ANIMORPHS Episode 3: Underground

Guys, I’m starting to think this show isn’t very good.

morphs0

This episode is narrated by Marco’s shoes.

His orange jacket is jealous.

His orange jacket is jealous.

Marco walks down a suburban street, having a voice over about paranoia—wait, we did this already. This is the same scene as Jake’s at the beginning of Episode 2, only instead of staring at lawnmower men and babies, Marco keeps getting freaked out by…doors. Okay. This war is effecting Marco’s mind more than expected.

Spooky!

Spooky!

One of these suspicious doors turns out to be that of Jake’s house (foreshadowing?), so Marco walks up to it and knocks. The wooshing camera from the end of Evil Dead zooms in on the back of Marco’s head as an intruder startles him into turning around. It turns out to just be Jake’s hideous older brother, Tom.

Way scarier than the Evil Dead remake

Way scarier than the Evil Dead remake

Tom is described in the books as being a good-looking high school jock, so I don’t know why they cast this dude who looks like he’s 30 and also undead. Tom lets Marco in, and our favorite orange-jacketed ’90s icon since Kenny from South Park heads up to Jake’s bedroom, where the whole Animorph crew (plus Homer) have assembled to check out Elfangor’s disk by shoving it into Jake’s computer. I have no idea why the entire group needed to be assembled for such a task, as this has to be at least a day after they retrieved the disc. Did Jake just come home and leave the possible weapon/source of information/greatest asset they have sitting on his desk while he played Beast Wars: The Home Version all night? Maybe he just wanted an excuse to get Cassie in his bedroom. Dem overalls, man.

"Then I said, hey, baby, I'm gonna morph my boner into your butt."

“Then I said, hey, baby, I’m gonna morph my boner into your butt.”

Oh, it turns out Marco has to put the disk into the computer, because he’s “the computer whiz.” This is a detail the books often used to have Marco hack into protected files and shit, which is stupid. Here, Marco’s computer whiz ability is needed…to put the disc into an external CD drive (which couldn’t look more ’90s). As for the computer itself? I don’t know, I was only like seven years old in 1998, but no computer I ever used growing up had a screen like this.

I'm not.

I’m not.

Marco type-type-types away but the computer gives him an “unable to open file” message. He’s goddamn lucky it will even do that much, or that this alien piece of technology didn’t burst Jake’s Earth computer into flames. One of the other boys tells Marco to “try Alt-Esc-X,” and nothing comes up when I Google that, so the computer gives up and says “SYSTEM FAILURE.” Marco snarks, “It worked in Independence Day,” so maybe I’m not getting a cultural reference here. Or maybe Marco is going to welcome the Yeerks to Earf.

Tobias is allowed in Jake's bedroom, but he has to sit with the dog.

Tobias is allowed in Jake’s bedroom, but he has to sit with the dog.

Tom pops his head into the room and is all HEY ARE YOU GUYS SUPERHEROES IN HERE. They cover pretty well and he peaces out to do whatever 40 year-old men who live with their parents do. Marco goes to close the door behind him and sees…this.

Actors often accidentally fell asleep in the middle of filming.

Actors often fell asleep in the middle of filming.

Because the show has to get across plot points in a quicker, more-direct manner, and because they don’t have the benefit of the books’ internal monologues, one of the sillier solutions they often turn to is associating Yeerk behavior with very obvious ear-related ticks like this. It’s not the worst thing ever, but it looks bad, and gives the bizarre impression that all controllers spend half their day itching their inner ear. Not that I’m saying Tom is a Controller or anything. However, given this evidence, Hannah from Girls probably is, explaining her toxic influence on the world around her (and why she’s infested our hearts).


Regardless, this ear fixation freaks Marco out. He exchanges a few long looks with, for some reason, Tobias. After the commercial break, the entire gang plus their mascots Homer and Marco’s jacket head out into Jake’s driveway. They decide to plan their next move tomorrow, and everyone except Marco leaves without saying goodbye. They all just kind of walk away. It’s weird. Marco and Jake start playing basketball. When Tom comes out through the front door, Jake asks him to play because Marco is like 3 feet tall. Tom blows them off because he has plans; Jake assumes he’s playing in the high school basketball game. It turns out he quit the team, probably because he’s 45 and needs to go work at the docks to provide for his wife and children. No, actually he’s going to The Sharing, “a new club” that “everyone” is joining. Jake thinks it’s super weird that Tom quit the basketball team to join what appears to be the cult from that Boy Meets World episode. Tom tells him that basketball is for squares, then launches into a sales pitch for The Sharing about how cool it is and how many chicks the boys could fuck if they joined.

