Fresh off their visit to a fancy prep school, our heroes are wading through a sea of waist-high grass, having once again been foolish enough to entrust the navigational duties to Ash. And as neither Pallet Town's village idiot nor his two gym leader disciples bothered to bring a map or a compass with them on their globe-trekking adventure (they obviously haven't played Zelda), and as Ash doesn't seem to be as close with Gary's sister as his video game counterpart (#TownMapShipping), he has gotten them emphatically lost; having apparently decided that roads are for suckers, and he clearly knows a better shortcut to a town he has never visited. Despite being the "adult" of the group, Brock fails to do much more than keep Ash and Misty from locking lips as they passionately take up their favorite pastime of argue-flirtation. Little does Pewter City's most famous virgin realize that today his very life will be threatened, and his entire existence will change forever. Details below.
As our heroes take a moment to recover from the exhaustion brought on by Ash's time-saving "short cut," the gormless guy himself notices a little blue blob with a tuft of leaves growing out of its head, drinking from a nearby spring; it's an Oddish! Since it's been since episode-freakin-three since Ash Ketchum actually "caught 'em," as in new Pokemon, our budding Pokemon master decides to actually do his job for a change. But as he sheaths Dexter and pulls what I'm willing to bet is an empty Pokeball from his belt (Ash doesn't believe in weakening wild Pokemon -- he's the ideal market for the Quick Ball), Misty steps in front. Seeing as she's a Water-type trainer, and Oddish was found near the water, Misty feels entitled to capture it. Her argument doesn't even hold water, in this author's opinion, but it is more than enough to overwhelm Ash's puny intellect. The Tomboyish Mermaid doesn't pull any punches, and immediately hauls out her bad-ass Starmie, which succeeds in incapacitating Oddish with one high-pressured Water Gun. But just when it seems that Misty is about to expand into Erika's Pokemon turf...whack!
There's a new sheriff in town.
A wild Bulbasaur out of nowhere knocks away Misty's Pokeball and wilts Starmie with one Tackle. (Is it just me, or has the Mysterious Pokemon grown a lot bigger than last episode? It's now as big as Misty!) Ash goes all gooey-eyed, like a kid on Christmas morning, or anyone who spotted a wild Bulbasaur in Pokemon Go. Dexter remarks that Bulbasaur are "very difficult to capture in the wild," a challenge that Ash accepts as readily as Barney Stinson, and he decides to counter the grass-dinosaur lawman with his Butterfree. He orders his Unnecessarily Shrill Pokemon to lay down a layer of toxic dust, like a chopper spraying Agent Orange over the rice paddies of 'nam. Sheriff Bulbasaur is no Viet Cong, but his sense of fair play is outraged by Ash's attempt at herbicidal warfare. Fortunately for him, Butterfree is such a sucky Pokemon that it only takes a particularly strong breath (the Big Bad Wolf defense!) to give the overgrown butterfly a taste of its own medicine. Using the typical guerrilla war response to superior force, the Oddish Charlie scampers back into the jungle undergrowth, quickly followed by Sheriff Bulbasaur. Pikachu also seems a bit disturbed by how excited Ash got over the Seed Pokemon -- it seems that after ten episodes of enslavement, Pikachu has become accustomed to the benefits of being Ash's bottom bitch.
Some time later, Ash is leading our heroes to a rope bridge strung across a massive chasm of death -- the first such rickety rope bridge of the anime! (This will become a favorite trope of the lazy writing staff) Delia Ketchum's special little bastard is convinced that a horde of Bulbasaur must be waiting just ahead. Unfortunately, Ash and company are about to come across one of the darker aspects of living under impersonal communist rule: lax safety codes. Sure, the Democratic People's Republic of Kanto allows its children to run around the countryside eating, sleeping, and seeking medical care on the government's dime at Pokemon Centers, but there is also a blurry haze of a hundred easily-bribed government apparatchiks preventing each other, or indeed anyone, from actually being responsible for the upkeep of this bridge, a fact that is about to become crystal clear to our merry band of Pokemon trainers.
Brock barely has time to register the fact that he can't find this bridge on his map (huh, could've used that map a few minutes ago, eh Brocko?) before a strong gust of wind tears through the ropes holding the bridge together. Ash grips tightly to what is left of the wreckage, with Misty and Pikachu hanging onto him, and Brock ... falls fifty feet to his death in the rocky river below.
