Last episode, Ash "won" his first ever Pokemon League badge by "defeating" and befriending Brock – the Pewter City Gym Leader turned "breeder" extraordinaire (this has been a sarcastic air-quotes heavy post so far). The squinty-eyed virgin decided to join-up with Ash on his journey and has become an unwelcome third-wheel to Misty's romantic PokeShipping plans, and she wastes no time futilely trying to direct Ash's mind towards amorous ideas, twice using the word "romantic" to describe the pointed lump of rock that the trio is approaching. Yes, in typical early Season One fashion, our heroes are wasting no time with a post-Gym Battle fluffy filler episode, and have instead moved directly to the next in-game landmark – Mt. Moon. And just like its video game counterpart, this Mt. Moon is swarming with bloodthirsty Zubat! Our heroes rush forward in response to a cry of help issued with future Meowth's voice. However, it's not the Scratch Cat Pokemon they find, but rather a cowardly nerd named Seymour – Seymour the Scientist to be precise (although he is voiced by the extremely talented and prematurely departed Adam/Maddie Blaustein)
Ash is more interested in learning about the new Pokemon he has just encountered than helping the poor man the Zubat are molesting, but after some angry prompting from Misty, Ash has Pikachu blast the horde of bloodsuckers back into the cave. Seymour is very thankful of Ash and Pikachu for saving him, perhaps a little too thankful, as he squeezes the pair and vigorously humps them until the ornery electric mouse blasts everyone with a dose of its ThunderShock. Now sufficiently relaxed, Seymour introduces himself and his love of poetry to the assembled children, but he takes great offense when Ash addresses him with the normal male honorific, declaring, "Never call me mister!" (Oh Maddie, did you ad-lib that line?)
With introductions out of the way, Seymour leads everyone into Mt. Moon proper, which has been unnaturally lit by strings of old-fashioned Edison lightbulbs (and nary a one of those energy-efficient hippie bulbs that have Republicans so upset). It seems the artificial light has the local fauna all out of kilter: the Paras are dismembering themselves and planting their mushrooms all over the place, and the Sandshrew are somehow too dry (how is that even possible, and what are Sandshrew doing in Mt. Moon anyway? Darn Yellow Version revisionism!)
Seymour takes a moment to elucidate his theory on how Pokemon came to be. As a child, he used the legend that a meteor crashed from space and formed Mt. Moon as the basis for his idea that Pokemon rode to Earth on a giant Moon Stone spacecraft! And while this notion seems quite normal for a child, apparently no one ever disabused Seymour of it and he eventually turned it into his professional thesis, thus explaining why he lives alone inside Mt. Moon with nary a female in sight. Just then, Ash spots the only reason that anyone comes to Mt. Moon in the first place – Clefairy! The adorable Fairy Pokemon is literally skipping through the cave, so Ash does the logical thing and tries to catch it, only to have Seymour interfere. So for the first time (of unfortunately many), the anime presents the seemingly contradictory message that some Pokemon deserve to remain in the wild, while others are allowed to be captured – apparently at random (gotta catch 'em all?)
Suddenly, the still Nathan Price voiced Meowth appears and threatens Clefairy, the twerps, and its future voice actress. (While original Meowth is certainly better than the present Jimmy Zoppi version, it will never measure up to Maddie Blaustein in my book. Although Japanophile purists probably enjoy the fact that Nathan Price's Meowth has a tendency to say its own name a lot, undoubtedly an allusion to Inuko Inuyama's frequent "Nya"-ing in her role as Nyasu in Pocket Monsters) Meanwhile, Pikachu takes a moment to explain to Clefairy why he was chosen at the last minute to replace it as the mascot of the Pokemon franchise.
Speaking of characters with the wrong voice actors, Jessie and evil Tracey arrive right on cue to assist Meowth in Team Rocket's plan to steal the Moon Stone. (Only three more episodes until Eric Stuart will take over from Ted Lewis and let James out of the closet!) The voluptuous villains recite the sacred Team Rocket motto, prompting Ash to ask them, "Don't you guys ever get tired of saying the same things over and over?" – a comment that only gets more ironic with every passing episode.