Tom mourns his lost youth

Tom mourns his lost youth

After Tom leaves, Jake is left dealing with a mental breakdown over his quitting of the basketball team. Marco brings up how weird Tom is being, and how anyone could be a Controller. Jake gets pissed off and says there’s no way, but Marco says, “Have you looked in his ear lately?,” and knowing this show, I half-expect the next scene to be Jake shining a flashlight in Tom’s ear while he’s asleep. Jake throws a basketball at Marco and says, “Your dad really sucks lately. Maybe he sucks because he’s a controller. He sucks.” Marco goes home to tell his dad that Jake doesn’t approve of him and they can’t hang out anymore.


At Dead Mom Apartments, Marco comes home to find his dad watching a public-domain werewolf movie and giving up on his life.

I guess the news that Jake hates him got around quickly

I guess the news that Jake hates him got around quickly

Marco asks how his dad’s job interview went, but it turns out he canceled it. Marco is pretty unhappy but not surprised. He takes off his orange jacket, sacrificing the incredible superpowers it brings him for the sake of not being too warm. Turns out his dad went and put flowers on Marco’s dead mom’s grave instead. Marco rewards his refusal to move on with a pizza.

Meanwhile, Tobias walks Rachel home and they flirt/provide backstory.

"So hey are you into...BIIIIIIRDS?"

“So hey are you into…BIIIIIIRDS?”

Turns out Tobias lives with his aunt, but used to live with his (unrelated) uncle; he gets passed around a lot. Rachel mentions that she saw a hawk flying over her house that morning. Tobias is like “It totally wasn’t me and I totally didn’t watch you get changed through your bedroom window.” Then Tobias says, “Do you ever wish you could just…fly away?” and the sappiest piano music ever comes on. The two stare longingly back and forth and until Rachel says, “Sometimes.” Then Rachel’s little sister spoils the moment by taking a picture of them. Later, Rachel will strangle her with that necklace from the last episode.


At school, Marco runs into Chapman, who is a huge dick to him about his dropping grades. Chapman’s solution is that Marco should join The Sharing, which there is a banner for hanging in the hallway. Then Chapman tries to stomp on a lizard, probably because the Yeerk in his head thinks it might be an Andalite spy, but I like to think he just fucking hates lizards.

Then Chapman asks Marco why he still attends school at age 25

Then Chapman asks Marco why he still attends school at age 25

Marco meets Jake in the empty science lab where they hang out with a lizard that Jake didn’t earlier drop onto the floor and unleash into the populace to wreak havoc (Jake is the real monster here, isn’t he?). They make up, then overhear Chapman in the hall and start eavesdropping. For some reason, he and a twelve year-old Controller are discussing the fact that they are aliens in the middle of the hall during a school day. Chapman says that they believe surviving Andalites are hiding in the area, using teenage human morphs. Chapman says he’s gonna “Check the entrance to the pool.” Jake and Marco come up with a plan


Cut to the two morphed as lizards, because special effects are expensive. They run around the hall looking for Chapman, most of which is shown as first-person shots with a green filter over them. Jake says it’s super weird that he can’t see colors, but aren’t dogs also colorblind? I’m not going to look that up, though, so who knows. Chapman unlocks the janitor’s closet, where he meets with a surprising ally.

Just kidding, it's Tom

Just kidding, it’s Tom

Tom turns a handle on the sink, which causes a wall to move within the closet, revealing a cavernous staircase downward. Jake is flipping the fuck out. Chapman tells Tom, “Very impressive, but it’s been three days. Regeneration must begin at sundown.” Tom agrees, “We need the Kandrona nutrients.” He asks how many new hosts will be there tonight, and Chapman says they’ve gotten at least fifty from The Sharing, but he’s pissed that Jake isn’t among them. Tom says that Jake “has a very strong will,” but whatever, he could just shove a slug into Jake’s ear in the middle of the night and be done with it. Then Chapman notices the two lizards who are chilling on an eye-level shelf and watching them. He picks up Marco, who is unhappy about it.

"I hated GEX!"

“I hated GEX!”

To escape, Marco…detaches his tail from his body and falls to the floor. Can lizards do that? Maybe he could manage it by forcibly pulling away from the tail held by Chapman. Maybe. I don’t know enough about lizard science to prove things either way. They both escape and demorph inside of lockers. “Next time,” Marco quips, “we use a phonebooth.”

"Also, sorry your brother was assimilated, I guess."

“Also, sorry your brother was assimilated, I guess.”

That night, the assembled team walks toward Mission Fuck the Yeerk Pool in the Butt. Do Yeerks have butts? None of them have a boom box this time, so we’re good to go. Cassie tells Jake she’s sorry about Tom, and Jake swears they’re going to go on a roaring rampage of revenge and save him. The gang finds themselves at the zoo where Cassie’s mom works so they can acquire more capable morphs. One of my least-favorite changes about Marco in the show is that he keeps doing that George Lopez thing where he ends his sentences with Spanish words on a random basis. Also his haircut is stupid.


