April 3, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Plus One


Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 3, episode 7, “Plus One”

Was taking a look at my stats the other day, y'know for the blog, and I discovered that the country second to the US to view my website is France! So shout out to France! Why am I making a shoutout here? I don't know- I don't look at this kind of stuff very often, and every single person out there who reads my shit deserves to be appreciated by me and I have been woefully lacking in that department, so thank you everyone who's been reading the things I have to say! And once again, thank you to France for being a staunch supporter!

Welcome back to another episode of Transformers Prime! I’ve mentioned before about how comedy is an even more subjective art form than others because of how versatile and personal comedy can be and often is, and that makes reviewing an episode with comedy as a semi-main focus difficult for me because what I might find works about this episode might not be anything inherently objective— character- or story-based— but instead is probably something completely subjective. I know I’m more of a subjective reviewer than most, and that’s fine; I’m just saying that this time I’m subjectively reviewing an episode who’s goal is to play with our subjective experiences and make us laugh in doing so. Unlike “Thirst”, this episode isn’t really a comedy-centered work, but comedy is a main force in it, alongside a surprisingly effective character arc, which is good because a few little niggling problems also hamper this one. Let’s jump in and find out what’s what!

Wheeljack comes back to base via GroundBridge, having supposedly gone solo at the end of last episode, but I guess he just needed to get away from Ultra Magnus for a bit, because he comes back pretty grumpy and really not in the mood to go on this new mission Fowler just picked up on. Arcee’s chomping at the bit to find out what’s up with this new threat, and seeing as Ratchet is still working on his Synth En formula, that leaves Wheeljack as her partner for the episode. Incidentally, this is just a small thing, but I like how they have Ratchet continuously working on this Synth En thing- like, they could have just as easily had him spin up the Bridge and leave it at that, but they put this line in there that helps to provide a sense of continuity that I appreciate. It’s a very minor detail, nothing to get worked up about, but I thought it was a good reinforcement that this show has direction to it… most of the time!

Arcee and Wheeljack go through the Bridge, and they wind up surrounded by a bunch of Vehicon drones, halting Jackie’s warning that he doesn’t play well with others (I guess except for Bulkhead). Also, I have to comment on just how shit of a roll of the dice that was by Ratchet- y’know, the Synth En thing is supposed to be your side project, not the thing that you focus on while working a matter transporter for two people, one of whom is carrying a grenade on his hip! Just imagine if they’d materialized into a wall or something.

The ensuing fight has been noted by some (in particular the TFW2005 podcast people in their discussion of this episode) to be very sluggish. Having all the ‘Cons just wait to attack while Jackie and Arcee just stand there in a fighting stance for a solid thirty seconds! Both Autobots even get a few lines in and prepare their attack before the ‘Cons even move!

“Know what I love most about Vehicon troopers?”

“They’re easily distracted.”

Yeah… except you two are the ones talking, and are thus more likely to not be paying attention to the ring of enemy soldiers you have surrounding you.

The fight begins after Wheeljack pulls a Bulkhead and launches Arcee into the air (Bulkhead had done the same thing with her back in “Metal Attraction”), and it’s a subtle reminder that Wheeljack and Bulkhead are close, at least close enough to employ the same attack tactics. Besides this stunt, the fight is rather drab, and again, sluggish. Arcee in particular seems slow to react or even attack. Must have been a bad day at the animation offices, who knows. After all the Vehicons are slaughtered or knocked out (because I don’t think one punch will kill a guy- although we are talking about Arcee who’s been known to decapitate a person with a single high kick), we get this exchange between Jackie and Arcee:

“You sure you weren’t a Wrecker?”

“You sure you don’t play well with others?”

And the Tumblr shipping commences! I’m gonna come out and admit it right now: I totally ship these two. Now, I don’t really invest a lot of time in the whole fandom side of Tumblr; I’m mostly on there for badass art and cute cat pictures, so OTPs and ships and all that, I just kinda stay out of there. But this is something that I can get behind, and not for the reasons you might think. First, Arcee’s been seen to work well with Bulkhead and she was the point person for the stealth team and liaison between the team and Ultra Magnus back in “Rebellion”, so both her fighting skills and leadership abilities gel pretty well with the Wreckers (besides getting captured in that episode, of course). Second, Wheeljack is not too dissimilar for Cliffjumper in terms of personality and recklessness, so it could be that Arcee is drawn to him because he reminds her a bit of her dead partner. And that’s not meant to be romantic-focussed; indeed, Arcee and Cliff seemed to banter more as peers and friends than anything else. While a romantic element can certainly be implied between Arcee and both Cliffjumper and Wheeljack, I read it more as a platonic relationship, and that is backed up by my final point, which is that Wheeljack and Arcee are a logical pair thematically as well and I’ll get more into that point soon.

