April 15, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Synthesis

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 3, episode 12, “Synthesis”

Okay, so as some of you may know, I’ve been doing these reviews ahead of time and then just scheduling them to be posted… at least, that’s what I’ve been doing for the majority of Season Three; before that, yeah, I’d just write one and stick it up here right after writing it. But here, I’m doing everything about a week ahead of when it’s due, to stay up on my school work and definitely not so I can play Dragon Age: Inquisition all weekend (it's so I can watching Daredevil). So anyway, right now, I’m pretty sick, so I apologize if this review is crap and if it doesn’t flow with the tones of “Persuasion” or “Deadlock”, which I hope to have up on Friday, but depending on how I’m feeling and all that, I may push it to Saturday, I don’t know. Anyway, let’s get on with this episode so I can go back to bed. I actually really hate reviewing stuff when I’m like this because it does a disservice to the episode and to my audience, but here we go.

The episode begins with the Autobots outside their base getting ready to launch their makeshift tracking beacon drone thing they whipped up from that damaged part of Laserbeak. There plan here is to have Optimus, who is the only one of them capable of flight, follow the drone back to the Nemesis, reasoning that by the time the ‘Cons pick up his signal, it’ll be too late, and he can deliver the ship’s coordinates to the rest of his crew. It’s kind of a weird plan, especially since Optimus is so big, I would think the ‘Cons would see him coming, or at the least would find out that the signal is coming from Laserbeak who is already on the ship. But I’m sure they have that contingency covered too, right? It’s not like they’d just waltz in there without a backup plan.

On the Nemesis, Ratchet has quickly taken over Starscream’s role of ordering Knockout around. Shockwave and Ratchet talk a bit of scientific method together, all of which is made to sound smart, but being that this is a kid’s show, it winds up being convoluted for no reason. They basically just tell each other what they already know, that the cybermatter is unstable, and to stabilize it, they’ll need a completed formula for Synth En. Knockout accidentally lets slip that they let the Predacons be destroyed on purpose, though he manages to backpedal. I do like how Shockwave demonstrates a good amount of faux caring for Ratchet here- it breaks him out of just being logical for the sake of it and implies that he can be just as devious as Megatron if he want to be.

Optimus continues to follow the drone, and… I hate to keep brining this up, but I really must comment on how unconvincing many of his flying-through-the-air shots are here. I think it’s the way the camera pans around him, making it seem like he’s just motionless in the air. It takes a lot out of the potential momentum of the scene. Anyway, Fowler calls him up to get a status report, and Jack wonders what will happen when the Decepticons detect Laserbeak’s signal, and Raf says that they’re counting on Optimus to make visual contact with the Nemesis first, which really screws up this whole plan. So, either Optimus can see really really far, or the Nemesis’ radar sucks to the point that visual contact can be established before radar can pick anything up. Uh-huh.

Back on the ship, Knockout continues to grumble about being demoted to lab assistant, and man, he has every right to be mad. This poor guy has gone from glorified second in command under Starscream to being chief medical officer, then losing his best friend in what was little more than a minor sub plot for something else, then being demoted again once Shockwave showed up, and now being ordered around by the enemy. It’s no wonder he defected to the Autobots in the end. Anyway, he gets a bottle of CNA for Shockwave out, but manages to knock over a second bottle in this giant storage cabinet, blocking the sliding door to close all the way. Ratchet catches sight of this, and manages to get the bottle free without Knockout or Shockwave noticing. And I love Ratchet’s cover for this, too, saying to Knockout that he can’t find a particular instrument, and so has Knockout look for it. And from Knockout’s perspective, Ratchet’s just standing there glaring at him. It’s a scene that is meant to be somewhat dramatic and tense, but winds up just being funny simply because of how everyone is acting, and to finish things off, we get Ratchet saying “thank you” to Knockout. And the shippers go wild once again.

Meanwhile, Soundwave finally picks up the false Laserbeak signal, interrupting Megatron’s speech of the day. They’re all naturally confused by this, though Megatron fills in the blanks quickly.

