January 25, 2014

Shadowcon Reviews- Hurt

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 2 episode 16: “Hurt”

“Toxicity” put Prime on hold over the summer as a kind of mid-season breaking point. During the hiatus, the talk amongst the Transformers Prime community was focused on Bulkhead and whether or not he would recover. Some were saying that he would not, that Prime did not have the courage to kill off a main character. Some said that he would, that Prime had proven how dark and realistic it wanted to be by first offing Cliffjumper in “Darkness Rising, Part 1”, and that to do so with Bulkhead would flow pretty nicely with his story. This is what I was expecting to happen.

Other people were saying that Bulkhead would be killed off, but that this would be the lazy move, that the writers couldn’t find any use for him anymore so they decided to write him out of the show. Considering the arrival of Smokescreen, the building presence of Wheeljack, the pressure building within the Decepticon ranks, it would not have surprised me to learn that, had Bulkhead died, the writers did so to make room for other characters. But to say that this would have been lazy writing kinda flies in the face of what’s been going on: Bulkhead had undergone a character examination if not a significant development. Having him die this episode could have made this his swansong, giving him a badass battle to finish him off, like what they did with Dinobot in the Beast Wars series. And others still were saying that to have him live would be the lazy move, and guess what! These people were right… sort of. Let’s jump in and see how they handle this.

Actually, it’s kind of interesting that so much of the fandom was focused on this issue at the time, because this episode isn’t really about Bulkhead’s recovery. It’s about Miko’s character and her new direction seen blossoming this episode. We kick things off with Miko and Jack returning to base, Bumblebee blasting that really annoying rock music Miko’s into, y’know, the kind that tries to be rock but... isn’t. I particularly like how the humans can now hold normal conversations while going through the GroundBridge, while in the first season they couldn’t go through without getting nauseous. Hell, these people have been through these things so much you probably need rhino tranquilizers to make these guys uncomfortable.

Anyway, I like how the scene them coming through the GroundBridge to find Bulkhead lying on the ground half dead is shot. It’s once again delivered from the human perspective, something that I always find really awesome. Ratchet’s all medical drama man over here and Miko is naturally pretty worried. Bulkhead’s unconscious and the shock paddles don’t seem to be doing much. It’s a quick and effective teaser that brings back tension that I found missing in the later T-Arc episodes.

Miko demands to know what’s going on, and to prove how much of a doctor he is, Ratchet responds like this:

“Tox En exposure, among other things.”

No. I’m sorry, but that’s not the cause of this horrible situation. I mean, yeah, Bulkhead’s system is infected with the stuff, but we saw last episode that he was just gonna walk it off after maybe a decontamination bath or something. What made him like this was the shot from Hardshell to his back. I also find it amusing that Ratchet would classify a gunshot wound as “other things”, because this is a pretty serious wound here. Like in “One Shall Fall”, medical drama once again proves to be Prime’s weakest category of plot, though this tine it’s due to incompetence and not wacky pseudo-science. Miko is all in a huff and demands to know who did this, and Fowler explains what actually happened, that Hardshell “sucker punched the big lug while he was down”. Miko’s mind turns to revenge, even as Fowler insists that this isn’t her fault. I like the subtlety here too: Miko almost grudgingly accepts that she could not have done anything had she been with Bulkhead, but deep down we can tell that she’s already turned to anger and hatred… she doesn’t go to the Dark Side, though.

Speaking of dark, over on the Decepticon ship, Megatron is performing one of his usual verbal tirades, berating his men for their failures, except for Soundwave. This actually serves to remind the audience that after this long four-episode arc and a two-month hiatus, in the end both sides only ended up with one relic each, the other two having been lost to them. Thanks for reminding us of how little traction you actually made, Prime, thanks a lot. Megatron fixes his rage on Hardshell, demanding to know if he has any excuse for not returning victorious. Hardshell does offer up the fact that he thinks he killed Bulkhead, and Megatron finds that satisfactory. Knockout does not, however:

 “If that is true, it has been a while since anyone has extinguished an Autobot spark.”

 “Because it has been a while since an Insecticon warrior has been provided the opportunity to do so.”

“Really now? Because the bug under my recent command was utterly useless!”

