February 8, 2014

Shadowcon Reviews- Out of the Past

I have been waiting so long to use this image!

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 2 episode 17: “Out of the Past”

“Out of the Past” closes out our look at the T-Arc and its follow-up episodes and it does so very nicely. This episode is actually based loosely on the Transformers Prime prequel comic, and it should be noted that I have not read that comic, so I have no idea how faithful it is to its source material barring looking it up on the TFWiki, which is a little vague on how the episode handles the material its given. Because of the way this is told, given that it’s an adaptation of another story and its place in Season Two as a kind of respite before delving back into the thick of the show, the story feels more tight and focused than some of its company in mid-Season Two, focusing on characters and meaningful imagery, instead of plot. If “Hurt” was to show us how Miko and Wheeljack take Bulkhead’s injuries to heart, “Out of the Past” attempts to show how Arcee, the most developed Autobot out of the cast during this time, takes it and relates it to her numerous dead partners. I think this is a logical move, and given that we haven’t had an Arcee-focused episode since… well, since “Partners” actually, which was all the way back in Season One, this is a nice reminder that this character is still thriving despite not being the central character for a long time.

We kick things off in a flashback, which we know because Starscream is on the Nemesis, and unless he weaseled his way back into the Decepticon fold off-screen and did away with the Apex Armor for no reason, this is the only explanation for his presence on the ship. The first time watching this did have me confused for a brief time; the atmosphere is ominous enough that it does a pretty good job of at least confusing you the first time you watch it, and I like that it just throws you in without giving you a time stamp or anything. Arcee has been captured, and Starscream has discovered an encrypted Autobot message, and he needs her to decode it, so he naturally insults her, and when she verbally bits back with the face palming line of “get fragged”, he reveals that he’s also captured Cliffjumper. This sets up a pretty effective teaser and gets the ball rolling on this flashback episode.

After the teaser, we get further proof that this is indeed the past, as Starscream makes mention of Cybertron below them, and when he threatens to have Cliffjumper executed just to get Arcee to talk, she just says:

“Scrap him. I barely know the guy.”

Man, what a bitch.

Starscream tries to appeal to Arcee’s sense of patriotism, saying that Cybetron is just a lifeless husk, implying that she’d be doing everyone a favor if she just handed over the codes, but again, Arcee’s stubbornness prevails.

“I’m not afraid of you, Starscream. You’re no Megatron.”

Again, the sass is not lost on the past version of the character.

Cutting back to the present, Miko, after just having an entire episode devoted to her exploring the darker aspects of humanity like revenge and cold hatred, is now seen ordering Bulkhead to take ten steps on broken legs. Y’know, we saw Optimus welding what looked like a cast for Ratchet back in “Darkness Rising, Part 4”; I wonder where that technology went. It would certainly help Bulkhead out right about now, especially considering that it was his back that was badly injured and not his legs, so this is either an injury that came about from Ratchet’s work (which wouldn’t surprise me, given how blatantly obvious it is that Ratchet knows very little about actual medical practice or how science works), or it was a minor injury sustained from Hardshell that, after Ratchet repaired the rest of Bulkhead, quickly became the dominant injury… or for the third and most likely explanation, the writers forgot what happened to Bulkhead (again, not surprising).

Anyway, Bulkhead’s only able to take three steps before crashing, and Miko’s hot on his case about it.

“Not good enough! You have to come back stronger than before!”

While Bulkhead feebly tries to continue Miko’s exercises, we get one of those painful scenes between Ratchet and Optimus discussing Optimus’ decryption of the Iacon database. It’s a reminder of the company this episode shares in Season Two, though fortunately, this is the one and only time this episode we hear about this, so that’s nice. I also like how, while Miko is berating Bulkhead for not getting better fast enough and Bulkhead keeps falling, Optimus just doesn’t even turn around. He’s so fixated on the computer that he just doesn’t give a crap about one of his own soldiers. What was it Optimus said just last episode:

“At the moment, I believe we should focus our efforts on Bulkhead’s recovery…”

Well, must have been a pretty quick moment for you, dude, because you just don’t care anymore!

