The last time we joined our friends, Ash, Misty, and Brock just barely survived a trip to an unlicensed Pokémon health spa, but our hero from the Town of Pallet was able to "catch" the local sheriff: a no-nonsense law dinosaur by the name of Bulbasaur. I'm sure Ash is excited about this fact, but you would never know it since he will keep the Seed Pokémon inside its Poke Ball for the entire episode – as will all the other characters with their Pokémon. Indeed, if it were not for the fact that a new character will be joining the cast (I know, I know, SPOILER!), this would be the very epitome of a filler episode, albeit a still-enjoyable Season One filler episode.
Misty, at least, is in a hurry to get somewhere. She loudly complains that, "we've been looking for Vermilion City for ten whole days!" (I've always wondered what would happen if you add up the lengths of time mentioned by all the characters in the show. I mean clearly it doesn't matter since Ash is permanently locked in arrested physical and emotional development at the age of ten, but still. How long have all of his journeys *actually* taken?) Brock has been party to his underage companions long enough to know that an angry Misty is often prelude to some argue-flirtation with Ash, something that leaves Pewter City's horniest virgin particularly lonely. So instead, he decides to get a jump on the flirtation train by asking Misty if there is a bug on her shoulder before revealing after her customary freak-out that the tickling she felt was just him with a blade of grass.
Unfortunately for Pewter City's most eligible bachelor, if Brock thought he would be rewarded for his prank with some angry flirtation, he is met instead with rage Misty, and she is clearly still upset at the domestic violence she received from Brock last episode. And in these troubled times, who should emerge as the calm voice of reason, but Pallet Town's village idiot, Ash Ketchum. He points to a path on the map that he thinks will lead to a Pokémon Center. "Does this trail take us to Route 24?," asks Misty excitedly. "According to my calculations it does!," replies our dimwitted hero. (This is certainly not the first time an Oak boy has told a girl to 'trust his calculations,' specifically vis-a-vis the time of the month and whether condoms need to be worn … )
But our heroes will have to save any further bedroom talk for later, because they soon realize that they are in the presence of a fantastic beast of fearsome power, terrible to behold. So terrible, in fact, that Pikachu makes the wise decision to hide beneath Ash's backpack rather than mount any pathetic and ultimately useless attack against this monster, which would surely result in the Electric Mouse Pokémon's demise. This unholy creature, capable of destroying entire worlds, is in fact Charmander – the stray Pokémon! (I enjoy how the episode title cards used to use the Pokémon logo to replace the word 'Pokémon' in the English dub).
Our dimwitted hero expresses disappointment that he was unable to obtain the Lizard Pokémon from his secret father, Professor Oak, the day he left Pallet Town (Pikachu is *right there*, Ash!), but no matter – he can catch a Charmander now. (Brock is especially insistent that they capture Charmander and "take it to Pokémon Center", which is either an amusing early Season One error about the necessity of using the article before 'Pokémon Center' or lazy incompetence on behalf of the nefarious 4Kids staff—take your pick!) So without even giving it a second thought (which is exactly two more thoughts than he normally gives), Ash spins his hat backwards and performs his patented don't-weaken-it-first Poké Ball toss with enough careless abandon towards the low odds of success to make the drunken old man in Viridian City proud.
For some reason, tossing a Poké Ball on the first turn at a Charmander with full HP did not result in Ash catching it (Take note, those of you who have joined the fandom since Pokémon GO!) and Pallet Town's Village Idiot seems even more puzzled than usual. But conveniently, Misty has come up with the perfect solution! For the second episode in a row, Misty advocates that Ash let her catch a non-water-type Pokémon for herself. In this case, because her Pokémon would be super-effective against Charmander.