I can’t really argue with that! An electric shock killed the bug and then Knockout got run over by a train; I can see why he has trust issues! Megatron is skeptical of Bulkhead being dead, but Hardshell assures him that Bulkhead was exterminated.

Back at the Autobot base, we see that Bulkhead is not actually dead yet! Woops! Things are grim: Ratchet’s had to induce stasis, Agent Fowler is called away to help cover up ‘Bee’s and Arcee’s adventure which apparently got caught on video, and Optimus is looking even more angry than usual. Arcee informs the team that Wheeljack is on his way, but Miko takes that as the Autobots all giving up on Bulkhead’s survival. Miko storms off in a huff, saying that she’s going home. This is odd, considering that Miko vowed in “T.M.I” that she would never leave Bulkhead alone again, but then, she’s pretty pissed at the moment; better give her some breathing room.

Wheeljack arrives, asking Optimus who’s responsible, but given that Optimus doesn’t know, he says that they should focus on Bulkhead’s recovery instead of revenge. In fact, none of the Autobots know who dealt Bulkhead his wounds. Not even Agent Fowler knew, because the conversation that passed between he and Bulkhead last episode made no mention of Hardshell’s name at all. So how did Fowler know when he told Miko who it was? It doesn’t really matter; the point of the episode is not the “who dun it”, it’s about Miko’s path into darkness, but it just kinda irritates me that the Autobots are talking as if they know who did this, when they really don’t. Wheeljack leaves, intent on revenge. Miko reveals herself to have stowed away in his ship, and while Wheeljack’s immediate impulse is to take her back to base, Miko makes a deal with him that she’ll tell him who tried to kill Bulkhead if he takes her with him on his revenge quest. Seems like a pretty sweet deal.

Wheeljack and Miko plan an attack on a Decepticon mine, reasoning that if they destroy it, they can draw out Hardshell. Wheeljack sends Miko in for recon, something that I really enjoy. Wheeljack is not concerned overly about Miko’s safety, and he’s treating her more as a soldier than a human who can squish easily. Also, unlike Smokescreen and Jack’s relationship down the line which had one person go into battle half cocked while the other tried to talk some sense into the other, this one is more about two people going in half cocked, fueling each other’s rage and grief. This leads into one of my favorite fights out of the whole show. Miko goes in, using her cell phone as eyes for Wheeljack (I like that), telling him about all the troop deployments in the mine.

Wheeljack bursts in and we have possibly the best fight in terms of perspective and subtle character interaction, as Wheeljack’s fight with all the Vehicons in shot from the human perspective, with everything huge and crazy camera angles. I also love that Wheeljack trusts Miko enough to just get out of the way of the falling bodies around her, not really caring if she gets bruised or anything. He’s not here to coddle her, he’s here to kill Vehicons and blow up some Energon. I feel that this is a much more realistic representation of how the Autobots would fight if the humans were with them, something only done in “Darkness Rising, Part 4” and in “T.M.I”, and even then the latter was because the Autobots didn’t know that Miko was there at all. Here, Wheeljack is trusting Miko, and while she’s scared at no point does Miko ever call for help or blame Wheeljack for putting her in danger. She wanted to come on this mission, and Wheeljack isn’t going to bother protecting her from what she might want to see or do. A very good development for Miko indeed, trading in complaining for survival and trust.

This episode also gives us a peak at something that will be expanded on later in the season, that of the dissension in the Decepticon ranks. The Insecticons and Vehicon drones don’t really get along, and when Knockout gets assaulted by one of the Insecticons, he goes to Megatron and complains about it. While this quickly spirals into a conversation between Wheeljack and Megatron, the seeds are planted for what could have been a great Decepticon tension episode (and no, in my opinion “Patch” doesn’t count as that). Anyway, Wheeljack calls up Megatron, demanding that Hardshell meet him at the next mine location lest Megatron lose another Energon mine. Megatron’s pretty pissed that Bulkhead’s alive, demanding that Hardshell deliver him a spark.

“And if it is not the one belonging to Bulkhead, it had better be Wheeljack’s!”

On the way to the next mining location, Miko and Wheeljack have a nice exchange of words.

“He’s gonna make it, right?”

“No question, kid. Bulkhead’s the toughest wrecking ball I’ve ever known, and Ratchet’s a great doc. The best.”

