carrying around in her trunk, beneath her lovingly-tight daisy dukes. It seems that Ash really is an Oak boy after all! Rejoice and be glad PokeShippers, for you will not receive hints like this from Ash very often. But Ash must pay dearly for his momentary lust – literally, as Misty has left him the bill.
Holybajeezus! $1150? What was in that rice, ground up diamonds?
After inexplicably managing to pay the bill at the restaurant despite his complete lack of income (he still owes Misty a bike, remember?), Ash makes his way to the Pewter City Gym. He bursts through the doors and demands a match with the gym leader. Luckily, it appears that Brock has nothing better to do all day than sit in the dark waiting for challengers to show up. At the moment this just adds to Brock's too-cool-for-school allure, but his wise older sage facade will soon fade away to reveal the dorky perma-virgin Brock we all know and love. Anime Brock neglects to mention his steadfast belief in "rock hard defense and determination,"and his little-buddy "light years" Jr. Trainer is missing too, but otherwise Brock is just as imposing as he is to new trainers in the video games – especially those trying to win with only a Pikachu. Zen Buddha Brock tells Ash that his Pikachu, which after only two weeks of training is at its "cutest stage," simply cannot win. When Ash insists on battling anyway, Brock snaps his fingers, which suddenly floods the gym with light and causes a rocky battle surface to spring to life and slide across the floor to the sound of twangy Clint Eastwood western music – almost killing Ash in the process. (Man, early Brock seems so cool, what happened to him?) To begin the battle, Brock sends out the Pokemon that most embodies his persona on the show – Onix, the phallic rock snake Pokemon. Against Brock's proxy prong, Ash chooses his ace Pikachu. The electric mouse, however, has no intention of doing battle with Brock's disembodied symbolic penis, and climbs up Ash's leg to try and call out Pidgeotto instead. Ash angrily informs Pikachu that this is not a tag-team battle, and unless it plans on turning heel it better get its tiny yellow ass back into the ring. One powerful Bind by Onix and the match is all over. Despite Brock specifically telling Ash that they were allowed two Pokemon each, Ash forfeits when his star babyface Pikachu falls, rather than even attempting to battle with b-listers Butterfree and Pidgeotto.
Ash exits the gym where apparently night has fallen already (time flies when you're getting your ass handed to you on a platter). Our hero discovers that you can always count on your drug dealer to show up when you find yourself in times of trouble, and a sympathetic Flint takes Ash back to his cabin for a cup of "tea" (which Ash has sense enough not to drink). Flint is surprisingly open about his chosen profession: his merchandise is displayed all around his house, and he even has a sign proclaiming that he has "rocks for sale." You better believe that Flint wouldn't be so bold about his drug business unless he had crooked cops on his pay roll – Officer Jenny must be making quite a bit in protection payments... Ash continues to fume about his loss to the seemingly heartless Brock, so Flint decides to cheer him up with a little bit of voyeurism. Peeking through the bushes outside the Pewter Gym Leader's house, Ash learns about Brock's unofficial job as a Japanese housewife for his nine little Brocklings. Flint informs Ash that Brock could become an even greater Pokemon trainer, but he is unable to leave Pewter City because his good-for-nothing father abandoned the family and caused Brock's mother to die of a broken heart. (That's right, she's dead! I don't care what the Japanese dialogue says, Brock's biological mother died some time before the events of this episode. The Lola woman that appears in later episodes might be Flint's new wife, but she isn't Brock's real mom. If she were, wouldn't she have squinty eyes like all ten of her children? I stand by the good people at the translation department of 4Kids Entertainment in 1998!) Despite hearing the sob story about Brock's life, to Flint's surprise Ash still plans on beating him in a rematch. Flint is taken aback, there is still no way Ash could ever defeat Brock with his current Pokemon, but then the crack salesman gets an idea.He takes Ash to an abandoned hydroelectric power plant and informs the rookie Pokemon trainer that by hooking up Pikachu to the plant's generator, it might be possible to supercharge the electric mouse – enabling him to override the game code and somehow damage Brock's ground types with electric attacks. Unfortunately the river that powered the generator is dry (probably explaining why the plant is abandoned), but Flint proposes that Ash climb onto the water wheel and manually spin it. No sooner does Ash begin turning the giant wooden wheel then electricity begins to shoot out of the generator and through the cables Flint has attached to Pikachu's cheeks. "Sooner or later you're body will get used to the high voltage," the drug dealer tries to assure the yellow rodent. Maybe...either that or you will get fried to death. But what do I care? I sell rocks! Misty reappears for the first time since she stormed out of the restaurant and tries yet again to drop a hint to Ash that she knows more about gym leaders than what she is letting on – offering to let Ash use her water Pokemon against Brock. Despite having not spoken to Ash since before his gym battle, and thus not having a good reason to know what type of Pokemon Brock uses, Misty seems to intuitively know that her Pokemon will have a distinct advantage in this gym. (Careful Misty, they'll kick you out of the union if you keep spilling gym leader secrets) But like a typical stubborn man, Ash does not want this unsolicited help from his woman, preferring to win a Boulder Badge by himself with his own Pokemon. So Ash continues pedaling the wheel all night, generating power until finally Pikachu unleashes a massive Thunderbolt that destroys the old power plant (take that public property!)