But when her man fails again to catch the fiery lizard (Brock insisting that in this case, Ash is wise not to weaken it as it appears to already be in poor health), Misty huffs, "I think this Charmander has an attitude problem!" (Spoiler alert for when we eventually meet Charmeleon and Charizard: this is quite the understatement!) Instead, Pikachu scuttles up the rock to have a chat with Charmander and after a bit of deciphering from Ash (who has grown more fluent in Pika-speak since the Macarena incident), determines that Charmander already has a trainer and it is waiting on this rock for him to return. (Would that there were only a convenient way to carry and/or store Pokémon when you weren't using them that didn't take up much space! Oh well, what're you going to do? 🤷🏻♀️️️) In any event, our heroes rush on down the road to 'Pokémon Center' at last – and just in time too, as Pikachu's cheek pouches buzz with static to indicate the approach of a storm. Meanwhile, Charmander is still on the rock, huddled beneath a giant leaf and trying to keep his tail flame lit. (This is also, to my ears anyway, the debut of the sad musical motif, which the soundtrack calls "Prayer")
The twerps have decamped to what looks like the kind of Pokémon Center that Hitler would have had with him up on the Eagle's Nest. (Who knew 'Swiss chalet' was the dominant architectural style of Route 24?!) I do actually like how the Pokémon Centers in the anime used to be individually unique, as opposed to the enforced uniformity of the video games. Although, I suppose the latter is more in keeping with communist sameness of design, which you think would be simpatico with the government of the People's Republic of Kanto. Perhaps they are practicing "socialism with Kantonian characteristics?"
Brock is still worried about the Charmander the gang encountered earlier – as well he should! One doesn't come across a being of pure perfection like that very often! But when Ash expresses his belief that Charmander's trainer *must* have come back by now, Brock inexplicably decides to defer to the wisdom of the idiot child he's been following around like a moronic messiah; a decision that will be proven incredibly wrong in just a few moments. Our heroes' dinner is soon interrupted by a noisy group of boys gathered near the fire around a blue-haired trainer and his displayed balls. No, it isn't James about to be busted for exposing himself to a minor, it's a character-of-the-day named Damian. And Damian is evil, kids! How do we know? Well, apart from his Satanic moniker, Damian has a BRITISH ACCENT! (The telltale sign of a villain since 1776! ) Interestingly, Maddie Blaustein is using the same voice for Damian that she will reprise for Bill the Pokémaniac in a few episodes! Damian is showing off a large pile of Poké Balls to his adoring hangers-on, clearly a sign that he is having more success at completing a Pokédex than the secret bastard of the Pokémon Encyclopedia's inventor, seated just across the room! One of Damian's toadies inquires about the Charmander that he used to have and the blue-haired royalist scum dismisses it as being too much of a weakling and brags about how he abandoned it on a rock by promising to come back for it.
And, well, that was a mistake!
Daddy Brock is back, baby!
(Don't mess with him, he was a pirate!)
Brock tells Damian that Charmander is still waiting for him in the rain, which could cause the Pokémon to *literally die* if its tail-fire goes out, and Pewter City's Gym Leader informs Damian in no uncertain terms that he WILL go back to get his Charmander. Ash and Misty arrive with the cavalry, although the former's admonition to listen to Brock is met with a "what'd you say, nerd?!" from Damian, who is unafraid to uncork the ultimate 80s/90s schoolyard insult. (Although few people are probably less intellectually worthy of the title of 'nerd' than the dumb-Ash product of the forbidden love between Professor Oak and Delia Ketchum!)
But before we can see just what Damian is packing in his dozens of Poké Balls, Nurse Joy literally jumps in to break up the brewing fight. She warns our heroes to steer clear of Damian and his troublesome crew and renders pirate daddy Brock impotent, as the horny virgin we all know and love emerges to blush, paralyzed, at the beautiful human face of Kanto's socialist healthcare system. Brock declares this Joy the most beautiful of them all, although as Misty points out, "she looks just like all the other Joys." "Yeah," adds her boyfriend Ash, with a bit of poorly synchronized/translated dialogue, "it's a joyful … world."
