December 31, 2013

Shadowcon Reviews- Toxicity

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 2 episode 15: “Toxicity”

While “Triangulation” may have been the strongest in terms of overall consistency and balance, “Toxicity” is the strongest character episode of the four, as it focuses solely on Bulkhead and relates everything back to him. This episode’s pacing might not be the best, but having the relic be affecting not just the plot but also the characters is I think what this whole thing should have been about in the first place.

We begin with Megatron, asking his Insecticon hive if they have any pro wrestlers in their ranks, and being that these guys are the most lethal fighting force created in the series next to the Predacons, that’s a pretty tall order. The one who comes forward is Hardshell, an all-too-forgettable character, made awesome merely by his voice actor, David Kaye, who voiced Megatron on Beast Wars and is notorious for his phrasing of “yesss”. We haven’t seen the Insecticons in action since the first episode of this arc, and that was merely one taking on two Autobot scouts. Having three dispatched to deal with Bulkhead promised a lot more, and delivered… sort of.

Bulkhead departs for the equator. There’s a kind of half-assed attempt at making all of these episodes center around the Earth’s different temperaments: “Tunnel Vision” was totally urban, “Triangulation” revisited the Antarctic, “Triage” was set in the wilderness during sunset and night, and this episode is set in a very hot and musky climate. A thin layer of bridging the episodes together thematically, but I did notice it, and thought it noteworthy, and hell I’ll do anything to pad out these reviews! Anyway, he’s having trouble locating the relic. I particularly like how he has to call up base not two minutes into his search, complaining that he can’t find it. Poor guy. He didn’t even get one of those handy tracking devices like Arcee or Ratchet had, so he’s stuck just wandering around until he chances upon it.

Being that the relics were sent to Earth long ago, it would make sense that they would get swept up in all the changing that the Earth has undergone since then, and I like that they addressed that this episode. It brings everything back to a grounded realistic interpretation of what’s going on with the Transformers stuff in relation to the real world, which was something that tended to get buried under all the baggage of this season. Hardshell and his lackeys find and attack Bulkhead, and the first of two big fights this episode begins. This is admittedly a rather disappointing exchange of blows. Bulkhead’s never been my favorite fighter. His brawn and weight do wonders in concert with the rest of the team, but on his own, he just comes off as clumsy. Still, he does manage to do pretty good damage to the bug ‘Con, and after knocking him out, Bulkhead hauls ass out of there, knowing that if continuity is anything, Hardshell will just wake up and be totally invincible!

Bulkhead figures that the relic could have been carried away from the coordinates by some lava flow, and contacts base to fill them in on his status. It’s at this point that we get the first in a long string of scenes that just serve to reinforce the fact that all of the other T-Arc episodes are happening at the same time. This one’s not too bad, but it get’s worse from here. As Raf tells Ratchet of the virus’ status from last episode, Fowler and Bulkhead discuss the relic, interspersed with a good amount of characteristic dialogue:

“Fowler? How was your beauty sleep?”

“Fine. Dreamt I finally got a little respect from you.”

“Keep dreaming!”

It’s this kind of dialogue that pushes this episode up for me, and I’m glad the rest of the episode kept this up. Unlike “Triage”, which had good dialogue between Ratchet and Wheeljack in the beginning but dropped that a good third of the way through, “Toxicity” keeps this undercurrent of relating back to Bulkhead and Fowler strong through the entire episode.

Bulkhead finally gets to the relic, and discovers much to the fans’ dismay that it is yet another form of Energon, Tox En. So, if you’re keeping track at home, we now have four different types of Energon in this series as of this point, and a fifth will be introduced not a few episodes later! Is this stuff just like Kryptonite, y’know? There’s like a color and ability spectrum according to what kind of Energon you have? I mean, normal Energon is blue, you’ve got Dark Energon which is purple, Synth En which is green, and this stuff which is also green, but in rock form. Also, this is the only one of the Energon(s?) that we never see turned into a liquid. Bulkhead informs Fowler and the audience that this stuff is really nasty, as it weakens Cybertronians to the point of paralysis and then death. It’s kind of like if blood were toxic to us… what? This is why I’ve never really liked the idea of Energon as Transformer blood and fuel. I’m fine with it being one or the other, and I personally prefer it to be fuel, but not both. Having it be fuel makes sense here, as it can be versatile in it’s form and potency from the beginning because it’s not limited from the outset as being the blood of the Transformers first with the rest of its forms coming second.

So, this is the latest and slowest-acting form of Energon out of the whole series, as it’s super poisonous, but weakens Bulkhead gradually. Oh, and to make matters worse, Bulkhead has to destroy this because Megatron once was able to refine it during the Great War and use it as a deadly bio weapon! So, did the Decepticons just have a massive scientific community at their disposal, or were the people on the Autobots’ side aside from Ratchet just incredibly dim? Because it seems to me like the ‘Cons got all the good stuff while the Autobots were stuck with one medical person out of their whole army!

Fowler suggests that Bulkhead bring it back to base to keep it out of reach of the ‘Cons, but Bulkhead says no, reasoning that they not only have a safe place to store it, but that it’s too dangerous to risk exposing to the rest of the team. First of all, you do have a safe place to store it. You have that huge storage vault in your base where you’ve been keeping Airachnid and where you’ll be keeping the rest of the relics later in the season. And risking exposure? What about the container in which the Tox En came? And don’t tell me that he couldn’t pull the thing out of the rock. He can beat up an Insecticon to the point of unconsciousness; he can damn well pull out a bloody jar! What’s more is that when he hears the Insecticons arrive, he rigs the jar to blow when they discover it, with a piece of Tox En still inside it. Great! Except he’s carrying the bigger piece of it! Why? Why not just leave the whole thing in the jar and let it explode? The answer is of course that we need to pad out twenty-two minutes of airtime, and unlike my review, this episode has to be entertaining to more than twelve people, so Bulkhead’s defying common sense and continuity and carrying a toxic rock to a volcano.