"Starscream, you did destroy the Autobot base, did you not?"
"With great fervor, my lord. Why do you ask?"
"Because Laserbeak's frequency has been detected on radar."
"But that's not possible. He's right here in Soundwave's torso.”

This show gave us a couple firsts. It gave us the first Arcee in a TV show who isn’t pink, it gave us one of the coolest Starscreams since Armada, and it gave us that last line. Really, that sounds like the setup to a musical number. I like that Starscream has to point that out to everyone too, as though that argument will shut Megatron up- they have eyes, ‘Scream. Megatron resumes his default “I’m pissed off at Starscream” mode, and Starscream goes out to find out what’s the what. Also, let me point out again that they detected the false signal before Optimus made visual contact with the ship… which makes sense, so I don’t understand why the Autobots were counting on the alternative here. What they should have done was put an Autobot signal tracker on the drone, sent it up, and then when it detected the ship, GroundBridged over there. Instead, we get this really weird scene of Optimus having to squint through some dense clouds to find the drone visually, ironic considering that based on the Autobots’ plan he’d have found the ship visually before the ‘Cons picked anything up on radar.

Optimus engages Starscream and some Vehicon drones while this is going on, and the fight has its ups and downs. On the one hand, I like that all the players involved here use all three axes of direction in their dogfighting- it’s not just flying forward and backwards now, but also up and down, adding some decent variation to the camera movements and pacing. But on the other hand, having Optimus take out a bunch of drones in the sky isn’t all that exciting, and once again, this fight is all for naught. Starscream finds the drone, destroys it, and the Autobots are back to square one. So, what’s your backup plan, Optimus?

“The transponder has been destroyed. We are no closer to finding Ratchet than when we began.”

So what was the point of all of this from a story perspective? To give the Autobots more screen time? If that were the case, I think it would have been more effective to see the effect that Ratchet’s absence was having on everyone. Have the drone fail on the outset and then have that set everyone’s morale on low. They’re then forced to come up with a new plan, one more risky and shambled than the drone, illustrating how they’re on their last legs, that this war has taken so much out of them that now they’re just grasping at straws. This also could have been a neat parallel to how Ratchet was behaving at the outset of the season, having given up and lost all hope. But then, that’s just my take on it; no one’s saying it’s perfect.

Anyway, now is when things kinda go to shit for the Decepticons. Ratchet completes the formula, but Megatron’s summoning Shockwave to the bridge to oversee the final construction of the new Omega Lock reminds Ratchet that he’s helping out the bad guys here, so he causes a distraction and drives out of the lab. Again, this all falls on Knockout’s head, poor guy. Ratchet is chased while in vehicle mode… and ya gotta love this: okay, so he’s driving around the ship in vehicle mode while being chased by the Vehicon guards… but the guards don’t even bother transforming into their vehicle modes to better keep pace with Ratchet. And it’s not like these are the flying ones- these ones are the ground units not seen since I think mid-Season Two! Ratchet manages to lose them (hey, it’s not like they know the ship layout or anything), but runs straight into Megatron who just stomps on Ratchet’s hood. Ratchet tries bargaining with Megatron, saying that if he kills him, he’ll never get the formula. But it seems that the ‘Cons are also awesome at retrieving deleted data because Megatron says that they’ll get the formula from Ratchet’s false trail anyway.

And sure enough, they do, with Shockwave declaring that he’ll have everything up and running with the aid of “hyper-acceleration technology”… I couldn’t make that up if I tried. Well, Megatron has a promise to keep. See, last episode, he promised Predaking that once Ratchet had outlived his usefulness, Predaking would be able to kill him as revenge for slaughtering the Predacon clones. Shockwave meanwhile announces that the synthesis of the cybermatter to cyberform Earth is now commencing… which is weird because I always assumed that they’d want to restore their home planet first. But then, I supposed subduing a dark god before declaring yourself ruler of the world is a good precaution.

Ratchet is not having the best of days, getting tossed around by Predaking outside the ship. He tries talking to him, saying that the Autobots didn’t destroy the Predacon clones on purpose, that they were set up by Megatron.