Misty manages to bring Brock back to his senses by reminding him that Charmander is still out there, rather than by grabbing him by the ear, as will become her wont, and the twerps rush out into the dark and stormy night to return the stray Pokémon to safety. And not a moment too soon, as it turns out, because Charmander is being preyed upon by a pack of godforsaken Spearow—the black-hearted Beedrill of the skies! Still in his decisive daddy mode, Brock ignores the rain and whips off his coat to swat the Spearow away from Charmander. Ash orders a ThunderShock from Pikachu and the animators treat us to a fun bit of cartoon physics, wherein Pikachu ends up zapping friend and foe alike because of the rain. (Seriously, if there is one stray bit of science that cartoonists want kids to remember, it's that water conducts electricity. Move over, Bill Nye!️)
Brock scoops up Charmander inside his jacket, with Ash taking his off too for good measure (you'll catch pneumonia!) while insisting that *he* will keep Charmander's tail flame from going out. And true to his word, Pallet Town's wannabe Pokémon master manages to keep a pocket monster in his care from literally dying! Which, you know, is probably a requirement for successfully mastering Pokémon! Back at the Pokémon Center ski lodge, Nurse Joy chastises our heroes for allowing Charmander to get in this horrible condition, but the twerps pass the buck by blaming Damian, who conveniently is no longer around to defend himself! But with no time to lose, Joy takes Charmander back to the center's intensive care unit, where the Lizard Pokémon is placed inside a barometric chamber—complete with a little stool to keep its tail from catching the bedding on fire! Things are looking bleak when Nurse Joy exits the ICU, leading us to believe that we are about to witness our first Pokémon death only eleven episodes into the series.
Time to go to Lavender Town?!
Joy flashes a patented Japanese peace sign to let us know that Charmander is going to be a-ok! What a victory for socialized medicine! Somewhere Bernie Sanders is smiling, and our Republican oligarchs are gnashing their teeth and losing their monocles in a rage – THEY TRIED TO KILL CHARMANDER BUT THEY COULDN'T!
Everyone drifts off to sleep, with perhaps the notable exception of Brock, because while Ash, Misty, and Pikachu are kipping up on the couch, Brock is nowhere to be seen until he appears in the common room sweaty and short of breath! Just what was he getting up to—more of his patented "stuff"? The disappointed look on Nurse Joy's face probably gives us some clue of what Brock *wasn't* able to accomplish last night…
Also, Charmander has gone! Like our Lord and Savior, when Brock and Joy returned to the ICU that very nearly became Charmander's tomb, it was no longer there! He is Risen!
Speaking of a religious devotion, the Team Rocket Trio is also on Route 24, still obsessed with capturing the Pikachu that so electrified them back in Viridian City. Because they posses the integrity and consistent professionalism of true artistes, Jesse and James perform the motto even though there are no twerps around to hear! Inexplicably still retaining full access to the Team Rocket R&D department, our voluptuous villains have today come to bear with a Dalek-looking robot contraption! Meowth is almost trembling in fear wondering what this device is capable of … until he finds out that it is just another hole-driller! "We tried that already!" complains the Scratch Cat. "This time we'll remember where the hole is!" declares James, speaking like someone who does not like to be confused about the location of specific holes. When Meowth seems a shade less than confidant in his companions' abilities of basic recall, Jesse angrily adds, "Don't you think we're smarter than that?!" But with the twerps approaching, it is time to hide and activate the drill's stealth mode!
Early returns on the question of the Rocket Trio's intelligence are not promising, as Pikachu walks across the disguised trap with nary a problem. This provokes angry recriminations within the Rocket camp as to who was responsible for making the trap too strong. Meowth—still acting as the outfit's leader in these early days of the anime—quiets his human companions with a few Scratch attacks to the face. (Doesn't he know how important looks are to divas?!) But all their villainous worrying proves to have been for naught, as the combined weight of Ash, Misty, and Brock springs the trap and allows the Tomboyish Mermaid and her obtuse love to "wiggle" for the second episode in a row!
The only person more upset at the current situation than Brock – who is stuck third-wheeling Ash and Misty's PokéShipping pit tryst – is Pikachu, who is alone back up at street level with Team Rocket, the latter of whom have apparently borrowed suits from the scientists in E.T. Pikachu unleashes a ThunderShock on our beautiful baddies only for James to inform us of the other one of the show's favorite two physics facts: rubber insulates against electricity! The suits are "just another example of our incredible genius at work!" according to Jessie. "You have to be a rocket scientist to outsmart us," declares James. "The Team Rocket Scientists!" Jessie, meanwhile, worries that the suit is not really her color at all, but to her relief they can quickly be discarded after Pikachu is trapped inside a terrifying, impermeable membrane -defying red balloon, which James fires out of a giant bazooka! (Man, this show used to have a much more NRA-friendly attitude toward firearms!)
