April 17, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Deadlock

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 3, episode 13, “Deadlock”

Well, here we are at last, looking at the series finale to Transformers Prime. This is it, this is the end of the entire series, with nothing coming after this. At all. Right? Good. I did a first impressions type of thing when this first came out, and since then I've had time to properly digest and think about everything, all the story elements and character beats that this episode was able to have, and how successful this was as a finale. I have a great love for this episode, and the reason for that is because this does what so few Transformers finales have done in past: actually close up the show. We don’t just end with a huge battle and then credits; there’s actual story and finality to this one with characters and themes, and above all, this episode has heart.

This is all in contrast to how the studio handled the promoting of the finale, not caring that stuff actually happened here that was supposed to be important and/or exciting, so in typical studio execs fashion, they plastered promo material out there that pretty much spoiled everything that this episode had going for it. Bumblebee getting his voice back? Spoiled by promo material for this very episode. Megatron dying? Spoiled by synopses for… that thing that didn’t happen. The restoration of Cybertron? Spoiled by the Beast Hunters comic book series tie-in… which incidentally was written by two people who wrote for this show. It’s like Hasbro wanted fans to hate Prime, so they just put everything up for grabs well in advance of the final episode’s airing. Nice.

However, to the writer’s credit, even knowing all of this stuff, there was still much joy to be had when watching this for the first time, and even now two years later, I still get chills when seeing the big fight and still smile when watching everyone’s goodbye scene. And I think it says a lot that even having most of the shock events spoiled, the heart and soul of the work wasn’t diminished at all. There is still plenty to enjoy here, so let’s jump right in.

Right off the bat, this episode picks up right where “Synthesis” left off, and as expected, there’s a big battle. Tasks are quickly delegated: Arcee will lead Bumblebee and Smokescreen to to meet up with Ratchet and secure the Omega Lock from the Decepticons, while Ultra Magnus and the Wreckers storm the bridge so that they can at least steer the Nemesis away from Earth in case Arcee and Co. fail. Good. Optimus meanwhile will take on the Vehicons on the outside and provide covering fire. Arcee asks Optimus over comm if they should destroy the Omega Lock if they fail to stop Megatron in time, but Optimus knows that getting into a moral debate now will only eat up more screen time, so he declines, saying that he’s not going to waste a second chance at restoring Cybertron.

This first phase of the fight is exciting if not groundbreaking. Nothing really special going on besides the adrenaline rush the audience is getting rom watching this in the context that this is the finale propels you through, though the music and the fact that all of this is taking place over Earth, the planet that they’re trying to save, does help. A bit of trivia from the commentary is that they actually used photographs of Earth for some of the backdrops during this whole fight. It’s really effective. I find it odd in an appropriate way that everything is still affected by Earth gravity despite them being in orbit over the planet. It adds a weird bit of tension to this whole thing that helps the episode out, I think. It also helps that the fight is going on both inside and around the warship, something that we haven’t really seen before. Optimus’ ability to fly does come in handy here from a dramatic storytelling perspective, though I still find his overall animation sludgy. The Autobots taking the ship from up top and working their way down to the Omega Lock brings back memories from when they fought on the Space Bridge way back in “Darkness Rising, Part 5”, and indeed some of the shots are just damn near uncanny.

Megatron arrives on the upper deck, wielding his Dark Star Saber sword (without his Prime arm, no less- must work on Wifi or something). Anyway, he takes on Optimus, ensuring that Prime has a purpose this episode (the Optimus/Megatron fight is what finales are built on, after all). Megatron uses his sword to damage Optimus’ flight pack, but luckily he lands on one of the spikes, crawling up on it to safety. This called to my mind when he and Bulkhead ascended the ship back in “One Shall Fall”, and… okay, I’ll stop. Clearly there are a bunch of throwbacks to previous episodes, some intentional and some not so much. I like that sort of thing, but yeah, if I point out every one, we’ll be here all day.

Smokescreen splits off from Bumblebee and Arcee, instead taking a detour into the Decepticon vault room to retrieve the Star Saber (he had previously noticed it back in “Scattered”). Ratchet, meanwhile, takes on Shockwave in a rather piss-poor fight. I do like how most everyone gets to shine this episode; I think the only people who don’t are the Wreckers, having less screen time than Raf this time around. Even Knockout gets his own private scene, insisting that he pack light for his escape, and then upon finding his rotary buffer, mutters “ooh, pack smart!”

Arcee and Bumblebee are accosted by Starscream and some Vehicon drones with Starscream reacting in surprise that Autobots are running around the ship despite, y’know, being there when Megatron gave the order to mobilize for their defense. By now you’re probably thinking “dude, why are you jumping around so much in this review?” Well, that’s because this episode jumps around a lot in terms of location, something that helps keep the momentum up, and helps keep the various fights from every getting boring or feel like they’re dragging on too long.

