April 6, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Evolution

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 3, episode 9, “Evolution”

If Season Two had three years’ worth of story shoved into it pell-mell with little regard for flow or common sense, then Season Three had about a years’ worth of story chopped up, drained of all the excess crap until the most essential ingredients remained, and then plugged into a half seasons’ worth of space. This particular episode draws the first big arc to a relative conclusion- after this, the Decepticons will refocus their efforts on the restoration of the Omega Lock, the Autobots will become a more cohesive unit with Wheeljack and Ultra Magnus among their ranks, and the final four episodes focus more on a big bang-for-your-buck ending than anything else. All of this results in a really tight season because each episode had to be relevant in some way to the plot, characters, or direction of the show at this point. “Evolution” is vital to all three of these areas, and because of that, this is one of the strongest episodes out of the season, and one of the most solid in the show in my opinion.

The episode opens with Megatron and Starscream meeting up with Shockwave in his off-site laboratory where it’s revealed that the cloning process is pretty quick- it took only a single episode for Shockwave to clone these things, saying that they’ll be battle ready in a few days, and that was on top of Starscream and Knockout goofing off with the insane zombie formula from “Thirst”, y’know, the one where Megatron was up to his eyeballs in problems? And I like that the writers remembered to put Shockwave off of the ship for that; it gets him out of the picture for that episode sure, but it also gives the writers an excuse to keep the show going after the episode is over- we don’t have to wait a few episodes before Shockwave’s cloning process is complete. The Predacon is observing Knockout delivering his remaining Synth En supply to the cave, and decides to join in on the party, specifically by transforming… like, into a full robot! His first lines already make him a Decepticon through and through, as he has it out for Starscream:

“Strike me again, and I will bury that rod in your Spark.”

The thing I like about the Predacon (who dubs himself Predaking on the grounds that it’s the stupidest name available), is that he sounds very intelligent. That vaguely English accent and clean tone contrast nicely with his beast mode- it would have been all too easy to make him sound like a brute, piling synthesizer after synthesizer onto the voice actor’s recordings to make him sound big and threatening, but by doing this, they make him sound not only into a physical threat in his beast mode, but a psychological and intellectual threat as well. Very well done here.

Predaking gives us his backstory, that he began absorbing information and wanted answers to a lot of questions that he had, so he read up on everything and now he’s here. Megatron is all too keen to get to know this guy who so brazenly insulted Starscream- such a quality is something everyone needs in order to become a Decepticon. Megatron tells him that, for now, he’s unique, and soon, he’ll be reunited with his people… so that he won’t be unique anymore, well that’s good to know.

Meanwhile, Ultra Magnus is being a dick (but what else is really new?) talking to Ratchet about his Synthetic Energon formula like he were a fucking cadet and not Optimus’ oldest friend and ally:

“You do realize that an alternative energy source may be essential to our survival?”

“Believe me, Ultra Magnus, no one is more acutely aware of the stakes than I am.”

Wow buddy, you should count yourself lucky Ratchet’s not all hopped up on that stuff right now! He’d drop you like a wet towel if he were. And how brazen, huh, to come in here and talk down to a man who is literally finding out a proper and safe way to give these people synthesized blood, ammunition, food! I wonder how Magnus would react if Ratchet just got exasperated, handed him the half finished results and then Magnus took a swig- he’d probably find fault with the taste! Dear god.

Ratchet’s barely restrained hostility towards the overbearing commander is shared by the other Autobots, as Magnus reprimands them for just taking a breather for a few minutes! Geez! Bulkhead tries to keep tensions leveled by telling him that they’re just logging their field notes per his protocol. I’ve had teachers and bosses like this and man, it never ceases to be the most infuriating thing to have them criticize you for doing the very thing they fucking expected you to do… because you’re not doing another thing that just happens to be on that persons mind at the moment. It’s at this point where Magnus goes from hard-ass leader to just incompetent, and he’s gonna need to do something awfully nice or amazing to get back in my good graces because I fucking hate incompetence!

I like how Wheeljack doesn’t even flinch at Magnus’ brusqueness when questioned about where he was, just saying that he was doing something nice for the big guy… and Magnus’ only response is to raise his eyebrows in amazement. Yeah, just because you’re not a good person doesn’t mean other people aren’t, Magnus!

Optimus gets back, reporting that Decepticon activity is zilch, and everyone is overjoyed to see him, rushing to him like he’s their daddy- it’s a bizarre action for the Autobots, but then I suppose if you’ve been on the receiving end of Magnus’ verbal lashings, you kinda need to run for safety at some point. Optimus notes that Magnus is left all alone in the back there… and this scene is blocked and played out really weird, with the music soaring as Optimus notices Ultra Magnus for the first time, distractedly finishing his sentence slowly- y’know, if this were anything else, I swear this would be the “Optimus falls in love with Ultra Magnus at first sight” scene. And that’s not a shipper joke; that’s just how oddly the scene is played out.

