January 11, 2012

Shadowcon Reviews- Predatory

            Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 1, episode 12: “Predatory”

            It’s safe to say that Arcee is the most developed character out of the entire cast. Her complex character, the development of an actual story arc, and a good chemistry with the Autobots and humans alike, makes Arcee worth watching. When done right, she comes across as a wounded soldier, one who’s able to assess the situation and take immediate action, while also letting her emotions get the better of her. Three main episodes deal with these aspects creating a loosely connected arc, and we’ll be looking at each of them over the course of the next month or so. This episode “Predatory” is the first of the three, and probably the weakest. This is in part due to the introduction of the main nemesis of Arcee, the uncharacteristic incompetence of Jack, and the overuse of flashback. That may sound a bit odd, so let’s dive in and see why things are the way they are.

            The episode begins showing us an object, heading about the galaxy, past some planets, and eventually heading on a crash-course to Earth. The object is revealed to be a ship, and Jack and Arcee are sent to investigate (though they’re under the impression that this is just a routine recon, as evidenced by Jack being there… at all). Jack complains about the mosquitos that keep on buzzing about, though he does say that while he may have to deal with mosquitos, he packed his trusty survival kit… that being a pocket knife and a lighter. Right, that’ll keep you safe when you have a twelve-foot tall robot hangin’ around you.

            Arcee picks up unusual Energon readings, finding the path of the damaged ship. Arcee tells Jack that he should stay behind her, “low and close”, and then promptly paces herself at a brisk walk! Now, I don’t really mind if a Transformer with a motorcycle vehicle mode is about the same size as a Transformer with a regular-sized car mode; scale is rarely consistent within the fiction anyway, so I don’t really mind if a wheel is as tall as a human. But when Jack has to run to keep up with Arcee’s walk, then it get’s a annoying. Well, the two find the ship. Arcee doesn’t know if it’s an Autobot or a Decepticon ship, and post-teaser, she decides to go check it out, telling Jack to stay behind. That’s your theme for the episode, by the way.

            Arcee’s freaked out about the ship, though for now it isn’t clear why. This prompts the first of several gratuitous flashbacks. The first one doesn’t show us much; but it does give us a close-up of the villain’s face, which completely detracts from the anticipation. Here’s a tip: you build suspense by keeping your subjects within shadow or in ominous conditions, not by showing us their faces! Anyway, Arcee figures out who the ship belongs to, and Jack’s right beside her, despite being told to wait so as to be far enough from the danger of the ship. Guess he’s channeling Miko this episode.

            Arcee tries calling for a GroundBridge, but the COM system’s jammed because of the ship.

            “The ship’s gotta be transmitting a high-frequency scrambler pulse.”

            What? The ship crashed. We later find that it’s leaking Energon. How the hell does it have the power to scramble a radio transmission? Again, Arcee tells Jack to wait, though this time he’s by the ship… which is dangerous. Arcee heads off, finds some tracks which prompts another flashback (this one’s a little more effective at being mysterious), and then Arcee is snapped back to the present by Jack, who still didn’t listen to her! Dude, if a twelve-foot tall robot is obviously freaked out, or at the very least, concerned for your safety, I’d listen to them.

            Arcee transforms, letting Jack get on, and then promptly speeds off. Jack’s scared shitless, but she doesn’t slow down until they’re separated from the ship by a trench (presumably caused by the ship’s crash-landing, though the woods in this episode are so full of plot conveniences that I question that actuality). Jack’s now really confused, demanding to know what’s going on.

            “First you shut me out, now you’re ditching me? I thought I was your partner.”

            “No Jack. You’re a kid. You’re only here because this was supposed to be no risk. Got it?”

            Arcee speeds off, finding a melted tree. Uh oh, that means… dammit! Yes, it’s another flashback! This one’s actually about something, and manages to give us a little history about Arcee herself. Turns out she had a partner back on Cybertron, Tailgate, whom she’s separated with. Not purposefully, of course; Arcee got lost and is trying to find her way back to the rendezvous coordinates. Before that can go any further, she’s treated to a nice helping of webbing by the mysterious villain figure seen in the first flashback. She’s next seen tied up, and we get the first lines of dialogue from the awesome Gina Torres:

            “Piece of advice: make yourself comfortable. You’re going to be here for a while.”

            This is the saving grace of the episode (besides the action); Gina Torres delivers a cold and calculating performance, and makes the most of her role. An enjoyable addition to the voice cast indeed, and Torres makes her character into someone that we can actually get invested in, mostly brought on by her cruel sense of enjoyment at watching others suffer. Megatron and to a lesser extent, Starscream, both exhibit this trait as well, but the difference here is that Airachnid isn’t interested in torture for the sake of the war, but rather for herself; torture for the sake of torture.

            Back in the present, we’re treated to the first site of Airachnid (that’s the villain’s name) in full. Her design is pretty cool. She’s got four spider-like legs attached to her back, and can transform her proper legs into a pseudo spider abdomen. She’s really creepy visually, and thanks again to Gina Torres, has a menacing nature about her that rivals that of Megatron. As Airachnid moves in for the kill on her unsuspecting human prey, Arcee tackles her, leading to the first convincing Transformers chick fight in the history of television. Honestly, I’d make a joke about this, but this episode is already pretty shoddy, and I want it to come out from my dissection of it with some dignity.

