July 10, 2012

Shadowcon Reviews- Orion Pax, Part 1



Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 2, episode 1: “Orion Pax, Part 1”

Transformers Prime was something that I thought would never make it to Transformers television: it had everything that I was looking for in any television show: characters, plot, good acting, good directing, and on top of that, brilliant action and suspense. Season One’s finale was awesome, and left me and several other people with the question of how the writers were going to top it. They already played their trump card with Unicron, and they did it in a somewhat unique way, with mixed to positive results, so what were they going to do with Season Two? Well, Season Two hasn’t finished yet, so I can’t really answer that. But, in my view, Season Two has been going downhill from its start. Now, there have been exceptions. The last four episodes before the summer hiatus (episodes 12-15) built an engaging simultaneous arc with each other that felt like it was leading to something, and by the way episode 15 ended, it looks like it is, but the majority of Season Two hasn’t really had the same punch and shock-and-awe factor that Season One dealt to us, and I think the reason for that is because we were already dealt the Unicron story, and its hard to top that, in any form of Transformers media.

Season Two was pushed back multiple times over the course of three months, with fans eagerly anticipating the resolution to “One Shall Rise, Part 3”, and seeing how Optimus would now fair while under the care of Megatron, and how the rest of the Autobots and Decepticons would deal with this change up to the status quo. When it was announced that the season opener would be a three-part follow-up to the four-part Season One finale, fans were really excited. I wasn’t though; I was still upset that the damn deadline was being pushed back from November to February of 2012.

Anyway, this episode presents me with a challenge in terms of how to break it down to review. The thing about these three episodes is that they love to jump from location to location in the span of seconds, and some of the situations are continued from three scenes ago. In short, these episodes are not really structured in my favor, so I’ll do my best to condense situations that have a twelve-scene gap into one, and have things flow a little better for these reviews.

So let’s begin our look at Season Two with Ratchet giving us a recap of the finale, and of how Optimus has now reverted to his pre-Prime namesake and lifestyle, that of the archivist Orion Pax. Over on the Decepticon warship, Megatron addresses his crew in the jovial manner he’s so renowned for:

“Attention crew: Our guest is currently in isolation to help ease his transition. But when Orion Pax emerges, he is to be shown every courtesy, and the first to address him as Optimus Prime will have their voice box torn out.”

Yep, lead by example. Anyway, apparently Megatron has a soft spot for Airachnid, because she’s still there… even after trying to seize command from him! This is the first in a long string of continuity and character foibles that plague this three-part opener, and they are what give it a sense of being less than the epic Season One finale. Again, its hard to top the Unicron story, but I guess I expected this episode to continue to keep the adrenaline rush going. The fact that this episode winds down the action is not really a bad thing, it’s just something that I wasn’t expecting to happen so abruptly.

Anyway, Airachnid continues to test Megatron’s patience by questioning his security, but Megatron’s not really concerned:

“Orion does not possess the same fight that Optimus is so renowned for.”

“Then what use is he to our cause?”

“Rest assured; Orion Pax will indeed earn his stripes.”

And Orion is in fact already coming over to the Decepticon way of thinking, by having himself branded with the Decepticon sigil! This might be a good time to talk about Orion Pax’s character a little bit. This episode does an excellent job of having Peter Cullen play the complete opposite of Optimus. Here, he’s soft-spoken, wide-eyed, timid, and he slouches (either that, or the model was tweaked so that Prime’s shoulders were less broad). Cullen does a nice job of making his voice less authoritative, and holds back his natural gravitas and gruffness in favor a lighter and quieter voice. Cullen’s voice work is prominent here and is an excellent variation on the Optimus voice, giving it range and another layer.

After the credits (the pictures of which haven’t changed, as I hoped they would), the Autobots begin discussing their next move. Fowler wonders why the Autobots can’t just lock on to Optimus’ coordinates and bridge him back to base, and it’s a fair question that is answered with a continuity error:

“Optimus’ signal has not reappeared since he embarked for Earth’s core.”

