I don’t know how many of you are aware of this, but I fuckin’ love K.A. Applegate and Michael Grant’s Animorphs book series. I have since I was like six. They were my first YA lit and became a fixture of my life throughout elementary school, ending just before I went into the fifth grade. A few years into the series, I was excited to learn that Nickelodeon, my favorite TV channel at the time, would be adapting them as a TV series. And… it sucked. I think on some level I knew it would at the time, but I was just so excited for Animorphs that I put up with it. But looking back… it was not what Animorphs deserved. It had neither the budget nor the necessary tonal freedom to deliver on Animorphs’ greatest strengths– every bit as fantastically wondrous, every bit as viscerally gruesome, and every bit as psychologically torturous as a youth-oriented answer to Neon Genesis Evangelion. For a long time I’ve been thinking about what it would mean to give Animorphs the adaptation it deserves, but by its nature would probably never get. This month I finally made a move on realizing it, in the form of episode summary pitches for a thirteen-episode season, the first of a planned four. It takes some liberties but I was proud that I ultimately was able to include all of the first ten books in the franchise into its first season, and I’m excited to continue and let my adaptation venture further afield as I do the other seasons.
If you’re unfamiliar with Animorphs, a quick overview of the setting may be necessary. Animorphs takes place against the backdrop of a war between the Andalites, a strongly hierarchical warrior-race that resemble gracile, blue centaurs with no mouths, a second pair of eyes on prehensile stalks, seven fingers, telepathic communication (thought-speech), and a muscular tail ending in a sickle-like blade; and the Yeerks, a species of aquatic slugs that are, essentially, the Puppet Masters, and need to regularly absorb a type of radiation they call “Kandrona” to survive. The Yeerks control multiple species already, primarily the apelike and relatively ineffectual Gedds, the Hork-Bajir (a pacifistic and child-like race of 8-foot tall reptilian creatures with horny blades on their limbs they natively use for harvesting bark from trees to eat that the Yeerks use as shock troops), and the centipede-like Taxxons, who voluntarily submitted to the Yeerks in the vain hope that their mind control would suppress the uncontrollable hunger Taxxons live with every day of their lives. Among the Andalites’ technologies is a blue box known as the Escafil Device which gives the user the ability to collect samples of DNA from a living creature through touch (a process known as “acquiring”) and transform (morph) into a genetic copy of that sample, with the added ability of thought-speech, for approximately two hours at a time– any longer, and the transformation becomes irreversible. This technology is mainly used by the Andalites for espionage and performance art, but becomes the primary weapon of our main characters, who are tasked by a dying Andalite warrior with holding back the secret infiltration of Earth by the Yeerks.
Anyway, without further ado, season 1 of Animorphs: The Series.
Season 1 (13 episodes)
Episode 1: The Invasion
After an ordinary, but frustrating day leading to a late night of partying, Jake, a young teenager in suburban Virginia, takes his friends Rachel, Tobias, Cassie, and Marco on a shortcut through an abandoned construction site and encounter the dying Andalite war-prince Elfangor, who has fled the crash of a ship. Elfangor telepathically warns them about the invasion of parasitic aliens known as Yeerks and begs them to conduct a guerrilla campaign against the Yeerks until the Andalite fleet can relieve them, instructing them to find and use the Escafil device in a piece of his ship that landed nearby. Cassie and Tobias attempt to help him, but Elfangor announces the Yeerks are coming and forces them to leave. Visser Three, an Andalite-controller and the leader of the Yeerk force invading Earth, attempts to interrogate Elfangor, and transforms into a monster to devour him alive when Elfangor refuses to reveal the location of the device.
The kids split up, barely escaping. During the pursuit Rachel sees Mr. Chapman, the principal of their shared school, Cassie is recognized by a cop controller, and Tobias manages to retrieve the device, narrowly escaping. Tobias returns to the home of his abusive aunt and uncle, and using the device, gains morphing powers, acquiring a working knowledge of how they operate, as well as the form of his cat, Dude.
The next morning, a Saturday, Tobias visits the others in turn, persuading them (with Jake’s help) that what they experienced was real and that they have a duty to fight. When they come to Cassie’s home, a farm on the edge of the forest where she lives with her mother, a zoo veterinarian, and her father, the operator of a wildlife rescue clinic based out of their barn, however, she is nowhere to be found– the controller who recognized her has concocted an excuse to bring her in and have her captured. The group concoct a plan to break into the barn, acquire several animals, and rescue Cassie by tracking Chapman to the Yeerk pool, a miles-wide underground complex located beneath their town. Cassie is initially being held with a group of willing collaborator humans and has the opportunity to learn more about them– it is clear that she will be enslaved either way but is being given a chance to come willingly. The others manage to track her down and free her, but Visser Three’s reappearance forces them to scatter and flee. The next morning Tobias comes to Rachel’s house in the form of a red-tailed hawk, the same as he used during the mission, and reveals that the morphing power has one limitation he had not realized– remaining in a form other than one’s own for more than two hours takes away one’s ability to demorph or to regain the morphing ability. He is trapped as a hawk.
