May 30, 2014

Shadowcon Reviews- Scattered

        Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 3, episode 2: “Scattered”

One of the things that I think drags this arc down is its simultaneously slow pace and feeling of being rushed through everything, like it just wants to get itself over with. I felt that a lot in the first episode of the season, and while this one picks up the pace considerably, it still feels very much in that state where there’s a lot of movement, but not a lot is actually happening in terms of the plot. This is one of the things I felt the “Orion Pax” portion of the “One Shall Rise” maxi-arc did well: it balanced out its slow pace with elements of character building and interaction, so that the slow moments felt slow for a reason. With this loose four-parter, I think we have a case where the writers were trying to juggle a whole bunch of stuff and so none of it got to shine fully. And this is due in no small part to the fact that Hasbro wanted to put beasts into the Prime universe, which did greatly hamper the writers’ efforts to tell their story, and I think they handled themselves well when wrestling with this aspect of that story. But the aspects that weren’t the result of studio tampering I think could have been shored up a little bit better. We essentially have five plots going on at the same time: three of them are little more than one or two scenes each to remind you that they’re still there for this episode, and the remaining two try to make up for the others’ lack of screen presence and do so poorly.

Let’s start off with the biggest plot thread running through this whole thing for this episode: the Decepticons! I love the Decepticons, and seeing Shockwave return to the ranks like this is a nice change of pace. He gives his backstory on how he survived his encounter with Cliffjumper and Arcee back in “Out of the Past”, and he’s pretty pissed off at Starscream for abandoning him on the dead Cybertron for like five years or however long it’s been (I assume that these last two season of the show have each taken about a year in-universe). Starscream manages to fumble his way out of Shockwave’s wrath, and I like how dire Starscream makes this out to be:

“The explosion… it collapsed the power core chamber. The last thing anyone witnessed was you charging into the Space Bridge portal. No one saw you come back out!”

And so we have our continued theme of explosions that destroy everything around them except the people! And now we know that this extends to minor characters! My God! Anyway, Shockwave finds this reason for leaving him on Cybertron “logical”… because he naturally doesn’t ask any follow-up questions like “why not search the rubble” or anything like that. I also like that Starscream once again points out that he killed Cliffjumper, and in a startling turn, the show recognizes how blatant he’s being about all this and has Knock Out say:

“Careful, Starscream. You may dislocate a landing gear patting yourself on the back.”

Megatron outlines the new chain of command, that Starscream will now be in charge of military operations while Shockwave will be in charge of scientific research, and both will report directly to him. Megatron’s probably just doing this to annoy Starscream; hell, even after just a few days back under Megatron’s thumb, Starscream is already being demoted in status. Megatron knows how slippery this guy can be!

We then cut over to Arcee and Jack, and this is where the sense of feeling rushed through the episode while also being dragged through it starts to set in. We have this scene between the two that ultimately doesn’t accomplish anything beyond looking gorgeous (seriously, the lighting in this scene is absolutely stunning). Jack and Arcee pretty much regurgitate their plan of returning to Jasper and getting Team Prime back together, with a slight foreshadow of other Autobots out there… a foreshadowing that will be rendered completely moot come next episode, but whatever. We do get a little bit of them despairing over the idea that they could be the only ones left, but it all feels tacked on, and since we know that everyone else is okay, we’re left with a sense that this doesn’t carry any weight.

Raf and Bumblebee get their turn to shine this episode, with Raf finding a very obvious picture of Ratchet out there on the internet, because it’s not like that would get any attention, though it is on a conspiracy website instead of all over the news like it would really be with that crisp an image. Back at the Decepticon stronghold, Starscream comes across the same picture, but before he can show Megatron, Raf scrubs the image… and I guess the Decepticon computers reload every five seconds, because when Starscream does finally show Megatron, the image has been replaced with a dancing monkey. Knock Out finds this whole thing hilarious, while Megatron is more direct:

“Starscream, you would do well to take a cue from Soundwave once in a while, and keep things to yourself!”

I love the way Megatron says this too, like he’s embarrassed that Shockwave now sees this as the Decepticon high command. Shockwave points out that they do have an Autobot prisoner on board their ship, they may as well use him. He suggests a cortical psychic patch to extract the information out of Wheeljack’s brain, and here is once again a point in the episode where we have a sense that it just wants to get itself over with. Because instead of showing us Wheeljack’s fight with Starscream from “Darkest Hour” or his crash landing or whatever, we instead jump cut to directly after Shockwave has completed the patch and him telling Megatron that Wheeljack doesn’t know anything. So, what was that whole thing for? I mean, I guess if they’d done it the other way, I might have complained that this is wasted screen time, but it’s like with this approach they wasted their wasted screen time! I don’t know, it just feels weird to me, like something from this episode is missing.

