March 24, 2014

Shadowcon Reviews- Regeneration

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 2 episode 25: “Regeneration”

I read a great review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen once that just sums up the film ever so nicely: “Few elements of Fallen are completely odious unto themselves, but rolled together it becomes a wave of inescapable proportions.” While this is talking about one of the worst films ever and I’m covering one of the best Transformers shows ever, I think the principle of the review is still relevant to the second season of Prime. Season Two’s elements that drag it down are not weak unto themselves, but put together they make the season a really long and overstated affair.

However, with that comes the recognition that while Transformers Prime’s second season is certainly the weakest of the three (not “odious”, but certainly not gourmet goodness), it has elements in it that Fallen lacked, that being actual elements of a good story. It got off to a great start with the “Orion Pax” arc. As a follow-up to the “One Shall Rise” arc, “Pax” was able to flesh out characters and situations in a terrific way. Some of the episodes even in the T-Arc and a few after Smokescreen joined the team were pretty well paced and had enough action in them to keep you entertained. My problem with Season Two (and from what I’ve read, a vast majority of people will make this problem far more egregious than it actually is) is that it just failed to make the best use of what it had. And what it was setting up for, especially in this episode, could have propelled this season or the next season into greatness had the writers not been so set on playing it safe. That said, this episode on its own and in conjunction with the finally I am happy to say, is really, really strong!

There’s a bit of backstory to this episode because it comes right after “Inside Job” and “Patch”, the former looking at how Smokescreen steals the Omega Keys from Megatron, and then Starscream steals the Keys from the Autobots… it’s a whole Key-stealing thing, and then the latter looking at Starscream rejoining the Decepticons. I’m planning on covering both in the Fall (hopefully). Oh, and Dreadwing is pissed because he found out that Starscream resurrected his dead brother Skyquake (who had died in “Masters and Students” but was brought back as a zombie in “Shadowzone”), believing that Starscream disgraced his brother’s honorable death by doing so. Alright, everyone got all that? Good. Let's get started!

The episode opens with the first of many good Autobot conversations this episode, with the kids now in the loop as to the Autobots’ planned departure to Cybertron. Ratchet points out that they don’t even have the means to get there, and even if they did, Starscream has the Keys, so they don’t really have anything to do once they reach the planet anyway. Smokescreen and Arcee both suspect that Starscream’s rejoined the Decepticons, but Ratchet is skeptical. They conversation is interrupted by a communiqué from Dreadwing, who wants to meet.

Coming back from the titles, we find that Dreadwing just up and decided to give the Autobots the Forge of Solus Prime (apparently this wasn’t under guard or anything). The Autobots are naturally pretty suspicious of this move, and when Optimus asks why Dreadwing did this, Dreadwing’s response is very telling:

“A shadow of disgrace has been cast upon the Decepticons. It is a cause I no longer wish to be part of.”

Now, unlike Starscream who made a similar plea back in “Partners”, Dreadwing’s character is one of honor and nobility, so Optimus has no trouble taking in this reasoning at face value. Dreadwing is an honorable soldier, and recognizing that the Decepticon cause is plagued with deception and weird choices nowadays, he is, in Optimus’ eyes, already taken a first step to becoming a good guy. It would have been interesting to see Optimus now recognize that even someone as bad as Dreadwing is willing to change, much like Optimus himself did when he became Orion Pax in that arc, but alas, we didn’t get that here. Optimus appeals to Dreadwing to join the Autobots, but he refuses, saying that just because he’s no longer with the ‘Cons, that doesn’t mean he’s automatically with the Autobots.

The Autobots haul ass out of there along with the Forge, and back at base, Ratchet suggests that they use the Forge to replicate Omega Keys of their own. Optimus says that he lacks the knowledge and skill to do that which I did appreciate. Far too often when you have a God-mode weapon like this in TV, it automatically means that you now can do anything with it. But here, it seems that the Forge’s power relies on the user’s knowledge, and this does fit in with what we’ve seen: Megatron forged himself a blade with the hammer and a dead Prime arm, and so we can infer that Megatron wasn’t used to that kind of power so that’s why the blade came out all crooked and stupid looking. Anyway, I like that the Forge is limited in this way.