Episode 2: The Sharing
Marco points out that the four of them that still have the ability to morph are going to need stronger, battle-capable morphs. Cassie arranges for them to visit her mother, the zookeeper at a local zoo and theme park called Gardens, and Jake, Rachel, and Marco split up and overstay their welcome in fly morph, then each sneak into an animal exhibit and acquire an animal from it. Jake acquires a tiger, Marco a gorilla, and Rachel, enjoying the rush, manages to get both an elephant and a grizzly bear. We follow Marco home afterwards and get a glimpse of his home life: his mother died three years ago and his father has struggled with depression and been unable to find steady work, Marco is something of an independent latchkey kid. Tom invites Jake and Marco to The Sharing, a sort of social-network-meets-Multi-Level-Marketing-scheme-meets-support-group-meets-activity-group he’s been spending a lot of time at. During the meeting Marco and several other established members break away, and Jake realizes to his horror that Tom is a Controller. Later, Jake and Marco buy a burner phone, and Jake, partially morphed to disguise his voice, calls Tom and vows that he will be free.
Episode 3: The Visitor
Rachel’s friend and neighbor Melissa Chapman has become distant lately. As her father is one of their few leads on the Yeerks, Jake asks Rachel to reconnect with her and make plans to visit her home, where the others will ride along in insect form and spy on him. Unfortunately Melissa snaps at Rachel, foiling the original plan, but Rachel is able to acquire Melissa’s cat Fluffer not long after when it escapes the house. As Fluffer, Rachel enters the Chapman house and comforts Melissa, who recognizes that something is not right with her parents, but doesn’t understand what, and fears they don’t love her anymore. Once Melissa falls asleep, Rachel manages to sneak away, re-morph, and explore the house, finding Chapman using a viewscreen to communicate with Visser Three. Upon noticing the animal, Visser Three orders him to take it in for destruction, suspecting it could be an Andalite in disguise, and to prepare Melissa for infestation. Chapman’s Yeerk struggles and ultimately fails to maintain control of him, the real Chapman reminds Visser Three that he became a collaborator on the terms that his daughter was not to be infested and that his position of influence mean that if he were to make things hard for his Yeerk he could compromise the invasion in front of a number of very influential people whose children attend his school. Visser Three grudgingly relents, but orders Chapman to have his daughter give up her pet. Melissa reconciles with Rachel, who relates her own abandonment by her father following her parents’ divorce and assures her that Chapman still loves her, and asks her to take care of Fluffer.
Episode 4: The Encounter
We see a little more of Cassie’s home life– she has a stable, two-parent family, but both of her folks are quite busy with their veterinary work and are relieved she’s old enough for some independence. Meanwhile, Tobias is struggling with life as a hawk. He’s been living off table scraps left out by Rachel for the last two weeks but has been struggling to find a place he can comfortably sleep, is constantly lonely, and has little means of keeping himself entertained. Eventually he discovers a moving shimmer in the air that his UV-sensitive bird vision can pick up, followed by a flock of geese that are killed when they inadvertently fly into it. Tobias suspects that the Yeerks have some kind of cloaking device and are regularly sending a ship down for purposes of which he is unsure, and convinces the other Animorphs to help him investigate, acquiring a wounded wolf from Cassie’s dad’s wildlife clinic and following its last known trajectory.
They find it is a collector ship that is gathering water and air from a lake in the hills to supply Yeerk vessels in the solar system, but are scattered by Hork-Bajir guarding the lake. Tobias gets lost in the dark and ends up letting his hawk instincts take over, causing him to kill and eat a rabbit. Distressed and despondent, he passes up Rachel’s house the next day and instead flies out to the highway near Cassie’s home and lies in the road, waiting to be run over. Rachel senses something is wrong and begins searching for him with Cassie’s help. They find him in time and reassure him that he can find a balance between life as a hawk and his inner life as a person, and Cassie offers to let him stay at the wildlife clinic where he can at least have a roof, food that’s already dead, and her to talk to. Tobias tries to tell the girls something more, but falters and gladly accepts the offer.
Episode 5: The Message
Tobias is having strange recurring dreams of a dome full of trees in the ocean and a call for help. Soon Cassie does as well. upon seeing an image of a strange piece of metal debris that washed up on a nearby beach, Tobias recognizes it as being of Andalite make, and passes out, receiving another vision in which he clearly sees a young Andalite in the dome.