But first, Bulkhead must elude the Insecticons chasing him by leaving a false trail. While this is grating because it prolongs both his exposure to the Tox En and the substance’s destruction, the talk between Fowler and Bulkhead is again character-based, giving us more history on Fowler and relating it back to Bulkhead.

“You left a false trail, huh? I once pulled that trick when I got separated from my unit behind enemy lines.”

“When were you behind enemy lines?”

“I wasn’t always a ‘Bot-sitter.”

“Next you’re gonna tell me your mother doesn’t tuck you in at night.”

“Not since basic training.”

“Training as what? A rodeo clown?”

Hey! Making fun of Fowler is my job, okay? It’s some nice dialogue that spices up the mundaneness of the episode’s plot a lot. This leads into yet another crossover with another episode of the T-Arc. Optimus calls up Fowler and instead of just cutting to Bulkhead after that initial line to let us know that this is going on concurrently, we instead have to sit there for thirty second of replayed dialogue and watch Fowler’s face. It’s a nice touch that this is included, I just wish it were cut off sooner.

Bulkhead’s really not doing so well with this green rock of his. Even encouragement from Fowler doesn’t keep him going, and he falls, accepting his defeat. This is where the episode hits its high mark, as Fowler encourages Bulkhead to keep on going by saying that this is nothing compared to what he’s been through over the past year and a half. We get a series of flashbacks, showing a lot of scenes of Bulkhead falling down, some of him getting pummeled, him with Scraplets. Ah, the good times! His reaction when this montage is over is great too.

“Nah. Not worse than this!”

Ha! I like that twist on this old trope. Having Bulkhead still give up now is great, because it gives us time for a far more powerful montage. Fowler then reminds Bulkhead of why he fights, that it isn’t just for honor and duty but for family. And this leads us into the montage that really made the episode work. We see flashbacks to Bulkhead’s interactions with Miko, of all their fun times together, and the montage ends with the scene from “T.M.I” where Miko prays for Bulkhead’s recovery over his unconscious body. This montage is great, because it shows Bulkhead’s relationship with Miko and how strong it is, and frankly had the other three episodes had something like this, they would have been far stronger. Not necessarily a montage, but something to remind us of the bonds these characters have forged with each other. The montage sequence is the reason why this is the best character-based episode out of the four, because it brings us back to the characters and both montages together help remind us that the relic hunt is having a real personal effect on Bulkhead as a person.

Well, with this boost of flashback, Bulkhead is able to trudge onward, and good thing too, as the Insecticons have grown wise to his false trail and instead make there way to the volcano, catching up to Bulkhead as he’s about to finish off his mission. Unfortunately, yet another reminder that this is happening concurrently with the rest of the T-Arc episodes interrupts the fight as Fowler gets a call from Miko from “Tunnel Vision”. It doesn’t help that this scene is the exact same one as in that episode. Way to kill the suspense by making us watch stuff we already know about, guys.

Back in the land of plot-relevance, Bulkhead holds his own against the Insecticons for a time, which is pretty impressive considering how tough they are when the writers remember the events of “Crossfire”. They never get back to being that powerful, unfortunately, but here they are pretty formidable. Well, Bulkhead does finally beat them, sending Hardshell into the volcano along with the Tox En. I like how Bulkhead goes ahead and checks to see if the Tox En actually melts, which it does.

Back at base, Fowler demands a status report from him, and this is the one breach in continuity I find inexcusable, as this overlaps with the ending of last episode, specifically with Raf and Ratchet celebrating their download of the Iacon database. But this doesn’t work because their celebration and Fowler’s demanding to know what’s going on with Bulkhead overlap in such a way that you can’t help but realize that these are two things from two different episodes. It’s unfortunate, especially when Fowler just turns around and tells Ratchet and Raf to shut up out of sheer frustration, it really puts a stain on last episode’s hopeful ending.

Bulkhead gets his GroundBridge, limping towards it. But, because of last episode’s continuity, Hardshell makes a bitchy comeback and shoots Bulkhead in the back, sending him flying through the GroundBridge mortally wounded, ending the episode on the same note we did the last one: really grim.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Toxicity” is 7/10. It may have taken four tries to get this right, but they did finally manage to deliver a suitable character story with the relic serving not as a driving force for plot, but as a means to explore or reflect on Bulkhead’s character. The drawbacks of this episode are that the crossover scenes to the other episodes could have and should have been cut, and some of the action seemed slow or lazy, though that could just be the nature of Bulkhead and Hardshell’s sizes. While “Triangulation” remains my personal favorite, “Toxicity” is the clear winner of this arc, delivering on character studies and plentiful action.

Post arc follow-up: As a whole, this arc is weak. It’s pacing is poor, the plot is ponderous, and despite some good character moments, on the whole everything felt very by the numbers. It lacked soul, and that has to be because there was a definite absence of focusing on character. “Toxicity” did this to a satisfying degree, but the rest did not, and that hampered what could have been an excellent follow-up to the “Orion Pax” and “Operation: Bumblebee” story arcs. From here, we’ll be looking at the fallout of all of this and we’ll start to come back to character-centered stories come the new year, and I’ll hopefully be better about keeping on top of this instead of this one-review-per-month thing.

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