July 18, 2013

Shadowcon Reviews- Legacy

            Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 2 episode 20: “Legacy”

            Prime season 2 is a rather weak season, as noted in my Overview, and I think that one of the many elements that make this season not work for me is all of the untapped potential. Seen in this episode and in a few others, characters say and do things that could lead to something amazing; we see establishment of themes, natural character growth, and attempts to wrestle with the human (or in this case, Cybertronian) condition, all of which could have been the heart and soul of this season. This episode is one that establishes so much of what could have made Prime’s second season great: we have very good character growth for Smokescreen, great interaction between he and the rest of the Autobots, and Optimus’ dialogue this episode suggests that there may be more to this war than just good versus evil (and no, for those wondering, I did not set that sentence up to end with “more than meets the eye”)! As a stand-alone episode, this is excellent, so let’s dive in and see what makes this work!

            The first half of this episode focuses on Smokescreen acclimating to his new environment on Earth. Optimus has him partner up with Jack to learn the basics of the whole “robots in disguise” thing, and Optimus and Arcee have a great exchange that draws both on common sense and on continuity, two things that I always like in a Transformers show!

            “Optimus, with all due respect, Agent Fowler is out relocating Raff’s family because the ‘Cons discovered where he lives. Meanwhile Smokescreen, in all his wisdom, chooses a vehicle mode with screaming double 38s on the doors making him an easy target! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more than concerned about Jack’s safety”

            “Nonetheless, the fact remains that our new recruit is in need of instruction. I believe that Smokescreen’s spark is in the right place, and that he now understands the necessity of protecting humanity.”

            I like this because it shows that the Autobots do slip up on occasion. Back in “The Human Factor”, the Decepticons located Raff’s home and attempted to destroy it. While this was passed off as a final obstacle for the Autobots to overcome, it is nevertheless a pretty serious deal. I’m glad that the writers had that line in there about relocating Raff’s family, as it helps reinforce the fact that the Autobots do get carried away with their war wit the ‘Cons. Indeed, prior to this exchange, Optimus confronts his entire team on the issue of letting their war with the Decepticons and the hunt for all these relics distract them from the fact that they are on a world that is not yet ready to behold their presence. It’s an interesting theme that thankfully carries through this episode.

            Well, with that introspective dialogue out of the way, we cut to Jack and Smokescreen reviewing traffic laws. I hate it when Transformers shows do this. Nothing about this feels natural, especially considering that most of the time, the Transformers have access to the entirety of our Internet, not to mention government documents and classified intel. So having Smokescreen learn about human driving laws from a human when Ratchet could just as easily have pulled that up on his computers back at base, as well as the fact that Smokes is leaning from someone who rides a motorcycle, just doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. However, that’s quickly eschewed as the bully, Vince, that pops up from time to time drives up alongside Jack and ruins Smokescreen’s paintjob, leading to Smokescreen wanting to get even. Jack objects:

            “We also have to follow Optimus’ rule. It’s not just about protecting humans; you can’t harm them either.”

            “Who said anything about harming?”

            The two return to base having wrecked Vince’s car, laughing as Jack proudly shows Arcee a picture of the event. Arcee’s less than thrilled, but Jack points out that Smokescreen did pass driver’s ed. (hell’a lot quicker than any 15-year old I know). Smokescreen’s actions may seem childish here, but I think that’s due in part because he’s been partnered with Jack, who is himself a teenager. A lot of people have commented on the two being paired off like this, some saying that they don’t like it and feel that it undermines Jack and Arcee’s relationship, but I don’t think that at all. For one, partnering Jack up with a robot who is like him seems natural to me, and helps his character grow. This also helps him interact more closely with another Transformer; aside from Arcee, he’s only had mild interactions with Ratchet and Optimus, and his disastrous attempt at conversing with Bumblebee wound up nearly getting another human killed! So this is a good chance for him to broaden his interactions with the other Autobots, and gives us a chance to see some slapstick humor.