Ratchet does care though, and when Bulkhead fails to take ten steps again, Ratchet orders that Bulkhead take a break, much to Miko’s chagrin.

“A break?! You think the ‘Cons are going to give Bulkhead a break in the middle of a firefight?”

“If you push a patient too hard too fast, you risk exacerbating their injuries.”

Oh, so it looks like the ‘Doc does know a thing or two about medicine… or at least has common sense, one of the two. I do like Miko’s frustration, however overplayed it is in this scene. It shows that she’s trying so desperately to get Bulkhead back, and right now it looks to her as though she’s doing all of this in vein, as he’s not recovering as quickly as she would like. It could be that, now that she’s been on her revenge quest with Wheeljack, she feels that she is able to not only avenge Bulkhead, but also aid him in his recovery without changing her tactics when going about doing so. That pent up anger that she’s feeling is now being channeled from her hatred of Hardshell and determination to avenge Bulkhead into her wanting to help Bulkhead.

Well, she storms off and goes outside to be alone and to admire the scenery. The way the sunset is framed against the mountainous terrain is just gorgeous, and the lighting is brilliantly cast, and it helps to contrast this environment and tone to the flashback scenes, which are mainly shot in cool colors. Miko’s crying, and Arcee comes up to comfort her, and there’s a line dropped in here that I was not expecting. It’s so small that most might overlook it, but for me, it just adds to Miko’s character during this time in the show. Arcee bends down on one knee, looks at Miko, and then stares down at the ground below them, and she asks this:

“Aren’t we a little close to the edge?”

I may be reading way to much into this (and given Miko’s answer, that may well be the case), but I think this warrants discussion if only to get at the core of Miko’s character. Arcee basically insinuated that Miko might have been having thoughts of suicide. Now, this isn’t supposed to be some dramatic thing; it’s a small line with very little impact on the story, but look at what was just suggested to the viewer here. When Miko is helpless to do something she frequently resorts to rushing headfirst into situations that endanger her life in the hopes that she can make herself useful. With last episode, we saw this behavior as something that Wheeljack took advantage of. She got a taste of how messed up a revenge quest can be, and so I think now that this adrenaline rush has worn off, Miko doesn’t really know what to do with herself. Her friend is back, but not in fighting shape. She’s trying to make him better by pushing him too far, just as she was pushed too far last episode… and seemed to have come out of that experience all the stronger. So, she’s naturally using that logic to push Bulkhead to his limits just as she was, thinking that he will indeed “come back stronger than before”. Yet we see here that Miko hasn’t come back stronger at all, and I think she realizes this as much as the audience does, and so in realizing this, she recognizes that Bulkhead might turn out like her, and she doesn’t want that. With nothing to fight for, Miko feels so useless and wasted on the team that she might be thinking that she’s just not worth anything anymore.

Reading too much into this? Most definitely, but I think it’s important to address Miko’s character one more time before leaving her for Arcee’s, especially given the differences between the two. Come to think of it, Miko and Arcee have had the least amount of interaction together out of the whole cast; this is certainly the first time that the two have had a conversation together in the whole of the series as far as I can recall, and given the two histories of both of them losing people, or at the very least, Arcee knowing what it’s like to lose people with Miko knowing what it’s like to nearly lose someone, pairing these two together for this episode provides introspective moments for both. I also like that we see two character that have had minimal interaction now finally get to have a meaningful heart-to-heart. It’s a nice change of pace.

Arcee makes the point that while Bulkhead is recovering, what he needs from Miko is “a friend right now, not a drill sergeant.” This is the short version of the problem of Miko’s approach to helping Bulkhead, and I like how succinctly Arcee put it (in contrast to how I had to drag out an entire paragraph just to structure what was going on in Miko’s head; sorry). Miko’s not really in the mood for chit-chat at the moment, though:

“No offense, but I came up here for some privacy.”

