September 18, 2012

Shadowcon Reviews- Scrapheap

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 1, episode 7: “Scrapheap”

Back in my “Convoy” review, I mentioned that it and today’s episode are two examples of a typical Prime episode, in that they’re both straightforward and have a steady plot and characters, but nothing really jumps out at you. This isn’t bad, as it gives the show something to measure itself against, and these two are just fun episodes. “Scrapheap” introduces us to the Scraplets, it lets us explore some of the Transformers’ weaknesses, and it gives our supporting characters, Ratchet, Bumblebee, and Bulkhead, room to shine, while Optimus and Arcee are pushed back to a pretty good B-plot.
So, let’s begin. Bulkhead and Bumblebee are out in the arctic, tracking a stray power source or homing beacon or something, and they come across a pretty massive pod. Back at base, the Autobot’s thaw of the pod is underway, and Bulkhead and Bumblebee are undergoing “standard defrosting procedures”, according to Ratchet, as the Transformers’ body can only withstand so much cold before freezing up. I like that, because it gives the Autobots another villain besides the obvious, and it expands on the Transformers as real people, and not just as robots with voices; they’re extremely tough, but they’re not totally invincible.

Optimus and Arcee go back to the Arctic to investigate further, and Ratchet orders that when they’re core temperature reaches the blue zone they return to base immediately. And in the bunker, the pod opens, and things don’t look good. Well, it wouldn’t be a Transformers episode without the kids, so they arrive, happy and annoying as ever. Ratchet’s non too pleased.

“Shouldn’t they be in school?”

“On a Saturday? We have the whole weekend off, to spend with you.”

Yeah… just look at Ratchet’s expression. He’s so sad that Optimus won’t be here to help him through this trying time. Also, this is the first, and thus far only, time we have had the show specify which day it is, which is kind of neat. Jack’s a little bummed too; he was hoping to go for a drive on Arcee… I mean he was hoping to drive Arcee… dammit! Jack was hoping that Arcee would give him a ride… Jesus, this show’s just asking for trouble. Okay… how ‘bout this: Jack is sad… because Arcee is going away to the Arctic. There. Perfect. Raff’s also saddened, but not because he want to straddle Optimus’ leg; he’s never seen snow, which leads to one of the weirdest lines for a Transformer to say:

“I would invite you to join, Rafael, but the conditions are much too extreme, even for we Autobots… but, I will bring you back a snowball.”

I would love to see Optimus scoop up some snow and pack it into a ball the size of a chair! Anyway, Optimus and Arcee depart, only for the GroundBridge controls to give out. Raff wants to play some video games… because awing at giant robots can get tiring after awhile, but Miko snags both controllers, offering one to Jack. After some teeth-grinding cajoling, Jack’s ego and pride accept.

Ratchet’s a little concerned about the whole exploding CONSOL thing (must be a Starfleet-issued CONSOL), and while Optimus and Arcee may have made it through to the Arctic without a hitch, getting them back is going to be next to impossible unless our boys at home can get the GroundBridge back up. So, the first problem of the episode is set up: they need to repair something so that the rest of their team can get back home. This formula will escalate as the story progresses.

Meanwhile, a dejected Raff is wondering the corridors, pretending to be in the Arctic, complete with his own sound effects and everything. Even the producers and co. facepalmed at this, and rightly so. Look at this poor kid. He’s like Dane Cook if everyone in the audience was being truthful and didn’t laugh at everything he said. Anyway, Raff finds a screw the size of a hammer, and stumbles over one of the cutest villains I think Transformers has ever had. Yep, these are the Scraplets, cute, silver and purple balls of fun with spikey feet and huge round purple eyes. Raff suspects it’s an Autobot pet, y’know, kind of like how the military keeps their pet dogs around them.

Back in the control room, Jack’s completely dominating Miko at a racing game, much to Miko’s fright. The power then shuts down, completely erasing their game, making Miko happy, much to my annoyance.

“But… I was winning!”


I hate you… so much. Anyway, Ratchet examines a chewed up circuit board… y’know this episode could have honestly worked as a comedy, with the kids in awe over how huge everything is here. Ratchet muses that all of these malfunctions could be caused by a damaged main grid, when Raff comes back, his new pet in hand. All three of the Autobots freak out over this, pulling guns on him.

“Scraplet! SCRAPLET!!!”

“What’s a ‘scraplet’?”

“The most dangerous vermin to crawl upon the face of Cybertron.”

