June 1, 2014

Shadowcon Reviews- Prey


         Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 3, episode 3: “Prey”

While last episode was a rather sluggish affair, I can safely say that this episode makes up for everything wrong with that one. The pace is quick, the action well planned and thought out, and everything moves in this one. There’s far less attention spent on the Decepticons, which means that the Autobots finally get to have their share of the spotlight, and in all honesty, this episode is where everything starts to pick up for me. What’s more, there are no plot holes here (at least none that are not carried over from previous ones), so that’s awesome! Let’s jump right in!

This episode picks right up where “Scattered” left off, with Shockwave unveiling his newest weapon revealed now to be a Predacon, or more specifically, a clone of a Predacon. The Predacons are essentially Cybertron’s equivalent of our dinosaurs, and this one (the only one to appear in the series proper thank God) is really freaking huge! This beast’s face is the same size as Megatron’s entire body. Megatron’s impressed:

“Shockwave, it does my spark good to see you once again tampering with creation.”

Shockwave assures him and his men that this Predacon is completely under his control, and to show how awesome this new thing is, Shockwave gives him a sample of Wheeljack’s Energon blood to scan so that he might track down the Autobot. The Predacon then takes flight, and it’s an impressive ordeal, with his wings and sheer body mass really getting across that this is a truly imposing threat, and as we’ll see later on in the season, not one that can be dispatched easily.

After the teaser, we have several short scenes to reestablish all of the Autobot characters, though these all will follow through with one another later on, unlike last episode where they just kind of popped up and then were forgotten. We first have one with Wheeljack, Bulkhead, and Miko getting ready to blow up a Decepticon mine, reasoning that the blast will be enough to draw attention to themselves from the other Autobots, though wouldn’t it really draw attention by the Decepticons more so than the Autobots? Anyway, that plan’s underway.

We then cut to Raf, Ratchet, and Bumblebee, with Ratchet and Raf going about repairing as much of the Harbinger’s systems as they can. The GroundBridge is pretty much worthless without a means of locating anyone else, and Bumblebee essentially asks Ratchet why the Decepticons can’t just pick up the Autobots’ signals (since the Harbinger is a Decepticon ship), and Ratchet comes back with the obvious, that if the ‘Cons were able to do that, then they would have just captured everyone long ago. That’s why the Decepticons have been relying on communications slip-ups and visual recognition this whole time… though it does beg the question of if your allegiance determines your signal transponder. Is it something like inside your blood, or is it just part of your armor? Did Optimus have his signal re-engineered when he went over to the Decepticons in the “Orion Pax” arc? Ratchet does figure that he might as well give reconfiguring the Decepticon frequencies a try so as to at the very least try and contact the others using a less-risky frequency.

Arcee and Jack meet up with Ultra Magnus, who gives both Arcee and the audience a very cold shoulder as he establishes that he’s all about authority, no matter how ludicrous the situation, demanding that Arcee refer to him as “sir” after every sentence addressed to him. What a dick. Anyway, he explains that he came to Earth after detecting the Omega Lock’s death beam thing, following it here and realizing that we’re all pretty much screwed. His ship detected five Autobot signals (in keeping with ship allegiance I guess), and Jack’s pretty worried about this seeing as there are seven Autobots in total, but Arcee assures him that Optimus and Smokescreen could be alive since Autobot signals can’t be detected when shielded.

Speaking of Smokescreen, he’s all for just walking into the Decepticon stronghold and taking the Forge of Solus Prime, though he’s genre-savvy so he guesses that Megatron didn’t bother relocating everything even after a break-in… by Smokescreen himself last season, so instead he heads to the Nemesis. After a bit of snooping around (and a nice cameo by a frozen Airachnid), Smokescreen gets the Forge and gets out of there all undetected. Damn! For a guy who started off not subtle at all, this is pretty impressive. Hell, this is better than Bumblebee’s scouting missions, one of which made him get taken over by Megatron!

We then launch into the second act of the episode which basically consists of a fight and flight-chase scene. That may sound egregious, but it’s actually not; the pace is good and the dynamism of the fight puts me into the action throughout the piece. Wheeljack and Bulkhead plant their grenade charges in the Decepticon mine, but the Predacon shows up before they can blow the joint and starts attacking them. Like Wheeljack’s escape scene last episode, this fight is dynamic and something new.

Miko makes the comment that this is essentially like fighting a dragon, complete with the Predacon’s fire breath, the only firefighting capability he has. Actually, everything about the Predacon in battle here is very cohesive but not overpowering. The Predacon’s size makes him a formidable threat physically (even a grenade couldn’t stop him), but I also like how he doesn’t just automatically get to keep firing his fire breath blasts at Wheeljack and Bulkhead; he takes a while to recharge, which gives our heroes a fighting chance and time to regroup and attack him. It’s a nice bit of detail that thankfully will be preserved through the whole of the season, unlike the Insecticons’ fluctuating power levels.

After getting tossed around a whole lot by the big beast, Wheeljack makes a break for the mine with the Predacon hot on his heals. This portion of the fight is very cool, as Wheeljack gets noticed by the Vehicon miner drones who then have to run from the Predacon. Wheeljack transforms and ducks under the Predacon’s belly and makes a second dash for the exit, blowing up the whole mine once he’s clear. But even this beautiful blue bombastic bang-up fails to properly punctuate the Predacon’s passing, instead propelling the Predacon’s pugnaciousness into a plight of pure paroxysm! Actually, that’s just him convulsing from the blast he takes from Ultra Magnus’ ship after the Predacon emerges from the rubble of the mine. Wheeljack and Bulkhead are let on board the ship, and reunions with Jack and Arcee are quick and sweet before getting back to the chase (and hopefully without any more horrible alliterations… sorry).