Reasoning that Visser Three could be intercepting the message, the Animorphs acquire a beached whale and race against time to find him before the Yeerks can. The Andalite is only a young cadet, at about the same age and maturity level as them, and introduces themself as Aximili, Elfangor’s brother. They plan to take Ax to shore, but just as they leave, the dome (part of an Andalite battleship that was evacuated) is destroyed by a Yeerk submarine, from which Visser Three deploys as a large aquatic alien predator. The Animorphs prepare a last stand, but their instinctive cries of distress summon another whale, which distracts the Visser and enables them to escape. Once ashore, Ax acquires each of the still-human Animorphs in turn and assumes an androgynous, racially-ambiguous form extrapolated from all of their genetic material, which causes Tobias to express excited surprise. Ax agrees to join the fight at least until such time as his people return, and they hide him in the woods a few miles inland from Cassie’s home.
Episode 6: The Warning
After discovering a video online appearing to show an Andalite, the Animorphs hatch a plan to travel to the city that its host’s servers are located in and destroy them before the Yeerks can investigate. In the process, they uncover evidence that the video was secretly uploaded by founder of the website, a wealthy tech-bro named Joseph Fenester, and decide to investigate him while they’re in the area. They discover that Fenester is a controller infested by no less than Visser Three’s twin sibling, Esplin 9466 lesser, that Visser Three hates his sibling and ordered his execution by Kandrona starvation, that he’s been staving off death by kidnapping controllers using the video as bait, killing them, and eating the Yeerks inside for their Kandrona, and that by making himself too high-profile to assassinate his host, he has managed to stay alive. He admits to them that the Andalite is real and makes a deal to tell the Animorphs where to find them in exchange for being left alone.
Episode 7: The Others
Further investigation leads the group to the Andalite, Gafinilan, a survivor of Ax and Elfangor’s mission who suffers from a wasting illness known as Soola’s Disease, and their mate Mertil, who has lost a leg and cannot restore it by morphing due to an allergy. Ax is uncomfortable about them, having been raised in a warrior society that is highly ableist, but when Marco confronts them about it, defends themself on the grounds that from what Andalites have observed of human society, it is still full of similar prejudices. Gafinilan takes the group prisoner, revealing that they had made a deal with Visser Three– their disabilities make them undesirable as hosts, but by letting themselves be used as Yeerk bait by Fenester, they would also bait the “Andalite bandits” in exchange for being left alone. Mertil rebukes Gafinilan and convinces him to bail on the deal. Ax, though still uncomfortable, offers to return if the couple ever require the company of another Andalite or need help. After returning home the group discover a news article that says Fenester is dead of an apparent suicide and ruminate on whether it is true or their actions created an opportunity for Visser Three to get to him.
Episode 8: The Capture
The Animorphs infiltrate a sharing meeting and learn that the Yeerks are using a plastic surgery clinic in DC to infest patients and that a highly ranked politician (or spouse thereof?) is scheduled there. They plan an attack, including calling in a bomb threat from a burner phone before entering and attacking. However the Yeerks, sensing something was up, have a cadre of controllers on watch and a fight breaks out. In the confusion of the battle Jake falls into the Yeerk pool and is, unbeknownst to the others, infested by a Yeerk that formerly controlled Tom. The Yeerk controlling Jake is exposed after they escape from the battle when it reacts with hostility to being touched by Ax. While the group struggles to keep Jake confined, culminating in a fight between him in falcon form and Cassie as an owl, he is tormented by the Yeerk as it slowly goes insane and starves to death. As it dies he has a vision of a great flaming Sauron-like eye.
Episode 9: The Secret
Cassie and her father discover a badly burned mother skunk that Cassie recognizes as being shot by a dracon beam. Meanwhile Ax, who has set up a pirate satellite receiver in his shelter, learns of a Yeerk-controlled logging company applying to begin operations nearby that will be up to a committee vote, and that the Yeerks are planning to use an inspection of their logging facilities to infest the deciding vote on that committee. Cassie and Tobias seek out the skunk’s kits and recruit the Animorphs to take turns in watching over them until she recovers, leading to Visser 3 getting sprayed and the Animorphs agreeing to exchange information for how to get the smell out in exchange for the committee member being left alone and the logging operations ceasing before they can be brought to the attention of the media.