Ash encourages his girlfriend to protect Clefairy and leave the fighting to the men-folk. To counter Team Rocket's combination of Ekans and Koffing, Ash chooses Butterfree and Brock goes with – Zubat? Ash is just as confused as the rest of us as to when Brock captured the godforsaken bloodsucker, and the still sage-like gym leader explains that he caught one earlier in the episode when the bats were attacking Seymour. Ash is visibly upset when he realizes that he probably should have caught one too. (Gary Oak undoubtedly has three already...) James demonstrates his fabulousness in spite of Ted Lewis by sliding across the screen with his hair flowing in the breeze. He orders Koffing to lay down a Smog, but Ash's Butterfree blows it away with a Whirlwind. Brock has Zubat use its patented Supersonic ability to confuse Ekans and Koffing into fighting each other (notice that Koffing never loses the smile from its face), and the unnecessarily shrill Butterfree blows Team Rocket all the way out of the cave. Ash and Brock celebrate with a manly elbow-five – perfect for those times when a traditional high-five is just too gay.
But while Jessie and James have been taken care of, Brock and Ash realize that Meowth is still on the prowl. The Scratch Cat has actually made his way out of the cave, where Misty, Seymour, and Clefairy have fallen into a nearby stream. Meowth threatens the assembled group with his sharpened claws, but Misty is having none of it and demonstrates her battle skills for the first time since her underwhelming effort against the Rocket trio in Pokemon Emergency. This time the Tomboyish Mermaid calls out a brand new Pokemon, the bizarre starfish Staryu. The StarShape Pokemon blasts Meowth with a Swift attack before using its Water Gun to expand Meowth's body like a balloon until he eventually shoots off in a classic demonstration of cartoon physics.
With the sun setting and the villains temporarily vanquished, our heroes relax on the bank of the stream where Brock demonstrates his "breeding" abilities for the first time by introducing his personal patented proprietary blend of Pokemon food. He promises Ash that he will mix some for Pikachu soon (please god don't let this be the first time Ash realized he is supposed to feed his Pokemon...), and Seymour samples some and gives it his approval. Not wanting to appear stupid in front of the socially-awkward scientist, Ash manages to do just that when he decides to partake in some Pokemon food as well and is subsequently surprised that it does not taste very good. (At what point does Brock start to question his decision to leave his job and family behind to follow this particularly stupid Messiah?)
Pikachu and Clefairy engage in some brief annoying Poke-speak before they lead everyone back inside the mountain, where the rest of the local Clefairy are performing a mysterious ritual around the giant Moon Stone meteor from the Mt. Moon creation myth. It takes the humans a little bit before they can decipher from Pikachu's charades the meaning behind the Clefairy's actions. Ash guesses that the Clefairy are doing the Macarena (look it up kids), and Misty mentions prayer (Oh, early Season One, you were so naughty!) before everyone finally pieces it together. (Dogasu might not be amused, but I enjoyed the dated Macarena reference, and I think that 4Kids actually did a pretty decent job of salvaging a series of untranslatable visual Japanese word references) Seymour seems to believe that the existence of this meteor has validated his life's work, but before he can get too carried away, Team Rocket returns to claim the Moon Stone for their own. The beautiful baddies perform a bit of schoolyard bullying: Meowth trips Seymour when he nerdily charges at them, and then asks the scientist if he "had a nice trip?" while Seymour blindly pats the ground Velma-style looking for his lost glasses.
Ash and Brock step up for a rematch against Ekans and Koffing. This time Ash goes with his Pikachu and Brock unleashes his trademark phallic Rock Snake Pokemon. Jessie takes a moment to size up Brock's Onix before she declares to James, "Let's show them that size doesn't matter!" (Like she would know! James does look a little upset though...perhaps word has gotten out about his, ahem, "Lil' Jimmy"?) Suitably motivated, James has Koffing unleash its signature fart technique to fill the cave with dark smog. By the time Ash can unleash his unheralded Pidgeotto to blow the smoke away, Team Rocket have gone – disappeared down a giant hole in the floor.
