August 4, 2013

Shadowcon Reviews- Darkness Rising, Part 2


Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 1 episode 2: “Darkness Rising, Part 2”


Starscream fills Megatron in on what’s been going on since he’s been gone for the past three years. The Decepticons have come to Earth and have begun amassing Energon (seriously, these guys have like storerooms full of the stuff).

“The drones have been mining without pause during your absence, and have amassed quite a stockpile. [to Vehicon]: You there, fetch me a sample!”

“Starscream, now that I have returned, I will issue the commands.”

Ah, so things are back to the norm for Starscream and Megs here, that’s nice. What’s new to this series, though, is Megatron’s new purple candy, Dark Energon, a substance that is supposedly really, really rare, though as we’veseen, it’s quite plentiful on Earth. Anyway, Megatron gloats that he has found a portion of it in his journey through space and says that this is what will summon his army. Starscream is impressed, if a little frightened:

“Legend tells that it hold the power to revive the dead.”

“We require only a cadaver to be certain. Are you willing to make the ultimate sacrifice?”

Well, Megatron is not wasting his time, is he? Starscream, the coward that he is, brings out Cliffjumper’s dead corpse instead, and Megatron seems to like the idea of reviving an enemy even more than killing an ally (makes perfect sense), so everything’s good.

After the title flashes on screen (this is before the animation people had come up with a proper opening credits sequence, so the five episodes that open the series only have the title and producer staff), we cut back to the Autobots, where Optimus tells the kids that he thinks the Decepticons know of the humans’ existence… this mainly serves to recap the last episode; it really doesn’t make a lot of sense that Optimus would be telling them this since they covered it last time. Jack wants to leave, evidently not wanting to be told things that he himself experienced firsthand, but Miko objects:

“Can we go now?”

“Are you insane?! I am living a dream here in ‘Bot-swana, and I will not allow you or anyone else to shatter it!”

Yeah, that’d probably be my response too, now that I think about it.

Optimus says that they should stay so as to remain safely hidden from the Decepticons, but Ratchet points out that they’re in as much danger in the base than outside it, perhaps more so, given that the huge robots with guns in their arms are likely to not notice the small humans crawling around on their floor. I like this for two reasons. First, it gives the impression that the Autobots aren’t used to dealing with humans, or at least interacting with those who are not familiar with them, which is good; far too often the Transformers shows will just assume that the robots know where to look and what to do without addressing it. Second, it further emphasizes the show’s scale: we see the Autobots and Decepticons as characters, but to Jack, Raf, and Miko, these aliens are giants! They’re super powerful, and dangerous, and I like that it’s Ratchet who points this out (even if it is to be the butt of a joke).

Agent Fowler makes his first appearance, much to the kids’ confusion. Optimus explains:

“Special Agent Fowler is our designated liaison to the outside world. As he tends to visit only when there are issues, it may be best if you do not meet him at this time.”

Fowler’s pretty ticked that his world is host to a bunch of warring robots, and berates Optimus over how much damage is being done by his crew (I particularly like how Bulkhead and Ratchet just walk away without even a glance at Optimus as Fowler come through the door yelling. I like to think that they’re steering clear in case Optimus gets angry at Fowler for yelling at him all the time and starts wrecking the place; they’d want to be out of harms way). Fowler’s concerned that the Decepticons are back, and says that the time has come to get the military involved. Optimus protests, saying that the Autobots are the only ones who can handle the Decepticons, though the evidence is not really in Optimus’ favor; Arcee and Bumblebee caused a huge traffic jam while fighting the ‘Cons last episode according to Fowler.

The argument is a good one for Transformers; Fowler is written to be in the wrong, but he does bring up some good points: the safety of the world in the hands of robots who say they’re good yet continue to endanger human lives isn’t really a good sales pitch. Optimus’ argument meanwhile, suggests that the human military would fail and result in catastrophe, and plus the FX guys can’t go over budget.

“Perhaps you can condone widespread human casualties, Agent Fowler. I, however, cannot.”

“Then do us both a favor and handle this, Prime, under the radar. Or I will.”

Let’s check back in with Megatron and Starscream. Megatron eagerly jams the chunk of Dark Energon into Cliffjumper’s Spark chamber and watches as the corpse comes back to life, all purple glowing, attacking the guards that have been sparsely dispersed throughout the cave; they aren’t even the good Vehicons, they’re the miner drone kind, so they fall victim very easily. Starscream is less than enthused.

That’s your plan? Bring Autobots back from the dead to attack us?!”

I can’t argue with that reaction. Seems Megatron’s not all he’s cracked up to be. The crazed zombie Cliffjumper finishes off the guards and now tries to attack Megatron, but Megatron just whips out his sword and cuts Cliff’s body in half, though even then, Cliff’s still alive. Megatron takes this all in stride of course:

“There, Starscream, lies the indestructible seed of my army, the ultimate weapon, once I learn to control it.”

