July 27, 2012

Shadowcon Reviews- Orion Pax, Part 3

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 2, episode 3: “Orion Pax, Part 3”

As we enter our final review for this epic arc, I’d like to point out that I’ve managed to go non-stop for seven weeks with this, and I feel pretty proud of myself. Hey, it may be petty, but I take a victory or two where I can get it! So Arcee and Jack reach Kaon and the Key’s signal raises a buried vault door. I like that the arena floor that the two are standing on is the same as the one seen in the flashback in “One Shall Rise, Part 3”, when Megatron was seen as a gladiator, crippling his opponents on this very arena platform. The raising of Vector Sigma’s vault door attracts the attention of the vermin that hatched at the end of last episode, leading to a vicious battle between Arcee and the now-named Insecticon. I’ll comment more on the Insecticons when I review “Crossfire”, but for now, I will say that Arcee may have finally met her match, as the Insecticon’s fighting is just ruthless.

Back on Earth, Ratchet gives some more background on the Insecticons’ origins:

“A few [Decepticons] remained in stasis; sentries, should the… enemy return.”

Arcee’s not doing too well with this threat, so she orders Jack to just go on without her, much to the confusion of June, who mistakes Arcee for Jack’s guide, while in reality, she’s just his guard and backup, while the Key is his guide. Jack doesn’t get to see what happens to Arcee as the doors close behind him. Still, I’m not a big fan of his “roger that, Mom” bit, but hey, it’s a kids’ show, so I’ll cut it a little bit of slack for that corny dialogue.

Meanwhile, on the Nemesis, Megatron confronts Orion on his snooping around. Megatron reveals that he has been tracking Orion’s movements, and he pulls up the image of Optimus. Orion’s had enough, and demands some answers, much to the annoyance of Megatron:

“Why does history portray me siding with the Autobot aggressors, and why did Starscream call me a Prime? I must know, who am I?”

“You are my clerk.”

Yeah, Megatron, you tell ‘em. Actually, his ruthlessness is about to get even worse. Orion deletes his files surrounding Project Iacon, but Megatron reveals that he’s made a backup of them, so now Orion’s stuck. It should be noted that Orion rebelling against Megatron isn’t because of something Megatron did to show Orion how bad the Decepticons are, but rather because Orion just wants the truth, and the fact that Megatron is hiding something makes Orion more curious. Up until now, Megatron has been shown to be kind and welcoming to Orion, and it’s only because he’s not been satisfied with the answers presented to him that Orion has dug this deep.

Soundwave interrupts with the news that Arcee’s Insecticon enemy has awakened, much to the confusion of Orion, who was told by Megatron that Cybertron was dead to begin with. I love that his plan is now crumbling yet Megatron’s still trying to hold onto his best playing card. Finally, Megatron just orders Orion to finish the damn thing:

“You will finish Project Iacon by the time I return, or I will carve out your Spark before your very eyes!”

Damn! That actually manages to sound threatening. So, Megatron’s off to take care of the Autobots, leaving Orion under the care of the already-established bully-guards.

Arcee eventually gets taken out by the Insecticon, who then proceeds to break open the door that looked so awesomely thick and impenetrable. He just takes it out no problem. We cut to Jack, who’s a little wary of all the darkness, and his caution is apparently warranted, as we see Scraplets munching on some pieces of wall behind him. What are Scraplets? I’ll cover them in more detail when I review “Scrapheap” (there’s two reviews that are going to now have no ETA on their completion), but suffice it to say, these things are brutal.

Before we get to that, though, we need to have an expensive shot of Vector Sigma’s reveal. Jack enters the expansive dome-like room, walking up to a huge disk and laying the Key down in the center. The scene is pretty cool to watch, and the music really helps out a lot with the awe-factor. Jack’s a little stunned:

“This is… wow…”

Sorry, Jack. History only remembers the good one-liners. Vector Sigma’s download begins, and Ratchet’s hopes are clearly raised; he’s so close to completing his goal. Jack is less than happy about how long the download process is taking. Huh, should have brought something to read. Anyway, the Scraplets finally notice Vector Sigma, which to them, in a nice homage, looks like it normally does in almost every other Transformers fiction: that of a glowing sphere, instead of how its presented here with three spinning rings around a glowing light. They attack and begin chewing on the Key’s mounting platform, much to Ratchet’s concern.

“If they chew through Vector Sigma before the Matrix fully reloads…”

“So, Vector Sigma is more than legend! You Autobots have gone to impressive lengths to recover your leader. Be assured, I shall never underestimate you again!”

Yes, Megatron arrives on scene, and he’s not happy! Ratchet’s unimpressed by his bluster, ordering the Autobots to hold the Space Bridge at all costs. And thus begins one of the really cool fight scenes, with the three Autobots taking on Megatron in glorious battle! Megatron is swift and nonchalant about this, taking out Bulkhead with a kick, Ratchet with a throw, and Bumblebee with a punch. They attack again, and… man, poor Ratchet; he’s just getting slapped around like nobody’s business! Anyway, Megatron finally takes them out, and waits for Arcee’s return.

