April 8, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Minus One

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 3, episode 10, “Minus One”

So, on a whim I just searched Netflix streaming for Transformers Prime, and lo and behold, there it was, available for instant streaming. So I guess that whole “we’re taking down the show” didn’t work, because here it is! That’s kinda cool (though it means I brought my Season Three blu ray for nothing, but that’s okay).

This episode is honestly one of the weaker ones coming out of this season, made all the more glaring by the fact that it’s coming directly after “Evolution”, one of the strongest in the season. And I’m pretty sad to say that, because this episode has elements that could all actually gel into a fairly awesome story: Soundwave gets captured, Magnus struggles with a prosthetic hand, Optimus has his first fight with an intelligent Predaking- now, these all sound awesome, but in execution, many of these things fall flat, and I think the reason for that is the pace, it really drags this episode, and thus it makes everything feel less coalesced and more like the various plot points are swimming around without any clear idea of what exactly it is they want to do, but with enough conviction to make themselves feel important (kind of like people at the Phoenix airport.)

Our episode opens right where the last left off. Shockwave brief’s Megatron on what this Cyber-matter is, venturing that if he were to create more, they could cyberform entire planets, but in order to do so, they’ll need a launching platform, so Megatron says that they’ll now need to focus on repairing the damaged Omega Lock. Now, I know Season Two had some pretty stupid ideas in it and a lot of retreading of ground (I’ll get to that in a second), but they made it explicitly clear that the technology of the Omega Keys was ancient and sophisticated enough to give Optimus pause when his team suggested that they build their own version of the Keys with the Forge. Optimus said in that episode that he wasn’t skilled enough to do that with the Forge- the whole reason they had that big fight on Cybertron was precisely because they couldn’t build their own stuff to supplant Megatron’s agenda. But now the Decepticons are saying that they can just rebuild the Omega Lock from scratch. “But wait”, you might be saying, “isn’t this a huge plot contradiction? If they could just do that, why did everyone make a huge fuss over Optimus destroying the first one?” And that is a valid criticism. But I think this does illustrate an out-of-universe attempt by the writers to do what they wanted to for Season Two here in Season Three. It’s not a great excuse, sure, but I do have to admire that they’re going back and fixing a lot of their mistakes from last season. Again, this might not be the most original idea, but it’s the care that the writers have for this show that makes me willing to forgive this admittedly large plot contradiction. Also, Megatron says a line later that really interests me and kind of fits into this beginning plot of his, but I’ll talk about that when we come to it.

In the Autobot base, Ratchet has made Ultra Magnus a new hand! That’s pretty awesome, especially considering they’re low on spare parts and all that, and most of those parts are being used to aid Ratchet in his Synth En experiments. But Magnus’ dickish behavior can only extend so far, so he’s appreciative of the surgery nonetheless. Still, this is nothing to really be proud of, this hand that Ratchet’s pieced together- looks like something I’d doodle while half awake in math class, all sharp angles and messed up proportions. I especially like the wrist rotating cuff there just kinda stapled onto the end of Magnus’ arm- really gives the impression that this a patch job at best. And yet despite all this, the thing still has all these blue lights in it, something that the Autobots’ high powered tech weapons have, so who knows if this thing’s supposed to be low-tech or high-tech. It looks mean though, and not something I’d want to be on the receiving end of. (Sorry for ending a sentence with a preposition.)

Smokescreen tries to breath a bit of lightheartedness into the situation, remarking that Magnus’ new claw hand is going to become his new signature… and promptly makes the mood sour when he compares it to Bumblebee’s voice box that “Ratchet slapped in [his] throat.” Wow, buddy. With that attitude, I’m kinda glad you’re not a Prime- you’d likely wind up like Magnus but with attempts at humor replacing attempts at being strict and ending up just being dickish. Bulkhead has better results in trying to lighten the mood:

“Hey, look at the bright and shiny side- Jackie and Magnus single-handedly put the kibosh on Project Predacon.”

Yeah, and now Magnus only has a single hand. Thanks, Bulk, you’re a real sensitive guy.