The conversation then moves into a very good moral debate that could have so easily sparked the theme of Season Three, but sadly did not. But it being in the show at all is a great thing, and it does tie in with next episodes’ conclusion very well. Arcee hopes that Megatron doesn’t just destroy the Keys, but Optimus speculates that he will use the Keys to restore Cybertron. Bulkhead asks the question that the audience had been asking this whole time:

“I say we let him keep ‘em and do the work for us. I mean, what difference does it make who restores Cybertron?”

This is a great question, and it leads into my favorite line in the whole series, here said by Optimus:

“If Megatron restores Cybertron, he will no doubt use it to his political advantage…. In all likelihood, the leader of the Decepticons will portray himself as our planet’s savior, and brand all Autobots as war criminals.”

This is what a moral dilemma is all about! Look at what we have here: if Megatron revives Cybertron, he would technically be Cybertron’s savior, and would he not be then just in charging the Autobots with treason? Ratchet says that Megatron’s deception would be “poisoning the Sparks and minds of [Cybertron’s] returning citizens”, but is that really the case? Megatron wouldn’t technically be deceiving anyone; he did restore Cybertron and make the planet whole again. It may not have been the way the Autobots wanted it, but then the Autobots’ way isn’t what the Decepticons want either, and just because the Autobots are the protagonists of the show does not automatically put them in the right. Prime has been very good about showing us different sides to the Decepticon cause, and Dreadwing’s comment from earlier that the Decepticons have lost their way… well, sure according to him they may have strayed from whatever ideal he thought he was upholding, but with Cybertron’s restoration, Megatron would be doing a great thing, and Dreadwing might just see that the Decepticons aren’t lost at all… because Cybertron’s been restored on Megatron’s watch.

None of this happens, by the way; I just love that this dilemma was included, and given Optimus’ actions next episode, there may be some good in having Megatron lead Cybertron’s new age. Anyway, Optimus reveals the existence of the Omega Lock, much to Ratchet’s surprise; he’s usually in the know when it comes to this sort of thing, and he’s a little miffed that the rest of the Autobots didn’t know about this Omega Lock prior to now. Optimus explains that the Omega Lock is the thing that the Keys unlock to restore Cybertron, and he tells the team that Alpha Trion (the dude who told Optimus this stuff in a vision or dream or hologram… whatever, they don’t really explain that) didn’t want the rest of the Autobots to find out about the Lock prior to now. I don’t know why not, considering that the more people you have out looking for this thing the easier it’s going to be to find it, and plus Alpha Trion didn’t know any of this was going to happen. He even said that the details of this whole thing are super vague. This makes Smokescreen’s explanation for why Alpha Trion didn’t tell them about the Lock not make sense, because Alpha Trion could not have known that Smokescreen was going to be captured or that Starscream was going to get the keys, or that Dreadwing was going to hand over the Forge, etc. and so this doesn’t sit well with me.

Actually, the whole Lock thing doesn’t sit well with me for two reasons. First, I’ve seen this done before in Transformers Cybertron, a show that no one wanted to be reminded of, and this just cemented that reminding in our brains for the remainder of the season. Second, the concept is introduced so late in the show that it doesn’t add anything to the mythos that wasn’t already really cool and interesting. It’s just another thing that Cybertron has now. At least with Vector Sigma they introduced it and then had some personal motives or ties connected to it. With this, it feels like the writers are just shoe-horning this in because that’s what Cybertron did, which really makes you question the writers’ sanity in drawing form such sources as bad as that, but whatever.