But… it did. Otherwise, Soundwave wouldn’t have been able to locate Megatron either, and Ratchet wouldn’t have been able to get the other Autobots back. I like Arcee’s explanation for why Optimus is with the Decepticons: “Megatron’s working some kind of voodoo.” That’s… a really weird thing to say, Arcee. I don’t know, something about her tone of voice while she says that and the fact that they all take its seriously just give me a chuckle.

Ratchet says that they have to get to work on locating Optimus if they are to execute his contingency plan This is where the episode takes some liberties which I don’t really agree with. This plan involves the Key to Vector Sigma, and Vector Sigma, and the Matrix of Leadership, all of which are already pretty confusing subjects on their own, so putting them together in the same episode is pretty ballsy. Basically, the Autobots’ plan is to go to Cybertron and have Vector Sigma’s contents downloaded into the Key, and have it brought back to Optimus so they can download the contents now contained in the Key back into the Matrix of Leadership so that Optimus can have his wisdom and memories back. This plan doesn’t sound too bad on paper, but when they start getting into the why and how of their plan, things kind of get muddled:

“June’s right. Why send a boy to do a ‘bot’s job?”

“Because only a Prime can access Vector Sigma, or one chosen by a Prime. Optimus gave the key card to Jack. It is now imprinted with his unique bio signature.”

“So you mean Jack’s like some kind of ‘honorary Prime’?”

“Let’s just say Jack is the only one who can return Optimus to the Autobot we knew?”

I’m gonna break this down a piece at a time. First, I like the idea of Jack being, as Miko put it, “an honorary Prime”, as it further establishes the trust between Optimus and Jack. Second, this entire plan is daring and something that usually wouldn’t show up this early on in the series, so that’s cool too.

But here’s where I draw issue with this whole thing. The key card has scanned Jack and is now coded to his DNA, or something to that effect, right? So… why does it need to do that at all? I mean, we’ve seen Transformers technology reject organic material (in Season One’s “TMI”, Miko touched a Cybertronian data cylinder and it shot all of its data into space in response), so why is the key card suddenly willing to scan and accept an organic’s touch and influence? Not to mention the fact that this is one of the most important Cybertronian artifacts ever.

The answer? The writers needed to give Jack a reason for having to go to Cybertron whether he wanted to or not. Now, this is a plot hole that I could overlook because it serves the plot, but I’m a little frustrated that the writers would write something like this when they wrote a perfectly sound plan and reasoning in “One Shall Rise, Part 2”; the whole cast even had their own discussion about it! And in-universe, June is still not convinced that this whole thing is good:

“But why would Optimus willfully endanger a human… a child?”

“I’m not a child, Mom.”

And things get more complicated as Ratchet says that they would first need to find a way to reach Cybertron. Miko suggests the GroundBridge, but Raf reminds her that the thing barely got the Autobots into Earth’s orbit so reaching a planet that is galaxies away is just out of the question. Miko then draws from the Armada/Energon era of television, and suggests that Ratchet just “supercharge the thing” and make it reach Cybertron anyway. I was really worried when they ended the scene with Ratchet in that ‘I’m thinking’ pose, but my fears were quickly laid to rest, as we’ll soon see.

While all of this is going on, Megatron begins spinning his web of lies to Orion, and begins with his version of how Cybertron was deemed uninhabitable: basically, the Warlord Ratchet went insane and corrupted the very core, and now his troops have pursued the Decepticons here. But Orion’s curiosity lies elsewhere:

“One question, Megatron. Why are we called Decepticons?”

“Another craven Autobot scare-tactic. The name was meant to demonize us. Instead, we wear it as a badge of honor, for is speaking the truth is deception, then we are truly guilty.”