On the Nemesis, Predaking is adamant that, when they restore Cybertron, Megatron will resurrect all the Predacons from the remains which lie there so that Predaking can lead them, reasoning that Shockwave’s recent cloning results was merely a squadron. And y’know for all my attempts at forgiving this season for retreading ground but doing so in a good way, this does raise a significant question: why didn’t the ‘Cons just use their Space Bridge and hop over to Cybertron to retrieve a bunch of bones rather than scouring the Earth? ‘Cause the implication is that they didn’t do that because they’re fucking lazy. Anyway, Shockwave says that they should adapt Earth technology to retrofit the remains of the Lock… which they managed to get from Cybertron, so again, it’s not like they don’t have the means of reaching the planet now even after their big fortress was destroyed.

Shockwave announces that Knockout’s Synthetic Energon formula is what’s making the cyber-matter unstable, saying that it’s incomplete. Megatron tells him to make it complete because his plan is to not only restore Cybertron but also get around to cyberforming Earth. And this is the line that makes Megatron’s whole plan all the more ambitious and really makes me enjoy the character:

“It has taken me quite some time to fully comprehend that Earth and Cybertron have always been linked. Two halves of one whole; Primus and Unicron. And that to rule only one, would be to never truly rule either.”

So, we haven’t had a mention of Unicorn since I think “Orion Pax, Part 1” (Megatron didn’t mention it even when he tried to cyberform Earth back in “Darkest Hour”), and so I love that it’s brought up here. Moreover, we get to see just how unhinged Megatron has become since the rise and fall of his empire. He’s suffered defeat after defeat, and now he has a very intelligent super soldier beast aboard his ship. This feels very much like he’s grasping at straws, and the manic look he gets in his eyes when he talks about this plan cements to me the fact that this guy is not only power hungry but also wanting to prove to himself that he’s the better man, and this time not just to Optimus but to Unicron, to Primus, to everyone. And this feeds into how his character was presented at the end of “Rebellion”, when he had to be dragged away kicking and screaming by Starscream because he couldn’t handle losing when victory was so close. Now he has the chance to seize power not for power’s sake but for his own reassurance… or he could just be insane, y’know, that’s always a possibility.

Meanwhile, the Autobots prepare to roll out to engage the ‘Cons in a smash-and-grab for Earth tech, and Magnus is chomping at the bit to see some action, but Ratchet holds him back- yeah, you don’t want that claw thing of yours falling apart out in the field. And isn’t this proper protocol anyway? So, the rest go, and in the field they engage Soundwave. Well, I say “they”; really only Optimus does while the rest of the Autobots literally stay in vehicle mode for the entirety of the fight, even after the ‘Cons escape. Seriously, what are they doing? Optimus brings him down with his gatling gun- man, look at the power of that thing, looks like we have a gun that can finally do some damage to a person! Finally, the Autobots transform and meet up with Optimus while Laserbeak escapes.

Well, it seems the Autobots have learned since “Partners” about taking hostages, because they now have proper means of holding Soundwave prisoner, which is good. They also have their new base shielded like the old one, so there’s really no rush. They try asking him questions, but all Soundwave does with that is put it through the crappy DJ remixer and play it back, punctuating that with a happy smiley face. And you thought YouTube comments were rude. Ratchet suggests opening Soundwave up and just looking at his floppy disks, saying that “Soundwave is no ordinary Cybertronian inside or out”. Geez, doc, you wanna tone down the racism there? And remember, this is the chief medical officer suggesting this mutilation of another being. Soundwave doesn’t take kindly to this, erasing his own drives and delivering his one and only actual line in the whole series before essentially going to sleep:

“Soundwave superior. Autobots inferior.”

Huh, y’know for an intelligence and surveillance specialist, I expected him to be a bit more articulate with words. Of course, this is a throwback to the old G1 character, and unfortunately it’s the most obvious line that could have been spoken. I would have much preferred him to say something emotionally crushing, just a brief statement like that one but with less obviousness behind it. Even the fans didn’t really like this, calling it a cop out- we were promised that Soundwave would speak before series’ end, and all we get is a cheep catch phrase? It’s a bit of a letdown.

