December 30, 2013

Shadowcon Reviews- Triage

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 2 episode 14: “Triage”

When I wrote up my introduction for this T-Arc endeavor, I said that “the show focuses so much on plot that we don’t really get to know our characters any more than we already do.” I think that still holds true, but after watching this episode again, I will give the creative team this: they know how to write Wheeljack! While we don’t get to delve into his character as much as we might have, we do get to see him interact with Ratchet, something that was up until now limited to simple comm chatter and minor back-and-forth chitchat. “Triage” is the first time we see these two hold an entire episode kind of together, though their two stories are related only by plot and not by character, which is a shame, because in the beginning they seem like they have pretty good chemistry… but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s delve in and see how this episode fairs against the rest of the bunch.

We start off not with an establishing Nemesis or Autobot base scene, but instead with Wheeljack hanging out by his little shuttle ship. This is already a great change of pace from the last two episodes, and because Optimus ordered Ratchet’s teaming up with Wheeljack in the previous episode, there’s no need to bog this one down with needless recapping. Instead, Ratchet GroundBridges over to Wheeljack’s coordinates and the two immediately start off on the wrong foot, with Wheeljack nicknaming Ratchet “Doc”, much to the doctor’s annoyance. The two set out in the Jackhammer (that’s Wheeljack’s ship), conversing about stuff we already know, but it’s done in a more in-character way than in previous episodes. It doesn’t bother me as much this time for some reason. Maybe it’s just the novelty of having Ratchet contend with Wheeljack’s ruffian behavior, I don’t know. Anyway, it turns out that they're being followed by none other than the silent Decepticon Soundwave, because when the ‘Cons are doing multiple missions with a huge amount of risk involved, naturally you’d want to have your communications officer out in the field rather than back at base coordinating everything.

Nevertheless, the dogfight is riveting. Again, this is something that we haven’t seen before. Oh, sure, we saw a fight with Laserbeak and Fowler, but that was small potatoes compared to this. This one is exciting and really makes good use of the three dimensions that flying allows. I like Wheeljack’s gung-ho attitude dichotomized with Ratchet’s more in-line way of thinking. It’s an interesting parallel that would be repeated with Ultra Magnus and Wheeljack in Season Three, and it works quite well here. The two have a banter that is right out of a road-trip movie… if road-trip movies involved car chases. The way the camera moves in this air setting is really fun, and leads to some really cool perspective and action shots that just make your eyes pop. It’s very electric! The fight unfortunately ends with the Jackhammer getting shot down after damaging Laserbeak and losing Soundwave early on.

Their losses are not all that bad though, as Wheeljack finds a damaged Laserbeak not a few feet away from where they crashed. Ha! That’s some pretty good luck from the writing gods! What’s more, Laserbeak’s optical and audio receptors are out, and his transmitter is damaged. Man, that one hit really does some damage to a fragile thing like this. Wheeljack’s all too happy about this, saying that they can use this to their advantage. He proposes they jury-rig Laserbeak with a grenade so that when he and Soundwave return to base, Soundwave’ll trip the pin and explode. Effective and pretty dark. We’re talking about killing off an iconic character ripe with possibilities! I mean, the writers wouldn’t do tha… oh, never mind. Ratchet expands on Wheeljack’s idea:

“Why plant a mere incendiary device when we could plant a more devastating bomb?”

One of the things that makes this episode weak is its continued insistence that characters are developing or being explored, yet lacking any evidence for that. We get some nice dialogue at the beginning there with Ratchet and Wheeljack, which is good, but here, they're just planning out battle strategy, and so we don't learn anything new about either character. Ratchet in particular seems far too in-line with Wheeljack's thinking. I think it could have been smarter had he been against Wheeljack's plan from the beginning. Ratcet is a doctor after all, so he would probably be a little more resistant to planting bombs in people. I think that could have introduced a somewhat real moral dillema and made for good character conflict. This could have even become a little running theme throughout this and "Hurt", having Ratchet be morally against what Wheeljack is doing, and then having to save Bulkhead, showing his skills being used for booth good and devastating reasons. Instead, he's all too happy to expand on Wheeljack's idea. He suggests that they plant a virus that will be able to pass from Laserbeak to Soundwave, and then into the Decepticon computer. It will then transmit the entire Iacon database back to the Autobots.

This is a pretty novel idea. One of the elements of Transformers that always irritated me was that they were machines, but that that part of them was never addressed outside of being mechanical. What about all their onboard computer stuff, codes, programming, etc? They address it kind of in the comic books, and a little bit in Beast Wars (that entire premise hinges on the fact that they are machines and have computers within them on an organic planet), but no one has ever really said that these are computer-based organisms from the planet Cybertron, which I think is a far better fit for what these beings actually are. Here, Ratchet is using that facet of their being to his advantage in a great way. A pity Wheeljack doesn’t agree:

“Sounds complicated. Thought we were in a hurry.”

Ratchet counters by saying that the loss of one relic to have the information on the rest is a worthy sacrifice, so he sets to work. Contacting Raf back at base, the two come up with the plan to tech-tech their way into creating this virus. Raf points out that they’ll need a decoy virus, something that’ll mask the actual virus’ existence from the Decepticons. Ratchet opts for using a fake grenade to distract the ‘Cons. Not sure how that’ll help: it doesn’t cover the virus itself; the grenade is just a minor speed bump that the Decepticons’ll have to get over. Raf’s original idea of using a second fake virus was good because it actually could cover for the actual virus. This grenade thing doesn’t make sense, and what’s worse is that the Decepticons don’t notice the virus anyway. I’m curious what it would have been like if Ratchet had gone with Raf’s idea of using a second virus. What would the Decepticons have done then? Probably dug deeper and found the actual virus, so I guess this whole idea is a little bit flimsy. Also, like last episode, this exchange between Ratchet and Raf isn’t character-based, it’s plot-based, and this could have been a great moment between these two characters, but instead turns into needlessly complicated technobabble, something that Prime is pretty good about avoiding.

