Just getting this quote from Nurse Joy out of the way (since it made me laugh): “I think I'm the prettiest one.” Well, at least she has a bit of a personality we hadn't seen from Pewter City's Joy. The fact Brock agreed makes it all the more hilarious.
It's been a while since we last had a buddy episode between Ash and Pikachu. Those are honestly some of the better episodes because that's what Pokémon is all about: the bond between trainer (or more specifically humans) and Pokémon. Even with the later (rather negative) reputation Ash and Pikachu will eventually develop as individuals, when they're together, they complete each other. These buddy episodes have the heart of Pokémon that they carried from the very first episode, and it's sadly easy to forget due to these episodes being so far and in-between at times. But when they shine, they really do shine.
This is probably why the Lt. Surge battle is my favorite of all of the Kanto episodes—and maybe ever. I remember sitting there in front of the television when it first aired cheering on for Ash and Pikachu because I wanted them to work together and win. And when they did, it left a warm and fuzzy feeling (though it must've been from the static of the television).
There really isn't much to point out that takes away from the spirit of the episode. It's similar to the first episode in terms of pacing and character development, particularly when it comes to Ash and Pikachu. The strongest moment of the episode is when Ash allows Pikachu to decide if he wants to evolve or not, and is one of my most well-remembered moments in the show. While it's nothing new now, at the time, Pikachu's refusal was shocking (*rimshot*), and really powerful. Who would've guessed that Pokémon could decide to evolve or not when it comes to individuality? Then again, we were probably dumb kids who didn't realize that Pokémon have the willpower to make their own decisions outside of choosing to become a trainer's Pokémon. Or was that just me? Anyway, the next one to do this is probably Bulbasaur later on, but we never see Squirtle evolve either, so he must have the same mindset (despite never seeing him make that decision, as far as I remember).
Lt. Surge only showed up in two scenes, and yet he's one of the most memorable characters in the show because he does stand out. He's a tall, deep-voiced man who is a bit of a bully (though I totally forgot he hit on Misty for that brief moment, wow), putting down his challengers when they walk right in. Whether he really intends to or not is probably up for interpretation especially since he's a gym leader, but it shows how prideful he is in himself. He's convinced his Raichu is powerful and can take down anything. And you know how they say Pokémon take after their trainers? It's obvious Raichu takes after Surge a lot, from the pantomiming to his attitude. He is just as puffed up about himself as Surge, and it creates an odd contrast to the bond between Ash and Pikachu.
(By the way, I have to point out that when Ash was putting Raichu's data into the PokéDex, it said that a Raichu's electric attacks can make a Dragonite unconscious. And how “convenient” that he sees a Dragonite the previous episode—yet didn't know what it was. Hmm... contradicting yourself already, Pokémon? For shame, you're a few seasons too early.)
The battle is rather brutal, Lt. Surge really showed no mercy—again, probably because of his pride. The first time Ash battles him, Pikachu was hit by what should've been a one-hit KO, and yet stood back up. Wow. He and Ash came a long way if that's anything to go by. They've probably been together about three months by this point (they were lost for two weeks if the opening narration's anything to go by), and already Pikachu wants to prove to his trainer he is strong. In Pokémon-Amie terms: Pikachu's love for Ash was so strong, he held on just for him.
And tears were shed. (Figuratively, even though my eyes are unusually wet this time around...)
After being a bit useless for a bit and just now got back into their villainy, Team Rocket was great in this episode. This is the first episode we see where Team Rocket shows that they are good people deep down inside, a characteristic that will continue to be alluded to before it comes to a head (in a way) in Pokémon 2000 some ways away. Them cheering on Pikachu was a funny moment in just how dumbfounded Ash and the others looked on seeing three figures they pretty much recognize as their enemies (and will probably be the only time they recognize them in disguise). Brock's line sums it up for one way, “That was really disturbing,” and Misty's is another, “Thanks for your support!”
Also, James' breaking of the fourth wall at the end is the revelation that a comedic trio of villains screwed up. A great way to wrap up the episode by getting the final say.
So now that Ash got his badge the right way, it's going to be a little bit before we reach the next gym battle (which is more brutal than Lt. Surge's). It's time to sit back and just... cruise on through.