Starscream suggests that now that they’ve extracted all they can out of Wheeljack that he be killed, and this does lead into one of my favorite scenes from this whole arc, that of Wheeljack’s escape! This scene is great, because it takes place in the air and all of that, so it really lends itself well to all sorts of different camera movements and such. I particularly like how Wheeljack just leaps from pursuing jet to jet, firing back once he’s free of his handcuffs, turning this into a dogfight firefight, and then crudely steers his ride to the ground below and then leaps off and transforms into his car mode and speeds away. It’s a very effective chase scene and puts me into the action every time I watch it! It’s great!

Megatron’s naturally furious about this escape, but Starscream assures him that it was actually all part of his plan. He implanted a tracking device on Wheeljack while he was unconscious and so now all the Decepticons have to do is wait for Wheeljack to reunite with the other Autobots and then they can take them all out. Because picking off the enemy in small numbers is far harder than it would be to amass a huge army to deal with another huge army, right? And I have to believe that this was like a backup plan or something, because otherwise, why would Starscream not tell Megatron this plan from the start? We’ve already seen how loyal he is now that he’s back. Also, why sacrifice so many drones? I mean, yeah, there are infinitely many of them by this point, but why waste the manpower? While the action is riveting regarding Wheeljack’s escape, it comes at the cost of the plot, which struggles flimsily to find a way to justify all the theatrics.

Bumblebee and Raf arrive and the junkyard and find Ratchet right there… where the conspiracy photo was taken, because naturally he wouldn’t want to relocate after being spotted. And then Raf gets out of the car, and Bumblebee transforms… again, right there where the conspiracy photo was taken so that he may fuel the fires of exposure for their kind. Raf tries to convince Ratchet that they need his help to get the Autobots back together. His argument is pretty convincing too, suggesting that they use the Decepticon ship the Harbinger as a base of operations, which was the ship that Starscream was using when he was out on his own. Ratchet’s only counter argument when this is brought up is that “resources won’t be of much use. Not without someone to lead us.” Once again, the writers are trying to tell us one thing while we already know the opposite. Ratchet is in total despair, total acceptance that the Decepticons have won. Except Raf and Bumblebee are right there! And what’s more, he knows that everyone except Optimus got out okay, so he should be the most optimistic out of everyone. But we see him here, sullen and broken. Why? The reason for this is two-fold.

First, Ratchet’s acceptance of defeat does fit his character at the moment. He just found out a few episodes ago that Optimus destroyed the only thing capable of restoring Cybertron, and that naturally put him in a bit of a stupor. Second, the fact that he is the only one of the team besides Smokescreen who knows for certain that Optimus didn’t make it out of the base has to be leaving its marks of guilt on Ratchet’s conscience. That he was the one who was the last one to see Optimus (again, as far as he knows), must be heartbreaking for him, and so I can totally buy that he’s depressed like this given this information.

My problem with this however is that it comes far too late in the arc. We’ve already established everyone else’s fates, including Optimus’ I might add, so seeing this now doesn’t carry the punch that it should. While this is similar to what was going on back in the “Orion Pax” arc, what the Autobots were doing there hinged on the fact that they new Optimus to be alive and brainwashed. In other words, they had all the facts, and that’s what made that situation so bleak, because they knew that this was a hopeless situation and everyone was being pushed to their limits to find a way to get Optimus back. Here, no one seems to really be stressing over the fact that people might be dead. Ratchet is the only one who emotes anything beyond a shrug and a sullen expression (mostly due to Jeffrey Combs’ awesome acting), but his guilt and pathos are rendered moot because the audience knows things that the characters don’t, and the things we know are important enough to make what the characters are thinking about all of this pretty much irrelevant. And it isn’t as if the writers didn’t have room for more character retrospection or interaction; much of what the Decepticon scenes accomplish is comedic or minimal, so why not take some of that time and move it over to the Autobots’ scenes. Have them be constantly wondering if the others are alive, really have them dig into their emotions. Have them doubt Optimus’ decision of splitting them up, maybe have them spout words of hatred about the others to show that the stress is getting to them. We get a little bit of that with Ratchet, but it comes too late and too shallowly to do much good.

I will say that the next scene of Optimus and Smokescreen does do a nice job of following through on what Ratchet said about not having someone to lead the Autobots, as we see Optimus lying near death, with Smokescreen desperately trying to find something to get Optimus better. Optimus orders Smokescreen to get the Forge of Solus Prime, and Smokescreen latches on to this idea like a leach, saying that with the Forge, Optimus could just make himself all better. Talk about a Deus Ex Machina! Keep in mind that this is the only scene in the whole episode to feature Optimus, and combined with last episode’s two scenes, it feels to me like this is something that should have been cut altogether from the first two episodes at least. Again, have the other Autobots question where Optimus is, and have the audience wonder as well. Optimus doesn’t have anything to say during these scenes anyway, so it feels like dead air to me.