The Wreckers storm the bridge, taking out some Vehicons, but Soundwave intervenes and GroundBridges them into the brig. I like how by this point, even Ultra Magnus is genre savvy, announcing to the rest of the Autobots that his team will be delayed due to Soundwave pulling one of his “relocation tricks”. But this gives Jack an idea. He tells Raf to Bridge him onto the Decepticon bridge and asks for backup by Miko. They do it, and it seems that now more than ever, they must rely on continuity, as Miko comes bursting through the GroundBridge decked out in her Apex Armor, wailing on the Vehicon resistance until Soundwave prepares to Bridge her out too. But this is where throwback number I-don’t-even-know comes into play, as Jack tells Raf to open up a third Bridge behind Soundwave, hoping to send him into the Shadowzone. We haven’t covered that episode yet, but all you really need to know is that if you open up two GroundBridges next to each other that lead to different locations, you’ll cross the streams, and everyone knows crossing the streams is bad. It works, and Soundwave’s trapped there forever. And I like that he was taken out by the children, calling back to “Darkness Rising, Part 5” when they took him on in that satellite facility. It’s some effective closure, and it gives the kids something to do for this finale that I appreciated.

Well, despite that, things are bad. The Omega Lock is now ready to fire, Optimus has been relieved of his gatling gun, and most of the other Autobots are either detained in the brig or occupied with Decepticons (although we are talking about Vehicons… and Starscream, so y’know, Arcee and Bumblebee are probably fine). Optimus relieves Megatron of his Dark Star Saber sword in the midst of all of this, so things begin to look up, and luckily, Jack takes control of the ship, doing what Ultra Magnus failed to do and moving the Nemesis out of firing range. Smokescreen comes back with the Star Saber, phasing through the walls and onto the Omega Lock platform. Shockwave blasts Smokescreen, causing him to drop the Star Saber, and so now it’s anyone’s game as ‘Bee, Arcee, and Starscream all arrive to go chasing after the sword.

The chase is okay (I find it funny that everyone is running- come on, guys, you’re transformers! Just change into vehicles. Hell, some of you are jets!) Anyway, Bumblebee gets the sword, knocking out Shockwave and leaping to Optimus’ rescue. Ratchet tells Optimus that he must use the Saber to destroy the Omega Lock to save Earth, and there’s Bumblebee, running toward him with the very weapon that he must now use to seal all their fates. It’s a good bit of subconscious callback to many points prior to this one in the show, calling to mind Ratchet’s protests to Optimus back in “Darkest Hour”, Optimus’ struggles in the “Orion Pax” arc and in “Crossfire”, and Bumblebee’s character development in “Operation Bumblebee” (don’t go read that review- just spare yourself the pain, please.)

This is where Bumblebee’s death scene comes in, and I’ll say it right now, I liked it. I found it effective and moving despite knowing that this wasn’t the end for him both because of the aforementioned spoiler-filled releases and because of the way the scene itself plays out. Megatron shoots Bumblebee three times, point blank, and I’ll be damned, look at that destruction! Looks like we actually got a gun that can kill someone! We get the works here: the music soars, we get shots of all the Autobots’ reactions, slow motion, Bumblebee’s optics go dark… except he falls into the Omega Lock’s portal, something who’s sole purpose is to grant life to dead things. So while the scene is beautiful to watch, in the back of the viewer’s minds, we already know that he’s going to be okay. Not to mention the fact that he hasn’t spoken yet, so those of us who were spoiled by Hasbro because they’re evil know that he’s coming back. Despite that, this was a good scene in isolation with a great score by Brian Tyler pumping up the emotions.

Well, ‘Bee’s dead now, and Optimus is pretty pissed that another member of his crew is dead, and ignoring his previous advice to Arcee about revenge not bringing back those they’ve lost, proceeds to beat the shit out of Megatron. Eventually, Megatron gets the upper hand, retrieving his sword and blasting Optimus with the energy wave attack, sending him over the edge of the construct. Megatron prepares to deliver the killing blow, when, yes, Bumblebee comes back, and in the most badass way possible!

“You took my voice. You will never rob anyone of anything ever again.”

Fuck yeah!

