October 13, 2013

Shadowcon Reviews- Flying Mind

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 2 episode 11: “Flying Mind”

Welcome back to Season Two of Prime. Did you miss it? Yeah, I’m not really leaping with joy either, but it’s okay, because today we’re looking at a Decepticon-focused episode (kind of), so it’s not all bad. In fact, this is one of the strong episodes of the season, and part of the reason for that is the writers’ ability to make this both a thematic piece and include something that I think much of this season was missing: fun. The fun factor is sorely lacking throughout much of the middle of this season’s run, but this episode manages to convey a sense of adventure and lightness despite the rather dire situation. Its good writing, and that I am always happy to applaud. I think part of that is due to the visuals (which we'll get into later), and also due to the fact that the humans are fun characters for this show, and that's a bonus in any Transformers series!

We start off with the Nemesis in bad shape. This is after “Armada”, the worst episode of the show, so both the Decepticon crew and the audience are still licking their wounds. Megatron is adamant that they get the ship repaired, and turns to Dark Energon to do so. He relies on continuity (something the last episode failed to do, so I guess this is making up for lost time), reasoning that since he has Dark Energon flowing through him, he’ll be able to control the ship and be able to deal a definite blow to the Autobots. Megatron suspects that the Autobots will move to exploit any weakness, and with the ship in disarray, he’s really grasping at straws. I like his line that Optimus has become more ruthless since they last met. Remember, this is only a few episodes after “Crossfire”, and that was the last episode in which Optimus and Megatron were face-to-face, so it makes sense that Megatron is uneasy about this. What’s more, this episode as a whole manages to sew that theme of aggressiveness throughout; we see Optimus continually growing more risky over the course of the episode, and if this season had a theme overall, it would be one of gaining power and learning to control it; that sense of responsibility is one that Optimus is slowly losing.

Anyway, after the title sequence, we’re introduced to the Autobots per the episode’s norm, but this week’s conversation is both uncharacteristically dark and full of seriousness… like, in a good way. Arcee is all for hitting the ‘Cons hard and fast while they’re down, and while Ratchet advises caution, Agent Fowler and Optimus are both adamant that they press their advantage. Optimus swings way out into left field and opts to use the Spark Extractor, a weapon that sucks out the Sparks of everyone within a certain radius and leaves the bodies. Now, to put this into perspective, this is a weapon that essentially rips out your heart and energy and then leaves your body perfectly intact. This is a thing of utter terror, and Optimus is all for using it here. Why? Why this out-of-character behavior?

When last we looked at Season Two, we covered “Legacy”, and while I may be pushing analysis a little too far here (especially since this episode comes before “Legacy”), let’s look at what Optimus has been doing over the course of the season, or at least as much as we’ve covered of it. In the “Orion Pax” story arc, we had Optimus taken advantage of, stripped of his Prime status both in rank and in mind, and we had Megatron attempting (and succeeding, for a time anyway) to brainwash him. Now, after the Bumblebee T-Cog situation, the fact that Airachnid launched a full army and now that Megatron has that army under his command, I do find it reasonable that Optimus would consider using such a deadly device as the Spark Extractor. He’s been beaten, badly, not just because of what Megatron did to him, but also because of how he’s led his team since then. Bumblebee lost his T-Cog, Megatron gained an entire wing of men that he can now deploy, and the Decepticons as a whole now have a portion of the Iacon Database decoded, all thanks to Optimus.

To draw this out further, I think we should also take into account the events of “Crossfire”. It was Optimus who said in that episode that he was against taking any life, be they Autobot or Decepticon, and when it came time to kill Megatron, Optimus hesitated. Now, Optimus is seeing what that decision has cost him: Megatron’s fleet has grown… a lot, and it’s all thanks to Optimus not pulling the trigger. I think his desperation is due to him having to prove himself; again, this is the same behavior we witnessed in “Legacy” when he held the Star Saber: that was him looking at that sword and feeling like he’d earned something back because he had proven himself. In “Flying Mind”, we witness the beginnings of that, of Optimus wanting so badly to be seen as this great hero and to also be this great hero and leader that he is willing to go to such great lengths in order to be that again. He needs to prove himself again, and right now, using the Spark Extractor is the only way in his eyes to do that.

