January 30, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Operation Bumblebee, Parts 1&2

This is honestly how I feel after having read this review.

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 2, episodes 4-5: “Operation Bumblebee, Parts 1&2”

So, it’s been like three months since my last review. Sorry about that; with the first semester winding down, the holidays, and the frantic start up to the school year again, things have been kind of crazy. I finally have a reprieve now though, so I’ve decided to take a look at two episodes in one, because I don’t want to leave this hanging any more than I have to, and also because I think this particular two-parter flows better as a single experience than as two separate entries.

Anyway, so as I’ve mentioned previously, I originally wanted to take a look at the MECH story arc all the way through, but given that I’ve looked at three out of the eight or so episodes that involve them, and have done so out of order already, I decided to just say screw it and review this now, because I really like these two episodes and I’ve wanted to talk about them for a while now.

This is as much Ratchet’s story as it is Bumblebee’s, as much MECH’s story as it is Starscream’s; in fact, for as much as Bumblebee’s name is in the title, there’s surprisingly little character growth with him during this. Most of what he has to do or express during these episodes is about advancing the plot or story forward. It’s a rather sad drawback that this story doesn’t focus so much on him as it does on other things with him being present but never really at the center. Still, everything in the screenplay contributes something to the overall story or to the characters. There is thankfully some character development between ‘Bee and Ratchet of all characters; Ratchet’s previous character-focussed episode had been “Stronger, Faster”, and while there’s not a direct corollary between that and these episodes, what we know of Ratchet’s character does get more fleshed out. We get a backstory about Bumblebee losing his voice box and how Ratchet wasn’t able to repair it, and we see that weigh on Ratchet’s mind as it’s established that he’s not able to repair Bumblebee in the wake of losing his T-Cog (Transformation Cog in G1, but shortened here thank goodness).

What development we have for Bumblebee is subtle and sadly just not enough for my taste. Because he essentially doesn’t speak (his “dialogue” has to be parsed between the other characters or restated by one character for us to get what his bleeps and bloops mean), his character is the hardest for us to latch onto. With the loss of his T-Cog, ‘Bee feels useless, and that’s really the only note he hits during this. We don’t even get a good interaction between him and Raf; their interactions are minimal and played for laughs, and that really hampers these episodes for me, because this could have been ‘Bee’s moment to shine.

Part 1 started out great because it focussed on Bumblebee in the field, giving him some flashy moves against Megatron in retrieving the Spark Extractor. This is supposed to contrast with how useless Bumblebee is after this point when he loses his T-Cog, but it never really flows; indeed the opening scene serves to remind us of the past three “Orion Pax” episodes than anything else, even focussing on Optimus for a time, again drawing focus away from Bumblebee. Nevertheless, the opening was good; it established a theme or at the least a contrast to what we would get later. And the battle in the GroundBridge was pretty neat.

I also liked the brief scene between Bumblebee and Optimus after the former’s loos of his T-Cog where Optimus tells Bumblebee that he knows what it’s like to lose a part of yourself. It serves as a reminder that the “Orion Pax” arc had lasting consequences… consequences that would soon be forgotten outside of the Iacon Database plot, but it’s nice that Optimus’ amnesia and capture have lasting effects on him. It gives his character a rare moment to shine in the show and to play off of Bumblebee was an interesting dynamic to me; two relatively flat characters interacting in such a way that made sense and was somewhat interesting is a victory for me.

Another of this two-parter’s victories is that it lets us in on not only some of the basics of Cybertronian biology, but it also lets us see the wonderful animation take more of a front-row seat here to convey how the Transformers move and operate on a more biology-focused level. Whenever Bumblebee tries and fails to transform, or when one of the other Autobots or ‘Cons transforms, now we understand basically how that all works. It’s BS science, sure, but I do like the idea that even their in-built weapons are only accessible with their T-Cog. It makes sense, but the fact that this was acknowledged as a piece of transformation in-universe is cool to me. They even use the word “organ” when talking about the T-Cog, giving things a more “grounded” feeling. While the character of Bumblebee could have been written a bit more strongly, the emotion that the animators packed into him feeling sad and dejected works wonders! I love how his door wings emote! It’s so cute and characterful. Even his eyes get to do their “zoom in and out” thing that they do sometimes, and that adds a lot to the experience.

