"There's No Place Like Springfield"
Written by Steve Gerber
I've talked a lot about what makes a great episode of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. A cursory glance over the last nine episodes indicates that writers who work creatively within their restrictions, focus on a strong character with fun voice acting and iconic imagery, and still hit all the basic story beats will deliver a winning story. You need look no further than my number one favorite episode, There's No Place Like Springfield.
This episode was written by the legendary Steve Gerber, a veteran of comics and cartoons alike, and is easily the most mature and intense episode of G.I. Joe ever produced. It stars one of the most popular Joes, Shipwreck, as he is tortured by Cobra to gain the secrets locked inside his head.
This two part episode starts with immediate action. Shipwreck and Lady Jaye sneak onto Cobra Island to rescue Professor Mulaney, a scientist that Cobra captured. The search doesn't last long, they instantaneously stumble upon the disheveled and eccentric professor. Mulaney reveals that he perfected a formula that would turn water into a volatile explosive. Naturally, he didn't want Cobra to have such a dangerous weapon and was trying to escape. Worried that he won't survive, Mulaney uses a device to implant the final ingredient to the formula deep into Shipwreck's subconscious. Upon hearing the secret code word, Shipwreck will recite the formula. Mulaney only has a chance to whisper the secret word to Lady Jaye before Cobra finds them and they are forced to retreat to their S.H.A.R.K. under the fire of Cobra Firebats.
Mulaney is lost in a barrage of explosions, Shipwreck and Lady Jaye are forced to leave, hoping to come back for Mulaney. The action continues as Jay and Shipwreck manage to fly the S.HA.R.K. back to the USS Flagg, but before they can safely land, they are shot down by a squadron of Cobra Rattlers. Gerber sneaks a clever joke into the middle of the drama, as Shipwreck finds himself drowning in the sinking S.H.A.R.K. he screams, "C'mon you hunk of substandard plastic, open up!" Before he can be rescued, Shipwreck blacks out.
When Shipwreck awakens, he finds himself in the Springfield Medical Center, his hair is grey and it has been six years since the battle at the USS Flagg. He receives another shock when his wife Mara, his unrequited love from the episode Memories of Mara, walks into the room with their daughter. Apparently Shipwreck fell off his room and got a nasty bump on his head because he doesn't remember any of this.
Mara takes Shipwreck home and he tries to regain his memory and readjust to his new strange life. He learns about how Cobra was defeated and the Joes disbanded. He receives love and support from his family, but everything is eerily uncomfortable. He keeps having black outs and nightmares about Cobra Commander screaming at him. He meets a lot of retired Joes, except for Lady Jaye, who died when the USS Flagg was sunk.
Slowly, Shipwreck begins losing his mind. He stumbles across Roadblock and tries to talk to him, but Roadblockjust starts rambling nonsense while his face melts. At this point, Shipwreck has a good old fashioned freak out and passes out. When he awakens he's in a jail cell. The first part of the episode ends with Shipwreck being confronted by his fellow Joes Scarlett, Flint, Torpedo, and Deep Six. They attack him, demanding Mulaney's secret. As his former friends repeatedly fight him, they also begin melting eventually forming a giant blob that completely swallows him.
Shipwreck wakes up in the park, convinced that he's lost his mind. He readmits himself to the hospital, where he hopes Doc can cure him of his insanity. As the episode progresses, we learn that the entire town is indeed a secret Cobra facility designed to drive Shipwreck mad. All the people, the Joes, and even Mara and his daughter, are synthoids (synthetic androids) programed to torture Shipwreck. In the hospital, Cobra inflict psychological torture programs on Shipwreck like something out of The Men Who Stare At Goats.
Shipwreck eventually grows wise to true nature of his surroundings when he sees that his hair has been dyed grey. His trusty parrot, Polly, shows up and kills the imposter bird. The real Polly helps Shipwreck realize the whole town is a ruse, he drugs his nurse and fights his way out of the hospital, eventually stumbling on a laboratory where Cobra is trying to recreate the formula. Somehow Polly knows the secret code word and recites it. With the final ingredient to the formula, Shipwreck whips up a batch of the formula and pours it down the drain. Unfortunately, the formula needs to be ignited by an explosion. Fortunately though, Cobra soldiers are both stupid and terrible shots. They open fire on Shipwreck, miss him, and hit the sink, causing the entire plumbing and sewer system of the town to blow up and catch fire.
Shipwreck makes his way back to his false home and finds Mara and his daughter, they try to kill him amongst the burning flames, but he is saved by his bird. Attracted by the explosions, the real Joes show up and take the remaining Cobra soldiers into custody. The episode ends with Shipwreck watching his dream life burn to the ground.
Wow, what an episode. Needless to say, the two parts are jam packed with content, too much for me to even repeat in detail. It's suspenseful, action packed, genuinely creepy, and more intelligent than the average cartoon at the time. There's an entire subplot about the synthoids fighting their programming and becoming sentient which I would have loved to see more of. This is what you hire professionals for. This episode alone, is what makes G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero stand head and shoulders above every other cartoon from it's time period. It truly was the best.