Anyway, Wheeljack goes off to find Soundwave and buy Ratchet time to get his technobabble done. Thus, we have our obligatory fight for the episode, though this one is unique in that Soundwave is involved! He’s recovered the relic, the Resonance Blaster, and all that remains now is to deal with Wheeljack. This shouldn’t be too difficult. I mean, Soundwave apprehended Airachnid, who’s gotten the drop on Arcee several times over, so Wheeljack…

… just head-butts Soundwave and cracks his visor! Damn! That’s like the Cybertronian of the middle finger or something! He then proceeds to beat the hell out of the ‘Con, just pummeling him senseless! The fight is very fun to watch. I like how each Transformer has their own fighting style, and Wheeljack’s is very haphazard. It’s kinetic and brutish, but also not without its own flourish and polish. To pair him off with Soundwave who is very minimalist and straightforward in battle was an interesting choice. Because it takes place during sunset, the robots look very majestic here, and the lighting brought out the damage done to both Wheeljack and Soundwave beautifully. Soundwave gets the drop on Wheeljack right as he’s about to be killed, grabbing the relic and using super sound waves to knock out Wheeljack… and yes, I actually wrote that. Can’t imagine what the script showed for that bullet point!

Meanwhile, Ratchet gives Raf the go-ahead to upload the virus. An interesting side-note: I paused the episode at the screen cap of Raf’s computer, and the code he’s uploading is literally the same three-figure sequence just copied over and over, and occasionally indented to make it look like it’s starting a new subject line. Clever animators. Unfortunately, there’re no Easter-eggs found on the folder names on Raf’s second window, just a bunch of letters and numbers.

Anyway, the virus begins its upload. Laserbeak gets a little twitchy all of a sudden for no reason (we can infer that the virus woke him up, but even then, it’s a little weird). Soundwave leaves Wheeljack, preferring to go after his pet, because if you were to choose between reclaiming your barking dog or killing an enemy who would later deliver a crushing blow to your side, you’d naturally leave your enemy and go after your pet who you have yet to find out is in any danger, rather than kill your enemy and then go after the dog, right? Of course!

So, the virus finishes its upload, and Ratchet lets Laserbeak go just in time for Soundwave to arrive and reclaim him. This scene is very intense too. I love how creepy Soundwave is when he’s checking around to see if anyone else is here with him. He deploys his freaky chest tentacle things (another sentence I’d never thought I’d write) and searches for a missing piece of Laserbeak under Ratchet’s foot. Ratchet lets that go, and Soundwave leaves, taking the bait! The whole thing is very suspenseful, as it takes place during the night, and Soundwave’s body lends itself so well to night scenes. His tentacles are creepy and nasty, as they behave a lot like snakes, and Ratchet’s having to avoid them as they crawl all over the rock he’s hiding behind made me hold my breath and wince every time he was about to be discovered. This was the high point of the episode for me, and it worked out very well.

Well, because Frank Welker has to fulfill what his contract says, Soundwave does return to the Nemesis to be checked up by Knockout, who has returned himself empty handed, much to Megatron’s outrage. As expected, they do find the grenade, but apparently Ratchet did Wheeljack a favor and kept it active, because as Knockout disposes of it, it explodes. Soundwave then uploads the virus as he syncs his music to the Decepticon computer.

 As the episode wraps up, Ratchet and Wheeljack have a nice professional goodbye. I like how Ratchet is all heartfelt about Wheeljack’s help, and Wheeljack just responds with a nonchalant “yep”. Ratchet returns to base and he and Raf celebrate briefly their success before bridging Bulkhead back from his mission, only to find he’s in pretty poor shape. I guess having a hole in your back does things to you.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Triage” is 5/10. Some great pacing at the beginning and nice Ratchet and Wheeljack interactions do help this episode out, but the needless technobabble between Raf and Ratchet and the splicing of the coda scenes with the Autobots and Decepticons, as well as the continued focus of this not being on character but on plot, drag this episode down to be about average. The virus idea was a good one, but hampered by the technobabble surrounding it and the plan involving it becoming overwrought. I think they could have gotten away with just saying that Ratchet is going to encode a virus into Soundwave and leaving it at that, instead of bringing up a decoy anything at all. That part of it didn’t work for me, even though the virus idea was a novel one. Wheeljack is given some love this episode, and his fight with Soundwave was really fun to watch; it was unique and kinetic, and I liked the use of lighting and texture during it too. The night scene between Soundwave and Ratchet was creepy as hell, and overall the outline of this episode was a good one. It just needed a little more refining and substance to it to be a better episode.

This review is probably the shortest one I’ve done, and the reason for that is because there’s just not that much to say about this episode. The interplay between Ratchet and Wheeljack was good in the beginning, but the writers kinda dropped it after the initial dogfight, splitting the two up and only bringing them back together at the very end. It felt like two stories were meant to exist separately, but along the way they somehow got merged but they still wanted to be separated so we wound up with this. It’s not bad, but despite beautiful animation and a couple good scenes, it falls short on both character delivery and pacing consistency, and is a good example of Prime's unwillingness to follow through with a lot of it's potential ideas.

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