Back at base, June stops by to pick up some medical supplies that Fowler acquired, leading to the more obvious ploy by the writers to just light up the romance fire in the fandom. See, I guess Fowler has a thing for June now, something that had been hinted at previously (the excited hug back in “One Shall Rise, Part 3” is the most obvious one) but never actually acted upon. Well, now Fowler’s all set to woo June, much to Jack’s uncomfortableness.

Raf reports that he’s found another Predacon bone, this one locked in a museum. Jack notes that there are no Autobots left… except for Bulkhead and Magnus who are on their way back- why not just have them pick up the bone themselves? Hell, they have Miko, they don’t even need to worry about not having human cover. Just park the ship, drive to the museum, have Miko sneak in and boom, you’re done. Besides that, you have Ratchet:

“I didn’t choose emergency as my vehicle mode for laughs.”

Well, I guess Miko can’t star in two episodes in a row, so Fowler says’ he’ll go and pick it up on the grounds that the Decepticons haven’t located it yet and that it’s the stupidest option available. June even suggests that they just wait for Optimus to get back, but Fowler’s not having any of that:

“I’ll have you know, Nurse Darby, I was an army ranger and federal agent for Unit E three decades before I ever heard the name Optimus Prime. I’m more than equipped to handle a milk run. In fact, why don’t you tag along?”

Jack is a bit freaked out that this guy is hitting on his mom in a really creepy way (seriously, just watch Fowler’s facial expressions when he delivers this dialogue- it’s really unsettling some of the animation that goes on in his face). Jack doesn’t want June in any danger, but June counters with continuity, saying that if Jack can go to Cybertron, then June should be totally safe with a forty-year-old pencil-pusher by her side. It’s not like the ‘Cons are coming after this one- they’ve got plenty more to find, I’m sure.

Meanwhile, on the Nemesis, Megatron assigns Knock Out the task of retrieving the museum-held Predacon bone. Oh, and he reassigns Starscream to monitor duty to replace Knock Out, which I find strange because that means that Megatron’s tasking his top lieutenants with going out into the field… or a desk job, which is even weirder considering that he’s also having the Vehicons deployed in the field unsupervised. I tell ya, the Transformers shift schedules and duty assignments are the most alien things about them; neither the Autobots or Decepticons seem to understand the proper chain of command beyond “leader equals delegate”- doesn’t matter how you delegate or to whom you assign a task, just order people to do things and you’ll be fine.

Anyway, Starscream’s ordering of the Predacon around isn’t taken kindly, and the beast smashes the communications dish, a device that exists solely for the plot of this episode because it’s never been brought up before and it’ll never be brought up again. Seriously, how illogical is it to have all your communications routed through one station? But the Predacon has smashed it now, so Starscream will have to fix it before Megatron notices it.

Back in character-development land, Wheeljack and Arcee are still searching for the bone. But here is where Season Three does right what Season Two failed to do at all. Instead of action, we get dialogue; instead of plot, we get character-related material. These two could have just spouted coordinates at each other, but instead they make actual conversation while searching for the bone. And I have to say that this feels like a result of actual growth on the part of the writers, recognizing their own missteps and attempting to correct them, or at the least approach the situation from a different angle. I must commend them for this- it takes a big man to admit when he didn’t do something right, and an even bigger one to go back and try again. And the stuff Arcee and Jackie talk about isn’t irrelevant either. It’s a direct callback to Wheeljack’s mood from the beginning, and this makes what is essentially a Season Two episode do-over all the more appreciated.

Meanwhile, Fowler and June… are seen exiting the museum with the bone in a box. Again, that’s exiting, not sneaking in and pretending like it’s exciting. It would have been all too easy to make this episode focussed on June and Fowler trying to get the bone, but instead we get a few lines of dialogue explaining how they got the bone and then they’re done. That’s it. Again, this eschews a lot of the pitfalls of Season Two and capitalizes on the character interactions. And June and Fowler are two that we haven’t seen much of, certainly not as the driving force of an episode. The two talk about their respective marriages: Fowler’s divorced, and June’s husband is… out of the picture I guess- we only get the cryptic hint that a “saga” happened and then he left (I like to think he became the living embodiment of Age of Extinction). The two are captured by Knockout who manages to stun them in vehicle mode, though I don’t think running into the path of the blaster was a wise move, June!