The next morning the doors to the Pewter City Gym burst open, revealing a young boy and his Pikachu. Ash is back, bitches! Lucky for him, Brock still has nothing better to do than sit in the dark of his gym until people dramatically challenge him to battle, so the rematch can commence right away. Deciding to mix things up, Brock taps Geodude – a small sentient boulder with arms – to open the fighting. Ash lets Brock know that he is taking the battle seriously by spinning his hat backwards, and then sends out the unheralded Pidgeotto to fight Geodude.Ash fails to take into account basic typing, however, and a bemused Brock chuckles that rock types have a distinct advantage over flying type Pokemon. From up in the balcony, Misty sighs at her dumb-Ash boyfriend and says something that she will have occasion to say over and over again in the years to come, "C'mon Ash, use your head!" (You know, because he's stupid. But I guess she could say it to him in the sack, as well...) Pidgeotto is quickly overwhelmed by Brock's floating boulder, and backed against the figurative wall, Ash phones the bullpen for his ace Pikachu. Nintendo's little yellow money-maker smugly sizes up Geodude and then defies the laws of Pokemon physics by frying Brock's rock with one electric blast.
Brock's siblings have gathered around Misty in the rafters of the gym and are visibly upset that Ash has disposed of their brother's Geodude in such an undignified manner. The gym leader himself is unfazed, and Brock calls back his phallic Rock Snake Pokemon to finish what it started against Pikachu in their last match. Pikachu looks worried, and Ash orders it to finish the match quickly with a Thunderbolt, but Pikachu fires erratically – leaving Onix mostly unscathed and starting an electrical fire in the gym's lighting system. Onix moves in for the kill, Binding Pikachu and resisting its attacks, before Brock mercifully orders it to release the all-but-defeated Pokemon. The über-tanned gym leader demands that Ash forfeit the match again before causing any unnecessary harm to Pikachu. But before Ash can really think this proposition over (or whatever passes for thinking inside his tiny head), fate intervenes in his favor. The electrical fire in the rafters causes the gym's sprinkler system to activate, which douses Onix, Pikachu, and the gym floor with water.Misty shouts from the balcony what she has been trying to hint to Ash all episode, rock types (Brock's speciality) are weakened by water (her speciality). Pikachu unleashes a wicked attack that devastates the soaked Onix. Ash is about to finish the battle, but then he imagines that the little Brocklings are hanging off him trying to protect their brother's Onix. This turns out to be less a manifestation of Ash's conscience and more a physical fact (Ash's puny mind often struggles to differentiate dreams from reality). Brock orders his siblings down, but Ash comes around to their point of view, returning Brock's earlier kindness to Pikachu by quitting the match without finishing off a wounded Onix. Ash promises to defeat Brock "next time," to which Brock mutters "maybe..." For her part, Ash's act of kindness has caused Misty to develop an even greater attraction to her man. "Just when he gets a lucky break, he decides to be a nice guy too!" she sighs.
Outside the gym (again in the twilight, how short are the days in Pewter City?), Brock chases down Ash who is walking artistically along the coastal road. Brock presents Ash with the Boulder Badge, which our hero is initially too proud to accept. Despite Ash's earlier insistence that winning a match thanks to the sprinklers "wouldn't prove anything," he easily caves to Brock's wishes and claims his first gym badge in typical Season One style – thanks more to pity and well-timed accidents than any skill on Ash's part. Brock tells Ash that the life of a gym leader is not what he had in mind. "I want to become the world's best breeder!" he declares. Note that Brock does not specifically say he wants to be a Pokemon breeder, and perhaps we are meant to infer this, but I prefer to think that Brock was revealing his true innermost desire to Ash: he wants to get laid; repeatedly; and without protection. Brock asks Ash to fulfill his perverted dreams for him (a remarkably poor choice considering Ash's complete disinterest in girls), but Flint chooses this moment to make his big reveal.
It's an older Brock!
Yes, it turns out that Flint is actually Brock's good-for-nothing father who left home to pursue his dream of becoming a drug lord. But much like Walter White, Flint's chosen profession has driven him away from the very people he went into business to support. But now the Heisenberg of Pewter City has decided to take the straight and narrow path and assume the mantle of gym leader and father to the Brocklings, freeing his son to travel and "breed." Ash asks Flint why he helped him instead of his son, Flint replies that Ash reminded Flint of himself: he didn't seem to have a chance. Brock tells Flint that after all this time there is a lot he needs to tell him – and then proceeds to hand his father a needle and thread and a list of instructions for properly caring for the Brocklings.
Finally freed from the burden of raising his nine younger siblings, Brock's future suddenly has limitless possibilities. So it is more than a bit of a surprise that instead of chasing his dreams (of chasing women), Brock instead decides to travel with the stupid young boy who couldn't even defeat him properly (our first clue that perhaps Brock isn't as wise, mature, and suave as he comes across in this episode). What is it about Ash that makes people want to drop everything and follow him? Seriously, charisma that high puts Ash on the cult leader level – he's like the Jesus or Charles Manson of the Pokemon world. And as Brock prepares to leave Pewter City with his new companion, he discovers that he isn't the first disciple that Ash has acquired. "What about that girl that keeps following you?" he asks. The camera shifts to Misty, who regurgitates her cover story about needing restitution for her bike. "Pikachu, let's try and lose her!" cries Ash, in a severe rebuke of PokeShipping. However, BoulderShipping gets a huge boost as Brock chases after Ash, arm extended. Misty won't give up that easy, however, and she basically summarizes the next five seasons by telling Ash, "you won't get away!"
We could end the episode here, with our heroes comically rushing off to their next adventure, but as we are quickly learning, an episode of Pokemon wouldn't be complete without Team Rocket receiving bodily harm from the twerps. The villains emerge from their pitfall trap at last, having somehow managed to survive the last few days buried underground. Unfortunately, they are too late to catch anything but a glimpse of Pikachu, as Ash and friends nonchalantly stomp Team Rocket's faces as they chase each other down the road. Ahh yes, nothing says "children's programming" like seeing people being injured...
See you next time Pokemon fans!