Back on Cybertron, Arcee recovers and, after blasting a Scraplet who was munching on her leg, transforms and goes off looking for Jack. The Scraplets have now slowed down the download progress substantially, but the arrival of the Insecticon gives Jack the idea to use it as bait for the Scraplets in place of their current breakfast. They take the bait, though I’m not sure why, as Vector Sigma’s mounting platform and Key must taste a hell of a lot better than a bug. These little guys are really ruthless, taking off the poor Insecticon’s arms, and making him plunge to his death.

The Key’s upload completes, and just in time, as Arcee arrives to pick up Jack. Jack’s line of “I have the Matrix” does confuse me: he has the contents of Vector Sigma in his Key, which he will upload into the Matrix. Regardless, the two head for the Space Bridge. Realizing something’s amiss, Arcee stops, and we have a great crossfade scene with Arcee and Jack on one side of the portal and Megatron on the other. It’s topped off with Megatron’s line:

“Come, Arcee, so that I may end the lineage of the Primes for all time.”

While this is going on, Orion’s being pushed around, as he’s not too happy about having to work to decode the database at gunpoint, and eventually realizes that he’s armed with his blasters. I do like how he first pleads and then reasons with his captors, imploring them to help him warn the Autobots of Megatron’s sinister motives. Look, pal, if these guys are enjoying kickin’ your ass, you probably shouldn’t look to them as your allies. He finally takes out his captors… by firing blind… twice! Damn!. Y’know, considering how many time Optimus has missed his target while firing with his eyes open, I’d trade in his technique for Orion’s any day. Having taken out the guards, Orion gets access to the Decepticon’s GroundBridge… somehow, it’s not really stated, and confronts Megatron down at the Space Bridge complex. He even got new Autobot insignias due to a minor animation error! Megatron tries in vain to sew doubt into Orion’s mind again:

“And why should you care, Orion Pax? You are no Prime.”

“That may be true, or yet another deception. But this much I do know: my sympathies lie with the Autobots, and you are not one of us!”

Orion’s position is now clear, and he’s willing to fight Megatron to prove it. But he’s apparently not as awesome as that display back on the Nemesis would suggest, as Megatron takes him down easily:

“Your Spark may be in the right place, Orion, but you have much to learn before you can hope to ever again stand your ground against me. A moment sadly, which shall never come.”

But Megatron makes one of the Top Five Villain Mistakes, and speaks too soon, and Arcee comes speeding through the Space Bridge, kicking Megatron in the back. Their battle is short but enlightening in terms of models and animation: this just shows hoe small Arcee is compared to Megatron; he could easily snap her in half with one hand! Orion and Jack finally meat, Jack holding up the Key for Orion, just as Optimus had held it down to Jack. It’s a symbolic passing of leadership, and also of how Jack has grown through this sequence of events:

“Are you… certain I am worthy?”

“You have no idea!”

So, the content of Vector Sigma is reinstalled into Orion, and Megatron’s expression is just priceless! Dropping Arcee, Megatron runs, sword raised… and Optimus blocks the blow in the same manner as Megatron blocked his back in “One Shall Fall”. And Optimus Prime’s first line in this episode as Optimus, “Megatron, be gone!” is just chilling, with his battle mask sliding into place as he delivers a series of punches that are again reminiscent of how Megatron punched him back in the aforementioned episode as well; even Megatron’s pose of him punching Optimus upward in a boxing knockout move is reflected here! Great stuff. The other Autobots awake, and Optimus’ first order to them is to fall back (nice, Prime), with Autobots finally reclaiming their leader, much to Megatron’s rage.

Back at base, the crew rejoices as Optimus returns, memory restored. But the mark of the Decepticons on his shoulder haunts him, as he reveals that he remembers nothing of his experiences under Megatron’s care, but Ratchet’s comments put that at ease… for now:

“Optimus, it has truly been our darkest hour. But know this: from every indication, your Spark never ceased being that of an Autobot.”

Post-episode follow up: Final score for “Orion Pax, Part 3” is 8/10; while it stumbles just due to how much baggage it must carry and resolve, it manages it pretty well, with plenty of action and subtext to get me through the episode. I like the resolution in concept, but in execution, I think it was a bit rushed, though I’m not really sure how they could have done this better, since any change that I would have like would have sacrificed another scene. This episode’s character points were few but strong, and while it didn’t have as much of a bang as “One Shall Rise, Part 3”, it did deliver on all fronts to a satisfying degree. And as you can probably tell, this review’s only half over…

Post-arc follow up: I was originally going to do a separate post about this, but realized that I said a lot already in my previous reviews, so what I have to add isn’t really enough to warrant a second full post. This arc is massive; it’s probably the most ambitious story that televised Transformers fiction has ever attempted, and I think the writers handled it quite well. The amount of backstory required to understand and execute all of this is fairly daunting, but the montage in “One Shall Rise, Part 3” brought things to light quickly and efficiently, with minimal confusion from thereon in.

