August 17, 2013

Shadowcon Reviews- Darkness Rising, Part 4


Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 1 episode 4: “Darkness Rising, Part 4”

Transformers Prime got off to a great start, with Cliffjumper’s death highlighting the series’ dark tone and establishing that this show is far from where the Unicron Trilogy or even Animated had been; this is a show that can be and often is serious about what its doing and is usually unafraid to take risks. “Darkness Rising, Part 4” then, allows some of that maturity to seep through a little more. As the action is the primary vehicle for this episode, it allows for minimal exposition and more for development not only of the human characters, but also of how the situation affects the humans and their feelings towards their robot partners. It is not often that the human element in Transformers is strong, and its rarer still to have the human characters react in natural and reasonable ways. Let’s get down to the episode, and I’ll see if I can’t better explain myself.

Action is something at which Prime is master, and this was the first time the animators could really cut loose and just have an all-out free-for-all war with lots of stuff going on! Megatron’s zombie army has risen and is now getting ready to mob Optimus and Ratchet. Megatron lets the audience know that he possesses a symbiotic link with his zombie army thanks to the Dark Energon, before making the grand command:

“Destroy them!”

Yeah! You tell ‘em, Megs. Optimus whips out his blasters and just starts shooting (what happened to that all-knowing attitude you had last episode, buddy?), and Ratchet wonders aloud how they can defeat enemies who are… already dead; y’know, that kinda hampers the whole “rules of war” thing. Optimus orders that Ratchet bridge himself back to base; there’s speculation as to whether Ratchet has some sort of in-built GroundBridge remote thing inside him, or this was just bad writing, though given how many continuity elements the writers change after this miniseries, I’m inclined to think the latter. Ratchet says that he’s staying, deploying his surgical scalpels that look so much like swords I’m surprised his bedside manner is as polite as it is. The two begin just killing the shit out of this army, man! Its awesome!

Ratchet recommends that Optimus use his swords instead of guns, as dismemberment seems to be a lasting concussive for the zombie horde. Optimus complies, deploying two wicked looking blades, and then proceeds to just hack and swipe and stab his enemies in a fashion dripping with Live-Action Movie series Prime! This Optimus is better, though. For one, he only likes to decapitate those who are already dead, and for another, he’s more polite.

Over on and around the Nemesis, Bulkhead is having a hell of a time keeping the kids safe, as Jack and Raf are caught under fire. Bulkhead rescues them in his vehicle, giving them a reprieve behind a boulder while the two boys are reunited with Miko, if only for a short period. Bulkhead goes out into battle again, telling all three kids to stay behind this huge slab of rock. This fight is pretty cool: we have Bulkhead taking out Vehicons by himself, and letting us in on his fighting style. He’s a brute to be sure, but he’s adept melee and firefighting as well, which is neat. Turns out Miko followed him again, though, and this time messed up his interior something fierce… there are so many phrases that can only be said with a straight face in Transformers. Anyway, Bulkhead comes under fire and uses a satellite dish as a weapon to take out some more foes, but he does get overwhelmed, and his only escape route is into the Nemesis itself. Raf wonders if Bulkhead and Miko have forgotten about them, only to be captured along with Jack. The two are taken back to the Nemesis, only to be rescued by Arcee and Bumblebee (we can infer that they drove back to base and GroundBridged here).

“Appreciate you clearing the front door for us, but storming the Decepticon warship was not on the activities list.”

Yeah, that would be a whole lot more convincing if you hadn’t abandoned your post due to anger issues! Anyway, they meet up with Bulkhead, and Jack and Raf inform everyone that Fowler is being held in the brig.

In said brig, it looks like Starscream has been having just a little too much fun with that torture device of his, because Fowler is so messed up that he’s willing to spill the Autobot’s location… right up until he hears gunfire from outside. Starscream is less that pleased:

“Someone find out what is going on out there!”

Well, what’s going on is the Autobots are kicking some major ‘Con ass! The battle is shown from the kid’s perspective, with lots of upward camera angles and piecemeal action, which is great! I love how with one shot, the sound of Bulkhead’s weapon deafens Raf for a time, making the whole experience surreal and new. The kids try to find cover, but it’s a little difficult when you have flying robot heads and bodies ready to squish you. I also like that it’s Jack who’s taken charge, leading Miko and Raf around trying to find cover. When the battle is over, it’s plain on each of the children’s faces that this is not what they had in mind when the giant robot girl said “Hey, you want some candy”.