Well. That took a turn, didn't it? And thus ended Ash's Pokemon journey. The end.
JK! Ash, Misty, and Pikachu take a few seconds to catch their breath, before miraculously transporting themselves from the edge of a cliff to the riverbed below to dredge for Brock's body. They only make it a few yards, however, before Misty finds herself falling into a pitfall trap -- or at least most of her does; her eyes remain suspended in midair for a few extra frames, Looney Toons style. "How'd you get down there?" asks her boyfriend, clueless as always. "This is just not our day!" (First Brock dies, now this!)
Continuing on, Ash and Misty soon find themselves much closer than the Tomboyish Mermaid ever dared imagine, except perhaps in her wildest dreams. Unfortunately for Misty and the rest of the PokeShipping community, it is less because of Ash's desire to feel physical closeness following the loss of his older brother figure Brock, and more because our heroes have found themselves trapped in an Ewok-style net trap! Fortunately none of George Lucas' stupid teddy bears show up to cook Ash and Misty over a spit, but Sheriff Bulbasaur does return to chuckle at the situation these outsiders have found themselves in, clearly saying something awesome like "crime never pays..." as he shuffles back down the road and Ash angrily demands a Pokemon battle. "Now you're wiggling too much!" squeals Misty, with more than a hint of enjoyment.
Later on, once Ash and Misty have finished their "wiggling," their thoughts return to their departed homie, Brock. "Maybe the river carried him far away, all the way to the ocean. Then some pirates spotted him and brought him aboard their ship -- and one of the pirates has a wooden leg!" speculates Ash, with a specificity that is a bit disturbing. Misty tries to dismiss his clairvoyance as the product of his "crazy imagination." But then Ash sends chills down my spine by adding ominously, "then came the storm..." Perhaps Ash's apparent idiocy was merely disguising his supernatural powers, such as second sight; he is the "idiot savant" after all. I'm reminded of a quote from Confederate socialite Mary Chestnut concerning her slaves and the outbreak of the Civil War in Charleston Harbor, in which she anticipates the "magical Negro" trope:
Not by one word or look can we detect any change in the demeanor of these negro servants. Lawrence sits at our door, sleepy and respectful, and profoundly indifferent. So are they all, but they carry it too far. You could not tell that they even heard the awful roar going on in the bay, though it has been dinning in their ears night and day. People talk before them as if they were chairs and tables. They make no sign. Are they stolidly stupid? or wiser than we are; silent and strong, biding their time?
Yeah, I just alluded to and quoted a 150 year old diary on a website about Pokemon. Deal with it you unwashed plebeians!
But seriously people, I think we need to puzzle the mystery of Ash's supernatural abilities; is he stupid, or wiser than we?
"Ahoy!" comes a voice from below. It's Brock! (Doing nothing to assuage my fears that he actually was abducted by pirates...) He cuts Misty and Ash down with a large knife that would never make it past the censors today (the kind of knife that a pirate might own...), and explains that after he was washed down the river (after the storm?) he was rescued by a beautiful girl. "A beautiful girl huh," adds Ash, who is clearly still suffering from the uncharacteristic randiness that he displayed last episode, "that's even better than pirates!" Before adding, "unless of course she was really a pirate in disguise!" (There's our Ash!)
Brock brings everyone back to a shack in the woods where the beautiful girl from the story, Melanie, takes care of injured Pokemon. Misty compares her to a Nurse Joy, which Melanie is legally required to deny. "Oh, I'm not a doctor!" Practicing medicine without a license, eh Melanie? No wonder you hide your "health spa" in a secluded forest. I have to believe that Officer Jenny would enjoy taking kick-backs from you! But when Ash comments that both Brock and Melanie enjoy taking care of Pokemon, Misty slyly adds that there is someone else that Pewter City's leading virgin would like to "take care" of. "Be quiet, she might hear you!" hisses Brock, going beet red and attempting to strangle Misty for the crime of insinuating that Brock might like-like Melanie; like more than a friend!