And just like that, Team Rocket has won! Our titillating trio prepare to ride off into the sunset victorious with the Pikachu it only took them nine episodes to capture, pausing just long enough to taunt Ash and his twerpish friends. But just when it seems our villains are going to return to Giovanni with a basic Pokémon that he will *at best* be indifferent at receiving, who should reappear but Charmander! The firey lizard demands that Team Rocket release Pikachu at once, but Meowth merely puffs out his chest and warns Charmander that Team Rocket plays rough … and then Charmander ABSOLUTELY F%^&ING WRECKS TEAM ROCKET WITH A FLAMETHROWER!
Well-done but still alive, Team Rocket goes dashing off again. Meanwhile, Damian pops out of a bush where he was apparently lurking for some reason. Seriously WTF? This guy is sketchier than Brock! Even as Professor Ash is explaining to Charmander that its trainer isn't coming back, its trainer, who has come back, asks Charmander to rejoin his team. (Although he mispronounces it 'Charminder' because he is a BRITISH NINNY! 🇺🇸🦅🌭) Brock cautions Charmander to be careful (Damian has hurt you before!) as Damian helpfully explains that he didn't want Charmander when it was a pathetic weakling, but now Charmander has become strong without Damian having to have gone through the effort of training it. And raising Pokémon, Damian explains to the ire of our heroes, is "the worst part of the job!" (This guy must be a huge fan of Rare Candies)
Putting aside the fact that shiftless, council house-dwelling, East Ender Damian seems to think that "vagabond magical cockfighter" is a profession, the British baddie next proceeds to force Charmander to return to its Poké Ball, only for Charmander to bat it back into Damian's face with its tail! Damian (who many people are saying is the unholy bastard spawn of King George III and Boris Johnson), threatens to crush Charmander with every Pokémon he's got, but then Monsieur Pikachu decides to play Lafayette to Charmander's Washington and they sizzle Damian Cornwallis with a combined ThunderShock and Flamethrower attack!
"[Sobbing] Mummy! Oooh ooh oooh!" – Winston Churchill, probably
Alexa, play 'Yorktown'.
Having brought forth a new future, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all 'mons are created equal, Charmander almost immediately decides to accept the bondman's lash again and return to the slavery of the Poké Ball. Inexplicably, despite being almost solely responsible for keeping Charmander alive, Brock decides that *Ash* should be the one to have Charmander! (Because the concept of Pewter City's gym leader having a fire-type Pokémon is clearly too ridiculous to contemplate!) And just like that, our heroes have added a new friend to their menagerie of cockfighting monsters! Tune in next time to see Ash actually *use* a newly captured Pokémon in the subsequent episode!
Final thoughts: The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes!! This episode introduces the preliminary evolution of the Greatest Pokémon of All-Time and Forever™ and for that we must be eternally grateful. Charmander will quickly go from a Pokémon who was so weak that Damian literally left him on a rock to die, to a single-minded killing machine, the most powerful weapon in Ash's arsenal. Which is all the more puzzling because Ash did even less to deserve Charmander than he usually does to deserve his gym badges! Brock was the one who worried and fretted about Charmander, assaulted Damian, and rescued the little guy from the rain! I would say that Ash got lucky and pulled a Blue-Eyes White Dragon card from a random booster pack for his deck, but it's more like his friend Brock (same voice as Seto Kaiba!) mowed lawns for a week to afford the booster pack, got the card he wanted, and then just gave it to Ash because! Despite the debut of baby Charizard, this episode is fairly average, by Kanto standards, which is to say, it's not bad at all! It's always nice to see a British heel get what's coming to him, and Team Rocket were delightful as usual, but there honestly isn't a whole lot else that recommends this episode to repeated watching. Save the popcorn for all the Charizard destruction to come!
As of the end of this episode Ash has caught 7 of the 151 Pokémon available at this time -- meaning he is 4.64% of the way to his self-declared goal to "catch 'em all."