May 20, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Out of His Head

A plan so epic, not even the mighty Stan Lee could have conceived it!

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 1, episode 14, “Out of His Head”

This episode picks up shortly after the last episode, with Optimus getting a checkup by Ratchet, and yes, Megatron running around in Bumblebee’s head too. It’s actually a pretty freaky image, with Megatron’s head just kinda floating there surrounded by black emptiness. He makes his objective clear:

“I must reclaim my body, which means taking complete and total control of yours!”

Bumblebee’s character is the weakest out of the bunch, and especially here in the middle of Season One, he’s pretty bland. Because he can’t speak, we don’t really get to delve into his personality a whole lot beyond the basics: like, we can tell when he’s angry, sad, surprised- and make no mistake, the animators did a fantastic job having his face and body emote all of that- but in terms of character development, there’s not a whole lot to him. He’s the kid-appeal character, so it seems odd to me that he’s the one devoid of a voice; you’d think that a kid’s show would want their kid-friendly character to be able to be, y’know, relatable in some way. And I guess Raf could stand in for that, but given what we find out in this episode, I’m not too sure that holds up to scrutiny.

As Bulkhead and Bumblebee shoot some hoops, Megatron starts to make his push into Bumblebee’s brain, causing him to have visions of Megatron’s own memories, reliving past events, even showing him a clip or two from Fifty Shades of Grey, and really, when you see a few scenes from that film, you’re completely entitled to throw a metal ball at someone’s head, as Bumblebee does to Bulkhead here. Megatron’s control grows stronger later on as he figures out how he survived the Space Bridge explosion in the first place, remembering that Starscream plucked the Dark Energon shard from his chest in “Masters and Students”. And remember, Megatron was barely conscious at that point, so his mind must be about as sharp as Monk’s. Well, old habits are hard to break, so Megatron vows that he’s gonna tear Starscream a new one once he’s back in command.

Speaking of Starscream, let’s check in with him. I love Starscream this episode; we haven’t gotten to it yet, but his plan is just so… well, I’ll get to that when we get there. For now, though, he’s perfectly happy to gloat over Megatron’s body. I particularly like his dialogue here too:

“The Decepticons need a leader, not a decorative centerpiece. And I will convince them that I am the true heir to your throne with a plan so epic…”

"Not even the mighty Megatron could have conceived it?"

I don’t know, something about that second sentence there just has me chuckling. Anyway, Knockout interrupts before Starscream can finish this diatribe, and much like their interactions last episode, this one feels a bit strange. I honestly didn’t realize how much the Starscream/Knockout shippers had to draw on in canon until I rewatched these two episodes. Look at this, Knockout’s practically drooling at Starscream’s feet here.

Meanwhile, Bumblebee’s back at the Autobot base, having forgotten to pick Raf up for school. Megatron now seems to have control over his body as well as his mind, because he instructs Bumblebee to break one of Ratchet’s tools. A nice touch of animation is how Bumblebee’s pupils contract when Megatron is in control; it helps to distinguish when he’s really Bumblebee and when he’s, well, completely insane. It also vaguely ties back into how this episode began, with a shot of Optimus’ eye contracting also. Flimsy, sure, but hell, this is a Bumblebee episode; you’re not gonna find a whole lot of symbolism here.

Ratchet confronts Bumblebee on the matter of him, y’know, breaking all his shit- as Ratchet frequently says, he needs that stuff, for science of course. But Ratchet’s more concerned about Bumblebee:

“What has gotten into you?... You’re seeing Megatron’s face?”

I wonder what would happened if I came to my physician and just said “y’know, doc, I’m not feeling too well, I think Megatron’s face is trying to hurt me.”

Well, this is Ratchet we’re talking about here, so after facing down an army of zombies, Scraplets, and dealing with whatever problem of the weak they’ve had to take on, this is a very quiet day for him, so he has Bumblebee put in power-down mode so that his mind can clear… Bumblebee’s mind, that is, not Ratchets- although I’m sure Ratchet’s mind could use some peace and quiet too.  I find it a bit odd that this wasn’t addressed when Ratchet checked Bumblebee over initially; Raf even brings this up in dialogue too:

“You said Bumblebee was fine when you checked him over.”