Oh, yeah… yeah, just pretend that you planned that!

Back at Autobot HQ, Ratchet complains that his latest version of Windows is malfunctioning again (he’s about the umpteenth person to complain about that), and reports that, according to the broken computer, Cliffjumper’s signal has popped back online. Now, we find out later that the Autobots are using human-based technology and that the computer really is broken, so how it managed to call up something that is true is… well, kinda lucky. Nevertheless, Optimus orders his first “Roll Out!” of the series as Ratchet bridges Optimus and his team to Cliffjumper’s coordinates. The kids are in shock, and Ratchet tells them about the GroundBridge in the most berating way possible, much to the audience’s satisfaction, and says that their base is actually a former missile silo, and that the computer has had to be modified by Ratchet to work with Cybertronian tech, and even then, it’s still full of bugs, though he did build the GroundBridge for more expedient travel. I like that this little bit of information is worked in here; it gives the impression that the Autobots are really on their last legs. The Decepticons have a warship with working technology, a seemingly unlimited army, and the advantage of flight-based vehicle modes. The Autobots have lost one of their own, are operating out of an essentially rundown cave with outdated and broken technology, don’t have the power for interstellar travel at all, and, to top it all off, are having to be pushed around by some desk jockey human who’s pissed because his precious order got a little messed up. Not exactly the greatest start for our heroes to be in, huh?

Optimus and Co. bridge over to the mine and poke about before Optimus just waltzes on in, in plain sight of everybody! I guess he didn’t read the preceding paragraph very well. So, a firefight breaks out! I do like this fight, though. It really is a joy to watch, and is the first real fight we have in terms of sheer numbers and scale, with our heroes working as a unit to bring down the mining operation. I like that every Autobot gets to shine here: Arcee corkscrews a guy’s head off his body, Bumblebee blasts the shit out of a couple guys, Bulkhead just punches these miners until their dead, and Optimus kills a few with his guns. It’s a nice panning shot, too with no jump cuts! The Autobots transform and take out more ‘Cons in vehicle mode (making me really dizzy!) before arriving at the actual front door. Yes, those were just the guards of the mine, poor dopes! Coming under fire, Optimus and his team take out these guys too, though from behind containers this time; don’t want to overdo the kinetic action, guys. Meanwhile, Megatron is having some alone time with his Dark Energon rock (let the fanfic begin…), contemplating how he’s to wield it, when Starscream interrupts over the comm, informing Megatron of the Autobots siege. Instead of being rational and confronting Optimus now, Megatron instead orders that the ship take off, much to Starscream’s disgust.

“But the Energon I’ve mined. The Autobots will seize it!”

“Then blow the mine!”

So let me get this straight, Megatron. You’ve come back, not with an army like everyone thought you would, but with a glowing hunk of purple rock intent on raising the dead. You then squander a portion of it on a dead enemy who turns out to go insane when you bring him back to life so you then have to kill him again. And now you order that your energy reserves be blown to bits because you’re getting cold feet and can’t yet face your enemy in person yet… for some reason. Nice. Real nice. Y’know, I’d buy that you’ve had some master plan in place since your departure, Megatron, but given your backstory for things such as the Iacon relics in Season Two and the Predacon clones in Season Three, I think it’s safe to say that right now, you’re just a crazy old guy who doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing!

Anyway, back at the mine, Arcee spots Cliffjumper’s corpse and goes after it. Optimus’ “we’ll cover you” is quickly seen as a falsehood, because when Arcee gets close to Cliff, the ‘Cons start targeting her… without any cover fire available. Was… was this supposed to homage Energon with the two leaders being incredibly dim this episode? Arcee does manage to catch Cliffjumper by the hand, and even though there’s only half a body left, Arcee’s determined to get him home! Yeah, that’s commitment on a whole other scale, ladies! However, being a crazed zombie mutant half-body thing, Cliffjumper doesn’t take kindly to being touched and forces Arcee to let him go, sending him plunging to his death (again).