The kids are naturally confused. Miko even comments on the silliness of the Autobot’s behavior; this critter’s tiny, he couldn’t possibly hurt these giant robots… but lo and behold, the little guy’s full of sharp teeth and chomping jaws, and when it wakes from it’s powernap, it immediately targets Bumblebee and chews up his car paint. I love how these things move; they’re vicious and quick and misleading. They scamper up the body, gnawing away at you all the while. Really cool.

Raff eventually subdues the vermin by smashing its head in with a pipe! Well, their problem is now compounded: they now not only have to get the GroundBridge repaired, they now have to do it while fending off a swarm of Scraplets, because, in Ratchet’s words, “when it comes to Scraplets, there’s never just one”.

So, they deduce that the Scraplets came from the pod, which, up until the Autobots thawing it, was frozen solid, thereby keeping the Scraplets in stasis. Scraplets, as Bulkhead explains, eat metal, specifically living metal… which explains why they don’t devour themselves… This actually could technically be okay and not be a continuity error, as mosquitos don’t drink their own blood, so in the same vein, the Scraplets wouldn’t eat themselves up, they would attack other species of living metal organisms, but come on! The Transformers and all their related species are shown in every other fiction to be extremely close in species relations. But, whatever, at least they’re trying to be original, even if it’s a little fishy.

Anyway, the GroundBridge and power malfunctions are signs that the infestation is already pretty deep, and that isn’t good for Optimus and Arcee. The two have their sensors go off at around the same time… and Optimus’ actually goes off first. Now, again to be nitpicky: since Optimus has more mass and insulation, his sensor should not be going off at the same time as Arcee’s; if anything, Arcee’s should have gone off far sooner than it did. And don’t say that the Transformers can’t feel cold; Optimus’ first priority when he realizes that their link with base is lost is to insulate himself and Arcee in shelter, so cold can affect the Transformers’ body. But for the sake of the episode, both sensors go off at the same time, and their link with base is shaky at best at this point. Ratchet tries in vain to communicate with Optimus, but the communications go down, and Optimus and Arcee are now stranded in the cold. Now, the formula thickens; they now need to both repair something and get rid of something else to get their people home and save their home altogether.

Bulkhead suggests abandoning the base itself, but that’s shot down because they still need the GroundBridge. So the kids volunteer to help out, since they’re not made of metal, and as such would be able to defend themselves and the Autobots without being attacked. Miko and Raff pair off with their robot partners to help eradicate the pests, and Jack is left to watch Ratchet’s back as he repairs the GroundBridge. Bulkhead and Bumblebee are less than thrilled about this decision.

Meanwhile, Arcee’s having trouble keeping up with Optimus; she’s really not in good shape here, being half frozen already, and her suggestion of trying to flee from the cold is brought up short by Optimus’ obvious claim that driving would waste too much energy and just make them freeze faster. Their best option is to find shelter until Ratchet can get the bridge up and running. Still, you really have to feel for Arcee here: look at Optimus, with the majority of his face wrapped up in that iconic faceplate and several tons of muscle and red armor to boot, while Arcee’s left with a sports bra, cod piece and stockings. It would just suck to be female in the Prime universe.

Back at base, Bulkhead freaks out due to the lights going out and getting tangled in some cable... yeah, our hero, ladies and gentlemen, until the real Scraplets attack him and Miko, forcing them to fight, to little success. Bumblebee and Raff are attacked as well, while Jack fends off a swarm that can apparently fly, which is another cool feature. Ratchet gets the idea to use the fire extinguisher to freeze them… which wouldn’t work… at all.

The Scraplets were frozen due to Arctic temperatures, which are significantly cooler than freezing temperature itself. So saying that you can freeze these guys with a fire extinguisher when they were frozen by Arctic temperatures is like saying that you can burn a block of wood that could stand in a forest fire; sure both burn, but the one trumps the other. Anyway, Bulkhead and Bumblebee come stumbling in, only to be targeted as well. This leads into a pretty funny scene of the three huge and powerful robots having to be scared and the kids having to do their best to defend them. I love Ratchet’s exasperated sigh as he realizes just how screwed they all are!

Meanwhile, Optimus and Arcee are trying to stay alive. Optimus wakes Arcee from a life-threatening nap, and they begin musing over why they haven’t been picked up yet.

“Our predicament could be the result of a simple malfunction…”

“Caused by Bulkhead. Let’s see: no comm. link, maybe even no power. The big lug probably tripped over a cord. He’s never been too graceful. Remember when we first arrived on Earth, and Bulkhead walked into those power lines? Who knew he could dance like that?”