“Physically, but the experience he endured seems to be having a temporary effect on his psyche.”

So, you’ll give Optimus a full checkup, even make sure his eyes are okay before giving him a clean bill of health, but after Bumblebee has endured a Cortical Psychic Patch, you’ll skip over his psychological evaluation? Uh-huh. This just seems like a glaringly obvious thing that Ratchet just avoided for some reason.

Fowler calls up the ‘bots to inform them that the Decepticons are stealing Earth tech again- y’know for a primitive planet, we sure have a lot of shit that builds powerful Transformers stuff. I mean, we have a tesseract, stuff to build Space Bridges, Groundbridges, Omega Locks, not to mention all the Energon we have in the Earth thanks to our planet being Unicron himself- anyway, Fowler says that this time, the ‘Cons stole some powerful telescope’s primary lens, even though telescopes don’t use lenses, they use mirrors. But that’s okay; we have an almost-dead guy inhabiting another person’s body, a doctor who can’t remember to give the proper checkups to people, and we’re about to find that Starscream’s evil plan is to melt some glaciers with a heat ray like some silver-age Marvel villain- logic can just sit this one out.

Anyway, yes, Starscream’s plan is to mine an unmineable Energon deposit by melting a good chunk of the Arctic with his heat ray. I have to admit I love this plan. It’s so ridiculous and cartoonish in just the right ways to make all this somehow work. Even the shape of the heat ray is super cliché, having the lens just bolted onto the end of a complicated bulky body there. The plan itself is not the most ambitious, but in terms of keeping things going for the Decepticons, this one doesn’t have too bad of an objective- they’re looking for Energon, so why not try and get their hands on the biggest pile of Energon ever? And it fits right in with the theme of Starscream’s plans up to this point, that being epic, but also really, really bad ideas.

Meanwhile, Raf is talking to an unconscious Bumblebee, telling him stories about racing and school and such. It’s a nice scene I guess, marred only by the fact that this isn’t actually too dissimilar to what they normally do; Raf talks and Bumblebee only responds in bleeps and bloops, which to us translates into nothing, so the situation hasn’t really changed from an audience perspective. It’s one of the problems when you create a mute character; you have to be able to give us other ways of identifying with him, and sadly Bumblebee and Raf’s relationship doesn’t really do that. There’s an attempt at a theme around family thrown in here for good measure, but it just seems so on the surface. Indeed, when Raf shows Ratchet a picture of his family, Raf remarks that it’s a very large family. And that’s all we get out of it. It would have been nice to get at least a story thrown in about Raf’s family, his relationship to them. We do get a good line where Raf says, “sometimes I can shout and no one hears me. But Bumblebee always listens.” That’s a nice line and helps to establish their relationship a bit more, but again, it just feels so banal that it doesn’t amount to much, certainly not to the level of connectivity we have with Jack and Arcee, or Miko and Bulkhead.

Bumblebee wakes up, possessed by Megatron, and activates the GroundBridge, startling Raf and Ratchet. Well, as has been established, Megatron’s memory is actually better than some of the writers’ on the show actually, so he bridges over where Ratchet and Optimus fought the undead Decepticons back in “Darkness Rising, Part 4”, and remembers exactly where he dropped the Dark Energon crystal to make his undead army, and even after doing that, and after all this time, the Dark Energon crystal is still both in one piece and, as we’ll later learn, powerful enough to restore an entire being to life. Damn. Unicron’s blood is really powerful! Bumblebee- and for simplicity I’m just sticking with that, because switching between the two now would just get more confusing- takes the Dark Energon, reasoning that he can restore Megatron’s real body with it, so that’s good, we have that piece of the puzzle.