            We cut to the Decepticons for a brief setup scene. I mentioned in my Season 2 Overview that a lot of the scripts for the episodes in that season had both the Autobots and the Decepticons decoding Iacon relic coordinates. Well, here is a prime example of that, as we see Megatron establish that Soundwave has decoded the next entry, and shortly thereafter we cut over to the Autobots, who are attempting to do the same.  Thankfully this episode has, to spice things up, Megatron send Soundwave out with a decoy beacon to trick the Autobots while Megatron retrieves the real relic himself. It’s not the greatest scheme ever, but it’s genius planning compared to what Megatron usually comes up with this season. Optimus scrambles his Autobots to go after the Decepticons’ decoy, all except Smokescreen, who is out training with Jack, and by training, I of course mean humiliating humans… per Optimus’ instructions of course!

            Megatron uncovers the actual relic sticking out of a mountainside, and we’re greeted with a nice pre-commercial break quip:

            “It cannot be! Power of this magnitude must never be allowed to fall into the hands of Optimus Prime! No matter what!”

            I like this because unlike the other relics, this scares Megatron. This item is so powerful, that Megatron, after failing to dislodge it from the rock himself, orders his crew to do whatever it takes, even suggesting that they move the entire mountain, just to keep it away from Optimus. This is great setup, as we have no idea what this thing can do. Why does Megatron fear it, why will it only respond to Optimus, what could Optimus do if he were to wield it? All of these questions are raised and then nestled in the back of our minds as the episode continues, which is great. It’s what made Season One so good, and is what is helping pull Season Three out of the mud.

            The second part of this episode focuses on the discovery and retrieval of the relic, and it also gets in our requisite action sequence. Back at the Autobot base, Smokescreen returns with Jack as Ratchet attempts to contact Optimus, trying to tell him that they’ve discovered a second (and the actual) Iacon relic. There’s no response, so Ratchet sends Smokescreen out to retrieve it. Smokescreen brings Jack along, because, hey it give Smokescreen another human to harass… I mean, protect! GroundBridging to the sight, Jack and Smokes spot the relic, and Smokescreen explains its origin.

            “Not just any sword. That looks like the Star Saber, a legendary weapon forged by Solus Prime, as lore would have it. It’s rumored to wield the power of the Matrix. I’m gonna make Optimus proud!”

            Before Smokescreen can make his move, Jack points out that Megatron is there, but that just increases Smokescreen’s eagerness. He goes for the relic, taking out a bunch of Vehicons as he does so, but we all know that those guys are like Borg drones; there’s an endless supply and they die really easily. Smokescreen is brought down, and as Jack radios Ratchet for help, he himself is discovered and subsequently chased by an Insecticon. Poor guy.

            Ratchet finally just says screw it and GroundBridges to Optimus’ location after trying fruitlessly to reach him over the phone. Meanwhile, Jack continues to be chased, though now by three Insecticons! Y’know, I wonder how Jack feels about those things; one nearly beat Arcee to death, a whole fleet of them now serves Megatron… I wonder if Jack ever pesters Optimus wanting to know why they can’t get an endless supply of super-soldiers! Well, the ‘Cons start literally carrying the mountain with a cable from their ship! Damn. With this and the Insecticons, the Decepticons are like the progressively insane bosses in videogames: in Season One, Megatron had an army of surprisingly hard-to-beat Vehicons at his disposal, in Season Two, the Vehicons were toned down to cannon fodder to make room for the crazy powerful Insecticons, then in Season Three, he had a whole fortress crawling with silver Vehicons (gotta get in that DLC) along with a dragon! All the Autobots get is a leader who looses his memory, a spunky teenager Optimus-fanboy, bases that get blown up, and a guy with a hook for a right hand! Small wonder the Autobots keep winning, huh?!