Cutting back to Optimus and Ratchet for a little bit, we find that Dark Energon is also poison to those infused with the regular stuff. Naturally, it gave Megatron control over the dead instead of killing him… yeah. Optimus and Ratchet are growing weak from its effects, but Optimus is… well, Optimus; telling him to quit a battle is like telling three fat kids to leave the donut alone and keep walking, so he just goes all out and keeps being badass and awesome. The two do get overpowered, with the zombies just dogpiling them. Optimus’ fighting took cues from both G1 and the Movies franchise, though, so he manages to bust his way free, freeing Ratchet. Megatron’s impressed.

“After all these years, Optimus, still at the top of your game! My legion, FINISH THEM!”

With a broken arm for Ratchet and a pissed off level that would rival Major Kira from Deep Space Nine as a ground state for Optimus, the two are not in good shape. Well, best of luck to you guys, then! Let’s see what the rest of the Autobots are doing.

The Autobots clear out a room in which the kids can hide (incidentally, this room would later be labeled as the bridge of the ship, so why it isn’t more heavily active this time is left to our imaginations). The Autobots leave the kids, saying that they’ll be alright so long as they don’t leave. This is where the episode moves from action-filled adventure into pretty good adult, or young adult-aimed dialogue and themes. Jack and Miko get into a heated argument, Jack berating Miko for leaving, and Miko offering up nothing in her defense but her excuse that she didn’t ask them to follow her. Raf breaks up the argument with a yell wrought with irritation, going over to some steps the size of benches and sitting down to cry. This is a situation that none of them were prepared for, and arguing about whose fault it was that led them here isn’t helping. Jack and Miko offer up comforting words to Raf:

“Our ‘bots’ll come back for us.”

“Yeah, they’re gonna take us home.”

To which Raf responds:

“How do you know?”

And the truth is, they don’t. And what’s more, we don’t either. Thanks to Cliffjumper’s death, we have no idea if the Autobots are going to live or die, and Raf’s subtle desperation in his eyes yet complete acceptance that he’s probably going to die in his voice makes the scene just work for me. I like that the humans are first actually getting developed as characters, and second are discussing things that I think real people would discuss, or at least think about, while in this situation. The good character stuff is interrupted when Jack spots a computer screen with a giant mess of an equation on it, and asks Raf what he thinks it is.

“It’s important. Real important.”

I’m skipping around again, because these two sequences are pretty independent of one another, so I’ll cover the rest of the humans’ section first, because that’s the more interesting one (yeah, I never thought I’d say that about Transformers either). The kids try to find a way to get the equation back to the Autobots, but the writers foolishly decided to make the alien tech incompatible with human technology, so putting this on a flashdrive won’t work. A Vehicon waltzes in while they’re working, and as the kids rush to hide, the Decepticon spots Raf and goes after him. It takes Jack to pull him to safety, and he yells for Miko to take a picture… of the equation on the screen, not of the giant death machine, though admittedly distinguishing between the two at this point might be a little difficult.

While this is going on, the rest of the Autobots storm the brig, and they find themselves at a standstill, with Starscream having Fowler at gunpoint. The Autobots open fire anyway after Starscream is distracted by Fowler’s ramblings, forcing him to flee. Arcee gets a face full of jet exhaust as Starscream makes a break for it in jet mode, and the Autobots race to get Fowler away. I like that they don’t go after Starscream and that they focus on the mission at hand. Minor? Sure, but this is Transformers; the characters usually get sidetracked and have to battle for noreason.

Meanwhile, the kids are chased out the room by their one Vehicon pursuer, and it takes Bulkhead to deal with him (man, Bulk’s just really soaking up points this episode). Arcee’s still a little hot headed:

“I told ya to stay put!”

Sorry, girl. The huge robot with a scary visor and death ray kinda distracted us for a second there. The Autobots make their escape with little hassle. Good, now let’s see how Optimus is doing:

“Bravo, Optimus, though this is but a prelude. You may wish to save your strength for the main event!”

So, why were you so intent on having your little army kill them, Megatron? This was probably a beta testing of his Dark Energon-infused Spark, but still, seems kinda odd that he’s backpedaling now. Megatron makes his escape, and Ratchet wonders about Megatron’s true endgame.