I love the answer that Megatron gives him here. It’s said with enough conviction and gravitas to make one wonder if this was indeed how the Decepticons got their name, or even if its how Megatron remembers it. I like this because it shows us a side of Megatron that is similar to how he was portrayed back in “One Shall Rise, Part 2”, that of a calculating but honest man, and one who stands up for his principals, warped though they may be. And that’s displayed here as well; even in his web of lies, there’s enough connotations in there to give the viewer a sense that Megatron is showing Orion the truth, just with a bunch of stuff layered over it, and I love that the writers put Megatron in this position.

So, with Megatron having successfully manipulated Orion into thinking that Ratchet of all people is the destroyer of worlds (he had the Decepticon’s files encrypted and fabricated new ones to corroborate his story) he then proceeds to give Orion the worst job of all: historical archiving. Ugh.

It turns out that the Decepticons raided the Iacon Hall of Records shortly before abandoning Cybertron, and got a hold of some pretty classified and top-secret files, written in Autobot code, and Megatron believes that Orion can decode what his Decepticons can’t. And it looks like he was right, as Orion reveals that the database (deemed “Project Iacon”) comprises coordinates on Earth where Autobots intended items of importance to be kept hidden. Megatron’s interest is shrouded behind his slimy words of praise to Orion. Megatron’s facsimiles of emotions run short, however, as Orion confronts him on the matter of Starscream not being on the ship, despite records dictating him as Megatron’s first lieutenant. Megatron’s bluntness is rather on the nose:

“Sadly, Commander Starscream is dead.”

Yeah, that should be a good cover-up, Megatron. That should last you a good five, hell, maybe six minutes! Megatron’s comments to Soundwave are also not really reassuring:

“It is only a matter of time before he unravels our fabrications, and his innate sense of right and wrong rises to the surface. I only hope that Orion is able to complete Project Iacon before I am forced to destroy him, once and for all!”

I love how Megatron knows that Optimus is incorruptible, even without the Matrix, and that he’s just going to get as much use out of Orion as he can, instead of trying to twist Orion’s viewpoints around and make him a part of the Decepticon cause. This does raise a question, though: why is Megatron relying on Orion’s efficiency as a code-breaker to help him succeed? He’s making one of the classical villain mistakes, and relying on timing and on the person who he’s trying to manipulate! Dude, never do that. You’re sure to get screwed over now.

Meanwhile, Jack has a little visit from Sierra while at his work as a fast-food employee. We haven’t talked about Sierra at all, because she’s so transparent that she hardly qualifies as a character. She’s supposed to be Jack’s love interest… yeah, I’m not sure what the writers were thinking that day either. So, anyway, she’s here, wondering why she never sees him outside of school. Jack’s response is… less than reassuring:

“Well, mostly I’m here, wearing the hat. And you never can study too hard for the old SATs, y’know. And… there’s some other… stuff.”

And just to piss her off and probably confirm her fears, Arcee calls Jack up on the intercom. Jack tries to reassure an indignant Sierra by saying…

“Sierra, wait! She’s my mother.”

Well, what do you know, Arcee comes speeding around the corner to face Jack directly, and Sierra gets a good look at Arcee’s holographic leather-clad cyclist. She’s pretty ticked:

“Your mom looks good in leather… on your bike!”

I’ll admit that had me laughing. Jack and Arcee have a brief exchange about how they still haven’t found Optimus… and that’s the end of the scene. I’m not exactly sure what it was supposed to establish, other than to give us a funny Jack moment.

Back at base, Fowler calls up Ratchet to tell him that the Decepticons are again attacking the same military base they attacked back in “One Shall Fall”. This is also the first time we’re given a statement telling us how much time has passed since the Season One finale. It’s a span of two months. Now, I fail to see how Orion could remain in isolation for two whole months, and furthermore, why the Decepticons are now of all times trying to steal back the last piece for their Space Bridge. Also, why has the military base restocked with the same device that the Decepticons tried to steal without beefing up security first? Did Ratchet just hand the device back without some words of warning?