Over on the Nemesis, Starscream gets his T-Cog reinstalled at long last (and yet doesn’t transform at all this episode, which I find amusing). Dreadwing comes in and here begins the worst death scene of all of them. Worse than Breakdown’s, worse than Cliffjumper’s, worse than Optimus’; this one takes the cake. Dreadwing is really angry that Starscream resurrected Skyquake, and now seeks to kill Starscream over it. Megatron barges in, ordering Dreadwing to stand down, but Dreadwing disobeys, so Megatron shoots him in the back with his own gun. There are three things wrong with this scene.

First, Dreadwing’s motivations are all fine except that this doesn’t fit with his earlier comment to Optimus that the Decepticons have lost their way. If anything, Dreadwing is losing his way and killing Starscream won’t make the Decepticons any more united than they were before. And this is especially odd considering that not seconds ago, Megatron said to Dreadwing that the Decepticons must be a united force if they are to have any hope of holding onto a restored Cybertron, so why is Dreadwing now of all times creating even more infighting within the ranks?

Second, Megatron offing a very useful subordinate just because the guy’s threatening to kill Starscream is very out of character for Megatron. Megatron is not the type of person to defend Starscream, and he certainly is not foolish enough to do something as extreme as kill someone else for doing something like this. Dreadwing is far more useful to Megatron than Starscream ever was anyway, so if you’re going to kill someone, why not be done with Starscream anyway? And given that there’s no explanation given as to why Megatron spared Starscream in Season Three, I suspect that even the writers didn’t know.

Third, Dreadwing’s death had no prelude and certainly no follow-through. Sure, you could argue that his speech to Optimus at the beginning of this episode was setup, but come on! That speech doesn’t fit in with Dreadwing’s actions here as noted above, so it doesn’t fit as setup for the death either. It was a death for shock value, but unlike Cliffjumper, who had an impact on our heroes, Dreadwing’s death will simply be forgotten literally in two scenes. I have no idea why the writers decided to kill Dreadiwng, but they did not do a good job of it at all. Still, it provided cool action… I guess.

The Autobots are a little edgy that Optimus has been keeping things from them, though Bulkhead is more dismayed as the ‘Cons are just holding all the cards anyway. Starscream and Knock Out find out how the Keys interlock to create a map of Cybertron, and the coordinates to the Omega Lock are finally revealed. Megatron is all too happy about this, and targets his Space Bridge for Cybertron.

Back at the Autobot base, Optimus has completed work on turning the Autobots’ GroundBridge into a Space Bridge, and just in time too, as the sensors detect Megatron’s Bridge is already powered up outside of Earth’s atmosphere… which is weird considering that the last time Megatron used it, he said that the Autobots couldn’t detect it because it was on the other side of the moon, so now they move it closer to Earth. Uh huh. But this does give us the chance to now see the Autobots saddle up for battle, which is really great! Seeing them all retrieve the relics seen in past stored in the vaults is really awesome to see. It gives you the feeling that the Autobots did fight hard for these things and that there is some payoff to sitting through all those episodes. The majestic music helps out a lot too. I also like the weapons that everyone chooses. Bulkhead gets the immobilizer to go along with his brute strength, Arcee the Apex Armor to boost her fighting capacity, and Smokescreen the Spark Extractor (they don’t have a debate over using it this time) to go along with his reckless and extreme personality. The only one who’s weapon choice is odd seems to be Bumblebee, but hey, the Polarity Gauntlet’s beam effect is yellow, so… color coordination? Who knows? But the scene is great, pumped full of emotion and excitement! Optimus then forges himself a new Star Saber (we can infer that its stronger due to being re-forged with the Forge by the current user), and they all head out through their supped-up Space Bridge to go kick some Decepticon ass! Optimus even gets in his obligatory G1 reference with:

“Megatron must be stopped, no matter the cost!”

