December 29, 2013

Shadowcon Reviews- Triangulation

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 2 episode 13: “Triangulation”

As I’ve said before, one of the best things about Prime in comparison to other Transformers television shows is its cast of characters and their implementation. Specifically, I think the fact that Prime actually has characters is a boon to the franchise as a whole. “Triangulation” is a pretty good exploitation of this show’s greatest strength, though certainly not it’s best. The best thing about this episode is Starscream and his pitiful attempts at gaining allies and ground in the war. Ever since “Partners”, this guy’s been reduced to a literal scavenger, and has now kind of cemented his own base in the remains of the Harbinger Decepticon ship. It’s a great story arc, and this episode does nothing to hamper it. The other strength that this episode has going for it is Optimus and Dreadwing’s relationship. While not as strong as this could have been, the duo’s interactions do help propel this episode forward. One of the things that make this episode work aside from the choice of cast is that the relic hunt portion of this is really in the background, leaving room for character development. Had more episodes followed this one’s example, this whole thing might have turned out fine.

Being that this is a character-based episode (the only one of the four, actually), it should come as no surprise that we begin with Starscream, in his really shitty laboratory, about to perform what looks to be a very painful procedure: the reinstallation of his T-Cog. I like that he has to kinda talk himself into doing it, and that he’s relieved when the computer notifies him of Decepticon activity, postponing his procedure that we all know he didn’t have the balls to do in the first place. This is mid Season Two Starscream, so he’s far less of a scheming jackal and more of a weasel. It’s a nice character shift that sadly only peaks its head out every once in a while this season. Well, he’s off to find out what all the buzz is about in the Antarctic in the most pitiful way possible: he’s riding a hover moped. Man, that’s just sad. That seems to be the writers’ goal for Starscream this season: let’s see how pitiful we can make Starscream, and then just have him do the most remedial tasks!

Well, Starscream’s arrival on his poor scooter thing is greeted with the expected courtesy of the Decepticons, namely none. I like that even after all this time Starscream still thinks he can throw his weight around at the troops:

“Decepticons! Do you not realize you have just shot down your ships commander?!”

Yeah, the troops are getting smarter. They don’t even bother replying like they did last time. Instead, Dreadwing shows up, announcing that he’s bringing Starscream in for due punishment, and that he’s now the first lieutenant of the ‘Cons. Starscream’s less than pleased about this, overreacting in his expected fashion.

“First lieutenant?! That’s my post!”

Keep working that diplomacy, Scream. With Starscream in tow, Dreadwing continues with his actual mission of locating the second of the four Iacon relics, though Starscream does his best to try to gain info. I like that Starscream’s podding is more out of actual curiosity and wanting to be in the know rather than the first step in a plot to usurp Dreadwing. Starscream for now is totally accepting of Dreadwing being in command, and I think that fits with this character’s position. His main goal right now is survival, and that means finding allies.

The fact that there are vehicle tracks leading away from the site leads Dreadwing to believe the Autobots as culprits, but Starscream notes that the relic’s excavation site has flags planted around it, making it unlikely that the Autobots could have taken it. This cues the arrival of Optimus. There are two things I like about the standoff between Dreadwing and Prime. First is that I like that Dreadwing just tosses Starscream aside and leaves him with two guards. It just gives Dreadwing this air of not caring about Starscream beyond that he’s a prisoner. He doesn’t care about him being a Decepticon, being the former Air Commander, nothing like that. Dreadwing just wants to get to the relic.

Secondly, the animation really lends itself well to this scene. When Dreadwing and Optimus are standing there, sizing each other up, you can see little details like Optimus’ eyes flicker, or Dreadwing’s fingers flinch, as both are nervous and uncertain of what the other is going to do. It feels very real and makes the robots come to life. The actual fight is really fun, first a firefight and then evolving into a sword dance. One of the things I like about Transformers is that their very nature allows them to pull off things that cannot be done in other universes. Their versatility in combat is certainly something of a minor miracle, and while this fight is nothing like Optimus and Megatron’s in “One Shall Fall” (that’s kind of my benchmark Transformers fight that I measure everything against), it is still very cool. Dreadwing proves he can hold his own quite well, the fight again shifting form into a brawl, and Optimus only wins by causing an avalanche to come down on his opponent.

In a bit of a twist, the Vehicons guarding Starscream actually put up a fight… kind of, when Optimus emerges from the rubble the victor. Starscream, showing that he’s not all soft this season, pulls a pretty in-character move and kills one of the Vehicon guards, then proceeds to talk at Optimus as though this was a team effort, and not him cowering behind a dead man. Optimus is having none of Starscream’s sweet talk this time however, no doubt reminded of the last time Starscream spoke in the Autobots’ ear, and holds Starscream at gunpoint and tells him to lead them to the relic’s location. I don’t really know why Optimus needed Starscream at all for this, because it seems to me that Starscream is just following the vehicle tracks, something that Optimus could have done on his own if he had bothered to look around.

The duo spends their journey bickering. I like that Starscream has the audacity to call Optimus out on “taking [their] alliances for granted” when he’s been all too quick to jump on the next opportunity that presents itself. Optimus’ retort is cold and to the point.

“While you have at times proved beneficial to us, it has only been to further your own interests.”

“Well, we can’t all be as selfless as you now can we?”

Ha. I like that line. Anyway, this character-interaction scene is far too short. As I’ve mentioned before, Season Two felt too much like a “plot with characters” type of season, with episodes like this coming as a rarity. But even this episode uses most of its time to talk about the relic, or non-character stuff. Like that previous scene had Optimus and Starscream in it, but only a small portion of it was focused on them as people. The rest was just looking back on continuity and talking about the weather. Not bad stuff necessarily, but as I’ll say again on Wednesday, Season Three did this better.

