After watching and evaluating the past couple of episodes, I can honestly say this really is my favorite of the trilogy episodes. Not because it's more well-known to me (I've seen it a few times more than I did the other two), but because one: the pacing and conflict were good (as well as there being an actual force behind that conflict--Damien was more-or-less in the background when it came to the conflict of the previous episode); two: time passes to allow Squirtle to get to know Ash a bit more—or to be more precise, he and Squirtle actually do interact together a bit more than he did the previous Pokémon. They actually have opinions toward each other, and that allowed for some choices/compromises to be made between them.
I like the beginning, in a way. Not a fan of the flashbacks to the previous two episodes (why would we forget those important landmarks?), but when we meet up with Ash, he's humming the Pokémon theme. I find that a bit funny, and a nice way to stealthily break the fourth wall. It's nice to note that yes, while Ash and the gang fall into yet another pitfall, Team Rocket didn't make this, instead it's the delinquent Squirtle who are wearing sunglasses because... they can. This is pretty much the first time we get to see rouge Pokémon, and basically the opposite of what happened with Charmander. Instead of waiting in vain for the trainer, they knew they were abandoned by their previous trainers, and have developed a resentment towards the townsfolk. Why target the townsfolk, it doesn't say, but they've become a bit of a problem. This indeed gives an interesting look into what happens with Pokémon whom were betrayed—and it won't be the last we see of this.
Here we see another Officer Jenny. Her main difference is a four-pointed star on her hat, (though also possibly a darker iris color, but with the quality of the videos I found, it's hard to tell), and she's the cousin to the Viridian and Cerulean Jennies—though one through marriage (hopefully, or we got some redneck undertones going on). She's a bit more down-to-earth, not as kooky as the other two were. We also get a sneak-peek into what the other Jennies are, though that'll be the only clue we get for this mystery for a while. We see this Jenny is the one saluting in the back, and the previous Jennies are in the front row which suggests that any Jenny we see from here-on out may be from that photograph. However... there are nine Jennies in the picture, and we see much more than that. So unless you're Brock, good luck trying to point them out in the future.
All right, fine, I'll quote James: “I want a doughnut TT^TT!” This is probably my favorite moment of Eric Stuart being James, though it seems he one-ups himself a lot, so this may or may not change.
(I have to question how it is they can afford to eat pizza often. Dang it, 4KIDS...) Ha, Team Rocket does the threatening. Well... it's true, they just haven't done that for a while. Though Meowth shines a bit more here when it comes to him being cunning, so it's possible he does have the brains of the trio. I really do wish Meowth was like this more, but he apparently stops being this cunning after a while. It's pretty sad. But until then, I'm gonna enjoy watching him kick James on loop.
Back to the plot, it moves on when Pikachu attempts to fight one of the Squirtle, only to get knocked into the water. He is then jabbed with a Horn Attack that was... rather brutal. See, it's easy to forget just how dangerous Pokémon were back in the day, I'm really sure that his injury was not pretty if it was any more realistic. This makes for an intense, dramatic moment when Ash begs to be released to get a Super Potion, and that brief moment where it looks as if Squirtle was contemplating believing him. Now without looking at Bulbapedia at the moment to check, I feel there was a scene cut during that fade-in between a weak Pikachu and Ash being untied. It's a bit of an awkward transition.
“The redheaded girl gets her hair dyed purple.” If I remember correctly, Meowth threatened death in the original, especially when I take into consideration the imagine spot of her falling in a pit (which was weirdly kept in the dub as it doesn't involve her being turned into a purple-haired girl). I don't know why they went ahead with the "dying hair purple" threat, but it technically does make for a weird gag where Misty appears to be slightly vain about herself, or at least one with poor taste—if I remember correctly. Also, the line is kinda humorous, especially when she yells at him. Adds to her character as a fiery redhead.
There's a bit of a nice callback to the Horn Attack, even though the symbolism is a bit lost on me... unless it was meant to be a gag? Strange gag, then... speaking of gags, Ash getting knocked out (for an entire night apparently) by Gary opening the door was great timing. One of my favorite comedic moments in the show.
So Team Rocket are now making threats at how many episo—HOLY CRAP GUNS, UNEDITED, WHAT IS THIS. Wait? They used “flash blasts” instead of "bombs"? Really? They let “gun” in, but not “bomb”? But still, it's about time we see Team Rocket do something Team Rocket-like instead of being butt monkeys, and that they nearly get away with it, too. I just find it coincidental that Squirtle falls on his back (since we don't see him trip or anything), though him carrying Ash to the cave was funny. He's got super-strength for a Tiny Turtle Pokémon.
Another of James' strange lines from the episode (as Pikachu falls out of his arms): “Come back here!” It's slightly quiet, but still loud enough to hear.
And at the end, the squad becomes the town's firefighters (making them easily forgiven after all they did, but who can blame them?), and Squirtle joins Ash's team while Misty complains about it. Not much has come full circle, but at least Ash and Squirtle get off to a better start to become one of Ash's more popular Pokémon with Charmander and Bulbasaur (and we get to see those snazzy sunglasses every now and then).
Is it any wonder this episode is rather memorable among the fanbase? Charmander's episode may only top it because of Damien, but this is stronger than Bulbasaur's episode for sure, and has earned its place as one of my favorite Kanto episodes. There's just something rather captivating about seeing five Squirtle running around causing trouble and wearing sunglasses. It's almost like the writers knew this was going to be popular.
So now that Ash has six Pokémon on him, are we ready for Ash to fight the next gym leader yet? Eh... not quite. We still need to meet a rather important character before then. The anime does take after the original source, after all.