February 4, 2012

Shadowcon Reviews- Partners



Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 1, episode 20: “Partners”

We close out our look at Arcee with this, the last episode to feature Starscream for Season One, and a pretty kick-ass way of closing out Arcee’s character arc for the season as well. The episode deals with Starscream’s supposed defection to the Autobots, and Arcee mourning both Cliffjumper, who I’ll talk about in the accompanying post, and Tailgate, whom we saw Airachnid kill back in “Predatory”. It’s a nice way to wrap things up for Arcee, Airachnid, and Starscream. So without further ado, let’s jump into “Partners”.


We begin the episode with Starscream confessing all his wrongdoings to Soundwave; he claims to have accepted his role as second-in-command to Megatron. I like this scene because, for once, Starscream is acknowledging his failures instead of plotting another assassination, something the other incarnations of Starscream cannot attest to. Also, Soundwave in Prime doesn’t talk, so the entire conversation is completely one-sided, making Starscream seem like he’s being psychoanalyzed.

After talking with a brick wall, Starscream heads to the bridge, only to overhear Airachnid in discussion with Megatron. She’s informing him of one of Starscream’s many indiscretions; apparently he failed to log the location of the crash site of the Harbinger, a Decepticon transport ship that crashed on Earth while containing an experimental weapon, into the ship’s database. Megatron’s pretty pissed off about this, as the ship could be discovered by the Autobots, or by humans, and he certainly doesn’t want Cybertronian tech falling into our hands. Megatron orders Starscream to lead Airachnid to the crash site so that she may be able to retrieve the weapon herself.

This is the first sign that Starscream is slowly being completely shoved into the background by the Decepticons, which I really like. It gives Starscream something else to do other than be the supposed mastermind that he usually is. Armada did this too, but Prime manages to pull this hat trick off subtly, though I do wish that this had been implemented earlier in the show, or at least had better repercussions. Nevertheless, Starscream’s role as Second-in-Command is indeed beginning to fall out of his possession, with Airachnid taking up that duty, if only to try to get into Megatron’s pants. Man, Soundwave’s already in there, how’s he going to react to all of this?

Speaking of… love, we see Arcee at the burial site of Cliffjumper, who has been honorably put to rest by having a big pile of rocks stacked on top of… something. It can’t be Cliff’s body, because we saw it last in one of the Decepticons’ Energon mines, which blew up. Not only that, but Cliff’s body had already been sliced in half by Megatron. Must be that horn holding all of those rocks up. Anyway, Arcee laments that the Autobots could really use a new ally, after having been stood up by Wheeljack for four fifths of that episode. She lays out the situation:

“We could really use you, Cliff. Seems like every day another Decepticon arrives on the scene. We’re outnumbered and outgunned.”

I like that bit about constant Decepticon reinforcements. It just adds to the fact that the Decepticons are indeed made up of more than just Megatron, Starscream, Airachnid, Knockout, and Breakdown. Naturally, we don’t get to see the Autobots at their weekest; we have to keep the heroes looking sharp for the kids. After all, this is a kids’ show. Arcee’s vow to avenge Cliffjumper’s death by finding his killer is nicely juxtaposed with Starscream. Arcee’s acceptance of Cliff’s death is accompanied by revenge, while Starscream’s acceptance of his place in the Decepticon army is accompanied by a, thus far, genuine desire to serve Megatron, and later the Autobots. Both have motives for what they’re doing, which, in Transformers, is really rare.

Anyway, Starscream and Airachnid reach the downed ship, though the latter is really shady about what they’re looking for. The two banter a bit before their search begins. This is to help establish Starscream’s natural people-skills, or lack thereof, and to set up plot. He boasts that he killed Cliffjumper, and Airachnid’s impressed, though she points out that Megatron threatened to do the same to Starscream in the previous episode, so Starscream’s praise of himself is quickly shut up. Exploitation, blackmail, withholding information… yeah, I’d say that Airachnid’s definitely Second-in-Command material. Airachnid is able to burrow down into the wreckage, promptly accessing the ship’s computer for the location of the weapon. Starscream’s not too pleased by this, saying that the signal could be tracked down by the Autobots.

And Starscream’s fears are indeed confirmed, as Ratchet alerts Optimus that the Autobot base sensors have detected an ancient Decepticon signal. Airachnid, meanwhile, finds that the corridor to the weapon is blocked. It turns out that the ship broke in half during it’s crash. Starscream gloats that he knows where the other half is, but he isn’t going to tell her willingly. Airachnid, not one to take “no” for an answer, ties him up, now threatening to kill him if he doesn’t tell her where the other half of the ship is. Conceding, Starscream tells her, but she leaves him there instead of letting him go. Bitch.