Back on the Nemesis, Predaking pledges undying loyalty to Megatron, but asks that he be aloud to lead the Predacon clones himself. This leads to possibly the most common sense Decepticon scene in the whole series. The Decepticons converge in secret from Predaking and discuss how this whole Predacons-have-robot-modes thing could very quickly turn against them. Megatron’s decision seems pretty final:

“I am left with no other choice than to eradicate the Predacon clones before they are given the opportunity to eradicate us.”

Well, I’m sure Shockwave won’t be happy about that! He spent a whole episode doing that, all their work retrieving the bones… we just spent three whole episodes watching this play out, and now you’re just gonna throw it away? Surprisingly, this doesn’t bother me at all from a story standpoint (or from a season-wide plot standpoint either) for two reasons. First, this comes from a logical progression of plot points, each leading to the next with this as the final result. Second, and more importantly, the previous episodes were largely character-based, with the bone-hunting plot relegated to the background. And finally, what the Decepticons are doing here is pretty logical, preparing for what their previous actions might cost them. In fact, my only qualm with this whole thing is that they’re only discussing it now rather than recognizing this off the bat. It could be argued that there was no need to worry prior to this since they didn’t know about the Predacons’ ability to transform, but even so, I still think they should have recognized how dangerous it would be to breed a whole army of these things. And isn’t it ironic that the only one of them who actually did notice this little snag was Starscream. I’m surprised he isn’t doing an “I told you so” dance in front of Megatron right now. 

Knockout is rightly worried that if they do decide to abort their plan and kill all the clones, Predaking will turn on them in retaliation. But Starscream’s suggestion is to have them pull the plug on the Predacon clones, make it look like the Autobots did it, and then have Predaking get pissed at them and have all of the ‘Cons problems go at each other. Megatron smiles at this, knowing that it’s about the most useful plan Starscream’s had for the majority of the series.

Back at the Autobot’s base, Optimus confronts Ultra Magnus about his command style, saying that his team isn’t a big machine, they’re people and they’re individuals, and Magnus should stop being a dick and respect that. Ratchet interrupts this much-needed talk and informs Optimus that they’ve detected a large amount of Energon. Optimus notes that their reserves are at a critical low, which is I think the first time they’ve established that fact for this season. It does make some sense; the Forge gave Optimus a new body- I’m sure that jetpack takes a large amount of fuel to power it; the original base where all their Energon was stored was blown to bits, and considering that they have only one cube left that Ultra Magnus brought into the new base, it’s reasonable to assume they’re rationing that out. So yes, I can buy that they’re reserves are low.

Anyway, they’ll have to act fast, because the Decepticons have already located the Energon themselves. Optimus leads his whole team in, which could have led to some interesting character development or exploration for him, having him be thankful or appreciative of this new body, this chance to lead his men again… but no, instead we just get the usual “Optimus speak”. Even the “Orion Pax” story had minor character consequences, but being alive to lead again after nearly dying doesn’t even register with Optimus here. An unfortunate missed opportunity. The fight is okay- the team uses their various equipments from “Rebellion”- I’m frankly surprised we didn’t get physical accessories of these things given how much they feature this season (pssst, can you get on that,  third-party companies, please!)

The Wreckers plus Smokescreen reconnoiter the mine (wow, someone had fun with a word-a-day calendar). They split up, and Wheeljack and Magnus venture into Shockwave’s laboratory, marveling that they’re now in some pretty deep shit. Shockwave’s there, and he’s a bit confused:

“Starscream, the Autobots have arrived. You did not inform me that your plan was already in motion.”

“Only so the whole affair would appear less… staged.”

“I have yet to purge my lab of sensitive materials.”

“Then do not let me keep you, Shockwave. Over and out.”

Well, looks like ‘Scream’s back to his more devious behavior. Shockwave realizes that even his awesome vocals won’t be able to win this fight, so he GroundBridges out of there, deciding to just release the Predacons on them now. Things look pretty bad, and back on the Nemesis, Starscream inform’s Megatron, who’s with Predaking, of the situation, playing up his worry for Predaking’s benefit. This leads to another unintentionally hilarious line of dialogue:

“Starscream, scramble your Seeker armada!”

It’s all in how Megatron delivers this and his dramatic motion with his left arm there, sweeping out in front of him as if he’s giving the most grandiose command ever! It’s pretty great!

