April 13, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Persuasion

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 3, episode 11, “Persuasion”

As we begin our final leg of the Transformers Prime series, there is a definite sense of finality to a lot of this, helped in no small part by the fact that several story elements saved for the finale had to be pushed back simply because the final episode just didn’t have room for everything. This gives the final three episodes great cohesion as a whole chunk of arc, even if the episodes themselves are a bit light. “Persuasion” in particular feels like a solid Prime episode with more arc-related benefits than any actual stand-alone successes. Ratchet’s capture and manipulation by Megatron has some excellent character work to it, and I do want to talk about that, but this is what I mean when I say that every episode of Season Three has a point- this one is a great example of that, giving us a solid character episode while also relating specifically and heavily to the main push towards the end of the show.

“Persuasion” opens up right in the midst of Optimus’ fight with Predaking and the other Autobots’ storming of the science facility. Both fights are pretty good. Optimus scales nicely with Predaking in robot mode too, again lessening how huge he is next to the other Autobots. The fight within the facility isn’t bad either, with Ultra Magnus taking on Shockwave, the latter dishing out some… ironic banter:

“This is no place for a one-handed Autobot.”

Yeah, except you have only one hand too, Shockwave; you’re other arm’s a cannon, so y’know, you’re one to talk. I love how Magnus is just really bringing the pain to Shockwave here with his claw hand.

Megatron reroutes Predaking to aid Shockwave in securing the particle collider, hampering the Autobots’ victory. The Decepticons get away, and as Arcee asks for a GroundBridge back to base, Bulkhead and the others wake up and inform her that Ratchet’s been taken.

So, here begins the driving force of the episode, with the Decepticons trying to convince Ratchet to aid Megatron in his plan to stabilize the Synthetic Energon formula. Well, actually, that’s only after Shockwave’s tried out his cortical psychic patch on Ratchet, which only reveals what they already know, so they’re going to have to do this the old-fashion way, with Megatron manipulating Ratchet enough to get him on board. And Megatron’s argument is pretty good:

“We stand on the verge of a great moment in time, you and I: the restoration of our very home world.”

“Collaborate with the barbarian who essentially destroyed our planet in the first place... who sadistically crushed Bumblebee's voice box, while looking him in the eye? No thank you.”

Yeah, and remember, these are just the things Megatron did on Cybertron! That’s not even counting the fact that he raised a bunch of zombies from the dead, took over Bumblebee’s body, nearly courted the Chaos Bringer, manipulated your friend to give the ‘Cons coordinates to a bunch of powerful trinkets, took over the world for a brief time when you gave up all hope… do you remember all of that?

Well, Megatron gives Ratchet an ultimatum: help us complete this formula, or we’ll kill your human friends. And I like that Jeffery Combs, Ratchet’s voice actor, gives his voice just a little tremble when he responds “are these humans supposed to mean something to me?’ You clearly get the sense that he’s pained to not only realize that the Decepticons can kill them, but that in order to save face, he must essentially sign their death warrants. Good voice work there. When the human persuasion doesn’t work, Megatron turns to the more likely target, the Autobots’ base:

“Accept my offer, and I will allow your fellow Autobots and human pets to remain unharmed. Think it over, good doctor.”

It’s a good scene, with Combs and Welker giving subtlety to their characters’ voices that really make the whole thing feel more, for lack of a better term, human overall. Megatron clearly has the upper hand here, and he knows it, his voice achieving peak oiliness as he tests Ratchet’s resilience. And Combs of course is no slouch himself, giving nice shades to Ratchet’s pain- it’s not just about the Autobots anymore, Ratchet does care for Earth, and being so close to the end of the series, you can’t help but think back to his indifference to Jack leaving in “Darkness Rising, Part 4”. And yet he’s clearly desperate for Cybertron to be restored, and there’s this little hopeful smile that plays on Ratchet’s face when Megatron mentions that he wants to use this Synth En/CNA hybrid stuff for creation, confirming Ratchet’s suspicions from last episode that he’s rebuilding the Omega Lock, and the smile is haunting here because it’s a reminder of what Ratchet and the rest of his species has to gain by having a restored world, even if it is controlled by the Decepticons. For now, though, Ratchet’s loyalty is still unequivocally to the Autobots, but that smile to me is when Ratchet broke, because he let that one small glimmer of sadistic hope crawl into his mind’s eye for just a second. We’ll see that manifest into something much bigger as the episode goes on.