On her way out, she runs into the Autobots, and is forced to double back. Arcee, knowing how well her fight in a cave worked last time, follows Airachnid outside into the open, opting to fight outside instead. Well, Arcee didn’t count on the fact that Airachnid needs to be used as part of the B-plot for this episode, so Airachnid swiftly gets the better of her. Optimus shows up, and demonstrating his intimate knowledge of how to handle a hostage situation, points his gun at Airachnid, despite her holding Arcee hostage. Airachnid lets her go, retreating in vehicle mode. Optimus tries to make up for his half-assed success by reminding Arcee that going after Airachnid on her own isn’t smart. Arcee recalls the events of “Predatory”, and just to solidify that callback, we get a snippet of one of the flashbacks used in that episode, showing us Tailgate’s death. Maintaining continuity’s fine, but when you use a scene that was specifically meant to be a flashback, you’re trying just a bit too hard.

Bulkhead and Bumblebee resurface with Starscream in tow, though Starscream surprises us all with his wish to be on their side. He points out that all the Decepticons have done for him was humiliate and demote him. His points are valid, and after a brief talk (with some really annoying camera shifts), the Autobots decide to take him along with them while they go after Airachnid, who by now has found the weapon.

The Autobots arrive at the location Starscream gave to Airachnid, and Optimus once again demonstrates his sanity by seriously considering letting Starscream join the team, given his past questioning loyalty to Megatron, and his knowledge of the Decepticons in general. Bulkhead’s incredulous at the very idea:

“You don’t mean permanently? As in ‘keys to the base’ and everything?”

“However unlikely that scenario, every sentient being deserves an opportunity for redemption.”

This is one of things I love about this show. With this statement, we’ve established that Optimus is far more forgiving than in Prime’s sister Movie trilogy, where Optimus cleaved Megatron’s head in half, but even on top of that, this trait of his won’t be brought out only for this episode. Indeed, he’ll demonstrate his willingness to cooperate with the enemy again in “One Shall Rise, Part 2”. This is great character continuity, and is a nice change to both Cybertron’s one-episode character studies, and the rampage Optimus of the film franchise. He, Bulkhead, and Bumblebee go in search of Airachnid, leaving Arcee with Starscream, much to her disappointment.

“Optimus, please. For Tailgate.”

“Your desire to avenge Tailgate will only continue to cloud your judgment.”

Woah, Prime. A bit harsh, don’t you think? I actually like his frankness, here. He’s not trying to comfort her; he has a mission to complete, plus a valuable prisoner in hand, and he’s not going to allow either to be jeopardized by Arcee’s week emotional state. Unfortunately, his taking her off the search team may not have been his best move, as we’ll see in a moment.

Starscream tries in vain to convince Arcee to let him go. Man, he’s so pathetic here. I love it. This is how low he’s had to stoop to gain any kind of recognition. Meanwhile, Optimus and co. is busy dealing with Airachnid, who manages to get the drop on them. She freezes Bulkhead with the weapon, called the Immobilizer. I like how up front Cybertronians are with their naming of technology. We’ve got an Immobilizer, a Polarity Gauntlet, and a Data Cylinder. One wonders what the names of their super secret technology were. Probably the opposites of the tech’s purpose, y’know, like “Trans-Phasic Shield” was really a giant bazooka.

Anyway, Arcee and Starscream start bickering, discussing Airachnid. Starscream complains to Arcee about how he’s been demoted, with Airachnid slowly weaseling her way into Megatron’s hierarchy. Arcee laments that Airachnid was also the one who killed her partner. Starscream’s not happy that Airachnid’s now taking credit for something that he did, but Arcee’s confused.

“What? You weren’t there.”

“No… of coarse I wasn’t. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Who are you talking about?”

“No one. Who are you talking about.”

“Tailgate.”

“Who’s Tailgate?”

So, Arcee figures it out, now ready to beat whatever badassery Starscream has left into the ground, but Starscream frantically tries to justify his actions, calling it a mercy killing. Arcee’s not buying it, so Starscream plays the “it-would-not-be-honorable-to-kill-a-helpless-prisoner” card, and Arcee takes one good look at him… and gives him the keys to his handcuffs so that he may be free, and then she can kill him honorably.