Let’s cut over to Miko and Bulkhead (incidentally, you’ll notice how choppy my writing is with this episode. That’s because the episode’s transitions feel less like actual transitions and more like the episode is just checking up on everyone). Bulkhead and Miko regroup with Wheeljack, and the three of them plan their next move while Starscream orders his armada to attack now that they have “pinpointed the enemy”. Well, yeah. You had Wheeljack in your sights all along. And he’s regrouped with only one out of the five other Autobots out there. I don’t know, man. I thought you’d wait until all six Autobots were together and then kill them all, but okay. I guess you’re launching now. Great.

And it turns out that Starscream’s whooping for joy is all for naught, as Wheeljack and co. manage to trick the Vehicons into a trap, though admittedly it’s a very slow trap because Wheeljack put his tracking device on a log with a grenade on it after finding out about it. The log just kinda floats slowly to the Vehicons’ position). The grenade goes boom and the ‘Cons are destroyed, leaving Starscream speechless that he was literally duped by a log and a river. Wheeljack, Bulkhead and Miko all scurry off to do more exciting damage next episode. Good.

Raf and Bumblebee make it over to the Harbinger… somehow. The geography of the Prime universe Earth I guess is all up for grabs. I mean, if we want to get technical, the Harbinger location can’t be that far away from where Airachnid’s Insecticon hive is because both converged on the Nemesis, and Bulkhead drove away from the Nemesis after it crashed all the way back to base, so the Harbinger is obviously somewhere in Nevada… but hang on! Can we get a picture of where Bumblebee and Raf were sent?

Ah, thank you! See the filled in yellow dot? That’s where Bumblebee and Raf were sent. Yeah, that’s like on the border between the US and Mexico! So, did they hop two states over, driving all the way to Nevada or somewhere near there just to make contact with Ratchet and then drive again all the way to the Harbinger? And it’s not as if Ratchet was somewhere near where Bumblebee and Raf were in the beginning, because he makes it over to the Harbinger just fine. Although all of this could be explained away by the fact that “Armada”, the episode from which I deduced the locations of all of this stuff, sucked, so if you write that out of continuity, then most of this can be forgiven! This is obviously really nitpicky stuff, and I realize how ridiculous I’m being, but I just thought that was a funny thing to point out.

Anyway, as I mentioned in that ramble, Ratchet makes it over to the Harbinger while Bumblebee and Raf try to restore power to it. Evidently, Raf’s words made an impression of common sense on the old ‘bot because now we’ve got him reunited with ‘Bee and Raf for next episode as well. Good.

Meanwhile, Jack and Arcee continue on their way back to Jasper- incidentally, note how long it’s taking them to get back there- and the two are confronted by a huge blue ship. Arcee’s wary at first, but the single occupant emerges, and Arcee’s fears are laid to rest, as she boldly announces to Jack and the audience: “meet Ultra Magnus.” Yes! Meet him… next episode. Good.

Back on the Nemesis, Megatron is furious once again because Starscream failed to destroy the two Autobots he had in his sights… now out of the seven that are currently in play! Shockwave suggests that he return to his laboratory on Cybertron so that he can get the main selling point of the Transformers Prime brand at this point: his Predacon clone! It’s admittedly a well-done scene, with Shockwave returning to his lab and doing a very Frankenstein-like awakening of his dormant pet. And the scene that we all saw at BotCon in 2012 (or on your computer if you weren’t at BotCon 2012… like me… dammit) finally arrives as Shockwave emerges from the Space Bridge portal back atop Darkmount, with Megatron sitting in his throne of evilness with Shockwave boldly announcing:

“I present to you, my liege, the ultimate Autobot hunter.”

Ah, what great setup… for next episode!

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Scattered” is 5/10. This is definitely the weakest of the four parts of this season premier. Its scene jumps are abrupt and stilted, the plot and characters advancing very little in this segment. Squandered follow-through with many of last season’s themes and ideas really drag this down, and once again the presentation of everything leaves little for the audience to hold onto in their mind. I agree with a fellow fan who said that this feels like the middle portion of a movie, and indeed as the first three segments of the opening arc to Season Three were presented as a TV movie in other countries prior to its broken up presentation in the US, I can definitely see why that is. Some great action with Wheeljack props this up just enough to make it average, but make no mistake, this is a rather vanilla episode of Prime, and it really shows once we hit next episode, where much of the setup established here pays off!

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