            Airachnid reveals that she’s split from the Decepticon ranks, instead collecting trophies of the species that she’s killed. This is very much in the spirit of Animated Lockdown, whose primary character trait was that he collected the weapons and gadgetry from his opponents once he was done with them. Indeed, a neat (if unintentional) homage.

            Arcee’s fears are further amplified when Airachnid says that she’s got a spot in her collection for human. So, her ship crashed, yet she was able to scramble the Autobot’s COM frequency and find room for her next trophy. Damn, she’s good.

            Arcee resumes the attack, and is about to make the kill when… no. No, no! Jack! What do you not understand by “stay here”? Plus, how did he get all the way out here? This is miles away from where he was stationed last we saw him, and Arcee and Airachnid have been fighting anyway, so they’re constantly moving about the forest, probably a couple of meters at a time. Regardless, Airachnid does the usual villain thing of taking advantage of the distraction. Arcee manages to hold her own, despite being webbed to a tree, and quickly shoots Airachnid, knocking her out.

            Jack then displays his own level of competence:

            “I told you to wait for me.”

            “Well partners don’t ditch partners.”

            “Get this through your head: you’re not my partner, you’re a liability.”

            “I don’t believe you. I can see it in your eyes. You’re afraid, Arcee. And you’re never afraid.”

            This would be much more powerful had we seen what happened to make Arcee fear Airachnid beforehand, but we don’t. Also, this dialogue is trite, harkening back to the days of Cybertron. Plus, it would have a greater impact if Jack hadn’t already disobeyed Arcee’s orders… three times! Ugh. Anyway, this prompts us the flashback that should have come before this exchange.

            Arcee’s been tortured heavily, as evidenced by… one measly little scar under her eye. Indubitably this will prompt a variant chase figure down the line of toys at some point. Airachnid realizes that even with that one scar across her cheek, Arcee still won’t tell her the attack coordinates, nor will she reveal what “indubitably” means; it means to be “without doubt”. So Airachnid drags in Tailgate, threatening to torture him if Arcee doesn’t give up the information that she wants, but Arcee swears that she doesn’t know anything Well, Airachnid isn’t having any of it, so she strolls over to Tailgate’s form and the last we see is a sharp claw come down, and some blood splatter on the wall.

            That’s one thing that everyone commented on: blood from Transformers. The question had already been raised about why machines didn’t have oil or some other type of liquid fueling them. And my response would be because they don’t really need it to perform the same functions as blood does for us. Blood is our fuel; we have a heart to pump it, it fuels our brains, and other organs, and is responsible in part for making really bad slasher-flicks come to fruition. But Transformers don’t need blood; a processor, a motherboard, or some other computer-analogous system controls them. Now, it has been said that they have Energon running through their systems. But Energon is also what they’re seen drinking, eating, using to fuel their ships, etc. So by that logic, Transformers are either vampires or cannibals, take your pick. So yeah, this makes for a more interesting and dark visual, but it makes very little sense.

            Anyway, back to the episode. Back in the present, Arcee admits that she’s afraid of loosing Jack, just as she lost Tailgate and Cliffjumper, and Airachnid wastes no time in pointing this out to her. Arcee tells Jack to run, and this time he listens (though it takes him a minute to fully grasp the seriousness of the situation, a la Miko) and Airachnid pursues.

            Arcee’s final flashback is of her getting rescued by Bumblebee and Cliffjumper, with Arcee lamenting that she couldn’t save Tailgate. Arcee admits that she’s sorry for letting Jack down, and that she should have never investigated the ship. It’s touching, but not very effective at drawing the audience in. This is why this episode is weak: because the introduction of Airachnid and the flashback scenes were not able to fit well within a twenty-minute timeframe.

            Anyway, Jack makes it to the crashed ship, and spots a puddle of Energon from the ship. Per Hollywood stereotypes, any liquid that isn’t water is flammable, so in a bit you see coming from a mile away, Jack ignites the Energon, blowing up the ship. However, Airachnid survives, and is about to kill Jack when Arcee conveniently arrives to save the day, duking it out with Airachnid in a pretty timid fight compared to what we’ve seen before. Anyway, Airachnid makes her escape, and Arcee and Jack close out the episode.

            “Now Airachnid’s stuck here on Earth. I’m not sure that’s such a good thing.”

            “I’m sorry you had to face my demons today.”

            I’m sure the audience is too, Arcee.

            Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Predatory” is 4/10- This episode had a couple of good moments, but was overall pretty poor for a Prime episode. Airachnid’s introduction as a character was one of the weakest intros in the series, but her character as a whole was a welcome addition to the cast. Gina Torres plays the role as best she can, giving the character depth that wasn’t needed, but is always welcome. As a foil for Arcee, Airachnid is great: a strong female villain to mirror the female lead, with her own nuances, such as her characteristic growl (however hilarious it may sound), or her ability to transform her proper legs into one spider-like abdominal piece.

            The flashback scenes are repetitive. I think the main problem with them is that they’re all exposition and serve no character function despite their objective. For example, the third flashback has its first half devoted entirely to Arcee and Tailgate explaining that the former is lost and is in need of coordinates, instead of forming a strong characterful relationship. This episode marks the beginning of the Arcee Season One story arc, and unfortunately isn’t as impressive as it might have been. Had the flashbacks been condensed into two or three that would have allowed for more screen time for Arcee and Airachnid to interact in the present.

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