Japanese Title: Electric Shock Showdown! Kuchiba Gym
Original Airdate: July 1, 1997
US Airdate: September 25, 1998
Ash and friends have finally made to Vermillion City, but they soon discover that the Vermillion Gym Leader is the brutal Lt. Surge, who is notorious for having a record of trainers running to the hospital with their injured Pokémon. After being mocked by Surge for being a weak baby, Pikachu decides battle Surge's main Pokémon, Raichu, its evolved form. The match ends badly as Pikachu is badly crushed by its larger opponent (both figuratively and literally), and is taken the Pokémon Center for recovery.
After losing to Surge and hearing his harsh advice of evolving Pokémon as soon you can, Ash contemplates evolving Pikachu using a Thunderstone. What will he decide? Will he earn his Thunder Badge after all?
This episode contains examples of the following tropes:
- Adapted Out: In the games, Surge had a Voltorb and a Pikachu of his own. They are absent here so the episode can focus on Pikachu's rivarly with Raichu.
- Bowdlerise: After Ash points out Raichu's weakness, Surge simply growls and shouts, "OK Raichu!" In the original Japanese version, he actually says, "Goddamn!" It's obvious to see why it was changed.
- Competitive Balance: Of the weight vs. mobility kind. Raichu is strong but slow, Pikachu is weaker but much faster and has much more stamina.
- David vs. Goliath: Pikachu vs Raichu. Raichu is explicitly the evolved, and therefore more powerful version of a Pikachu, as well as being notably larger.
- Determinator: Despite being badly injured, Pikachu refuses to forfeit his first battle against Raichu.
- Did Not Do the Bloody Research: Lt. Surge curses in English in the Japanese version. If's simply an American stereotype and doesn't sound too offensive to Japanese ears, but to English speakers it's unusual to hear such an intense curse on a kodomo show.
- Disapproving Look: When Ash and Misty get into an argument in the hospital, the trainers who got beat by Lt. Surge give them this look.
- The Dreaded: The first mention of Lt. Surge's toughness involves a bunch of trainers running their injured Pokémon to the Pokémon Center. Pikachu, witnessing this, panics at the idea of going to the Vermillion Gym, to the point of shocking Ash.
- Eagle Land: Surge comes across as a solid Type II, before proving himself a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- Ash, Misty, and Brock easily see through Team Rocket's disguises, a far cry from subsequent episodes where they fail to recognize them every time. Justified in that Jessie and James start reciting the motto when they first meet up before being slapped by Meowth.
- In a bit of Values Dissonance, Ash at one point gets so fed up with Misty's teasing remarks and putdowns that he's visibly about to punch her in the face (Nurse Joy stops him). You can't really blame him, but this sort of thing would not go over well in modern day episodes.
- End-of-Episode Silliness: The episode ends with Team Rocket congratulating themselves for cheering on Pikachu to defeat Raichu, only to realize that they missed a perfect opportunity to steal him.
- Enemy Mine: Team Rocket wants to see Pikachu win because they want to continue believing he is something special (and that they have not been wasting their time trying to take him). To this end they show up to cheer Ash on in his second fight with Lt. Surge.
- Flat "What": Lt. Surge gives a hilarious one when he sees that Pikachu used his tail to dodge Raichu's Thunderbolt.
- Foreign Cuss Word: In the Japanese Version, Lt. Surge swears in English.
- Friendly Enemy: The first display of Team Rocket's on-off respect and sympathy for Pikachu. The heroes don't spurn it, but are left rather bewildered by the whole thing.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Lt. Surge greets Misty with a hug and exclaims, "My next challenger's a cute one!" Despite being arguably as creepy as Moe in "Beauty and the Beach," this scene was left in the English dub.
- Graceful Loser: Lt. Surge, surprisingly. Despite his bullying attitude towards Ash and being completely shocked by Raichu's defeat, Surge takes Ash's victory quite well and even applauded him for a job well done. Even his Raichu congratulates Pikachu's hard earned victory.
- Gratuitous English: Originally, some of Surge's dialogue is in English as he is called the Lightning American.
- Ash gets into it at the beginning, saying "Let's go!" in English as he prepares to rush right to the gym before noticing Pikachu was exhausted from their travels.
- Harmless Electrocution: Pikachu shocks Ash a few times in this episode. The prominent example is their victory hug, which causes both Ash and Pikachu to see stars.
- Hurricane of Puns: Team Rocket's commentary on Pikachu using his tail to avoid damage of Raichu's Thunderbolt:Jessie: What a shocking story.
