August 14, 2013

Shadowcon Reviews- Darkness Rising, Part 3

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 1 episode 3: “Darkness Rising, Part 3”

Let’s kick things off with… ah, the requisite robot-human bonding time! We have Jack taking a ride on… with Arcee in bike mode, Miko encouraging Bulkhead to get her killed by barreling down a steep hill in vehicle mode, and Raf displaying his complete lack of social skills or ability to enjoy anything not connected to a computer, by playing video games with Bumblebee… in his own car mode. Y’know, when ‘Bee got his voice back at the end of the series, I’m surprised he teased Raf with such restraint; I would’ve been all over his video games and disconnect with his family… but then that’s why I’m a heartless bastard of a reviewer, and not a giant yellow and black robot. Still, all of this gets across the human’s interactions with their robot partners without bogging down the story, and it doesn’t take up too much time, unlike a lot of other Transformers shows, so good on the writers for that.

At the Autobot base, Ratchet continues to study his Dark Energon specimen, but one of his broken machines (Bulkhead had broken one last episode during the Fowler conversation) comes to life thanks to the blood of Unicron and starts attacking Ratchet. Unicron can be a bitch in any form imaginable. Look at this: we have his normal planet-eating mode and giant robot mode from the ’86 movie, then he just effed with Optimus Primal and his people for funzies in Beast Wars, then he was back to his old self with the added bonus of endorsing mind control and slavery in Armada; he was a floating green ball of energy who still managed to do crippling damage to the Autobots in Energon (talk about humiliating), then after he was recreated as a star, he then mutated into a black hole that threatened to destroy the entire universe in Cybertron. Oh, and in Prime, he not only managed to make Optimus lose his memory, but also, in the Predacons Rising movie, resurrect Megatron just so Frank Welker could fulfill his contract, and this Unicron is voiced by John Noble. Say what you will about Megatron; Unicron has the threats-come-in-all-shapes-and-sizes thing down to a tee.

Anyway, it takes Optimus of all people to finally bring down the Unicron-blood-powered machine, which actually bears a striking resemblance to Scalpel from the Live-Action Movie franchise. We then get into one of the most headache-indusing conversations in terms of continuity. Optimus Prime says to Ratchet that he suspects that Dark Energon is what made the machine come to life. Now, not only does Ratchet balk at this, saying that Dark Energon is “so scarce as to be virtually non-existent”, but we learned last episode that Megatron found his horde of it wihle away in space. So, how does Optimus know to suspect Dark Energon of all things if he hasn’t even encountered it?

But wait, there’s more! He also made the leap in his head from Dark Energon equals life-giving properties to inanimate objects to Dark Energon equals revival of the dead… sure, it’s possible that one could make the leap there, but come on! Optimus didn’t see Cliffjumper up close, he didn’t get a good look at how messed up he was. Unless Arcee told the rest of the team this, then how does Ratchet not make the connection too? Optimus then explains to the audience what we already know, that Megatron transported Dark Engeron to Earth so that he could raise an army of the undead. Now, how Optimus could possibly know this is… well, it just gives you a little insight into how much time Optimus spends pondering what Megatron is doing, doesn’t it? I don’t know; chalk it up to the Exposition Lord.

Or chalk it up to continuity being a bitch, because as so many of you who are as socially awkward as I am are already typing on your keyboards, don’t bother, I know about War For Cybertron. The writers of Prime said that they don’t hold to rigid continuity, so as to allow themselves the freedom of telling an engaging story, whether or not it lines up with other people’s fiction. And I applaud them for saying that! Bravo! This is the Prime series, not the War for Cybertron series. One should not be subservient to another. Nevertheless, this plot point about Dark Energon is a pretty important part of War for Cybertron and Prime, so saying that it’s scarce doesn’t fit into that game’s plot in connection with this show. Moreover, Optimus and Ratchet discuss this as though they’ve never encountered it, yet in the game, they fought against Megatron who wielded it for all to see. See, you can’t have it both ways. This is a minor continuity botch to be sure, and certainly one of the lesser ones that Transformers shows have made (though that’s mostly because the Unicron Trilogy exists), so I’m having trouble holding it against the writers of either game or show; I’m just pointing it out and trying to cover all the bases, because I know if I don’t then someone out there is going to be all up in my face saying I didn’t cover it…

But I digress.

