They've had hundreds of episodes to practice being bad guys, but Team Rocket still has a pretty piss-poor track record. The few times they've ever succeeded were undone by chance or a change of heart (they stole a kid's Yanma, for instance, only for it to be returned later in the episode). When it comes to a one-on-one fight with their preteen arch nemesis Ash Ketchum, Jesse and James always find themselves blasting off again.
That all changed in the 12th episode of the newest season of the anime, set in the Alola Region of Pokemon Sun and Moon. As the show's resident stalkers, Team Rocket had followed Ash to the Hawaii-like locale to continue their quest to get that one specific Pikachu for reasons long forgotten by now. Naturally things aren't going so hot for the series antagonists, as they've been forced to live in the forest with the only Pokemon they've caught: A terrifying Mimikyu who happens to have a seething hatred for Pikachu.
After a call from Giovanni demanding that they get their shit together, Jesse and James go on the hunt for more Pokemon. Just when Team Rocket is doing something they should have been doing all along, Ash shows up with Rowlet and Pikachu as his only backup.
This is it! After approximately 954 attempts, not including 20 movies and TV specials, Team Rocket is finally going to win! Seriously though. They're actually going to beat Ash in a Pokemon battle. This is the anime equivalent of Half Life 3 coming out on the same day that Firefly comes back.
A large part of the credit belongs to Mareanie, a new Pokemon who joins the fray after taking a liking to James. Rowlet, say hello to Mareanie. Rowlet, say goodbye to Mareanie.
One down, one to go. Here's where Mareanie tags in Mimikyu.
Team Rocket didn't even plan for this. They were just out fishing for Pokemon, and their archrival just fell into their lap. Even luckier, they gained a strange ally at the outset of the battle. Just like that, both of Ash's Pokemon are out of commission. As you can imagine, the team has a lot of feelings about this.
A lot of fans aren't too hot on the new character designs for Pokemon Sun and Moon, but in moments like these it really lets the animators show a wide range of emotions. Look at the amazement on Jesse's face, the starstruck eyes of Meowth, the proud smiles of James and Wobbuffet. Everyone looks just right -- including the baffled Mareanie, who has no idea about the significance of this moment.
Go ahead, Team Rocket. Celebrate. You earned it.
So, what happens now? Jesse and James presumably have to fight Ash himself, who's wielding nothing but a pair of swimtrunks. After they slug him in the stomach or leave him there to drown at high tide, that Pikachu is theirs and the journey ends. End of series.
Of course, that can't happen. Ash might lose every single god damned Championship he's ever participated in, but he's never truly lost to Team Rocket because Pikachu will never, ever be stolen for good.
So what's the only way out here? Well, if you'd been watching the series up to this point, you might be wondering when an adorable and horrifying mass of pink and black fur was going to show up.
Like Team Rocket stalks Ash, Bewear has been consistently following Team Rocket throughout the season. It's this Pokemon that's actually responsible for their current living situation -- Bewear carries them off to a forest lair and takes care of them, like he's the trainer and they're the Pokemon.
In most cases, the giant mascot-like beast leaves them alone though, only showing up just in time to save the crew from danger by whisking them off into the sunset. Instead of "Team Rocket's blasting off again!!" it's "Team Rocket's being carried away in the tree-sized arms of a benevolent monster bear!!"
Why Bewear decided to show up to screw over his "friends" in their moment of triumph is unclear. Maybe he got a call from the producers? In any case, the fact remains that Team Rocket really did beat Ash in a fair fight (well, as fair as it's going to get). They may have gotten taken out of the episode for the sake of the series, but no one can take that victory away from them. Tristan Cooper can be found on Twitter.