While this is going on, the Autobots try to piece together what happened and why the ‘Cons would want Ratchet at all. Fowler points out that while they’re all speculating on this, their base remains vulnerable to attack. They quickly get into gear: Arcee’s monitoring comm link chatter, Wheeljack is on the lookout for ground activity, Fowler on aerial activity, and Magnus… um, yeah, just look at this:

“Ratchet didn't think this new hand he built for me was good enough. But I'll tell you what truly isn't good enough: giving up.”

Wow. Yeah, you’re really rallying the troops there, aren’t you, man!

Well, looks like Magnus’ll have to shelve that activity for now, because the Decepticons attack… and this is probably the weakest part of the episode. Okay, so the ‘Cons attack, and the military actually does something on this military base by having all the fighter jets engage in this dogfight, and it’s kinda cool. Starscream gives the command to have his fleet target Hanger E (that’s the Autobots’ base bunker name), and all it takes is two missiles from Starscream’s jet mode to blow up the hanger… and then he just leaves, without looking for bodies, something Megatron himself did back when the first base was destroyed. To make the ‘Cons look really idiotic, though, it turns out that the Autobots did a bait-and-switch and literally painted the letter E onto the F bunker and painted over the E on their own bunker with the letter F! I just- what?

So not only are the ‘Cons not going to check for survivors, but they’ve been fooled by not knowing the letters of the alphabet? And why not just destroy the whole military compound while you’re at it, y’know to make sure you did as much crippling damage as you could? Why didn’t you have Laserbeak or Soundwave tell you the position of the base on the compound itself? And what were the Autobots’ backup plans if their paint job plan didn’t work? They didn’t even evacuate to make sure that they were okay! They didn’t even save the kids! There’s just so many problems with this whole thing, and to top it all off, none of it really matters- the Autobots are all okay, the base is okay; the only thing different now is Starscream is short two missiles. I have a strong feeling that this whole thing was filler for a script that ran short, because it turns a possible looming threat into just another lights show, and this portion of the plot goes absolutely nowhere.

Anyway, getting back to the actual good part of the episode, Megatron is giving Ratchet the grand tour of the ship, enticing him with various tech-tech until they come back to the matter of restoring Cybertron. And here again we have some excellent character interplay:

“ Megatron, you would just try to conquer Cybertron all over again, and enslave anyone who refuses to pledge allegiance to you.”

“Of course I would! And your comrades would attempt to stop me as ever, but at least we would have a planet worth fighting over.”

It’s an interesting position to put Megatron in, actually, and calls to my mind his character back in the “Orion Pax” arc. There, he was essentially getting to reunite with his former friend, to have his illusions of grandeur justified and acknowledged by his student who saw him as a revolutionary political hero. And, as I discussed in that arc, there might very well have been some truth to the lies Megatron fed Orion. Here too, Megatron corners Ratchet with half truths, stating outright that he’s not to be trusted, but in so doing makes his promises of a restored Cybertron all the more damning… and thus all the more enticing. Indeed, putting that pressure on Ratchet, of telling him that he is the last best hope for a restored Cybertron, really makes Megatron live up to the Decepticon name in my opinion. And that image of Cybertron up on the view screen framing Ratchet as he stands there with the choice to literally give life to a new world makes this scene really thrive.

Back at the Autobot base, the kids make their appearance for the episode- maybe they weren’t in the base when the attack happened then, I stand corrected (or contested at least). Fowler called in Raf to analyze the shard of Laserbeak that Smokescreen shot, and it’s revealed that this specific piece of shrapnel is actually Laserbeak’s communications transponder. Also, we now know Raf can read Cybertronian code, thanks to off-screen lessons with Ratchet. Y’know, that might’ve been a good scene to have in here- it would have strengthened Ratchet’s bond with his team which would have given more weight to his current situation, and it would have developed Raf’s character a little potentially, which he really needs because his is the weakest of the three kids’ now. But then, it would have been a nice scene and would have made sense, so obviously we can’t have that- we need more time for exploding bases that don’t actually matter! Anyway, they figure that they could follow the transponder’s signal back to the ship if they gave it a flight pack. Of course, they don’t actually need to do that; it’s not as if the signal is a literal magnet that’s going to lead you to the ship, but whatever, at least it’s a plan.