Bumblebee returns, taking out Ratchet and takes off again, heading over to the Decepticon warship this time. Ratchet deduces what we already know, and what’s weird is that he does it in a much better way. Prime seems to have a habit of letting the audience in on stuff too early (just see my “Con Job” review if you want to know how much I hate that), and it’s a real shame because this reveal is actually pretty good: Raf is startled, Ratchet reflects back on his past mistakes this episode of not diagnosing Bumblebee properly and so forth- everything here fits with the established points of the episode, and yet it all falls flat because we already knew all this stuff anyway. Anyway, Ratchet prepares to follow in Bumblebee’s wake, but Raf insists that he come too, saying that Bumblebee needs him, and Ratchet greets this pat TV trope as how I think most people do:

“*Sigh*, oh, of course he does.”

And back to the B-plot. Optimus, Bulkhead, and Arcee attempt to stop the big heat ray from melting the icecaps… yeah, I actually wrote that sentence out! Bulkhead and Arcee rush the ship, and Starscream deploys Breakdown to deal with them, and he does in typical Adam Baldwin fashion: just smashing himself straight into the ground and hoping the shockwave takes the two ‘bots out! Baldwin, by the way, is suitably wasted in his role as Breakdown this episode; I think he has one line of actual dialogue between all the pre-recorded grunts, laughs, and shouts that he does. Y’know, I have to wonder how a voice actor can keep himself from laughing when in the recording booth for his audio tracks for that kind of thing. I’d be really self-conscious the whole time while laughing and yelling like an idiot- like, do the voice director people instruct the actors to invoke different emotions into their grunts so as to fully master their craft, or do they just kinda wing it? Here’s a fun tidbit: a voice actor allegedly passed out during a transformation sequence on Dragon Ball Z. Yes, really!

But I digress. Ratchet and Raf Bridge onto the ship, locating Bumblebee who’s already hooked himself up to Megatron’s body. Ratchet attempts to stop him, but gets punched and knocked out for his troubles. It was stated earlier that the Cortical Psychic Patch acted as a two-way conduit, so I don’t know why the writers didn’t do something with that, maybe have Bumblebee inhabit Megatron’s body for a brief scene before restoring everyone. That would have actually be a fun scene to have in there- Bumblebee trying to speak in his bleep-bloop voice but with Frank Welker’s deep Megatron voice as the vocalizer. Actually, Welker does the “lines” for ‘Bee before they’re mixed by the sound people anyway, so it would have been a nice in-joke too. Of course, it makes sense and would have been funny, so we obviously can’t have any of that in here.

What we get is still fine though. Raf attempts to talk Bumblebee out of doing this, calling back to the scene earlier where Raf was talking about his family with Ratchet. It’s a decent follow-through I’ll give them that. I particularly like how Megatron (and the audience, I think) can’t believe that Raf’s words can actually get through and override his control of ‘Bee for a brief time, with a resounding “UNBELIEVABLE!!!” that just makes you want to stand up and applaud. I always found this kind of stuff cheesy and I still do, and Megatron’s in total agreement with that it seems, as he again retakes control of Bumblebee. After Ratchet pulls the plug on Megatron’s body, he gets thrown around again (this is really not Ratchet’s episode, poor guy). And Bumblebee still has the Dark Energon, so this is pretty moot all things considered.

Raf tries again to get Bumblebee to stop, but it’s not working, and we get this really creepy slow turn-around that Bumblebee does now, glaring down at Raf, and Megatron delivering the line:

“Bumblebee can’t here you anymore!”

Something about that sequence really works for me. I think’s it’s the mechanical sounds that go along with Bumblebee’s turn coupled with the music, and that really angry expression on his face, doubly impressive considering that the guy doesn’t even have a mouth to frown or snarl with- it’s all in his eyes and eyebrows and it’s really chilling!

