From the very earliest days when Warner Bros revealed that ThunderCats would be returning, a lot was made of the fact that this retelling of the mythos would feature a number of arcing storylines and character development. The first few episodes established this very successfully, whilst subsequent offerings have deviated from this somewhat; true, they have focussed on arguably the series’ main theme, that of Lion-O’s development and learning, but other character elements and story arcs have only been hinted at.
All this changes with “Into The Astral Plane”, a potentially game-changing episode that ups each and every stake in the series. Almost from the word go, the episode reveals a connection between Cheetara and Tygra, creating a link between the pair that tears the audience’s loyalty in two, forging a legitimate love triangle that can only end in heartache for either Lion-O or his brother.
The flashbacks in this episode not only provide welcome backstory for Cheetara and Tygra but also hint at the prospects for so much more – why did Cheetara have no clan? Why is there so much rivalry between Tygra and Lion-O? How did Tygra become part of Lion-O’s family? By making a start at answering questions about some of the ThunderCats’ histories, this leads on to ever more intriguing questions, hinting at great depth and helping to forge a bond between the audience and the characters.
There are other superb aspects of character writing contained with this episode as well. One of these is contained within the flashbacks, as we discover the extent of Cheetara’s personal bond with Jaga; however, even here the potential is laid for much more discovery as part of future flashbacks.
Additionally to this, each ThunderCat gets their own little character moment, from the Thunderkittens to Panthro, whose antipathy towards Grune again becomes a driving factor in some of this episode’s fine action scenes. And what fine scenes they are – with the strong focus on character development and backstory, it would be easy to think that this episode could be quite light on action, and yet this is not the case, with one of the episode’s most arresting moments being Tygra’s daredevil piloting of the Thundertank, which saves the day against Grune’s forces. The fact that Tygra’s actions are so successful is a storytelling masterstroke, as it sets up further tension between Tygra and Lion-O.
Add to this the intriguing storyline concerning the quest for the stone of power, with a nice little nod to the classic series by introducing the concept of the Astral Plane (the Astral World was, of course, home to Jaga in the original series), and this all adds up to a finely constructed episode.
Each episode of ThunderCats has its own merits and values, but this episode stands above most others for taking the key concepts of this re-imagined series and breathing fresh, new life into them. “Into The Astral Plane” is one of the most valuable chapters to date in the story of the ThunderCats.