I showed this arc to both my friend Aaron, and Danny, my cousin, both of whom knew very little about all of this beforehand (Aaron only knew of the general mythos of Transformers: Optimus and Megatron, Autobots and Decepticons, that sort of thing; Danny knew of Unicron, and of the general fiction surrounding the Matrix, but nothing about Vector Sigma or its surrounding fiction). Even with these handicaps, the two did seem to understand everything very well. In terms of introducing new fans to the Prime show, the writers succeeded, delivering a solid amount of action and character drama.

In terms of catering to long-term fans, Transformers enthusiasts, and Internet nerds like myself (I’m… I’m all three, not just an Internet nerd…), I think it worked here as well. The response from fans has been mixed to positive, with several praising the writers’ ambitious story and scope. I will say that the Orion Pax story is definitely weaker than the One Shall Fall/Rise arc, and I think that’s just due to how much the latter was trying to do; it had to give us a satisfying Optimus/Megatron fight before moving onto Unicron’s story, and it had to give us a bold character tale in the form of Jack and Optimus’ journeys.

This wasn’t because we needed to have a rebel character (Miko fills that role just fine); this was because Jack saw how messed up the Autobots were with their war, and he freaked out because of it. But, he formed friendships with the crew, and in so doing, learned of the Autobots as more than just soldiers. Jack’s mounting fear would escalate when he came clean with his mother on the subject, and now he had the chance to get all of those secrets and lies off of his shoulders… except it was too late: he had come to trust the Autobots, had grown to know and love Arcee as a friend and trusted ally, and now that his mom had entered the scene, he was forced to put up with essentially himself from the beginning of the season; that of an inexperienced person thrust into the huge world, having to constantly be briefed on things he now took for granted. His relationship with the Autobots was the most evolved out of the three humans, with him being the most mature, capable, and clear-headed.

Ratchet’s comment about how Jack reminds him of how Optimus was when he was Orion Pax is not unprecedented: Jack is trustworthy, not very good at lying (preferring to instead take responsibility for his actions), an overall nice guy (he tries to be there for his friends and family), and he’s not the first to leap into battle, preferring to think his way out of a situation that others would think calls for violence. He represents the little guy in all of this, which is good, as in most Transformers series, the humans can tend to become larger than life, which is what the Transformers themselves are supposed to represent.

I guess this is as good a time as any to discuss Optimus, as his and Jack’s characters are pretty well intertwined anyway. Optimus Prime, in the Prime universe is smart, tough, calculating, and very good at giving speeches. More than that, though, he cares about those under his command, and doesn’t let his responsibility as a leader cloud his sense of duty to those around him.

He’s a commander, sure, but he’s not one of the ones who sit in an office all day ordering others to go out and do the dirty work. He’s more of a line officer who sleeps on the floor alongside his men. There’s nothing wrong with either of the methods of leading, he just exhibits traits found in the latter. The former would be… honestly (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) G1 Optimus Prime, who sent others on fairly high-risk missions, and only went out when Megatron was directly involved with something deadly. Again, there’s nothing wrong with either one; it’s just a comparison, (though I’ll probably receive more hatemail because of it). Optimus’ trust in Jack is not because Jack’s the main protagonist, but because Optimus sees himself in Jack; he knows that Jack is responsible to those around him, he know that Jack is able to hold himself up and stand tall for what he believes in.

Orion Pax is a lessened version of all of this. He’s smart, but not good at second-guessing people, he’s not very tough, and he’s calculating, but only in the sense that he’s good at cracking codes and recognizing patterns. Orion’s and Megatron’s relationship works in this arc because Megatron is open with Orion (at least in the beginning); Orion’s trust in Megatron is absolute, and Megatron is perhaps realizing that there may be a chance at redemption here. He doesn’t take it, obviously, but I was left with the distinct impression that Megatron did recognize how he may have lost his way in leading the Decepticons.

Orion, meanwhile, saw this as merely the next day; he still saw Megatron as a teacher, and seeing him now as a general made Orion that much more inspired by his words and actions. Orion saw a man of honor and influence, and with that influence, Megatron was able to, in Orion’s mind, carve out a glorious and truthful empire. That’s why Megatron’s illusions and eventual betrayal are so damning, because Orion knew him, and he knew what Megatron’s initial goals were: social equality, new order, and peace through tyranny. By the end of this, Orion sees that Megatron has lost his way, and while it isn’t stated directly, Orion’s loss of his friend and mentor is obvious. This is as much about Megatron as it is about Optimus, Orion, or Jack.