“Why would my liege wish to destroy us?"
"Having just been on the receiving end of your might, one theory springs to mind. Megatron fears you.”

Well, Predaking’s pissed now, going on a rampage. He spares Ratchet because…

Um, so anyway, Ratchet contacts Optimus, telling him that he’s managed to disable to Decepticon’s shielding, which I guess you can just do from any panel on the wall there. So here’s what the Autobots accomplished these past two episodes: one of their number was captured and chose to aid the bad guys, while the rest tricked the Decepticons into blowing up a hanger that wasn’t their base, build a thing that broke, and kill a few Vehicons. And it’s not like that Optimus managed to locate the warship on his own; Ratchet dropped the shields and contacted him. I really wish that the Autobots’ scenes had held more in them besides a b plot, especially this close to the end of the series. Still, the scene of all of them going through the GroundBridge with all their heavy weapons as the humans look on is effective, especially with Optimus’ monologue overtop of that, saying that they’ll have to take the warship to rescue Ratchet, stop the Decepticons from cyberforming Earth, and save Christmas!

But there’s still the whole Predaking on a rampage thing to sort out before the big finale, so Megatron, Knockout, and Starscream head to their vault to get the Dark Star Saber. I don’t know why they didn’t just go get the Immobilizer; that thing’ll stop anyone in their tracks. Megatron would just need to throw Predaking off the ship after that. Or hell, he could keep him frozen there indefinitely. It doesn’t really matter though, because on the way they run into the beast himself. Knockout goes and fetches the Dark Star Saber anyway, leaving Megatron to duke it out, and the ensuing fight is actually pretty good. I love how small Megatron is compared to Predaking, and the latter throwing him around like a rag doll really gives you a sense of just how enormous this threat actually is.

I mentioned in my Season Three Overview that Predaking and the whole Predacon concept was a last-minute studio exec decision that really only served to fuck with the writers’ intended story arc. Considering that, and considering how little time they had to animate the model, work him into the story, and still have everything mesh, it’s actually a small wonder that things turned out this well. Predaking himself isn’t a complicated character, but I like how his presence on the show was less about product placement and more about a cunning tactician witnessing the birth and subsequent extinction of his people, and he added a good amount of threat to the Decepticon forces, especially in contrast to the Insecticons which by this point were pretty much as non-threatening as any of the Vehicons. And his voice actor, Peter Mensah, really gives more life to him than I would have expected for what was essentially a glorified studio Mary Su.

Anyway, this fight between Predaking and Megatron is pretty awesome. It’s short, but I think that actually helps out with getting across the idea that this is supposed to be just a brutish pure physical strength deal. The fight spills into what I’m assuming is some kind of access port room, because Megatron presses two buttons on a computer panel and a door opens up directly to the outside. He then blasts Predaking with his fusion canon, sending him out the door and into the sky. It’s a bit odd how bout Megatron and Starscream just write him off like that; they do know he can fly, right?

Knockout shows up just as the fight ends, carrying the Dark Star Saber, and it seems that his timing couldn’t be better, as the ship is now under attack. Megatron, like Optimus, doesn’t skimp on the final speech either:

“Mobilize what remains of our forces. If Optimus Prime wishes to wage a battle for the fate of both Earth and Cybertron, then I shall oblige him. This will be our last stand!”

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Synthesis” is 7/10. The first half is a bit slow, and the Autobot subplot is ponderous at best and doesn’t wind up going anywhere interesting, though the final shot of all of them preparing to storm the warship is pretty epic. I did like the scenes with Ratchet. He has a line when fighting Predaking where he says that Predaking should just kill him already, that he couldn’t live with himself knowing that he’s given the ‘Cons everything they need to cyberform Earth. It’s a good bit of character follow-through from last episode, though I wish they had capitalized on this a bit more. The second half relies heavily on action, though there is a good sense of building up to a final showdown, and the transition from this episode to the series finale is well done. I only wish the circumstances surrounding the Autobots had been a bit more interesting. Next time, we’ll take a look at the finale to Transformers Prime.

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