The rest of the Autobots return, human partners in tow, to interrupt the exposition. I particularly like how Optimus takes one look at his three Autobots with their human friends and pretty much just says “yeah, screw this, I’m just gonna take Ratchet!” He leaves Arcee in charge (remember that point), and says that where he and Ratchet are going is outside of communications range. Their radios in this series are like the transporters on Star Trek; most times they work… except when the plot has to have them not. So, with Optimus and Ratchet gone, Jack breaks the awkward silence:

“Okay, chief, so what’s on the activities list?”

“I’m going on patrol.”

Damn, Arcee, could you be a little more frank, I’m not sure Pierce Morgan heard you. And why is she so ornery now? She seemed just fine at the beginning of the episode… maybe Jack was just so annoying that she is now begging to get away from him. And that might make sense in any other Transformers series, but this is Prime, and as we’ve established, the humans are good in this show. Some have said that Arcee’s still upset about Cliffjumper and that this was a moment of rudeness to mask her grief, and I can kinda see that. Anyway, she takes Bumblebee along with her; if you really want to read into this, *sigh* fine: One could make the case that, along with her outburst to Jack, she took Bumblebee along with her perhaps as a reminder of Cliffjumper because the two are both muscle cars, they have similar personalities, and out of universe, this would pay homage to G1, where Bumblebee and Cliff shared the same body. Happy? Good, that’s all the trivial speculating mixed with actual trivia that I’m willing to do for this episode.

So, she and ‘Bee leave, leaving Bulkhead in charge of things. Miko suggests band practice to pass the time, conjuring up these huge industrial stage speakers from thin air. She asks Raf what he plays, and he just whips out his computer (of course), but when Jack says that all he’s ever done is “mess around on the harmonica”, she turns that down and orders that he just “cover [him]self in fake blood and jump around screaming”. The irony of all of this: she’ll be the one jumping around screaming for most of the series. No blood, though (dammit). As she’s rocking out, the proximity sensor goes off, and the kids have to hide when Agent Fowler arrives to berate Optimus for that whole stint in the Energon mine last episode. Bulkhead does his best to compensate:

“Agent Fowler! He’s not here… nobody’s here. Well, except me, of course!”

Nice. Fowler notices the chord from Miko’s guitar and Raf’s laptop, forcing the kids to show themselves. The three do their best to cover why they’re there, but Fowler just says that he’s taking them all into federal custody. Bulkhead counters with a stomp of his foot, saying that the Autobots are protecting these humans, and then breaks a phone so that Fowler has to be sent packing.

I should probably mention at this point that the Decepticons have in fact had screen time this episode already (I just did the Autobot stuff first to make things flow a little easier)! Megatron’s gone out to revive some more dead Cybertronians, and so Starscream ordered that Soundwave increase global surveillance. Well, now’s where that global surveillance thing finally pays off, as they intercept a communiqué between Fowler and his superiors that mentions the Autobot base by name… well, Fowler actually just says “Autobot base”, not “Autobot Outpost Omega One”, so… anyway, Starscream orders the dispatch of Laserbeak to capture Fowler so that he can tell them where the base is.

And thus we have one of our requisite battle scene for the episode, though this is comparatively low-key because it’s a drone chasing a helicopter with a human inside. Still, Fowler does get some good shots in before finally being captured. I like the music that goes along with this too. Brian Tyler really put a lot of soul and energy into the Prime score, and this cue is no exception! Thing is, that’s all there is in terms of action this episode, aside from a little thing towards the end. Not bad, but as I said, low-key and honestly a little underwhelming for one episode, especially coming off of the heels of the Energon mine battle, which is still one of my favorites of the series.