The Predacon chases the ship, and we now see Ultra Magnus engage in a very nice bit of dogfighting with the Predacon. This chase is very riveting, neither feeling too rushed nor too drawn out; it strikes that perfect balance of being engaging and fun without overstaying its welcome. Ultra Magnus does finally shake off the Predacon by making it crash into a mountainside. All in all, this fight lasts for seven minutes of screen time! That’s pretty impressive, and it didn’t feel like seven minutes at all. The action evolves naturally and as I said, doesn’t oversell itself.

After this, Agent Fowler gets a call from Ratchet on I guess what is supposed to be the Megatron hotline, because Fowler mistakes the call for another from Megatron before Ratchet starts to speak, so either Fowler only gets calls from Megatron, or he has a specific button that tells him that it is Megatron himself who’s calling. Anyway, Ratchet makes brief contact, sending Fowler and June (who is also just hanging out in Fowler’s office for some reason) his current location (over phone???) Fowler’s curious about what happened to Optimus, but Ratchet hangs up abruptly because Bumblebee alerts him to Ultra Magnus’ ship coming in.

This reunion is very nice as well. The music really bolsters the mood and makes this a triumphant moment, though as with the previous two episodes, in the back of our minds is the realization that they’ve only been out of contact with each other for about a week at this point. Still, the reunion is good (we even get a nice line in there about how, if Arcee reversed her colors like Bumblebee, she’d be pink) and Ratchet fills Ultra Magnus in on the status of the Harbinger’s systems, stating that the GroundBridge is operational but that the communications link requires further tinkering before it can be relied upon for tracking Autobot frequencies. Agent Fowler arrives along with June and a plan is set: the Autobots must take out the fortress of Darkmount regardless of whether or not Optimus Prime shows up. Ultra Magnus is put in temporary command on the grounds that he shares the same animation model as Optimus, and everyone gets weapons from Magnus’ ship’s vault.

Meanwhile, Smokescreen finally returns with the Forge to Optimus’ cave of death, and Optimus reveals that he had Smokescreen get the Forge not so that he can repair himself, but so that they can repair the Omega Lock. See, the Forge is running pretty low on juice, and Optimus says that whatever power remains must be used to fix the Omega Lock at all costs. Smokescreen points out that this would mean Optimus would die from his wounds, but Optimus steals a line from Spock and says:

“The fate of all our kind is more vital than that of any one of us… including me.”

Well, Smokescreen figures Optimus is a little off his rocker (y’know, I guess having a whole mountain falling on you will do things to your head), and he points out that the Forge is a relic of the Primes.

“We can’t use it to restore Cybertron. Not without a Prime. Not without you.”

“There will be a new Prime.”

Man, Optimus, you’re really not seeing the paradoxical nature of your demand here, are you? But this is where the only acknowledgment of Optimus’ past actions comes to the forefront: Optimus grabs Smokescreen’s arm, and as he lies dying, says:

“The time for a new leader is upon us.”

That’s it. That’s the whole of Optimus recognizing that he failed Cybertron. After this, he names Smokescreen his successor and that’s the end of the episode. Now, one could read into his past interactions with Smokescreen over these three episodes, except Optimus didn’t have anything to say in those other two. This is the first and only time this season (except for a minor line in the finale) that we even get a hint of the guilt that Optimus must be feeling, and even then it’s more of a “hey, let me shove all this responsibility onto you” type of thing rather than an “I’m sorry I screwed us all over” speech. However I do like the dilemma here and Optimus vocal stance regarding it: the Forge can only be used once before it’s power runs out, and Optimus insists that it must be used to restore the Omega Lock. One could make the argument then that Optimus feels so guilty about his actions that he doesn’t even think he’s worth saving now, and now he wants his last act as leader to not be as Cybertron’s destroyer, but as its liberator. What he wants now is to fix his past actions, which is all fine, but I’d have much rather had an open admission that he messed up rather than this implied guilt that the audience just kinda has to go with. But that’s just my reading of it, and I’ll have a lot more to say in next episode’s review.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Prey” is 8/10. This is a huge step up from last episode in both pace and in content. The action as mentioned is gripping and exciting, all of the reestablishment scenes are handled with precision and don’t drag, and the payoff of everything from last episode is pretty damn worth it. The introduction of the Predacon is a real treat, and seeing the dynamic decisions everyone makes in combat when confronting him puts the audience on edge because of how powerful but not overused his presence is. Ultra Magnus is a welcome addition to Team Prime, playing foil for Wheeljack and feeling like he not only drags the Autobots out of the lull, but also the arc itself, brining this episode up from the last one.

The only blemish for this one is the coda with Optimus and Smokescreen; that scene really underwhelmed me because it played so loosely with what Optimus’ decision was in “Darkest Hour”. There was no solid recognition that Optimus made a mistake, no guilt, no recompense for his and Ratchet’s conversation in that episode. It felt downplayed, which I think was a real shame, because this should have been the moment that Optimus realized that either he was not worthy to be leader (which kind of happened here but not as much as I think was needed) or he should have said that he was sorry, that this whole thing was weighing heavily on his mind, but that he felt he could do better, that he could fix things. Regardless of that though, the episode is strong, dynamic, and a nice pick-me-up from last week’s slog. Next time, we’ll see the awesome conclusion to this opening act of the season!

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