Incidentally, I do like how this plan of theirs was spliced up with Megatron giving Ratchet more tech-tech to look at- it shows how low the Autobots’ resources are in contrast to the high-tech nature of the Decepticons’ own. It also calls to mind how Ratchet’s been working in kind of a shit environment with all these rusty tools and whatnot; now he gets to handle actual Cybertronian tech. And the Autobots are left with rudimentary parts. It’s a good contrast.

Raf is getting more Ratchet-like with every moment (just in behavior though, it’s not like he’s turning into a robot or anything despite how robotic his character has become). Fowler mentions to Jack that he could be a good candidate for the military, mentioning all the close calls the humans have had because of the Autobot/Decepticon war and all that, and how he wants to be prepared for the day when the Autobots aren’t around anymore. He mentions the Apex Armor and how it could be utilized to give their soldiers a fighting chance out there. It’s a weird scene, especially since it doesn’t take any time at all to consider the ramifications of Fowler’s concerns beyond Jack’s own personal future, and again I’m suspicious that this was more so filler script material than anything vital. Anyway, Raf gets the device going, and things are looking up.

Ratchet meanwhile, seems to have come to his senses regarding this whole “help Megatron end the world” thing:

“Even if you managed to reconstruct the Omega Lock, it is a mystic force. I’ve come to my senses. The notion of scientifically replicating its capability is pure folly.”

See, that’s the whole thing that I found weird about Megatron’s plan in the first place, that he could just up and recreate the Lock now even after Optimus said that such power was beyond their capabilities. Now, Ratchet is talking about actually getting the thing to work and allowing for the possibility of being able to reconstruct it, but still. And Megatron’s only response to this is to show Ratchet that the ‘Cons have defied logic, common sense, and continuity, and have already built their own Omega Lock on the bottom of the ship. And if you’re a continuity hound, all the shots of the Nemesis prior to this were angled so that this portion of the hull wasn’t showing, so that’s a nice touch.

And the spectacle itself is impressive, with the crude Decepticon Omega Lock giving a real sense of scope to this whole project. I like Ratchet’s almost gleeful disbelieving exclamation of “you’ve actually done it”, with that subtle ounce of joy creeping into his voice. Because here he is with the power to restore Cybertron literally beneath his feet… and yet it’s being controlled by Megatron. So, Ratchet’s position on this whole thing is now finally skewed enough to where he can utter those three words:

“I’ll do it.”

And knowing that, knowing that he’s doomed his friends, that’s a pretty damning way to end the episode indeed.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Persuasion” is 8/10. The draw of the episode is Ratchet’s character growth and the decisions that he has to face here, and what could have been a stock look-the-other-way character switch simply for the sake of the plot is turned into a more subtle character-infused affair. Jeffery Combs and Frank Welker play off each other excellently here, and the subtle inflections that they give their characters to make them seem more real is great. This one is definitely a mixed bag, but if you can look past the Autobot subplot, the relationship between character and arc plot is exemplary here with Ratchet having to make tough calls and having to face a solid moral dilemma that I’ve wanted to see since “Darkest Hour”. The main thing that drags this episode down is really the secondary Autobot plot. All of those scenes felt very much like filler, and the faux destruction of the base adds little to the tension of the already-awesome main plot. Also, the Autobots themselves never seemed to be under any kind of stress for their lost friend here- they all just proceed like this is normal stuff for them… which I guess it is, but when the most emotion shown over Ratchet’s capture is from Raf- the most wooden of the characters here- well, it kinda makes the rest of the Autobots indifference all the more glaring. However, even with that, this is still a strong piece and definitely a solid entry into Prime's final phase.

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