Whew! Okay, rant over. The Decepticons go ahead with Operation Insane Idea, and every light on the ship turns from this nice lovely blue into a dark purple. Also, all the screens go red, since… well, they were already purple; it would be a little underwhelming if they changed shades of purple, wouldn’t it? Megatron’s all excited, and back at the Autobot base, Ratchet detects the increase in energy at the site. This is, I believe, the only time we get the coveted “Transform and roll out” command from Optimus, too (all the other times have been variations on this), so that’s cool! Fowler butts in before Optimus himself can take off. Because everything’s his business, Fowler opts to join the Autobots in what he calls “the final showdown with the ‘Cons”, and he reasons that he can do that because he’s a representative of Earth. Please. Jack went to Cybertron; you’ve yelled at the ‘Bots, blamed them for things that weren’t their fault, and when you’re back from a field op, you blabber nonsense. No offense, Fowler, but you’re like the least qualified human to go for this showdown.

Anyway, the Autobots and Fowler encounter the Nemesis, all lit up purple now instead of red, and they begin battle. This one is admittedly less than exciting; Megatron deploys a stasis beam weapon that seems to have magically installed itself on the ship (a point that Knock Out actually voices, so it’s not really a continuity error… just a canon continuity error! Ha!) The beam takes out all of Optimus’ crew, including himself, before they’re able to use the Spark Extractor weapon. Megatron orders that they move in to collect the Extractor, but the ship flies away, leaving all the Autobots, the weapon, and Fowler alone. Megatron’s less than pleased with this turn of events.

“Where are you going?! I said closer!”

“Lord Megatron, the ship seems to be navigating itself.”

Okay, first of all, if Megatron is supposedly in control of the ship, why would he need to order others to pilot it for him? Second, was the prior battle all the ship, or was it Megatron controlling the ship, because if it was the latter, then we know that Megatron has control over it, and if he doesn’t, then why doesn’t he sense it? In fact, in later episodes, he knows when he’s in control of Dark Energon-infused people and things all the time, so why not here? As much as I love Prime, they really gotta pay attention to their use of continuity; either use it all the time, or don’t bother trying to be clever by relying on it only half the time.

Megatron orders that they find out what the problem is with the ship not obeying his orders, but the ship… speaks! Like, legit speaks! I love Megatron’s reaction to this. Like, he just takes this all in stride, demanding to know what the ship is doing! That’s why he’s boss: he can just ride along with whatever’s going on, be it a ship now talking to him, a planet wanting to control him, whatever!

“My own vessel dares to address me in threatening tones?!”

Haha! I love that line! Gotta give the Nemesis credit, though: it threatens Megatron and takes none of Megatron’s threats or boasts seriously. Megatron orders that they take this ship back by whatever means necessary, and Soundwave is on that task… for all of three seconds before he’s shut down after jacking into the ship’s systems. That’s a sign that things are bad: if the dude who never speaks and tolls Optimus Prime is down, you’re plan is pretty much screwed! The ship seems to agree on that point, as it just conjures up these stasis net things and sweeps the decks with them, shutting everyone down!

Back at Autobot HQ, Ratchet has all the other ‘Bots in check (I particularly like how the four are now frozen in their positions; makes Ratchet’s line of “I’ve never encountered this form of stasis lock” all the more funny). The four frozen are alive though, and Ratchet and the humans try to figure out why Megatron’s acting so funny. For one, they can track the ship, something that should not be possible (excluding the miniseries when things were still in the rough draft phase of how things worked in this universe), and Jack ponders that if the cloak isn’t working, then the communications hub might. Ratchet’s flummoxed:

“Are you suggesting we just call Megatron and ask him what’s happening up there?”

Well, you’re not really big on violence, Doc, so yeah maybe talking this out might not be a bad idea. Ratchet calls up the ship, asks what the hell, and over on the other end, Megatron gets frozen after he’s caught trying to shut down the ship. The Nemesis responds to Ratchet, telling him that Megatron has been relieved of command, and that his mission is to decode the Iacon database and recover all the relics. When Ratchet asks why, he hangs up; evidently the writers didn’t know why either. Jack suggests that, since the Decepticons are neutralized, that they slip aboard the ship and download the full Iacon database. Ratchet agrees, volunteering to go aboard himself, but Jack says that the ship might be blind to humans. The only way they could come up with this hypothesis is by assuming that the reason the ship didn’t kill Fowler when it had the chance was because it was blind, which is never confirmed, and moreover wasn’t why it left the battle in the first place; the ship left to go search for the relics. And while it does prove true that the ship can’t sense humans, the Autobots don’t know that.