Okay, Arcee, she’s stated that she wants to be alone. Now, you of all people can understand that, right? You turned tail and ran after Cliffjumper’s memorial service in the first episode, so you have to have some idea of why Miko might be in need of some alone time. Maybe if you tread lightly and just back off…

“I understand what you’re going through.”

Oh. Alright. Just keep on talking. That’s fine.

“If you even need someone to talk to…”
“I’m fine, okay? I’m not the one Hardshell tried to scrap!”

“Miko, it’s rough when someone you care about gets hurt. Closing yourself off from feeling won’t help anyone.”

Except… Miko already closed herself off last episode. She’s already been through that stage of the grieving process. Now, she’s just trying to work through finding purpose in herself again. Yes, Miko closing herself off from feeling did not aid her in her mission last episode; it was her evolution from not feeling anything to recognizing her friendship with Wheeljack that saved them. But that’s my point. It was her character’s evolution last episode. In short, Miko’s already learned this lesson, and while one could read this episode’s Miko scenes as showing her being closed off from feeling and trying to shield her emotions by being hard on Bulkhead, I stick to my analysis above, in that Miko is distraught and feeling helpless. The line works… but it might have been more effective last episode.

Actually, with my logic, it would make the second act of this episode feel pretty wasted, so I am willing to cut it some slack for this. The line does work for Arcee, however. When Arcee drops the advice about closing oneself off from feeling, Miko comes back biting with:

“Well, you would know, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes. I would… After I lost my first partner, Tailgate, I pushed everyone away. Until Cliffjumper came along.”

One of the things that I admire about this show is that it keeps its characters in check (almost) every episode. The show has done a nice job of keeping the Arcee/Cliffjumper relationship as far from romantic as possible without being insulting to either those who take Cliffjumper and Arcee’s relationship as platonic, which I do, or as romantic. If you will allow me a moment’s digression, I’d like to discuss this romantic side of the argument for a second. While many fans see Arcee and Cliffjumper as a romantic duo, a far more reasonable reading of their relationship would be that of close friendship. When Cliffjumper died, Arcee was visibly distraught, but no more so than in the flashback of her witnessing Tailgate being eviscerated with knives! In fact, with Tailgate’s death, she lets out a scream of fear. So, why is everyone making a big deal about Arcee and Cliffjumper being together?

The Transformers fandom is made up primarily of guys in their early thirties (and boys, but I’m speaking to the people who grew up with the original ‘80s cartoon), and with that comes a sad truth that no matter how ridiculous the situation is, people will still find a way to make Arcee’s character about love, because that’s what lady characters are meant to represent, right? How insulting is it that just because Arcee is a close friend with someone the fans immediately jump on the bandwagon of her having a love interest? The same can be said for her relationship with Jack; the only reason people are more hesitant to couple Arcee and Jack together is because Jack’s a human! People made a huge deal about Optimus and Arcee having a relationship because the two were holding hands in "Scrapheap" when they were about to die from the cold! How much fan reading did you need to do to get from “respected allies who realize they are about to die are glad to be with one another so that they won’t die alone” to “Arcee just confessed her love for Optimus by holding his hand”? I am not mad at the show; I’m mad at the fans that see Arcee as someone who by default must be romantically involved with someone. This is misogyny at it’s worst. Anyway, I digress. Arcee’s relationship with Cliffjumper is, in my mind, not romantic, or if it is, my reasons for it being so are not because Arcee needs to have a love interest.