Back on the Nemesis, Shockwave muses that this half-complete Synth En formula is taking a bit longer to complete than he had originally thought, so Megatron’s plan now is capture Ratchet, the one who originally devised the formula and just have him complete it. Of course, Starscream points out that they don’t actually know where the Autobots’ base is, and while Megatron says that Soundwave is in there right now and all they’d need to do is send Laserbeak there to upload the new directive to him, that still doesn’t solve the matter of the fact that they can’t find the base. But Shockwave suggests that they use Fowler to figure out where they are, and they dispatch Laserbeak to follow him.

Fowler’s headed back to the Autobot base and informs Optimus that the ‘Cons have initiated another attack on a science facility housing a particle collider, this time in the South Pole. I find it ironic that the ‘Cons went to all that trouble to capture Fowler in the opening episodes of the series but now have the common sense to just follow him to the base; and remember he was headed to the base back in “Darkness Rising, Part 3”, so what this only proves is that Megatron is a better leader when insane and hell-bent on conquering two whole planets than Starscream was back when he wasn’t Megatron’s bitch.

With Fowler’s new info, the Autobots prepare to head off, and with some prompting from Wheeljack, Ratchet lets Magnus go this time, with Optimus giving his oft-quoted command:

“Autobots, roll out!”

Yes, and try to remember to transform after you reach the facility this time, instead of just sitting there in park while Optimus handles everything. Oh and they’re not gonna worry about freezing out there or watching out for their temperature like they’ve done in past, don’t be stupid. I also like how Ultra Magnus retains his ability to transform into vehicle mode, but doesn’t have the ability to deploy his weapons in his right arm- I mean, the weapon part makes sense, y’know his new hand might be a bit of a tight fit in the space containing his gun. But wouldn’t that also hinder his larger full-body transformation?

Anyway, they’re off, leaving Smokescreen, Ratchet and Bulkhead to guard Soundwave. Ratchet figures out that Megatron is trying to rebuild the Omega Lock. He tells Optimus about it, and since we don’t have time for a proper ethical debate, the conversation is quickly dealt with: they won’t allow Megatron to rebuild the Lock on the grounds that he would abuse its power. That’s it. This seems to be one of the few places where the writers just didn’t take the chances presented to them, and it could be argued that they didn’t do so because this is a children’s show and all that, but it is still frustrating, especially seeing at how they improved so much on almost all their other missteps last season. Oh well.

Predacon attacks Optimus and the team, and Prime decides to play hero and take him on himself, leaving the rest of the Autobots free to deal with the Decepticons who have the particle collider. I like Arcee lingering behind the rest of the ‘Bots- she’s the only one of the team here who hasn’t engaged Predaking after all, she could be frozen with fear there. The fight between Optimus and Predaking in beast mode is one of the few that really makes good use of the new Optimus body. These two really look like they’re of equal strength- Predaking’s beast mode’s overall size and mass makes Optimus’ bulky frame look less bloated and more comparable in fighting style and capability to the beast. Indeed, just imagine how ridiculous the old Optimus model would look taking on something like this in hand-to-hand. Also, the animators make good use of the two combatants’ ability to fly, and this is one scene where it doesn’t look like Optimus is just stationed in midair with things moving around him- this feels like a fight that is making full use of the all the four axes of directional movement when in flight. Still, Predaking manages to take Optimus out, sending him crashing into the snow. Boy, sure am glad that the Predacons are able to resist cold, or else the Autobots could’ve just let him freeze here… oh wait.

The rest of the Autobots make their way into the compound, only to be ambushed by the Decepticons- we can infer that Laserbeak was listening in on Fowler’s talk with Optimus. And back at base, Laserbeak finally makes his move, busting in and reattaching to Soundwave, who takes out both Smokescreen and Bulkhead, and we end on the really creepy image of Soundwave waving his chest tentacles about while advancing on Ratchet… yeah. Context, man!

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Minus One” is 5/10. As mentioned in the opening, this one felt rather disconnected, which is odd considering that a lot of the scenes regarding the various plot points are themselves shuffled in and around each other. You’d think this would make for a more weaving story, but it actually just serves to remind us that these are rather disparate plots running alongside each other. Not bad really, but coming off of “Evolution”, things feel a bit loose. However, there’s some good action- this episode features one of the only good fights with Optimus’ new body, and Ultra Magnus’ new hand sets a nice tone for the episode and for the rest of the season. And the writers’ new direction with the Decepticons likewise sets us up for the final leg of the series.

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