This also could serve as the point where Bumblebee and Megatron’s loose feud begins. This is Megatron not only vaguely threatening Bumblebee’s best friend, but also speaking through Bumblebee, an act that you just know is taunting Bumblebee as a person who can’t speak. I really like this line and how it plays with the vague arc that these two go on through the show too. It makes the finale seem all the more poignant, because not only is Bumblebee killing Megatron and making an awesome declaration while doing so, but that declaration now has even more context: instead of just referring back to Megatron tearing out his voice box, Bumblebee’s line in “Deadlock” could also refer to this moment right here, when Megatron used Bumblebee’s body to speak to Raf. Megatron also now calls Bumblebee out by name (whereas before, he only referred to Bumblebee as “scout”), and that too could play into the finale’s subtext. Thin, perhaps, but I do like that Bumblebee killed Megatron instead of Optimus, both for its originality and because we had context for it with episodes like this one.

Bumblebee plunges the Dark Energon into Megatron’s chest, downloads Megatron’s mind back into his body, and then, in addition to having such a sharp memory he can remember stuff vividly despite being barely conscious and gaining mastery over a foreign body in a matter of hours, now to complete his “badass” point summery, Megatron just gets off the table and walks out. Damn! Not even a groan or anything, he just up and leaves! That’s why he’s the boss, I guess.

Meanwhile, Optimus scales a glacier and launches himself at the warship. I really need to do better with these transition sentences; sorry! Um, oh! And here’s Breakdown’s one line of dialogue!

“I’m gonna put you on ice!”

That… that’s it? I mean, yeah, it’s a kid’s show and you need at least one location-specific pun per episode, but… I mean, come on, people. Have some respect! This is a guy who can make wearing an orange beanie while holding an overly complicated gun look completely amazing, the least you could do is give him a good line. Ah well. Whatever, the episode’s almost over anyway.

It’s 2AM as I’m writing this, by the way, so that’s mostly why I’m kinda going completely insane with this one. Optimus gets to the ship, and Starscream, continuing his ‘60s comic book villainy, turns the heat ray around so that it’s now blasting at Optimus. Well, this version of Optimus is pretty tough, so getting bombarded by a heat ray that can melt polar icecaps, that’s no problem for him. In fact, between this and Megatron’s memory and mind/body possession powers, the two leaders of this series must be on some pretty powerful steroids! I knew character shields were tough, but damn! Optimus destroys the heat ray (and that’s the last time you’ll read that name on here, trust me!), and Starscream attempts to salvage this defeat by aiming his weapons at Prime for the kill, declaring that “Megatron’s greatest mistake was ever allowing [him] to live”. But before he can fire, Megatron himself swoops in and collides with Starscream, taking him back to the warship. I love this exchange between the two here:

“Lord Megatron! You… are… you’re healed! Praise the Allspark! It is a miracle!”

“Oh, it will be a miracle alright, Starscream, if you survive what I have planned for you!”

“But… the Autobots! Optimus, right there, waiting for you!”

“My greatest mistake? I’ve made a few, but there is one that I do not intend to make again!”

Yeah, good luck getting yourself out of that one, ‘Scream!

Back at base, Ratchet finally does do the proper examination of Bumblebee (at least I’m assuming it’s a psyche-eval, or else this just proves that Ratchet just doesn’t learn form his mistakes). Bumblebee says thanks to Raf, and the episode closes on a pat TV ending that would make Megatron cry out again “UNBELIEVABLE!!!”

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Out of His Head” is 7/10. There’s some good action and a really funny and enjoyable B-plot for this episode. The Bumblebee and Raf character stuff could have been handled better, but for what it was, I’d say it was fine. The final third of the episode is what made this work for me, as both plots merged and gelled pretty well. The return of Megatron, while seeming like nothing new now, was actually pretty effective when this first aired, at least to me, because this was the fourteenth episode of the show, and the eighth to not have Megatron in a primary villain role. That’s a pretty big gap to not have your main antagonist (especially considering that Optimus' and Megatron's rivalry is one of the most familiar aspects of the lore), and Starscream’s command, while certainly not as large-scale as Megatron, made for some entertaining episodes. And the Megatron/Bumblebee rivalry has its start here, and I think gives a stronger reading of the finale overall.

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