But, I guess I should get back to the episode. (Seriously, that was a small rant given my feelings on the subject of love and entertainment). In the past, Cliffjumper is returned to his cell with Arcee. Starscream had tortured him, but Cliffjumper didn’t talk, so Arcee’s perfectly happy with him sporting the latest in battle damage fashion. The two discuss how they came to be in this mess in the first place. Turns out both intercepted talk of a Decepticon operation back on Cybertron, so they followed it here to discover that Starscream is transferring large amounts of Energon down to the planet for some reason. That’s when they got captured.

Starscream isn’t happy that his normal torture techniques aren’t working (get used to that; as we begin our look at Season Three in the summer, we’re going to find Starscream is not a very good interrogator at all).

“I would just eliminate them, but the code they carry is too valuable.”

Soundwave suggests that they bring the prisoners down to the surface, but Starscream had reservations. Starscream grudgingly agrees, and Arcee and Cliffjumper are taken to a laboratory. I like that when Cliffjumper cringes at the sight of all the surgical tools on the cart, we get the panning shot of the tray, but there are only like six tools there that have then been replicated multiple times and in different sizes to give the illusion that there are more tools than there actually are. Just an animation quirk I applaud the animators for; it saves money and still gives the desired look of the shot. Starscream introduces the two Autobots to Shockwave, making his debut in the Prime universe!

Shockwave… is not much of a character to be perfectly honest. His role in the series is as royal smart person on the Decepticon team, and his character’s charm is driven primarily by his design and by the love he receives from fans and his homage to his original G1 counterpart. He’s more of a caricature of his original character than he is a character in and of himself, something that plagued Bumblebee throughout much of the show as well. But, here he is, looking all badass and purple with that red optic of death and logic! I actually really like the look of him in this series! Combining the classic elements of G1 Shockwave with the Prime aesthetic really makes this guy pop and gives him a far more imposing and threatening figure than his original design. Even his voice is chilling! It’s so robotic and full of bass! I love it.

He’s here ready to extract the codes from Arcee’s mind using the cortical psychic patch. It’s revealed that he invented it. Shockwave is like the inventor of everything in this series as it turns out; he invented that, the Space Bridge, gave us the Predacons, made great headway on the Synth En formula… if Spock were an evil robot, he’d be this guy!

The code is extracted, knocking Arcee out, and we finally get to find out what all the fuss is about. Turns out Optimus sent them a message inviting them to Earth because his team is very small there. What’s worse is that, thanks to Shockwave, the Decepticons now know about this, and Starscream is just gung ho enough to surprise Optimus’ team now. Shockwave leaves Starscream to execute Cliffjumper, but Arcee manages to free herself and tie Starscream down on the operating table for interrogation. And if you thought the Cliffjumper/Arcee shippers were bad, just look at this scene and imagine how quickly fans started reading into Arcee interrogating Starscream.

Starscream spills what he knows, per his cowards tactic of survival:

“Shockwave! He’s the one you want. He’s building a Space Bridge beneath Kaon!”

I like that everything of importance is buried beneath the Decepticon capital in this show.

Arcee knocks Starscream out, declaring that she’s off to destroy the Space Bridge, but Cliffjumper announces that he’s coming with her. As they work their way underground, Cliffjumper suggests that after this they should join up with Optimus Prime’s team. Arcee resists the notion, saying that she’s not a team player.

I think this is key in understanding Arcee’s character. Even in the first episode of the show, Arcee was reluctant to take on another partner after Cliff’s death, and I think that Tailgate’s death makes her feel just as hesitant to take on Cliffjumper as her partner, or worse yet, be a part of team that has been established as being small, so if she were to join, she would make friends along the way to watching them all die around her. And she can’t handle that. Like Miko last episode, Arcee is attempting to distance herself from those around her in order to make herself feel less emotion, except that unlike Miko who had Wheeljack to nurture that desire through emotionless combat and in the end make Miko realize that emotions are something good, Arcee has the far too emotional Cliffjumper backing her up, and he’s far too happy to dig up those emotions that Arcee has tried so hard to bury, thus making her more reclusive. The episode tries to tie it back to the Miko of this episode, with Cliffjumper repeating the line Arcee had told Miko, that “closing yourself off from feeling won’t help anyone”, and it works... just. The tying back isn’t a bad idea, but it comes a little late for Miko’s character to gain much from it.