James: That was quite... a tail.
Meowth: Me-owth! And now, you've both been...pun-ished.
- Ironic Echo: After Pikachu's recovery, Ash declares their lucky star is shining today, even though Pikachu and Misty do not see it. After beating Surge, Ash and Pikachu give each other an electrical hug, which actually causes them to see their lucky stars.
- Large and in Charge: Lt. Surge makes the heroes look positively tiny by comparison◊.
- Lost in Translation: Jessie and James's Hurricane of Puns in the original had a pun relating to ground and Koffing that was lost due to the Japanese wordplay. Jessie says that Pikachu uses its tail on the ground (aasu), to which James holds Koffing replying Dogaasu Explanation , and then Meowth hits them both on the head, scolding them for not taking him seriously before capping off the sentence with a Nyaasu.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Lt. Surge's signature battle method as evident by the hospital scenes.
- After showing off Raichu's power and toying with Pikachu's attempts to hurt it, Surge declares that playtime's over and orders Raichu to use normal attacks, Mega Punch and Mega Kick, on Pikachu before finishing him off with the grand finale, Thunderbolt.
- In the rematch, Surge did not waste anytime having his Raichu whipping Pikachu with its tail several times and then performing two body slams on to Pikachu. However, on the second Body Slam, Pikachu evades it at the last moment and then proceeds to turn the tide of the battle.
- No-Sell: Pikachu's Thunderbolt doesn't phase Lt. Surge's Raichu, who, in turn, delivers a powerful thunderbolt that nearly incapacitates Pikachu.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: One of the first that Team Rocket use, and one of the few that the protagonists see through. Ironically, it's nowhere near as thin as some they use later, though saying the first line of their motto doesn't help them.
- Pig Latin: Just as Jessie and James said the first line of their motto, Meowth interrupts them by shouting "IXNAY!" and smacking them with a paper fan.Jessie and James: We forgot!
- Power Walk: The twerps and Pikachu pull one off before the second battle with Lt. Surge.
- Powerup Letdown: Lt. Surge's philosophy of evolving your Pokémon as quickly as possible comes to bite him in the ass during the rematch. Raichu, although much stronger than Pikachu, didn't have the chance of learning the speed moves it could only get in its Pikachu stage. This makes Raichu unable to land a hit on the now-evasive Pikachu, whether it is Body Slam or Thunderbolt. Eventually, Raichu exhausts itself and becomes vulnerable to Pikachu's speed attacks.
- Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: In the rematch, Raichu eventually becomes unable to use Thunderbolt in what could best be described as an equivalent to running out of Power Points (PP) in the games.
- Serious Business: Pikachu gives a speech in which, according to Meowth, he says he'll battle Raichu once again in the name of all Pikachu, which moves Meowth and James to tears.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: In the Japanese version, Lt. Surge frequently says "GODDAMN!", following the common Japanese stereotype that Americans curse frequently.
- Trademark Favorite Food: This episode establishes that apples are one of Pikachu's favorite treats.
- Unskilled, but Strong: Raichu blows Pikachu out of the water with his larger size and stronger electrical attacks. Eventually Pikachu beats it with strategy and superior speed.
- Villainous Breakdown: Lt. Surge suffers one when Pikachu starts outmaneuvering Raichu. After Ash calls out his weakness, Surge loses his cool and orders Raichu to unleash a huge Thunderbolt to stop Pikachu in its track, so powerful that it destroyed all the gym's windows. However, Pikachu manages to evade it using his tail and Raichu ends up using up all of its electric power, leaving Surge utterly stunned as Pikachu proceeds to knock out Raichu. Surprisingly, he takes it well after the battle, and gives the Thunder Badge to Ash as a sign of his respect.
- Wake-Up Call Boss: Whether Ash rightfully earned his first two badges or not, there's no denying that Lt. Surge is the first Gym Leader that Ash has to defeat in a clean cut battle, no sprinklers or Team Rocket interruption whatsoever.
- Weak, but Skilled: Pikachu is weaker than his evolved form Raichu, but Brock notes that Pikachu can learn speed moves while Raichu can't if it evolves too quickly. Pikachu wins by exploiting this. This is true in the video games as well. While Raichu has superior stats compare to Pikachu, it cannot learn any moves naturally once it evolves, including Agility, the move that allows Pikachu to increase its speed stat. This experience may also be what inspired Ash to center his battle style in general on speed and maneuverability.
- Worthy Opponent: Surge comes to see Ash as this.