Cassie lets Jake into the Bengal Tiger cage. This whole scene, by the way, has a lot of comedic bits in it, like Jake and Marco arguing over who will climb over the fence only for Cassie to have the keys, or Cassie making animal noises to calm down the tiger and receiving WTF looks from everyone. This is pretty reminiscent of the books, where the kids exchanged a LOT of banter and jokes whenever they were on a mission. This is an element that gets lost in the TV show a lot, but it’s nicely displayed here. Jake acquires the tiger, who I am fucking in love with.

Look at this guy he's great

Look at this guy he’s great

On an unrelated note, Jake has an orgasm.

"Overalls..."

“Overalls…”

Rachel acquires a lion, and I guess that’s it? In the books, they each get their own iconic morph for battle; Jake a tiger, Rachel an elephant, Marco a gorilla, and Cassie a wolf (more on Tobias later); I guess when it comes to working with animals, you have to take what you can get. On the way to the school, Jake mentions that he’s started carrying the disk on him all times, lest Tom find it in his bedroom. Although in this particular situation it makes little sense, considering they KNOW Tom is gonna be at the Yeerk Pool. It also raises the question of how do the kids morph while wearing clothes and carrying items like the disk on their person (as they can’t do that in the book), but let’s just roll with that, too.


At the school, controllers walk in slow-motion toward the Pool entrance. The kids easily blend in because the Yeerks have no security in place.

“Is this the line for X-Men Auditions?” - Boris “Um no probably not. You should leave.” - Shawn Ashmore

“Is this the line for X-Men Auditions?” – Boris
“Um no probably not. You should leave.” – Shawn Ashmore

They head down into the Yeerk Pool, a huge cavern with a big sludge-pool in the center. Visser Three watches from high above, making sure life sucks for everyone, and the air is filled with human screams. The Visser gurgles something about going to hang out in his chambers because the show can’t afford to show him for more than two shots a week. Cassie gets separated from the group for no real reason.

18

While their Yeerks pop out of their heads for a recharging dip in the pool, hosts are kept behind these laser grids (though they don’t seem too bummed about it, as I guess the director forgot to direct them) and guarded by Hork-Bajir. One Hork-Bajir. One Hork-Bajir head wobbling around. They do show the Hork-Bajir in a full-body shot now and again (twice so far), and it looks so stupid that I really want to show you, but the shot is always too dark to really survive as a 500×300 screenshot. One day, guys. One day.

lol

lol

The kids…stand around. I guess they should’ve brought a boombox. Tom’s Yeerk goes for a swim and he freaks out the second he’s free, but is restrained. Some bald dude yells at the kids to get in line, but Tobias tells him they report directly to Visser Three. The dude totally buys it. What is wrong with these aliens?

Tobias intimidates the guard with his vast knowledge of Bird Law

Tobias intimidates the guard with his vast knowledge of Bird Law

Cassie ends up at the front of the drop-off-your-Yeerk line, and when she sits there not doing anything, the enemy finally gets suspicious. The others duck into a little nook and decide they need to distract the Yeerks, so Tobias melts into a bird.

He stops the world and melts with you

He stops the world and melts with you

Cassie fools them herself by picking up a rock, holding it next to ear, and dropping it into this pool. This works even though there are literally three men watching her do this. She puts on a big show of being “free” and something weird happens. The three men restrain her. Then Lion-Rachel shows up and throws one of the men into the pool. Cassie shoves a second man in…and the third man is just fucking gone. He vanished from the scene. Whatever.

Hey, there’s a Hork-Bajir!

"lol a bird" - hrk bjr

“lol a bird” – hrk bjr

Some bullshit happens. Lion-Rachel runs around the cave. The same shot of Visser Three from earlier says, “What’s going on here?”, even though he was supposed to be in “his chambers.” Marco, not morphed into anything, runs behind a Human-Controller and flips a switch. The guy cartoonishly turns around one second too late to see Marco and says, “HUH?”. Also, he’s the disappearing third man from Cassie’s scene! What the fuck!


The switch turns off the laser grid, freeing a bunch of people, who immediately trample a Hork-Bajir like Black Friday Shoppers. The same shot of Visser Three is all, “Fuck.” Rachel and Cassie head up the exit staircase during the chaos, but Jake, realizing he hasn’t done anything in this scene, morphs into the Tiger.