This could be seen as Wheeljack comforting Miko, but I tend to read this more as Wheeljack trying to convince himself that Bulkhead will survive, that Ratchet’s medical skills are as good as his virus encoding bomb implanting skills. Wheeljack could be feeling just as responsible as Miko for not being with Bulkhead, only for him it’s because he was with Ratchet when Bulkhead got shot, and that trust that he and Ratchet built could be starting to crumble in Wheeljack’s head given that Bulkhead lies so close to death… and even Ratchet isn’t sure that Bulkhead will make it.

But it’s Miko who really gets to shine in the emotional spotlight here:

“There’s no way Bulk would miss all the stuff we have planed. Car sledding, worldwide smash-a-thon… we’ve been making a list.”

There’s a great bit of voice acting going on here. This is not said with enthusiasm, but more with a deep grief mixed with a sense that Miko might suspect that Bulkhead isn’t going to live, that for all of Wheeljack’s words of comfort and reassurance and Ratchet’s workings, Miko’s now accepting the possibility that Bulkhead probably won’t make it. Miko’s character this episode is startlingly dark: first she used her grief to fuel her desire for revenge, but it is only now that she is having a chance to reflect on Bulkhead’s plight.

Anyway, enough analyzing! Let’s get into the final badass fight between Wheeljack and Hardshell. Arriving at the mine, Wheeljack tells Miko that should he fail she’s to take the ship back to the Autobots’ base. Incredulous, Miko demands that she help, but Wheeljack says that she’s already done enough (and unlike other episodes, Miko has actually done enough already to justify her coming along). And to further put her in the competent character camp this episode, Miko actually stays aboard the ship when Wheeljack tells her to! Wow, I’m impressed!

Wheeljack’s fights are always impressive, and this one is no exception. Even when he’s losing, Wheeljack still manages to come off as a badass! Hardshell is once again the antagonist this time, and does get in some really painful hits. I like that Wheeljack is taken out, the animators sparing nothing in this fight. Hardshell’s just throwing the poor ‘bot all over the place; it’s pretty awesome to watch! Well, Miko has to disobey orders at some point this episode, so instead of hitting autopilot, she activates the weapons systems on the Jackhammer and kills Hardshell with two missiles! Let me be clear about this: Miko kills Hardshell with weapons that are meant to be used against another ship! Yeah, Miko’s pretty badass!

Well, leave it to Megatron to stage an ambush! Wheeljack manages to get back to the ship in time for it to take off with a horde of Insecticons in hot pursuit! Wheeljack gets the idea to destroy the entire horde by detonating a grenade. I like that when he pops out of the top of the ship to throw the one grenade, Wheeljack looks at the swarm and is all like “aw, fuck this” and just chucks his entire arsenal of grenades into the fray and firing off a shot at one, causing a huge chain reaction that kills all of the Insecticons. The day is saved, and Miko returns to the Autobot base with a wounded Wheeljack following her.

Miko asks about Bulkhead’s condition, and Ratchet reports that he will survive, though he might never be fully functional again. So yes, this answers the question: after all that waiting, after all the high stakes, and after sitting through this episode… after all of that, Bulkhead’s still going to be okay.

Post-episode follow up: Final score for “Hurt” is 6/10. It had some great explorations of themes and characters, but the beginning and especially the ending really weakened it. Miko’s character examination was good, but it could have been so much more. Let’s talk about the ending for a minute, because I feel that this ending just completely undermines what had been established last episode.

Bulkhead had gone through the whole montage thing, he’d beaten Hardshell, and then he’d gone down crossing the finish line. I think this would have resonated more had Bulkhead died. We would have seen Miko completely shattered by this experience, and this could have led to her and Wheeljack maybe striking out on there own out of anger, maybe giving the Autobots a splinter faction the same way Starscream did for the Decepticons. And giving the Autobots a real loss could have really shaken things up (because, let’s face it: Cliffjumper’s death was more for setting the tone and establishing Arcee’s character than it ever was about Cliff himself) . Bulkhead dying could have tied the themes of this episode together a little better too. Miko’s revenge quest could have been in vain; she could have seen her and Wheeljack’s work all for nothing as Bulkhead is now dead. I mean, yeah, this is a kid’s show, but this episode could have really propelled the Autobots and the show in a new direction, instead of leaving us back at the starting line with a few new trinkets on either team.

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