Adding to the fun and the good qualities of the episodes are the comedic moments. Many of these I found to be genuinely funny the first time I saw them, and even now after having watched these episodes several times since their initial airing, I do still chuckle. Of particular note is the scene where Bumblebee sees the car commercial, and his, Raf’s, and Miko’s expressions afterwards. But, I think the most effective comedic scene in the whole thing is when Ratchet is deciding whom among the Autobots will be his proxy as he and Bumblebee are going to have surgery to transplant Ratchet’s T-Cog over to Bumblebee in lieu of finding Bumblebee’s own. On the one hand, this makes total sense, and it’s a pretty good story idea: Ratchet doesn’t leave the base that often and he doesn’t transform too often because of that. This raises several points that I’ll get to in turn, but I do have to say that when Ratchet picks Arcee to be his surgeon, I always chuckle at their banter:


“Optimus has steadier hands.”

“Steady, and much too large to be rooting around beneath my hood!”

Still gets me every time. Adding to that is Miko’s questioning of how this is going to affect Bumblebee afterwards:

“Does this mean Bumblebee’s gonna transform into an ambulance from now on or be all cranky? ‘Cause that would be weird.”

While this plan is a good one and makes sense, it’s interesting to note that this is proposed by Ratchet mere scenes after seeing him pick up Raf from school… in vehicle mode, and not to mention the fact that he was the one with Optimus out in the field at the beginning of Part 1, where he used his scalpel weapons. It seems that Ratchet’s decision here is shortsighted, but I think that does actually fit. Ratchet’s guilt is obviously what’s making him do this, but that has larger implications that this episode goes out of its way to point out to the audience. And what if they had gone through with this? What would “Triage” have been like without Ratchet able to surgically implant a virus into Laserbeak? And that’s just one example of where Ratchet played a crucial part of the outcome of things. In short, I like this for Ratchet’s character and how short-sighted he is with this; unfortunately, the episode itself also seems to be short-sighted too, because after Arcee puts both ‘Bee and Ratchet in stasis, the Autobots get another locater beacon signal and Optimus orders that he, Bulkhead, and Arcee leave the base to investigate. Now, I know this is to facilitate the later stages of the plot for the episode, but Arcee didn’t really need to go; Bulkhead and Optimus are more than enough to take on whatever’s out there (Bulkhead even mentioned earlier that he and Bumblebee were capable of dealing with similar situations). Indeed, without even bothering to provide the audience with an excuse, even just a throw-away line, really makes this whole thing very irritating, because the solution was right there and they literally just ignored it by needlessly having Arcee leave with the others! Very poor writing here. (Not that this review is even remotely written well; look at this, I’m jumping all over the place and talking about everything disparately. Look, I’m sorry! It’s been a while, okay; I’m still getting back in the swing of things!)

These episodes mark the first of the “Iacon Relic Hunt” episodes that make up the bulk of Season Two. Thankfully, most of these episodes’ content is veered away from the relics themselves and focused more on either Ratchet, Bumblebee, or MECH and Starscream’s plots than anything else, which is good. Introductions to the Forge of Solus Prime and to the Spark Extractor are made here, both of which would serve vital functions later in the series, and MECH’s Project Chimera plot is advanced further. And finally, the T-Cog is brought into Aligned continuity canon. Final score for “Operation Bumblebee, Parts 1&2” is a precarious 6.5/10- I figured since I’m covering two episodes in one, I might as well make the score weird too. So yeah, my first (and hopefully only) fractional score. These episodes offer some good character work for Ratchet, less character work for Bumblebee than one would expect, and give us some neat artifacts and fallout from the “Orion Pax” arc. Serviceable, but I feel like they could have done so much more with ‘Bee’s character.

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