 “One Shall Fall” and the One Shall Rise three-part arc were originally going to be a single episode Season One finale, with the three-parter being a summer special. There were numerous plot changes (Raf’s exposure with Dark Energon was going to make him have the psychic link to Unicron, Optimus and Megatron weren’t going to work together, stuff like that), and the overall length of it was crunched for time reasons. Still, it flows together very well, despite all four parts being written by different writers. The pace is top-notch for a kids’ show, able to keep the viewer engaged.

The ending is the only real controversial thing, and I honestly didn’t really mind it. Unicron’s defeat at the hands of Optimus seemed natural to me, and the twist in the ending was brilliant. However, I can see where people took issue. The huge buildup in the previous three episodes needed to be answered with an equally satisfying conclusion. While I was happy with how it ended, I can see why people are not. “One Shall Rise, Part 3” had to wrap up the Unicron arc, give us a large amount of exposition (almost five minutes worth!), and have a good season ending. I think where people draw issue is with the way Unicron was defeated. It is rather anticlimactic, with nothing but a huge glowing head yelling at the screen in response to this mystical energy being released upon it. And it is kind of hilarious. But I don’t really see how they could have done that differently. They already had a huge fight scene with the rock formations in the previous episode, and the writers themselves even said that that fight scene was supposed to be the huge “Autobots vs. Unicron” fight scene, so I don’t see it as a flaw of Part 3 that we didn’t have a huge fight scene, but rather as a gift for Part 2. Overall, I quite enjoyed the first half of this arc, but what about the second half?

The Orion Pax portion of this was, I will admit, a little underwhelming. Not that that’s a bad thing; season premiers often feel diminished next to the previous season’s ending, and having Prime’s first season end with Unicron was indeed a huge shock to us all. So what did this portion of the arc fail to do for me? Personally, I think we needed more Orion Pax character growth or examination; we certainly got our fair share of Megatron subtext and Autobot crew character interactions, but Orion’s character felt kind of flat, despite Cullen’s shocking skill at bringing dimension to his Optimus voice. I liked Orion’s character because of what it meant for Jack’s, but Orion as a whole really needed to be developed more. I don’t really want to talk down my previous analysis of this character, though (however, as you saw, there wasn’t much there), as I think he is still a good foil character for others to bounce off of.

The things that this portion of the arc did right were continued character interaction and growth between the Autobots, which I’ll touch upon below, giving Megatron more character dimension, and having the balls to introduce Vector Sigma and have our heroes travel to Cybertron. And, hey, if that’s all the space travel that happens in Season Two, I’d honestly be okay with it.

This seven-week arc, and particularly the Orion Pax portion of it, gave the writers a chance to really explore the characters as they were when put in very unlikely situations. Optimus Prime was forced into a diminutive supporting role next to Megatron when he became Orion Pax, while Ratchet had to move from strong supporting officer to full commander, and Bulkhead and Arcee both had to deal with the stress of having more responsibility now that their leader was gone.

Arcee especially took chances that presented themselves, simply because the Autobots had nothing else to go after. She didn’t really care that the Decepticons had just acquired the final component for their Space Bridge in “Orion Pax, Part 1”; she just wanted Optimus back. What if he had been standing right there; she could’ve just grabbed him and jumped back through the GroundBridge. And he was mere feet away when Soundwave showed up. She only needed to slow down and Optimus would have been right there! Bulkhead summed it up pretty well with “the only thing I need is our head honcho back!” I’ve read that a couple people saw the departure of Optimus from the Autobots as a sign that the Autobots are not able to function without their leader. I don’t really see that at all. They were frustrated, and desperate, and when in a desperate situation, they had to take desperate measures. The Orion Pax story arc allowed these characters to be shaken up before being put back on track of the status quo, and as such, this opener for the second season set the bar high, and few episodes since then have met or surpassed it (the only ones that come to mind are “Operation Bumblebee, Part 2”, “Crossfire”, and “Triangulation”). As a season opener, this did pretty well in hindsight. What that also means is that Season Two (at least its first half, as we have yet to know anything about the second half of it) is not as good as Season One; it doesn’t carry that wow-factor that the first season did, but again, Season Two is only half over, so I shouldn’t really be making a judgment call just yet.

I loved this arc as a whole. It made several decisions that I would have thought not possible for televised Transformers fiction, and it gave us a very welcome character epic.  The money’s clearly on the screen, at least for the One Shall Fall/Rise arc, and the whole thing has a big cinematic feel to it. The writers are toying with the idea of making a theatrical film, and if that does come to pass, I think it would be great to use this as a template for how to do it right. Overall, this arc aimed high and succeeded in being ambitious and daring where other series would have played it safe, offering up engaging character moments and plenty of awesome action.

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