Outside, the lovely law-breakers are sledding down the mountain with the meteor in tow. Unfortunately, their perfect escape is ruined when Onix bursts out of the ground in front of them and smashes their sled asunder against its rock-hard body. James is not having a good day, and in a moment of desperate frustration, he orders Koffing to Tackle Brock's behemoth Onix – a Pokemon so powerful that just last episode Ash's super-charged Pikachu could hardly dent it without resorting to trickery. So it should come as no surprise that Koffing... Well damn, it worked! The eternally happy Poison Gas Pokemon bounces off of Onix's face and plummets to the ground with its smile still intact, and Onix crashes to earth unconscious. James wins! Does that mean he gets a Boulder Badge now? He certainly deserves one more than Ash did...
However, just when it seems like Team Rocket might finally have won, Seymour the Scientist emerges from Onix's tunnel with the Mt. Moon Clefairy in tow. The Clefairy gather around Seymour and begin wagging their fingers at Team Rocket – perhaps to show their disapproval like an upset grandmother. However, their movement proves to be somewhat hypnotic, and Seymour explains that this is the Clefairy's legendary Metronome attack. The problem with Metronome is that it is completely random – literally anything could happen next. Lucky for the Clefairy, just like with every other supposedly random attack used by the heroes in the anime (see Misty's Togepi and May's Skitty, for example), the show's writers tend to use Metronome as a sort-of Deus ex machina lazy plot device. So instead of the Metronome producing something harmless like Splash or Harden or whatever, a giant chasm opens beneath Team Rocket and molten lava from the Earth's core bursts up to send them blasting off again. (How convenient!)
The Clefairy's Metronome also has the unintended consequence of destroying the meteor that everyone was trying to protect, and shards of Moon Stone begin to rain from the sky, which cause several Clefairy to evolve into an entirely new Pokemon – Clefable! This turn of events has made up Seymour's mind, he will stay in Mt. Moon and live with the Clefairy and Clefable. (Take this as a warning, would-be scientists. This is what happens when you never go on dates!) For their part, Ash, Misty, and Brock are moving on ahead to the next town, which a roadside sign says in Cerulean City. Brock notices something scribbled at the bottom, and Ash notes that Pokemon trainers sometimes leave notes for one another on these signs. (Defacing public property? Those trainers better watch out for Officer Jenny unless they are prepared to pay some serious bribes...) Ash moves in to take a closer look (who knew Ash could read?) only to find a message from his older nephew: "Gary was here! Ash is a loser!" Hahahahaha, oh Gary! Reminded once again that Pallet Town's true hero is still three steps ahead of him, Ash throws back his head in rage and storms off towards Cerulean City leaving his two disciples and Pikachu behind to contemplate what went wrong in their lives that led them to follow Ash around, and whether it is too late to join Gary Oak's entourage.
Final thoughts: This was a solid original series episode that serves as a nice bridge between two excellent gym battle episodes. This kind of plot, wherein the kids meet an unimportant character of the day and help solve the problems of him and his Pokemon, will unfortunately become standard filler fare throughout the course of the anime. But this episode is still enjoyable because of how new everything is, the inclusion of an in-game location, and a twist on an in-game plot line (Team Rocket has infiltrated Mt. Moon in Red and Blue Versions to look for Pokemon fossils). Anime Team Rocket have also begun their transition from competent foes to typical cartoon villains used for comic relief, a role that they will play to perfection. The plot of the show is still moving at a breakneck pace, which will lead to some pacing problems later in Season One, but for now it means that every episode is pretty solid, so enjoy it while it lasts. Tune in next time for Ash's second gym battle in three episodes!