And this, Pokemon fans, marks a watershed moment in the life of Pewter City's Brock Harrison. Up to now, Brock has been like the impossibly cool older brother character to Misty and, especially, Ash. The guy was the sole gym leader of an entire city and also the single-parent head of house for all of his little Brocklings. When he first joined our traveling party, Brock seemed like the adult chaperon that Ash and Misty so desperately needed; a mature fountain of knowledge and wisdom who could also cook and sew. And to a large extent, Mama Brock will continue to fill these roles, but we can never again confuse Brock with a suave adult. Especially when it comes to his relations with women, Brock has been revealed to be just as immature as the clueless bastard offspring of the forbidden passion between professor and next door neighbor that he has been following around. So what happened? Has Brock just been successfully repressing his inner child until now? I for one would like to present a novel theory: I think something really did happen to Brock when he washed down the river. Perhaps he really was kidnapped by pirates as Ash prophesied; ripped through some kind of door to Narnia that allowed years of time to pass almost imperceptibly back in Ash and Misty's dimension. "Then came the storm," and something truly unspeakable happened to Brock, causing him to revert back to some younger less-mature version of himself to repress the unspeakable horror inside; akin to his Hodor "hold the door" moment.
"Then came the storm...."
After the break, Melanie drops a bomb on our heroes: Oh yeah, I'm the one that rigged that bridge to drop you to your death and dug the pit trap and hung the net to leave you to starve, "I guess they worked! [Giggle]." But her homicidal tendencies are apparently acceptable because she did them with the intention of keeping her village protected from the prying eyes of the outside world. As if to prove her point, Team Rocket is currently trying to crawl across the half-collapsed bridge (Meowth is on all fours using his cat-like reflexes), because I guess their balloon is in the shop or something, and floating across the chasm of death would be too easy? But in a move that will do nothing to help James' fragile body image issues, the bridge snaps in half down the middle due to their weight and sends our voluptuous villains splashing to their death in the river below.
Back at the hidden village, Misty needles Brock again about his crush on Melanie, and he responds to this unacceptable lip by punching her hard in the head -- twice; which is strange, because last episode's Misty-on-Brock violence got censored, but apparently the reverse is acceptable? Nintendo: Violence against women is justified if she's sassing you, kids! Still, heretofore unknown critical-thinker Ash Ketchum is worried that Melanie's repeated attempts at murder might not be enough to protect the inhabitants of Hidden Village, after all, "you'd have to be pretty stupid to fall into one of those holes."
[Cut to Team Rocket falling into one of those holes]
"This is the third hole we've fallen into!" growls Jessie angrily. And as it turns out, our beautiful but brainless baddies are stupider than your average criminal, because only a few paces later they find themselves lodged in another one of Melanie's net traps. One imagines that James is much less inclined to be "wiggled" on by Jessie than Misty was by Ash... Meanwhile, Misty tries to mend fences with Oddish for being heartless enough to try to enslave it earlier; even going so far as to turn on the waterworks in a moment that was not quite as risqué as every red-blooded boy's favorite Pokemon card. And speaking of children, Misty's would-be boyfriend picks this moment to burst on-screen to declare to the Tomboyish Mermaid, "you were always heartless." One expects a pronouncement like this to be responded to with violence, and it is -- but not from the direction you'd think. Sheriff Bulbasaur launches himself at Misty and separates her from the Oddish. This attack on his woman angers Ash in turn, but Melanie de-escalates the ensuing showdown by explaining that Bulbasaur, much like any good law enforcement officer, risks his own safety to protect the other inhabitants of the Hidden Village. (#FreedomIsntFree #BulbLivesMatter)
But look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Even better, its' Team Rocket! Desiring a "home team advantage”, Jessie, James, and Meowth have stolen a literal sports stadium and flown it to the Hidden Village with several giant balloons strung with banners containing censored Japanese script! No doubt taking inspiration from their botched attempt at the heist of the Cerulean Gym, our villains plan mainly involves sucking up all the village Pokemon using an industrial strength hose. (One wonders why a sports stadium was needed for this, but then again, it is futile for us pedestrians to try and understand the inner-workings of the minds of true artistes).