Megatron arrives on Cybertron with a bunch of Vehicons as an honor guard with the Keys, and this was the moment where I actually paused my TV, sat back and said to myself “they’re actually doing something drastic and moving in this season!” Sure, the “Orion Pax” arc did that, but I’m talking about for the bulk of the season. Like, this was the first time in the season where the Decepticons were painted as a credible threat, and I think it has to do with the atmosphere here in this scene. Seeing Megatron walk upon Cybertron with all the Keys and a bunch of Vehicon drones backing him up, it gave me the impression that the Decepticons had already won, and now they’re just going about actually making it happen. The lighting, the music, the color, and especially the tone really made this scene work… and it’s just Megatron and some drones walking! I mean, like they’re not even doing anything, they’re just ho-hum walking on their planet! So great!

The Autobots arrive, with Smokescreen leading a sneak attack, and thus begins the ending fight for the episode. Relics aside, this fight is really nothing new, but what makes it more interesting is the set that they’re using. Cybertron is very different form Earth, and I think they pulled that off very well in this fight. I mean, the Autobots are leaping from buildings, you’ve got them transforming from vehicle to robot and back and driving along broken highways and people are moving all over the place; this is what I call a good time! The relics themselves don’t add much to this, I’m afraid. Bulkhead’s Immobilizer weapon (God that sounds weird) doesn’t do more than freeze like four dudes, and Bumblebee only succeeds in using his Polarity Gauntlet in dropping a hunk of metal onto some baddies, but he does end up retrieving the Keys, so that’s something. The ones that do help out are Arcee’s Apex Armor, which I was really hoping was going to slim down to fit her frame, but alas not; and Smokescreen using the Spark Extractor to devastating effect. This is the first and only use of the weapon, and I’m very glad of it, though the radius of the range of the weapon is ridiculously small for something that was supposed to be a WMD. Megatron is spared because he’s standing on the top of a building whereas his troops are down below and that’s where the Extractor is. He destroys it with the Dark Star Saber while the Autobots flee, and he and his remaining troops go after them.

Megatron orders that Starscream send reinforcements, but Starscream assures him that they have a better plan in mind. We’ll find out what that plan is shortly, but for now, let’s check back in with the Autobots who have now arrived at the coordinates for the Omega Lock. The four Keys begin to glow, and with that signals the transformation of the Omega Lock into its final form. The transformation and reveal is meant to be epic, but for me, something was lost here. Because we didn’t have much background on the Lock, seeing it open and transform like this just felt like it was going through the motions instead of actually meaning something, and it should have, because this is the point where the Autobots are actually seeing their dream of a restored Cybertron come true, yet it feels too small in scope for me. It’s probably just a “me” issue, but this is my review, and that’s how I felt about this.

Megatron flies in, asking the Autobots rather politely to hand over the keys, revealing his ace in the hole: the humans trapped in tiny, presumably oxygenated, pods carried in by Starscream, Knock Out, and Soundwave. This is what Starscream had meant by an alternative plan, and putting the humans in danger like this does give this whole thing a sense of urgency beyond just Cybertron’s restoration. Now we, the audience, have something to care about closer to home, and that was excellent. Megatron makes an ultimatum: hand over the keys, or watch the humans die as the pods are opened. And fuck me if that isn’t a way to end an episode! Damn! So close… and it could all be at the cost of three human lives.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Regeneration” is 9/10. This had some fantastic conversations between the Autobots that harkened back to the beginning of the season with the “Orion Pax” arc and their conversations there. There is a real sense of epic going on in this episode (regardless of the Omega Lock thing), and while Dreadwing’s death came out of nowhere, that really was the only weak thing in this whole episode. I loved the atmosphere and tone of this, I liked the action, and I liked the setup for the finale that we’ll be covering next time. The seeds of thematic potential were sewn perfectly into the episode, and while they weren’t followed up in Season Three, that does not diminish this episodes’ quest to strive for excellence. Next time, we’ll see how all of this plays out in “Darkest Hour”.

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