Fowler does manage to trigger his SOS signal before he’s captured, so Bulkhead can at least follow up on him. But as we see, while Arcee is ornery about babysitting humans, Bulkhead is ornery about saving them, much to the surprise of Jack:

“Location scan was incomplete. Oh well.”

“Oh well?”

“Fowler’s a jerk!”

“Whoa! Whether you like the guy or not, the Decepticons may have him!”

So yes, Bulkhead was going to leave Fowler out there to die at the hands of Starscream… simply because he didn’t like him. Yeah… the Autobots are so endearing, don’t you think? In fact, it takes not only Jack, but also Miko and Raf to convince Bulkhead to go after him! Raf, who’s twelve “and a quarter!”, hacks into the FBI mainframe to access Fowler’s location chip… yeah… I’m just gonna sit back and let the plot points fall where they may, okay!

On the Nemesis, Starscream begins his interrogation of Fowler, but Fowler pretends he doesn’t know anything about the Autobots or any of that. Good on him. Certainly better than what Bulkhead tried to do, which was weasel out of his rescue!

Raf manages to locate Fowler’s location chip, though much in the same fashion as Cliffjumper’s signal, this shouldn’t be possible given the series’ later admission that the Nemesis is cloaked. Bulkhead spins up the GroundBridge and goes after him, leaving the kids at base. Turns out Miko followed him, though (get used to that, buddy) and a lone Decepticon guard spots the two. This is still the miniseries though, so Bulkhead has to actually work to kill him in a pretty epic fight (certainly better than the previous chase scene). I like when Bulkhead just up and rips out the poor guard’s guts! I also like that it’s been confirmed that the Vehicons are clones with intelligences and personalities all their own, which makes the Autobots’ the most bloody hands in the entire series.

Jack and Raf realize that Miko’s gone and go to follow, though their leaving means that there’s no one left at base to GroundBridge Bumblebee and Arcee back when they receive word from Bulkhead that he’s… well, in a hell’a trouble! Starscream interrogates Fowler some more, this time using his own torture device… yes, despite what you may think, the Decepticons are surprisingly polite to their guests: they ask you what you know so many times that it puts you to sleep and only then do they break out the brass knuckles!

While all of this is going on, we finally catch up to Optimus and Ratchet… y’know, this series’ episode format is very tricky for me to review, because they keep jumping all over the place, and so I have constantly reorder things to keep a coherent thought going while at the same time include everything to get a good synopsis, but not do so in a way that might seem boring or zig-zaggy. I don’t know, this is the best way I’ve come to do this sort of thing. Anyway, Optimus has explained to Ratchet that Autobots and Decepticons have indeed battled on Earth before… this muddles continuity so much, I’m not even going to bother dissecting it and trying to work this into all the other shit that’s been piled onto this show’s history. But yeah, that’s happened, so this is where Megatron’s going to find his huge army. Megatron arrives, taunting the duo a little before revealing his big glowing purple spike… of Dark Energon you dirty, dirty Tumblr shippers! And so, his army rises, turning him into a giant purple glow stick towards whom Optimus and Ratchet cower!

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Darkness Rising, Part 3” is 7/10. While the action is a little less than its predecessors, the characters and mythos continue to evolve, and we’re always on the move with the plot and the characters. Having introduced the three humans in the first episode and then made a fourth human become a recurring character is daring stuff for Transformers, but like most things in Prime, this worked surprisingly well. I liked the pace of the episode. It was a nice respite from last week’s exposition and action fest; this one gave us a chance to breathe without feeling like we were wasting time or not getting anywhere. A very good middle-of-the-arc episode. This Sunday, we’ll see the storming of the Nemesis, Optimus being a badass, and a great adult-themed conversation!

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