Knockout’s pretty pleased with himself:

“Knockout to Lord Megatron. I have secured one vintage Predacon talon, plus two of the Autobot’s pets for you to employ as hostages, lab experiments, well anyway you see fit. So go on, Big M, tell me you love me more than Starscream.”

I'll, um... I'll just leave that alone.

Back at Autobot base, Jack is getting a little antsy waiting around for his mom and Fowler to return.

“It’s really taking them a while.”

“Arcee and Wheeljack?”

“My mom and Agent Fowler. Maybe they stopped for dinner.”

“Isn’t that what grownups do when they’re dating?”

“It’s what grownups do when they’re hungry!”

I admit I snorted at that line! Most of the comedy for this episode is more subtle than that of “Thirst” and comes mostly out of Jack’s increasing restlessness over this whole “military man courting my mom” thing. I do like this though. My parents aren’t divorced, so I haven’t been in a situation where one of them is fancying another person who isn’t my other parent, but if I were, I think I would be acting a lot like Jack right now!

Miko calls Jack to tell him she’s on her way back from Scotland, asking about Wheeljack. Jack tells Miko that he’s with Arcee, leading to this line from Miko-

“I wondered how long it would take our two lone wolves to hook up.”

-A line that caused a minor outcry form the fandom. See, to most people, Arcee hasn’t really been a lone wolf for a while now. In fact, I would argue that she never was, at least not after she joined Prime’s team on Earth. Cliffjumper helped her become more of a team player. So, her hooking up with Wheeljack on the grounds that they’re both loners, that just doesn’t fit with what we’ve seen of Arcee’s character, and certainly isn’t a reason for her to be teaming up with Wheeljack to me. Yet this line infused many in the fandom to start shipping the two ‘Bots together, with many calling this line out as a reason behind their pairing. I just don’t see that- that’s why I outlined my reasons for shipping them above.

June and Fowler bicker about how screwed they really are, and Knockout gives them his two-cents on screwing himself:

“Frankly, I find it repulsive, the whole idea of you fleshies… interfacing. Ugh!”

Wow. Was this episode designed to be a Tumblr gif set? Because it is certainly turning out that way. But my favorite exchange in this whole episode is when Fowler asks June if she has a weapon on hand and she pulls out… pepper spray. Nice!

Meanwhile, Arcee and Wheeljack are now digging for the bone, and just like last time, the relic hunt falls to the background to make way for more conversation. Back in Season Two, this might have been where they postulate about the Predacon bone or talked about how dangerous this would be if it ever fell into the hands of the Decepticons, but here, we finally get at the crux of what’s bothering Wheeljack:

“So if it isn’t the new commander that’s grinding your gears, it’s Bulkhead.”

“Just burns me up when a Wrecker goes soft.”

“Look, Wheeljack, you’ll always have the Wreckers as you knew them, in [your heart]. But times change, players come and go, and if you can’t adapt, you’ll rust. Like the bones we’re digging for. Don’t push Bulkhead away. If something happened to him, you’d never forgive yourself. Trust me, I know.”

I know all this quoting is getting pretty close to having you just watch the damn episode, but I love how this scene is played out. This is my final point from above. Arcee calls on her own experience of losing two partners already, and this eerily calls back to “Hurt”, when Jackie and Miko went on a revenge quest. There, Arcee was outraged at the thought of Jackie bringing Miko along. I like this development of Arcee’s attitude towards Wheeljack here. While her concern back in “Hurt” was for Miko, it could be argued that she also recognized Jackie’s pain back then too but was obviously too concerned for Miko’s safety to act on that other observation. Here though, she’s able to counsel him on not going down that dark path again, on being able to work past that stage and valuing the people whom he cares about before something bad happens to them again. The theme of loss and revenge are in here, but they’re more subtle and are further contrasted by the second, more light-hearted Fowler/June plot, giving this whole thing an even darker tone. I love it.

Speaking of Fowler and June (sorry, I’m running out of transition sentences!), Fowler manages to get out of the trunk of Knockout’s vehicle mode and into the backseat of the car. I’m not really sure how he managed to do that, but what the hell. I do like that he grabs the steering wheel and steers Knockout to a stop, pushing on the break. It seems to imply that the Transformers themselves aren’t above being manipulated by their vehicle mode limitations, and just adds a layer of humor to really all previous car chases with humans inside them.