Starscream arrives, dropping a bomb into the mine along with a quip before leaving again, and Optimus orders everyone out. I like how he waits for Arcee to come back and transformer herself before he transforms after her. Just a little touch of animation and blocking that I noticed. Anyway, the mine blows, and the Autobots are able to escape thanks to Ratchet spinning up the bridge just in time. So, if you’re keeping score, Cliffjumper died by Energon mine explosion and Starscream’s knifing him with his fingers, then died again when Megatron cut him in half, then was revealed to be still alive only for Arcee to let him plunge to his death, and then, for added certainty that he was dead, the mine explodes! And it’s a wonder people say this series starts out dark…

Back at Autobot HQ, everyone’s a little tense, especially Arcee, who’s still in a “yell and beat up everyone” mode, even reacting to Miko’s excitement about there being a fight. Ratchet notices that Arcee has some purple stuff on her hand from touching Cliffjumper (though, for the Tumblr Arcee/Cliffjumper shippers out there, this is the Dark Energon purple stuff, not some other liquid substance that she has from Cliff…) and orders that Arcee take a “decontamination bath”. Okay… I’m not sure I want to know how robots bathe (especially since Arcee’s escorted away by Bumblebee).

The kids are feeling a little awkward given the situation.

“Optimus, I hate to bug, but… no bars.”

“A security precaution. The silo walls isolate all radio waves.”

“Well, if I don’t call my mom like, now, I’m pretty sure the cops will be out looking for me.”

“Have you broken a law?”

Haha! Look at Optimus’ expression: he takes law very seriously. Instead of letting Jack go outside to get cell reception so he can call his mom, Optimus assigns his Autobots with the task of guarding their human allies. Bumblebee will accompany Raf, Bulkhead Miko, and Arcee Jack (though Arcee’s less than thrilled about this).

At Jack’s house, he tries to comfort Arcee over the loss of Cliffjumper, but she’s a little… testy:

“Arcee, I just wanted to say… I’m really sorry for your loss.”

“What could you possibly know about loss?!”

“What, you think you’re the only one with problems?”

“I’m not sure ‘girl trouble’ counts!”

“Well, I’m pretty sure my girl trouble started the night I met you!”

Arcee’s undoubtedly clever retort to match Jack’s bravado is cut short by the arrival of Jack’s mom, June. She’s rather upset that Jack is up driving around a motorcycle, though her main concern of course is how he got it:

“How did you even afford this?”

“It’s used. It’s... abused, really. Needs a ton of repairs.”

Hot damn! Look at that, Arcee can’t even say anything to stop Jack from just verbally kicking her while she’s down. Yeah, just keep piling it on there, Jack, that won’t come back to bite you! The conversation is really about how Jack has outgrown childhood, and is quickly maturing into an adult. I like this because it establishes that Jack has grown, but will continue to grow through the course of the series, taking the leap from teenager to young adult, much as this conversation establishes his leap from child to teenager. I like the parallel. June’s a forgiving mother though, so she accepts Jack having a motorcycle, along with:

“You will take me for a spin once in a while?”

“We’ll see. She’s kinda temperamental.”

Man, Arcee’s just not having the best day. She does her best to get back at Jack, though: she wakes him up early on Saturday! Ooh! Yeah, that’ll teach him. Her revenge spikes with:

“You can watch cartoons back at base with Bumblebee.”

“Hurmph. Cartoons; I’m sixteen!”

“And leave a note for your mom! She worries!”

Nice.

We cut over to Starscream and Megatron, the former dripping with smugness:

“I don’t think you need worry about further Autobot interference, master, not with Optimus gone.”

“And what evidence do you possess of this fact?”

“I destroyed the mines, as you instructed.”

“Optimus is not so easily destroyed. We have millennia worth of battles behind us to prove it.”

Man, even when Starscream does something right, he can’t escape scorn! Poor guy. Starscream suggests that Megatron take a break from gazing at his purple rock, but this just pushes Megatron over the edge… and he tears a piece of Dark Energon off of the big husk and injects himself with it, his eyes turning purple to indicate that he has gone mad… well, more mad than before (though topping “destroy a large supply of energy ‘cause I’m not prepared to fight” is an impressive feat in and of itself!)

Finally, we again cut over to the Autobot base where Ratchet is alone studying the Dark Energon obtained from Arcee. He fails to notice a drop of it spill onto a broken machine that Bulkhead had wrecked earlier during Agent Fowler’s visit, and the purple goo seeps into the machine and brings it to life. So, Dark Energon can reanimate the dead, bring inanimate machines to life, and, as we’ll see next episode, give the living dominion over the dead. This stuff, shockingly, is not going to become a MacGuffin!

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Darkness Rising, Part 2” is 6/10: while the characterization is a little shoddy at times (Optimus and Megatron in particular seem to be going through the motions of supposed leadership in this episode than actually caring about what’s going on as they do in other episodes) and the plot a little mushy (the episode feels a lot like a bridge episode, or perhaps the middle of a movie, which the 5-part pilot is intended to be... kind of), the action is still impressive and the interactions between Jack and Arcee at the end there really prop this episode up. I also like Megatron’s presence in this episode: he’s a formidable force (even including his little hiccup there with the Energon mine thing), and Frank Welker does a fantastic job of reprising his Megatron role, this time with far more menace and life!

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