But Predaking wants to take the Autobots down personally, playing right into Starscream’s plan, and sure enough he arrives just as Jackie and Magnus make their escape. Wheeljack had tossed a grenade before they left, and it causes a chain reaction, blowing up the whole cavern and causing a pretty nasty cave-in. Bulkhead and Smokescreen are already back, and the rest of the team is back at base, so that just leaves Optimus to stare blankly at this mess unfolding before his eyes, without even a mention of how he might no longer be fit to lead… yeah, we got nothing.

Predaking is pissed now, and this fight is one of the best for the season to me! It has all the kinetic violence that I loved about Optimus’ and Megatron’s fight back in “One Shall Fall”, but we also get to see how savage yet calculating Predaking himself can be here. He takes on Wheeljack first, and he really just lets the poor guy have it, wailing on him until finally just smashing him full-front into a cave wall and then smashing his head into the ground. But before he can deliver a killing blow, Magnus comes in, and after a few blows, Predaking is able to relieve Magnus of the Forge weapon, using it against him. Geez.

Things get a little better as Jackie reenters the fight, and I really like how the two Autobots aren’t worrying about doing critical damage anymore- they’re really more concerned about keeping Predaking at bay, not letting him be able to get in a hit. And this illustrates a little how Magnus is loosening up; indeed, the pitiful battle tactic he used when he set up Jackie and Bulkhead in that triangle formation to take on Predaking back in “Chain of Command” is set in stark contrast to this, where Magnus just doesn’t care and is wailing on Predaking with that hammer with as much energy and force as possible. There’s no dialogue between Jackie or Magnus, but I like that the two know each other a bit more now, and because of that they’re able to work more cohesively as a pair in a fight. Magnus even takes Jackie’s cue of shooting at a stalactite of rock above Predaking, bringing it down on top of him. It’s a nice try, but Predaking survives that, using the rock first to knock both Autobots off their feet, and then to smash Wheeljack against the wall, knocking him unconscious.

Leaping over to Magnus, Predaking lands… and crushes the big guy’s hand. And I mean really smashed it, too. Not like “I’m okay next episode” smashed, but like “completely severed from limb” smashed. Okay. Magnus, you have paid your price for being a dick back at the beginning. To add salt to this wound (proverbially, of course), Predaking picks up the Forge and breaks it in two. Damn. In terms of delivering a crippling blow both literally to Magnus and figuratively to the Autobots, this is big. It shows that Predaking is a real threat, that even though he now has a robot mode, he’s not going to become suddenly weaker because of that. This guy isn’t another of Megatron’s soldiers, this is an insanely strong and intelligent force to be reckoned with, and unlike the Insecticons, he’s not going to be diminished in strength over time either (thank god). Optimus saves the two Autobots from their doom at the last moment and they escape.

Back at base, Ultra Magnus awakens to find his hand wound cauterized by Ratchet, and because their supplies are so limited, it doesn’t look pretty. This is an excellent consequence, and not just for Magnus- really, this is the kind of thing I wish Bulkhead had suffered back in Season Two, something with lasting repercussions and with a mind to recognize that these people don’t have limitless resources at their disposal. You can’t just repair all those dents and bruises over night. And Magnus’ loss of a hand illustrates nicely his change from uptight brusque commander to a broken-in soldier. Wheeljack even commends him for fighting like a Wrecker, and when Magnus asks Optimus what could possibly be greater than an army, Optimus responds:

“A human concept, one I have learned since coming to Earth: family.”

Aww, isn’t that sweet?

Finally, to double-tap the coda trick, Shockwave contacts Megatron and informs him that, while nothing useful remains of the Predacon clones, he did uncover something else, and Bridging to his location, Megatron and Starscream find a mass of pure Cyber-matter. Shockwave says that the explosion caused by Wheeljack’s grenade resulting in this CNA-Synthetic Energon-matter fusion. Ominous.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Evolution” is 10/10. As I mentioned in the opening, this episode closes out the Predacon arc for the season and draws many of the pieces into position for the setup positions for the finale. Ultra Magnus’ character undergoes a significant change, not just in terms of losing a hand, but also going from a hard-ass commander to being more of a team player, working with Team Prime more so as peers than as subordinates. I like that a lot. The introduction of Predaking might be a bit late in the series for some, and admittedly his character doesn’t get much growth past this, but in terms of a base character starting point, this one is actually pretty good. The contrast between raw physical power and intellectual prowess is nicely done with this character, and he has cause to hate the Autobots now. And I like that the Decepticons actually live up to their name in a convincing way- unlike with Megatron pulling Fowler’s leg back in “Darkmount, NV”, this plan of Starscream’s not only works, it’s actually pretty good for this show in terms of duplicity. Couple all of this with a pretty badass fight at the end with a lasting consequence coming out of it, and this episode is a very good experience all around, and definitely an example of Prime at its best.

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