June manages to escape into this conveniently located railroad yard, but it seems Fowler’s years behind a desk have finally caught up to him, because Knockout grabs him after transforming to robot mode. Fowler has June’s pepper spray though and in a great twist, it actually causes momentary damage to Knockout’s eyes, buying time for Fowler to escape. I admit that part actually was pretty good. Well, we now get one of television’s biggest tropes, the ol’ hide-and-seek Deadly Enemy edition. This is not as intense as I think it could have been- definitely one of the weaker points of this episode.

Finally Knockout nabs Fowler again (man, this just isn’t his day), and June tries to bluff her way out in what has to be the worst way possible. She shows herself, holding the box… and then promptly smashes it, revealing nothing within- she hid the bone on one of the train cars. Okay, so why didn’t she just make Knockout think she had the bone in the box so that he’d release Fowler? This is definitely the most moronic part of the episode, and it makes Knockout’s line of “try as you might, you can’t con a ‘Con” into something of a joke when it clearly wasn’t supposed to be one. And this whole bargain isn’t helped by the fact that, with June telling Knockout that she hid the bone on a train car, he’s now able to deduce which car she hid it on by the fact that only one train is leaving the yard out of the fifty or so present. I can’t believe that this person knows medicine but can’t think a single step ahead in her plan here.

Well, this is where all the plots collide. Jack called Arcee up to let her know that his mom and Fowler were in trouble, so they’re now on Knockout’s tail; Starscream’s managed to get Soundwave to get the dish back up, much to Megatron’s fury; and so we’re all set for the final fight with Megatron sending in a few Insecticons to handle the two Autobots. This chase/fight is pretty good. It’s at night which really does wonders with how the light plays on the various Transformer models, and the music and camera angles keep things fast and tightly paced. I like that Arcee’s able to just kill an Insecticons with a single blast from her handgun that she got from Ultra Magnus back in “Rebellion”- as one TFW2005 podcaster noted, this is Season Three Arcee, so her badass level has been raised significantly since Season One! Knockout manages to get the bone and escape back to base, but Wheeljack does manage to save Fowler and June.

In the coda, Wheeljack decides to make up with Bulkhead, closing out that theme for the episode a little more quickly than I would have liked, and on the Nemesis, the Predacon begins showing signs of further intelligence, entering Starscream’s access code and familiarizing himself with the ship’s database. Spooky!

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Plus One” is 6/10. There’s some good balance here between the two plots, with Wheeljack and Arcee’s conversations as welcome breaths of fresh air in an all-too stale relic hunt formula, though I think Wheeljack’s character arc could have finished a little stronger. Fowler and June carry the episode pretty well, though the middle in the train yard drags just a bit too long. Having Knockout be the main antagonist is always nice to see, but the broken communications plot contrivance was such a poor excuse for him to star that it almost does him a disservice of sorts, and June’s attempt at being clever just falls flat. There’s some good subtle humor with Jack and Raf, and I liked the ending fight. Couple that with some strong character work with Arcee and Wheeljack and this rounds out to a fairly standard episode of Prime. What made this episode popular was definitely the overt winks that the writers made to the Tumblr shipping fandom as this had two pairings that have become quite the catch, and while I’ve found Fowler and June as a couple to be a little odd, it’s not something that I’m outright against. “Plus One” did make me love Wheeljack and Arcee as characters even more, both as individuals and as a pair too, so that’s a good thing!

These three episodes for a kind of loose arc, similar to the T Arc back in Season Two. I think these three succeed where that arc failed though for two reasons. First, I feel the three-episode format makes things tighter, and that’s also due to the condensed nature of the season overall. Second, as I’ve said before these episodes are more character-focussed than plot-focussed, and each one offered a uniqueness that the others didn’t have. The T Arc tried to do that as well, but rarely did it succeed- Optimus’ and Bulkhead’s episodes came the closest. What helps with these three episodes also is the fact that the Autobots are split up into groups, and they’re groups are ones that we haven’t seen a whole lot of before now, certainly not to this character interplay degree that we had with Smokescreen and Bumblebee or with Wheeljack and Arcee. The plots of these episodes are largely external with the internal character dynamics driving the episodes forward. Overall, in terms of learning from your mistakes, the writers really nailed these three episodes, going from a fairly average one to two pretty solid endeavors. Next time, we’ll see just how much Predacon has evolved since his introduction!

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