Anyway, the Autobots show up, and Knock Out has a pretty fun time rubbing in the fact that they don’t have Optimus, and this pisses Arcee off to no end. She’s able to get through the Decepticon’s GroundBridge before it closes, and thus begins the first and only action scene in the whole episode. Arcee’s fighting is as badass as ever, using one Decepticon drone as a shield against another, leaping from one to another. It’s very kinetic, and really cool to watch. Megatron’s adamant about not letting Orion see Arcee at all, much less in combat with anyone, so he orders Soundwave to “see to it that Arcee is escorted off this ship immediately!”

Orion’s curiosity gets the better of him, even as the Decepticon guards tell him to wait in his quarters per Megatron’s orders (though Megatron also said that Orion was to be shown every courtesy, so what the hell?) Anyway, Orion walks toward the sounds of gunfire, while Soundwave readies up the GroundBridge directly in the path of Arcee. She guns it, and flies right through… to the Arctic, which is bad, as the amount of cold there can freeze even the toughest robot. Orion, meanwhile, is pretty confused, and gets very little of an explanation out of Soundwave:

“I heard a commotion.”

“…”

Back at base, the Autobots are less than thrilled with their current predicament. Arcee’s feeling guilty, Ratchet’s frustrated, Bumblebee’s depressed, and Bulkhead’s angry. To make matter worse, Fowler calls them up to inform them that if they continue to present results like those at the military base (there were at least a dozen wounded in the aftermath of the battle) the Pentagon will shut down the Autobot’s base. Raf’s curious:


“But where would you go?”

And Ratchet’s indignant nature is presented through a nice sarcastic homage to previous Transformers series:

“Who knows. Maybe they’ll ship us off to some island, or fire us into space (wouldn’t that be a welcome relief.)”

Arcee and Bulkhead go at it as well, lashing out at each other not out of dislike for one another, but because their emotions are just running so high, and for a kid’s show, this is pretty palpable character drama:

“You’re pretty good at stating the obvious, Bulk. Anything else you’d like to mention that we already know?”

“Nothing I can say in front of the children!”

Damn, are we sure this is a kid’s show? Jack tries to get them back on track:

“Aren’t we overlooking one positive? Nobody’s talking about what the ‘Cons just got their claws on?”

“Yes. We managed to allow them to finally acquire a power source for their Space Bridge!”

This does not improve Arcee’s attitude:

“And how exactly would that be a positive?”

“We let them finish building their Space Bridge… So we can commandeer it, and use it to send me to Cybertron.”

Arcee points out that they’d first need to locate it before even thinking about seizing and holding it, which they’ve never really done. As Bulkhead points out, they’ve blown one up, which is a little easier than keeping one intact. Miko makes her usual contribution to the show, with Ratchet, and the audience, reacting normally:

“If it’s a Space Bridge, isn’t it…” *Points to the sky*

“The term ‘space’ refers to its transport range, not its physical location! And we’ve been monitoring Earth’s orbit since the last one. We’d know if it were there.”

So they decide that the Bridge is on Earth, and their plan’s set. Ratchet reminds them all that the Decepticons still have Optimus, and the Autobots still don’t know if he’s truly safe.

And as if to confirm his fears, who should show up at the end of the episode… but Starscream. He’s here getting Energon, but is confronted by two guards. Apparently Megatron has realized that Starscream was not with the Autobots, and has ordered that he be taken into custody if he ever returned to the ship. Starscream’s having none of that, though, so he just up and kills them both with his claws, before retrieving his Energon, and running into Orion Pax… and spilling the one thing Megatron did not want anyone to say:

“No! Optimus Prime?!”

Ummm… oops!

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Orion Pax, Part 1” is 7/10. What elevates it from being an average episode is Peter Cullen’s dynamic range in voice, the final Autobot conversation, and Megatron’s and Orion’s relationship. I particularly liked Megatron’s motives and actions in this episode, and the Autobot’s conversation when they’re all angry was really fun to watch. It felt like real conversational exchanges instead of the familiar show dialogue that often plagues shows like this. Next time, we’ll see the Autobot’s plan get into gear, more of Megatron’s attempt to manipulate Orion, and Starscream’s role now that he’s split from the ‘Cons.

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