Well, logic and continuity be damned: Jack and Co. is slipping aboard that ship god dammit, because these humans are interesting and we might as well use them! Ratchet gives them what is essentially a Cybertronian flashdrive and they go on their way. Arriving on the ship, we get a great sense of scale, seeing everything from the humans’ perspective! I love this camera work. Things are so huge on this ship for the humans, and I like that we get a sense that they are way out of their league with this stuff. They find that the first Iacon relic is located in Manhattan, though the map that Jack sees is of the world, so either he has really good vision, or he can read Cybertronian. Fowler tries to access the ship’s navigation in order to steer it away from its course, but he gets nocked out, and the ship starts looking for whoever touched its dashboard.

Ratchet surmises that the ship isn’t scanning carbon-based life yet, though once it widens the search field, the kids won’t have many hiding places. Jack gets the idea to dump the Dark Energon in favor of the pure stuff, and Ratchet guides them to the engine room, where they encounter a frozen Megatron. I like that Jack has to climb up Megatron to reach the control panel, and then has to push on Megatron’s hand in order to make it move (though I’m not sure why; Megatron might be frozen, but the joint for the lever for the ship shouldn’t be, right?) The ship finally detects the children, and begins chasing Raf and Miko with this claw thing (why it doesn’t just use lasers, I’ll never know). Jack gets the idea to use the claw to throw Megatron off balance. This works, and Megatron falls (though his hand lets go of the lever, which shouldn’t happen, but whatever), and the Energon reinfusion occurs. Throughout all of this is a great attention to scale; human-based episodes are great, especially in this show, because we get to see just how massive the Transformers really are! I especially like all the detail that’s put into the models on the show, and here we get to see things extra up-close because of the human perspective.

Well, with the ship back to normal, we of course need some kind of reset button to unfreeze all the ‘Bots and ‘Cons… or better yet, let’s just not have one at all! Everyone is fine now that the ship is no longer sentient (which has a rather creepy implication that it was holding all of the Decepticons and our four Autobots under sleep all this time…), and the kids rush back to the bridge of the ship to get back their flashdrive. Throughout all of this, the drive’s only downloaded about half of the database (damn 3rd party download piracy!) and as Miko and Raf get Fowler to safety, Jack acts the hero for the umpteenth time and goes back for the drive. As he struggles to wrench the drive free, Knock Out regains consciousness, but Ratchet rushes in at the last moment to save the day, rescuing Jack, knocking out Knock Out (sorry), and grabbing the drive (though he didn’t stop to properly eject it from the computer)!

Back at base, the team marvels that they’ve gained four sets of Iacon coordinates (the audience will be marveling at the fact that the relic hunt actually ends), and Optimus orders that they act quickly, as Megatron has a head start, what with being at Manhattan already. And thus begins our long long journey through Season Two’s main story arc: the relic hunt. Ugh.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Flying Mind” is 7/10. This was the beginning of a huge Pokèmon-esque race to find a whole bunch of Mac-Guffins throughout Season Two, some episodes of which will be good (like “Legacy”), others of which… well, will be less than thrilling (like “Hard Knocks”). As an episode by itself, though, “Flying Mind” does an impressive job at continuing to build up Optimus’ character as well as the idea that this is a desperate war, and thus certain steps need to be taken. I think Season Two’s biggest blunder is that this aspect of the show was never realized to its fullest, and this episode in particular kind of eschews the entirety of the first third act’s attempt at building theme and character in favor of action.

            The animation team is offered great fun in scaling everything to the human level, and the human cast manages to pull off the rather difficult task of carrying the majority of the episode, especially with Arcee and Optimus out of the picture for most of it. Ratchet gets to shine a little more this time ‘round, which is a pleasure to see, and the intensity manages to stay strong, even with the fact that the premise of a huge ship talking is kind of hilarious, and something that I shouldn’t have taken as seriously as I did. Next time, I’m going to be tackling the T-arc (the next four Prime episodes), and their two follow-up episodes.

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