Life of Pi 2

Life of Pi 2

Tiger-Jake starts chasing someone…but the guy he’s chasing was already terrified and running for the exit, so it really seems like Jake is chasing a freed human back into the cave for no reason. Chapman yells at Disappearing Huh Guy, “Hey, there’s a fucking switch that closes the door everyone is escaping through, why don’t you hit it, why did we put you in charge of Switches?”. The guy does, but Cassie and Rachel are already out. A bunch of people get trapped below and dragged back into the cave, though, including Tom.


And then…what the fuck? Jake is human again! He literally did NOTHING as a tiger but chase one guy who may or may not have been a free human. Chapman chases Jake to the locked exit door, but he morphs a lizard off-screen and slithers out. Then Visser Three chokes out Chapman for being a failure.


Cut to Jake, Cassie, Rachel and Marco running down the street together. They just ran all the way from the school as humans? That wasn’t suspicious? They can turn into literally anything but themselves!

“Are you okay?” - Jake “I guess, but this climax was fucking stupid, compadre.” - Marco

“Are you okay?” – Jake
“I guess, but this climax was fucking stupid, compadre.” – Marco

Marco has another voice-over about how being an Animorph sucks, but seeing Jake’s brother and other Yeerk captives made him realize how lucky he was. Marco points to a nearby hawk and says, “Tobias. He did it again. If it wasn’t for him, I’d be roadkill.” I guess that must have happened off-screen, because all I saw Tobias do was fly past a Hork-Bajir. Then it turns out that it’s just a bird and Tobias isn’t there. These guys are always forgetting Tobias exists, Jesus. Rachel has a panic attack over the possibility of Tobias being left behind. Jake says he’s sure Ol’ Wolf made it out, but everyone is pretty unsure. The sad Tobias piano from earlier kicks in as they all start shouting his name into the dark, wondering where he could’ve gone. Then I go outside and shout this show’s name into the dark, wondering where the quality went.


Final Thoughts


This episode started off fine, but once they got to the Yeerk Pool, holy shit was everything stupid. Straying from the source material is one thing, but that climax couldn’t even keep its own continuity straight. Characters disappeared mid-scene, the Yeerks are absolutely brain-dead, and no one actually did anything. Let’s compare this to the source material.

In the book, the Animorphs head into the Yeerk pool to save Cassie, who has already been taken by the Yeerks. They save her by engaging in a bloody battle with all five of them in battle morphs. Despite this, they only manage to save a single civilian, and Tobias makes a heroic sacrifice and ends up left behind.

In the show, the Animorphs all bumble into the Yeerk Pool and Cassie wanders into the wrong line, but is able to fool our alien invaders with a rock. Tobias morphs into a hawk and flies around doing literally nothing. Rachel morphs into a lion and knocks one dude into the pool. Marco doesn’t morph at all, hits a switch to free everyone in sight, and a TON of people escape. Jake morphs for no reason, chases a dude who was so poorly directed as to completely ruin the scene’s intent, and then runs away. Then it takes everyone 10 minutes of escaping to realize they’ve been talking to a random bird instead of Tobias.


I was looking forward to this episode because it adapted book material and I remembered the climax being interesting and different from the usual Ani-TV fare. Instead, it was complete nonsensical bullshit. Also, Marco was the narrator, but then he didn’t even morph during the climax but still learned a stupid lesson about lucky he was. Fuck this.

Adaptation Rating: 2/5. Both of those points are for the first 15 minutes of the episode. This episode used the rest of Book 1: The Invasion for its plot; the stuff with Marco and his dad was loosely adapted from Book 5: The Predator, but so loosely that it doesn’t really matter. They did fine adapting Marco and Jake arguing about Tom and the lizard stuff, but that entire climax was a total disaster. I do want to point out, now that we’ve reached the end of Book #1, that even though Episode 2 really fucked with Tobias’s character, it was nice to see him get more screen-time than he does in the first book.

Special Effects: 1/5. This is going to be a common rating. They used the same stock footage of Visser 3 like three times, and we had already seen it before. The Yeerk pool looked bizarre. The Hork-Bajir always look ridiculous, but seeing one get trampled by a bunch of barely-interested escaping humans was hilarious.

Character Development: Tobias and Rachel keep making googly-eyes at each other. Tobias has a shitty home life. Jake realizes he has a personal stake in this fight against the Yeerks. Marco learns even though it’s shitty to be Marco, it’s even worse to be Tom.

’90s Bullshit: External CD drives. Computers from the ’80s. Shitty writing and directing.

Overall Rating: 2/5. The first half was fine, and it should be clear that the second was the worst this show has offered yet. I did like the actual ending shot of the kids despairing over Tobias, though. What happens to him in the books kind of gets glanced over because Book 1 moves so fast; it was nice to see some genuine reaction, and our first episode ending that isn’t just a Mission Accomplished.

Next Week: The episode that made me lose all faith in the show during my first watch-through.

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