            Anyway, the rest of the Autobots finally show up to rescue Smokes and Jack, though Arcee is kinda pissed that Jack got turned into Miko this episode! Megatron is naturally really worried, as he doesn’t see Optimus with the rest of the team. Optimus does his action-hero stuff and goes after the Star Saber! The battle is of course well-done (this is Prime after all), as Optimus dodges fire, transforms from robot to vehicle and just drives up the side of the mountain into the air. I love Optimus’ determination here. Reading between the lines a little (‘cause that’s what I like to do with kids’ cartoons), Optimus is so determined in this sequence to get that sword, and I think the reason he’s so determined is that he knows that getting ahold of this weapon will tip the balance of power in the Autobots’ favor. That last paragraph may have been poking fun at how powerful the ‘Cons are, but part of that was also to illustrate that Optimus’ literal grab for power is due to his desperation. Remember that in the “Orion Pax” arc, Optimus helped the Decepticons decode the Iacon database? I think that here he’s trying to prove that he’s still able to lead, and that he’s still worthy to wield such a weapon as the Star Saber. It’s small character development, but it does hold true to Optimus’ supposed arc through this season.

            I mentioned in my “Crossfire” review that Optimus’ character arc this season focuses on him becoming increasingly more desperate with how he handles himself both as a leader and in combat, and this whole sequence fits into that, as when he does grab hold of the hilt of the sword, his eyes are wide, possibly with wonder, but to me, also with crazed desperate hope, as though he’s pleading with Primus to let him be worthy of this weapon. Well, he is, and from this point on, he’s wiser, more confident, and is better at giving speeches… always an important trait when you’re a leader of an army! The sword glows an awesome radiant blue, as Optimus drops from the sky, sword in hand. Megatron is furious, and in a desperate panic move, orders his men to drop the mountain on Optimus. With his men warning him to fall back, Optimus looks at the sword, possibly now understanding or acknowledging his place as a true leader, and turns and cleaves the entire mountain in two with one upward strike!!! Megatron’s reaction shot (seen above) is priceless! Optimus’ confidence is bolstered even more as he looks up at the ship and, knowing that Megatron is watching, winks at his longtime foe (burn!) before winging the Saber around and unleashing a blue light blast that disables the Decepticons’ ship, forcing it to retreat! Megatron sums up events pretty accurately:

            “We Decepticons now face our darkest hour!”

            Back at base, Smokescreen’s awe over Optimus’ new weapon is quickly quelled as Arcee berates him over putting Jack in danger. Though Jack tries to protest, Arcee’s having none of it, and orders that he be sent home. Arcee’s wrath turns on Smokescreen again, now laying out his character foibles:

            “We’ve been in need of another Autobot in our ranks, not another child.”

            “Look, Arcee, I was wrong. And I’m sorry… again. And if you need to kick me off Team Prime-“

            Optimus cuts him off:

            “Disregard for human safety, or anyone’s safety, will not be tolerated. Do you understand?”

            “Fully, sir.”

            I think that laying down the rules for Smokescreen was a logical move, and I was glad that Arcee was the one to do it, as she has so often been about reckless actions in service of personal gain (i.e. getting revenge on both Starscream and Airachnid). Optimus puts Smokescreen in his place, and continues with one of my favorite lines from the series:

            “We must never lose sight of the fact that upon this Earth, we are titans, and such power must be used wisely.”

            The reason I like this line so much is because it underscores the Cybertronians’ entire struggle on Earth and how epic it truly is, and that aspect of the Transformers and their war is so often ignored. This line is also coming from a guy who now possesses arguably the most powerful weapon in the Universe, thus coming from a titan among titans. Look at the destructive power the Star Saber can inflict, look at how dangerous the war really is, when just a few episodes ago, Bulkhead nearly died, and in this episode, Jack could have been killed. This line opens up so much that this series could explore, and the ending of Optimus receiving a message from Alpha Trion, could have led into such a masterful exploration of what it means to be a Cybertronian on such a fragile world. There is so much potential in this loaded line that you leave this episode wanting more. Sadly, the rest of the season does not deliver on this, and as great as Season Three is, it doesn’t pick up on this line either. However, in this episode its great, and brings back that line spoken by Optimus at the beginning, that the Autobots must not overlook simple matters like protecting humanity, to the forefront, and is a great way to end the episode.

            Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Legacy” is 9/10. Definitely a highlight for this season. As a stand-alone episode, it’s great! It has plenty of action, wonderful character development, and great introduction of themes that could have, and should have, been picked up and followed through to the end of the season. The animation is great, and the Autobots finally get a wicked cool weapon! Overall, a great episode in a rather mediocre season.

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