Brock finally has the excuse he needed to invite himself inside Melanie's cabin (although he probably didn't imagine he'd be joined by so many other witnesses), and Sheriff Bulbasaur can't help but take notice of Ash's help in assisting in getting all the Pokemon to shelter. The green law dinosaur attacks Team Rocket's hose with his Vine Whip and Ash sends out Pidgeotto to blow back the wind with a Gust of its own. The counter-currents form a vortex which starts spinning back in the direction of the stadium, where James is doing a Hideo Nomo impression for some reason? (Finally a Japanese reference that American kids would get -- but 4Kids still decided to be patriotically prudent and cut it out anyway!)
In any event, the resulting tornado sends Team Rocket and their stolen stadium blasting back from whence they came, and with some problematic charges on their Team Rocket account to boot. (Giovanni: "James, I noticed you spent quite a lot of money at a sporting goods store recently; a place where I would not expect you to shop based on literally every single thing I know about you. Care to explain?") Also, Sheriff Bulbasaur seems to have gained some newfound respect for our hero based on his apparently idiotic willingness to sacrifice life and limb for the safety of Pokemon. Melanie too is seeing things in a new light, in this case the need for the Seed Pokemon's continuing residence within the Hidden Village. Clearly she's realized the jig is up in regards to her unlicensed medical practice -- seeing as five people and a talking Meowth have found their way past her traps in one day alone, but she tries to couch her unwillingness to face the long arm of the law in a conversion to a "tough love" brand of medicine. She claims that Bulbasaur has done too good of a job protecting the village Pokemon, and thus they have no reason to ever return to the wild. Therefore, the good sheriff should hang up his hat and spurs and go with Ash, the village Pokemon should disperse back into the woods, and Melanie should make like a tree and leaf before Officer Jenny arrives to slap her in cuffs for medical malpractice.
Ash agrees to battle Bulbasaur for some reason, despite this violating his tightly-held creeds of catching Pokemon primarily by convincing them to follow him willingly and/or just throwing a Pokeball and crossing his fingers. In any event, our dim-witted hero decides to fight the Seed Pokemon not with his super-effective Pidgeotto or Butterfree, but with Pikachu; the one Pokemon on his team that has a type disadvantage. The two starter Pokemon exchanger Tackles before the law dinosaur decides to lasso Pikachu with his Vine Whip and hog-tie this varmint one and for all. But using electric attacks against types that are not affected by it has never stopped Pikachu before, and the Electric Mouse Pokemon sends a jolt of voltage up Bulbasaur's vines and fries it in place, allowing Ash to suck it into his slavery ball and claim victory!
So with that taken care of, there is nothing left but for our heroes to move on to their next destination. Brock makes one last pass at Melanie who manages to brush off Pewter City's leading virgin with the same ease with which she dodges medical malpractice lawsuits. Misty clearly hasn't learned her lesson yet and needles Brock about his oh-so-obvious crush again -- this time he only tries to suffocate her. "Did I miss something? What's going on?" ponders Pallet Town's village idiot, clueless as always, as Bulbasaur looks on and wonders just what he's got himself into. Only time will tell, Pokemon fans.
Final thoughts: And thus begins the 'catching all the starter Pokemon' mini-arc (oops! Spoiler alert!). This episode is probably the weakest of the three, and actually reminds me a lot of the kind of thing we have to look forward to in Johto / every subsequent season, in terms of a 'protecting all the wild Pokemon in a given area from Team Rocket' story, but at least Ash comes out of this one with a new Pokemon; and what a Pokemon it is! Much like his personality, Bulbasaur will prove to be incredibly dependable/loyal, if never flashy. It is actually the original Pokemon that will stay in Ash's party the longest (aside from Pikachu, of course), but we have a long way to go until then.
As of the end of this episode Ash has caught 6 of the 151 Pokemon available at this time -- meaning he is 3.97% of the way to his self-declared goal to "catch 'em all."
1.) Yes, I realize Brock doesn't actually have an official last name. But long-term fans of the anime may remember reading things about "Brock Harrison" and "Misty Williams" on the Interwebs. Apparently 4Kids took the initiative of giving these characters last names; thoroughly American last names! Screw you, Japan! So while they were never mentioned on the show, they occasionally show up on industry publications. For example: this production blurb from the fourth movie. (Interestingly enough, James is given a last name as well, "Morgan", which really fits his highborn status. Jessie, even more hilariously, is the only main character who doesn't get a last name!) I love that someone actually had to sit down and think of last names for these characters, which were subsequently never really used.