Back at base, everyone’s a little shaken up. Optimus blames Bulkhead for putting the humans in danger… even though he assigned Arcee the duties of watching the humans. Fuel for the fanfic fires, no doubt. Miko pipes up that their involvement wasn’t a total waste (unlike so many other Transformers cartoons out there), and she shows Optimus the equation.

“Hmmm. Ratchet, have a look.”

“I… don’t understand.”

Miko looks at the phone, and finds that the picture has changed, now showing the Decepticon that chased them.

“Oops. That’s the ‘Con that tried to blow Raf away. At least, that’s what he looked like before Bulkhead rearranged his grill!”

Jack’s finally had it, saying that this whole war thing isn’t a game, and that Raf was almost killed. Miko tries to put it on even footing, saying that all of them were almost killed. And this is where Jack decides that enough is enough and leaves.

“If this was just an average day with the Autobots, then I don’t want to be a part of it. Not any more.”

The first time I watched this, I wanted to stand up and applaud (and would have too, except my Mom was in the other room, and I need to maintain the look of a sane person). This is exactly what someone like Jack would do. I talked at length about his relationship with Optimus in “Orion Pax, Part 3”, and as I said there, Jack has now seen how messed up the war can get, and rightly so, as… well, it’s a war; death kinda comes with the job. But I like that this whole scene was handled with maturity and it remained unsalted for the little kids in the room. Ratchet spins up the Bridge, his uncaring demeanor all too present. Jack passes all of them as he does his nice walk of shame, last of all running into Arcee.

“I know, you don’t exist.”

“Don’t make me hunt you down.”

Over on the Nemesis, Starscream is getting his own punishment from Megatron:

“Please, Lord Megatron! I meant no-“

“I ordered you to await my command! Instead, your mindless agenda has resulted in the disabling of my ship and the delay of my plans!”

“My intentions were pure, Master! I only wanted you to be rid of Optimus.”

“NO ONE RIDS ME OF OPTIMUS PRIME BUT ME! Do you understand?!”

Yeah, this is more like the relationship of old! Nice to see that while the show may have matured its tone and set up actual characters, the backbone of G1 is still present in the show’s characters and relationships.

As the first of two codas to the episode, we cut back to Jack at home. Miko pays him a visit, but instead of apologizing like a normal person, she tries to convince him to come back, saying that he’ll never fit in, especially not after all that has happened.

“Dude, here me out. You’re no fry cook. You’re a rock star! Stop trying to pretend you’re normal, Jack. You’ll never fit in. You were born to do so much more.”

“Thanks, Miko, but I think normal suits me fine.”

This is an interesting conversation when viewed both at first and then in hindsight, and I’m a little sad that I didn’t include this in my analysis on Jack in “Orion Pax, Part 3”. I like the perhaps direct forshadowing to those events, saying that Jack’s a rock star, that he’s more than what he’s doing now. I like the themes of friendship and life that are weaved through the episode that come back in this conversation. Miko leaves though, since Jack is unwilling to accept his responsibility of being a surrogate Prime right now, and he goes back to fixing his bike. It’s a nice coda that would have been a fine way to end the episode, but this is only the fourth part of five, so we have to have our To Be Continued moment in another scene.

Back at the Autobot base, Ratchet deciphers the equation that the kids found, revealing that Megatron is planning or has built his Space Bridge. Seems odd that this is coming as a revelation to the Autobots. How else did they think that Megatron got back to Earth? They already acknowledged that he’s been gone for some time in the first episode, so why are they now surprised that he’s cooked up a big transporter machine. Bulkhead is all for having Megatron gone, but Optimus points out that he’s more likely going to use the Space Bridge to bring through his zombie army, which, as Ratchet points out, he can only get from Cybertron.

To be continued…

Ah, there’s the to be continued sign.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Darkness Rising, Part 4” is 8/10. Definitely a step up from Wednesday’s episode, this one has great action, and an excellent use of human characters, debating danger and tackling life-and-death situations, while acknowledging that they are in life-and-death situations themselves. The pace is quick, the dialogue sharp, and aside from a little plot confusion at the end there with the Space Bridge things turn out very good for this episode. Next week, we’ll see the conclusion of the five-part opening min-series!

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