I do like how the shot of Arcee lamenting Tailgate’s death with Cliffjumper in the background fades out to be replaced with the present Arcee lamenting Cliffjumper’s death, with his grave in the background. It’s a nice touch that really makes you realize that a good amount of care was put into the emotional moments of the episode. It also replaces the darkened lighting and cold blue hues of the flashback scenes with the warm gold and yellows of the present material, again a visual cue that lets you know that in the present, things might be grim, but there is a glimmer of hope, while in the past, we know Cliffjumper is going to die, and so seeing him return like this is just salt in the wound, though by no means unwelcome salt; I am always happy to see Cliffjumper on screen!

Arcee and Cliffjumper make it to the control room, taking out the guards and recognizing that the Bridge is already locked on to the coordinates Optimus gave them, meaning that the ‘Cons are planning an ambush. Well, now they really need to take out the Space Bridge, and as Arcee said, this mission will require stealth, so she and Cliffjumper very quietly sneak up on the two Vehicons operating the controls and… oh, no wait! I’m sorry! Cliffjumper just waltzes up to the two operators and pretends in the most cliché manner ever that he’s part of the Decepticon team now! I just love Cliffjumper’s delivery of his lines, like he doesn’t even care if they buy his story or not. Arcee does sneak past them and begins fiddling with the controls, but Shockwave shows up and a pretty cool fight breaks out.

Shockwave tosses Arcee around for a bit while Cliffjumper takes out some goons. Cliffjumper shoots the controls, causing the Space Bridge to become very unstable. This pisses off Shockwave something fierce, so instead of using his cannon arm as a gun, Shockwave is so metal hardcore that he resorts to just plain beating people with it! Damn! Arcee gets the drop on Shockwave and fires at the ceiling, causing it to collapse on the dude. Starscream shows up and Cliffjumper suggests that since their exit is blocked by more Vehicons than they can handle (remember, this is back when Vehicons actually fought well), that they just jump through the now unstable Space Bridge and take their chances.

They do, but apparently Shockwave had the illogical notion to follow them in because… shut up. This leads to one of my favorite scenes in the series. Shockwave fires at them, landing a blast to Cliffjumper, knocking him out, and now it’s just him and Arcee. Arcee takes one look at Shockwave, dodges the next shot, and returns fire, shooting him in the freaking eye! Man, this show is just really brutal! The two escape and land on Earth, Arcee accepts Cliffjumper as her partner (after one mission; I’ll touch on this later), and the two begin their search for Optimus.

In the present, things wrap up as Arcee and Miko watch the sunset and the final shot is of Cliffjumper’s grave, reminding us… well, I’m sure it’s supposed to mean something…

Post-episode follow up: Final score for “Out of the Past” is 8/10. A very tight story and excellent pacing keeps things from getting boring. I really loved the themes established in the first act, but I think that relating all of this back to Miko could have been stronger. It was nice to see Cliffjumper again. Billy Brown’s impersonation of Dwayne Johnson is very good, a respectable impersonation without going overboard into parodying the original voice. The imagery and color contrast provides excellent visual cues as to which time we’re in, and I loved how everything looked in the episode. Arcee’s character is explored further here, though I don’t think she’s developed in any significant way. Rather, the episode digs into what previous episodes had established about Arcee as a person, and this was a good character to do that with. The origin story of how Cliffjumper and Arcee meet up is not sold as a romance, and the show offers very little to argue that they are romantically involved. Overall, a very good outing and a welcome change of pace to the relic hunt formula of the show at this time.

1 comment:

  1. This is certainly one of my favourite episodes from Season 2. I'm happy they shown us about what Cliff meant to Arcee in the end.