A lot of people cried fowl with this development, saying that it should have been Optimus who killed him, complaining that Bumblebee doing so felt cheap and robbed them of a good fight between the two leaders. While I do think that a fight between Optimus and Megatron would have been more conventionally appropriate given that this is a finale, I don’t think the fact that this episode didn’t have that diminishes this as a finale on its own. Indeed, I think thinking outside of the box here really helped this feel different. Optimus and Megatron already had two epic fights already in the previous season finales, and to have one here with Optimus killing Megaton in the end might have given people cause to ask “so why didn’t he just do that before?” Here, it’s Bumblebee who does it, and this ties together a plot point brought up at the beginning of Season Two in “Operation Bumblebee” when Ratchet told of how Megatron damaged ‘Bee’s voice box. People have complained about this too, saying that that plot point was dropped after that episode and only brought up occasionally in this season, so what makes this so special? That’s a valid complaint, and given this show’s weird habits of forgetting certain plot points but remembering other (often more obscure) ones, I will say that this is a valid criticism of the episode. Nevertheless, I don’t think Bumblebee killing Megatron was a bad thing. Indeed, Will Friedle as his voice actor gives this character a much needed boost in badass-level, taking him from a lovable scout to being a hardened warrior.

I love when Megatron dies too. He doesn’t just die; his eyes go out, and then he dramatically slides off of the sword, and per action movie tropes, falls off the Omega Lock and plummets to Earth. So that’s the end of him then, right? No coming back from the dead? Good. Starscream’s uncharacteristically distraught over this death, vowing to avenge his master, but Shockwave has to drag him away. And the Autobots just let them go, it’s not like they could alert Ultra Magnus and his team of their escape or anything, don’t be silly. 

The Autobots are all amazed that Bumblebee can speak again, and in an awesome cute moment, Bumblebee realizes that they can understand him and gives Ratchet a great big hug! Aw. They reason that the cybermatter is what did this, so Optimus alerts Ultra Magnus that the Omega Lock can heal people as well as things and tells him to come down here to dip his damaged hand into it… oh, I guess not, alright. Optimus does congratulate Ratchet on a job well done in constructing a device for the bad guys though, and everyone gets ready to go over to Cybertron to cyberform it (I guess the Decepticon Space Bridge behind the moon wasn’t guarded at all, huh?). Even the kids get to go!

Shockwave and Starscream make their escape from the ship, cramming themselves into a single escape pod, in a scene solely meant to set up for something that didn’t actually happen because nothing comes after this episode regarding this cartoon, yes?

Ratchet points out that he wasn’t able to learn Shockwave’s half of the cybermatter equation, so they only have enough Omega Lock energy to do this once, and even then only enough to cyberform Earth. But Optimus reasons that if they shoot it at the core of Cybertron that that’ll be enough, so they make their way to the Well of All Sparks. I always found it weird that Wheeljack got to announce their arrival over the core- he seemed the least interested in a restored Cybertron, and to me his relationship to the whole mystical side of this seemed akin to Han Solo’s views on the Force, something that he didn’t believe in. But this does give Wheeljack a line, which is more than I can say for Bulkhead up to this point, so kudos there.

They fire the beam, and the core lights up, restoring the planet just like that to a brilliant blue. It really is that easy I guess. Makes you wonder how Megatron was gonna restore Cybertron the first time what with the original Omega Lock being on Cybertron’s surface, but whatever. Knockout makes his way to the bridge, admiring the planet and announcing that he’s joining the winning team, only to be clocked by Miko. Yeah, sorry buddy, the only way you’ll be joining their team is if everyone becomes really stupid after this episode, and there’s no way that’s gonna happen, right? And, oh, Predaking’s here, just hanging out on the hull of the ship. Wow. He must have some crazy good stamina to have held on for a whole fight and flight through a Space Bridge. Anyway, he flies off. I like that Ultra Magnus has to announce to everyone that it’s “the Predacon” when they all take notice of Predaking’s shadow, as though there’s going to be some coming fight. But no, he just flies off into the sunset.

Back on Earth, it’s time for the big goodbye scene, and much like Bumblebee’s death scene, this one was just as effective as that one, though obviously for different reasons. Fowler announces that Jack, Miko, and Raf are all now consultants for Unit E, which kinda makes his whole conversation with Jack back in “Persuasion” seem like a slap in the face, doesn't it? Sorry, Jack, you’re not special; apparently anyone who knows the Autobots can be an agent. Ratchet chooses to stay on Earth as well to help out, showing how much he’s grown over the course of the show, and I admit some vague curiosity as to what a show involving this Earth-based faction might look like. I do wonder if we’ll ever get to see these characters again in Robots in Disguise (yes, I’ll talk about it once I get around to finishing the season).

The goodbye scenes with the individual kids is where this episode really makes you care, at least it did for me. See, most Transformers shows… well, most of them suck, but even the ones that are good tend to have very rushed finales, finales that lack closure altogether, or ones that just don’t give a shit and act as though ti’s just another episode. But not that the fight only encompassed half of this finale, with Cybertron’s restoration and the wrap-up encompassing the second half. I really liked that, and I liked too that at no point did the fight itself seem rushed; the audio commentary for this episode did say that the Wreckers and Arcee would have gotten more story beats to them but this was sacrificed for this ending, and I think that was a good choice. I’ll take a great ending over more action any day. In doing this, we get a tearful heartfelt sendoff for a good portion of the cast.