I like this bit here. The small talk and reminiscing really gives us the feel that these people have known each other for a long time, and that they have stories to tell that we may never get to see. Optimus’ response to Arcee’s theory is… polite for what he’s trying to say:

“Bulkhead may be… too large for this world. But his inner strength is without bounds. One should not be measured by size alone.”

That’s why Arcee’s not dead yet; she has a strong heart… that’s the best I got from that message…

Back at base, the Scraplets have retreated leaving a battered group of commandos and their human friends to lick their wounds.

“Did we get ‘em all?”

“Hardly. Those were just scouts.”

Scouts? Are you kidding me! Then again, we saw how vicious these things could be back in “Orion Pax, Part 3”; maybe Ratchet was thinking of those Scraplets, because I’m telling you now, that earlier scene with all of them fighting the bugs demonstrated how fierce these things get.

Anyway, the ‘bots are a little tired after having a million bugbites all over them, so Ratchet sends the kids to repair the damaged Energon fuel line, which he believes is causing the whole problem… which really undermines the whole “we need to get this working again” plot; why didn’t Ratchet think of that earlier when his mind was sharper and not depleted of energy? And its only one tiny breech too; this isn’t like a massive thing that the Scraplets are feeding off of.

Their plan is simple: once the GroundBridge is repaired, they can send the entire swarm anywhere in the world. Jack suggests that they be sent back to the Arctic, which makes sense: the Scraplets don’t fair well in cold, and that would give the Autobots a chance to get Optimus and Arcee back at the same time. Now the problem is now regarding the decision to bring Optimus and Arcee home first or send the Scraplets out to the Arctic. If Optimus and Arcee are brought in, they would be “fresh meet” according to Ratchet, though I’m not sure how tasty they’d be after sitting out in the Arctic for half an hour.

If the Scraplets are sent out first, then they would be frozen almost immediately; the entire body mass of the swarm would be enough to freeze them on contact, which is odd considering that both Optimus and Bulkhead are far larger and probably weigh more than the mass of swarm of bugs. Regardless, the Autobots would need bait, and with the Scraplets getting ready to feed once the breech is repaired, time is running short.

Meanwhile, Arcee laments her and Optimus’ fate:

“Y’know the worst part? After battling ‘Cons all these years, getting smacked down, shot at, blown up, this is how our lights go out?”

I like how she just outright says that Optimus’ team has been “blown up”. It just adds that sense of invincibility to these robots that, when set beside them dealing with the Scraplet situation, makes it all the more comical. Arcee voices her pleasure at serving under Optimus for the past three years, and Optimus doesn’t even gratify her with a response. Man, you are not making many friends today: you’ve called one of your people fat, you don’t reciprocate when someone says they’ve loved working with you… were they trying make Optimus an asshole in this episode or was all the competence and politeness taken up by the rest of the cast? Actually, being that there are no Decepticons featured in this story, the latter would make perfect sense.

Ratchet gets the bridge open just in time (though in a possible continuity error, he didn’t put in the coordinates for the Arctic itself; he could have done it off-screen though), and Bulkhead mans-up and uses himself as bait. This is where that whole “react to cold” thing falls flat: Bulkhead leads the Scraplets out into the sub-zero temperatures of the Arctic, and the swarm freezes up just as they’re about to feed on Optimus and Arcee… while Bulkhead is completely fine. But everyone’s safe, with the kids taking over medical duties while Ratchet. Ratchet, for his part, is thankful that this entire ordeal happened on a Saturday, further solidifying his acceptance of the humans into the Autobots’ lives.

Oh, and at the very end, Miko freaks out over a spider, just to round out this episodes’ quota of bad comedy.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Scrapheap” is 6/10. It’s an average Prime episode, though it gains an extra point for being the first episode of the series to not feature any Decepticons at all, and fairing pretty well with that handicap. The kids really get to do more here than just stand around and offer up one-liners, and their role as actual helpful people would grow from here on out. Everyone’s role is shifted around slightly, and this set some seeds that would later be picked up in the Orion Pax arc. The flaws that I mentioned here are mainly problems that plague children’s TV shows often, but Prime normally does a good job of avoiding these sorts of issues that they do deserve mention when they do happen. Overall, this is an entertaining, if somewhat bland episode. Next week, we’ll take a look at what can happen when you put your focus on art and character drama in “Rock Bottom”.

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