Episode 10: The Android
Marco witnesses a significantly younger kid named Erek King walk it off after being hit by a car. Upon investigating, they learn that Erek is not what he appears to be, but is in fact an android that has lived on Earth for millennia, disguising himself holographically, and who have been fomenting resistance among the Yeerks. The Animorphs propose an alliance with the Chee, but Erek warns them that among the Chee, programmed to be pacifistic, opinions are divided on the subject of the “Andalite bandits.” While the Chee as a whole decide not to officially throw their lot in with the Animorphs, they do order Erek to join the Sharing and pose as a controller, and he secretly arranges to share information with the Animorphs. (Pemalite crystal stuff later)
Episode 11: The Stranger
Rachel discovers a new Yeerk pool entrance hidden in the dressing room of a Forever 21. The Animorphs descend into the Yeerk pool for the second time with the intent of sabotaging their primary Kandrona generator as cockroaches, but are smelled and eaten by a Taxxon on their way down. Just as all seems lost, time suddenly stops and they are rescued by a being calling itself the Ellimist, who claims that he is sworn to a higher power not to intervene in the conflicts of lesser beings, but is allowed to rescue species on the verge of extinction by preserving a few thousand of them. To persuade them, the Ellimist shows them a vision of the future if the Yeerks succeed– the Animorphs are dead apart from Ax, who has become the host to a Yeerk Visser, and Rachel, whose host forced her to roast and eat Tobias. The city above has been leveled and replaced with a massive Yeerk pool, except for a single building, which has become a spire capped with a large spherical object Ax recognizes as a massive Kandrona generator. The next day the Animorphs manage to use their cockroach morphs again to infiltrate the building and destroy the Kandrona by overloading a Yeerk dracon beam pistol, which the media reports as a terror attack. When the Ellimist reappears, he subtly indicates to them that he bent the rules by giving them an opportunity to learn the Kandrona’s location.
Episode 12: The Alien
Ax has a flashback to the day of the battle over Earth. Following the “terrorist attack” the Animorphs are laying low and watching for any sign that the Yeerks are struggling and people are beginning to free themselves. They recognize a rash of police shootings related to the starving Yeerks. After one of their teachers is killed by Chapman, Jake and Cassie are incensed with Ax, who didn’t tell them the Yeerks would murder their own, host and all, to cover up their existence. In an attempt to make up for this, Ax recruits Marco to help them steal a bug fighter to attack the Yeerks’ pool ship, a mothership from which the invasion is coordinated.
Meanwhile Visser Three is demoted and re-assigned to the Leeran campaigns. He is relieved by Visser One, who sharp-eyed viewers will recognize as Eva, Marco’s supposedly-deceased mother.
Episode 13: The Predator
Ax, Marco, and Rachel steal a component from Chapman’s personal communication device as part of their plan to steal a Yeerk ship. First, however, he contacts the Andalite homeworld, where he takes the rap for breaking Andalite law by sharing technology with a primitive race, and as penance is ordered to avenge his brother by killing Visser Three. The Visser is wise to the plan, however, and sets a trap for the Animorphs, capturing them and planning to execute them as a last-minute plan to get back in the Council of 13’s good graces. Visser One’s transport arrives at the pool ship first, however, and her Hork-Bajir surreptitiously release them to further disgrace Visser Three, with whom she has a long-standing rivalry, and offers to give them an opportunity to kill Visser Three. While Visser One cloaks her ship and orders Visser Three to stay another few days, Ax goes alone to set an ambush at his preferred feeding ground on Earth in the form of a rattlesnake. With his host body poisoned and sensing death the Visser escapes from his host and hides in the river. The host, Alloran, begs Ax to demorph and finish him, but Ax can’t bring themself to do it. Alloran, a former Andalite war hero, instead orders Ax to flee before he can be caught by the Visser’s guards, who are arriving on the scene. After, the Animorphs have a heart-to-heart, but Marco makes Jake, the only one who knew Eva before her disappearance, swear to secrecy. (Season Finale)
Summer hiatus webseries: The Andalite Chronicles, presented as six ten-minute episodes
Twenty-three Earth years before the present, Elfangor and another young Andalite, Arbron, are cadets being trained by war-prince Alloran. They participate in the rescue of a pair of humans, Hedrick and Loren, abducted by unscrupulous Skrit Na merchants and are prepared to return them to earth when they discover intel that the humans were being taken by the Skrit Na to a yeerk base on the Taxxon homeworld. As their ship is the closest to the Taxxon front, they are assigned to keep the humans locked down, infiltrate, and gather intel for a counteroffensive. The mission is a disaster: they are found out almost immediately, Arbron becomes trapped as a Taxxon, Hedrick is killed, and Alloran is infested by a Yeerk, then Sub-Visser Seven.
Traumatized by the experience, Elfangor, upon returning Loren to Earth, acquires a human boy, allows himself to remain human, and remains on Earth, eventually marrying Loren and fathers a child with her. Before the child’s birth he is visited by none other than the Ellimist, who persuades him both he and his daughter have an important role to play in events, restores his Andalite form and ability to morph, and splices the timeline so that the child will still exist but Elfangor will become a great leader of the fight against the Yeerks. We then see Elfangor’s last moments from his perspective, he recognizes one of the Animorphs as his child and expresses hope for the future.