Y’know, it takes a certain morbidity to say, “Hey, you’re right. It wouldn’t be honorable to kill you when you’re defenseless, so I’ll release you, give you a weapon, and hope to God that you don’t kill me before I kill you.” I mean, that’s just insane. And that’s why Optimus didn’t want Arcee to engage Airachnid. He probably knew that something like this would happen with her as well. Arcee’s lust for vengeance hasn’t been shifted from Airachnid to Starscream; rather, her desire to now avenge Cliffjumper merely augments both her anger towards Airachnid and Starscream, and her desire to avenge Tailgate. This is why I like her so much. She’s a person, with emotion and conflict, rather than some forgettable nobody who shows up to play wet-nurse (AKA: G1 Arcee).

So, Starscream takes the cuffs, and feigns cowardice, slicing Arcee’s abdomen when he pretends to fumble with the key. Meanwhile, Airachnid is proving herself a pretty badass fighter, taking out Optimus, leaving Bumblebee to fend for himself. As Arcee and Starscream fight, Starscream taunts her over the loss of Tailgate, asking if he was as weak as Cliffjumper. Arcee’s still got some fight left in her, though, blocking Starscream’s jabs and punches with her free hand, even while her other hand is over her new wound. Nice work, there, Arcee.

Back in the land of Bumblebee’s Screwed, Airachnid taunts Bumblebee with the horrible thoughts of Megatron adorning the hull of the Nemesis with the body of Prime, while using Bulkhead for target practice. Bumblebee gets the idea to trick Airachnid into thinking that she’s immobilized him with the weapon. This works, and Bumblebee’s able to get the drop on her, destroying the Immobilizer (we see it splinter into at least seven different pieces), and Airachnid has no choice but to retreat.

Starscream, meanwhile, is having fun beating the living daylights out of Arcee. As he moves in for the kill, his gloating finally gets him into trouble, with Arcee delivering a series of pretty sick moves to bring him to the ground. Starscream’s cowardice is once again in full swing:

“Go on. Do it. Megatron will only terminate me for treason if I dare return to the Decepticons. You may as well be the one to put me out of my misery.”

“As if I needed convincing.”

This, though, is the part that I really like. Starscream is surprised at that remark by Arcee; she’s really going to do it, and he’s really freaked out by this. Finally, we learn that there are indeed Autobots out there willing to kill to settle personal vendettas, and, if she had just kept her eyes on her enemy, Arcee would have gone through with the kill. But, of course, she doesn’t, as she looks up to find Bumblebee staring at her. She backs off, not wanting to become a murderer in front of her teammate. Personally, I think it would have been better if Optimus had been the one to catch her, as he’s been the one preaching to her this whole episode. Nevertheless, the message is clear, and it’s a more complicated one than the normal ones we usually get on a show like this.

Back on the Nemesis, Megatron’s invective tirade to Airachnid is displayed in full, with Airachnid’s dreams of becoming Megatron’s new BFF snatched away.

“Do you have any notion of the consequences of your blunder?”

“But, my lordship, it was Starscream’s incompetence that cost us the Immobilizer.”

“I don’t care about some trinket! My Second-in-Command remains a prisoner of the enemy, which means all Decepticon intelligence could be at the fingertips of the Autobots!”

Yeah, sorry, but you’re looking at a week’s worth of detention for that screw-up, sweetie. I do like that Megatron isn’t interested in the weapon, but rather in Starscream, proving that Megatron may be a bit of a dick, but he at least has his priorities straight (for now). I also like it when Megatron yells. There’s just something about the acoustics that give him a really menacing feel even when he shouts.

Now, remember when I said that the Immobilizer broke? Yeah, well, it really did break, but Ratchet somehow fixed it, and was able to unfreeze Optimus and Bulkhead with it. Riiiiight. This is my only gripe about the episode, but its really minor and doesn’t end up bringing the overall score down by much. Arcee’s externals wounds are on the mend, but she does realize that her quest for vengeance drove away the Autobot’s one chance at ending the war sooner rather than later. It once again cements that the war aspect of the show has indeed been brought towards the front of the show, instead of being used as a backdrop.

Starscream, for his part, closes out his appearance for Season One with a retake of his opening dialogue, this time renouncing his loyalties with both Autobot and Decepticon alike, and flies off, offering up a satisfying, if abrupt ending to his character arc for the first season.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Partners” is 10/10. Its only reel flaw is that gripe I have about the Immobilizer. Everything else is very good, and Steve Blum does an excellent job voicing Starscream, and has great chemistry with Sumalee Montano onscreen. This is an excellent character piece, and an example of what makes this show so good: namely, focussing on character above all else. Arcee carries the episode with surprising complexity surrounding her character, which I’ll discuss in a follow-up entry.

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