Bumblebee and Raf start us off with the goodbye that is probably the weakest of the three, and that’s only because we’re talking about a guy who’s character development happened in the span of seconds when he got Will Friedle to do his voice and a character the most we know about is that he has a huge family. Still, the sentiment is nice:

"I know Bee. You don't have to say anything."
"I never did.”

Miko goodbye with Bulkhead is completely tear-filled, with her just curling up beside his leg and weeping. It’s a goodbye that delivers the best emotional punch out of the various individual goodbye scenes as there’re no real words spoken between the two, only sobs and quiet sighs. It’s a good summation of their close relationship. I love how Miko hugs Bulkhead’s finger too; it’s a good callback to how they first met, with Miko shaking his pinky by way of greeting.

And finally of the main cast we have Jack and Arcee. Their goodbye is probably the strongest, as their dialogue calls back to previous episodes that examined their characters, and serves to illustrate through nostalgia how these two have grown as people and how they’ve grown closer together:

“It’s been quite a ride.”

“Keep in touch, Jack. Don’t make me hunt you down.”

It’s a great ten second scene, with the music flowing in the background and the appropriate emotion put into the words by each voice actor, Sumalee Montano especially doing some excellent subtle emotional pull with her voice. You really feel that these two have grown, and the dialogue they share of course calls to mind “Darkness Rising, Part 4” in where Jack left after witnessing the Autobot’s first fight, and here Arcee is leaving after participating in their last. It’s great stuff.

Slightly less effective is Ultra Magnus’, Wheeljack’s, and Smokescreen’s salute to Fowler. I think Optimus should have been in this scene as it would have drawn that connection between Fowler and Optimus, that like Arcee and Jack, their relationship had evolved from friendly antagonistic to genuine respect and friendship. The most tieback we get here is with Fowler and Wheeljack, which is kind of a shame. Still, the sendoff between Ratchet and Optimus is nice, mirroring “Darkest Hour” with how they’re once again saying goodbye, but they leave on a note of friendship with a handshake instead of on antagonistic terms, and it is Optimus who leaves instead, this time for a restored Cybertron rather than a dead one.

The final shot reflects “One Shall Rise, Part 2” when all the Autobots go through the GroundBridge, with the panning shot over the humans and Ratchet. I like how the Autobots all exit, with the most recent additions to the cast exiting first, and the only switch between this and “Rise” is that instead of Arcee looking back at Jack, it’s Optimus. And in the back of our minds, there’s that line by Ratchet that Optimus is similar in character to Jack- we see that now in this final scene, and are reminded of all the great things both men have done for themselves and for each others’ race and planet.

Post episode follow-up: How you feel about the finale will depend greatly on how you take a lot of what goes on in it- Bumblebee getting to kill Megatron, Cybertron getting restored, Bumblebee speaking, and so on- and if those elements don’t work for you, then there’s a good chance that this finale doesn’t as a whole. However, in my opinion, for that’s all this blog is meant to convey (I’m not a be-all-end-all judge of this stuff), this episode was fantastic. It’s damn near perfect. There are a few pacing issues, specifically with Cybertron’s restoration, but the fight keeps up the momentum through and through, and the long coda feels anything but.

What makes this episode really work is the ending, specifically the goodbye scenes that do a lot to make you realize that this is the end, that these people have experienced all these adventures, have survived through thick and thin, have developed as people together. And from the beginning of the episode, you can just feel the energy that everyone involved in making this has, from the art department who did an amazing job as always, to the voice actors who really gave their all (even Kevin Michael Richardson, who only had one fucking line). It’s that “this is the final episode a show” feel that I just can’t translate into words on a page, and this grabs you and has you feeling that for the duration of the run.

It speaks to the fan who stuck with this show from the beginning and it does a good job of keeping itself self-contained; by that I mean there weren’t many homages to other Transformers shows in this one, it wasn’t like some big celebration of the franchise through easter egg hunts or whatever. The Transformers franchise is rather notorious for its bad finales, which makes this one all the more a triumph. As you’ve probably been able to tell throughout this review, I don’t like Predacons Rising at all- I would go so far as to say that it should be wiped from the canon, and I won’t be doing a review of it (though I might do a Mini-View; I don’t know).With an ending like this, you really can’t continue forward. The story’s done, it’s run its course, and it was an excellent conclusion to this show. I really loved it, and as such, the final score for “Deadlock” is 10/10. It still stands up as one of the best finales, if not the best finale, in the franchise.

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