Dreadwing recovers from a huge ice mountain falling on top of him, flying off to follow Optimus and Scream. The two finally reach the base, and Optimus calls up Fowler to clear the facility of humans. I like that this ties back in to the other plots going on simultaneously, but again I think this would have been better spent actually developing characters. But, the base gets cleared, and Optimus and Starscream locate the relic. Dreadwing arrives, accusing Starscream of being so without honor that he’s now aided Optimus. I love that Starscream tries to spin this situation in his favor and fails miserably. It just adds to his cowardice and scumbag nature.

Optimus interrupts this nice moment with more battle talk. One of the things that I’ve come to realize about Peter Cullen is that he’s a bit stale. He’s not a bad voice actor, but compared to Frank Welker and especially Steve Blum who voices Starscream, he’s just so far above his talent level. I think that part of this is because he’s respected and admired so much by the cast and crew of this show that he’s not given any direction because they don’t want to offend him or his performance… but that’s what directors are supposed to do. Not offend performances outright, but give actors direction, and Peter Cullen lacked that throughout most of this series. As much as I love this Optimus, most of what I love about him is the stuff that I tend to read into his character and not a whole lot of what’s on the surface. And I’m sorry to say it, but what’s on the surface is Peter’s bland acting and wooden delivery. He’s more of a novelty actor now, and this really shows it. Optimus’ lines are almost completely void of character. They’re mid-battle banter or bland comebacks. Again, not bad, but I feel that this could have been more, and Peter Cullen definitely could have done so much more with this character.

Anyway, Optimus tackles Dreadwing into another fight, leaving Starscream with the relic. This of course is a mistake, and Starscream gets his hands on the Apex Armor. I have my likes and dislikes about this show (mostly likes, if you haven’t been able to tell), but put me in the “Apex Armor looks stupid” camp. That is, it looks bad on robots. On Miko it works somehow, though I think it’s because at that size, it’s just a blue ball with a cute Miko head inside the helmet. Here, Starscream looks ridiculous wearing this thing. It’s a giant muscle suit for otherwise slim robots, and so it throws everything about the Prime designs out of whack. It actually probably would have looked good on Bulkhead since he’s already huge, but on Starscream, and especially on Arcee later in “Regeneration”, it just looks silly because those two characters are so lithe. Still, I am impressed at this thing’s power, and the animation team still manages to make Starscream somewhat flexible in the suit.

Dreadwing attempts to attack, but fails. One thing I do like about the suit is that it’s not immune to impact. It can still feel weight against it, which is a nice touch. Optimus does the same, and we are treated with what I can only assume is Starscream’s interpretation of how the audience feels about Optimus as a character:

“I will beat the living Spark out of you just so I never again have to endure your pontificating!”

Ouch! Optimus makes a temporary alliance with Dreadwing to combat Starscream together, and I think this is where this episode really picks up the pace in terms of character. It’s small development, sure, but development nonetheless. Dreadwing agrees only out of a mutual desire to see Starscream defeated. It’s a nice pact done with little talk of honor or responsibility or anything, because this is a mid-battle development, and so it makes sense that Dreadwing’s on board in the moment.

Sadly, even one of Dreadwing’s bombs doesn’t do the trick, and Starscream just walks that off like it were nothing. Ruining all suspense is his and Optimus’ exchange after this:

“Fools! Not only am I intelligent, I am invincible!”

“Yet you cannot fly!”

“Nobody’s perfect.”

I think what Optimus meant to say was “Yet you cannot transform”, because Starscream couldn’t fly in robot mode even without the armor. Something that I really like about the series is that none of the jet-vehicle-based ‘Bots or ‘Cons could utilize flight in robot mode. So, this exchange doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, and the way that Scream is defeated is okay, but takes just a little too long to be effective from a dramatic standpoint. Optimus throws a few punches, then falls back next to Dreadwing. Starscream displays unusual stupidity, and instead of pressing his advantage just stands there as Dreadwing reveals his trap of having multiple bombs places on the ground around Starscream like a ring. Now, Starscream has ample time to run while the bombs load, but he doesn’t. They explode, collapsing the ice into the freezing water, and Starscream falls into the abyss.

Not the greatest ending to a fight, but hey, the explosion was pretty. I do like that once Starscream is done away with, Optimus appeals to common sense and says that there’s really no need to continue his fight with Dreadwing, as their goal has been lost. Optimus’ appeal to Dreadwing to join the Autobot cause is brushed aside, but not rudely, which is a breath of fresh air, and the two part with grudging respect for each other.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Triangulation” is 5/10. Some good action and character interaction bump this episode up from last time’s entry. Starscream’s character is given some love here, and he’s entertaining as ever. Optimus and Dreadwing get more interaction which is nice to see, but like “Tunnel Vision”, everything feels like it’s at the service of the plot, though this time around to a lesser extent. The Apex Armor is silly looking to me, though it has grown on me since Miko’s claim to it. The return to the Antarctic does give the setting a different flavor, which is good, but even the events “Scrapheap” are brushed aside, making the whole meaning of that episode fall flat. Overall, this episode is okay, and is a good episode for Season Two, especially given its company during this time, but it could have used some of that thematic cohesion found in even average episodes of Season One. This review is also shorter than most, and it’s really because I have so few things to say about this one. They just didn’t make the best use of what they had here.

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