You're really not winning any favors this episode, Arcee (and nor are you, Miko!)
Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 1, episode 15, “Shadowzone”
I realize now that I’m actually covering this that it would’ve been smarter had I done this directly after doing “Out of His Head”, since some of this ties directly back into that story. Also, all of this month’s episodes would have probably made more sense coming before my discussion of the finale to the series, but whatever; this is my site where I’m late almost all the time and lazy the rest of the time. “Shadowzone” is a very flawed episode, which is probably why I’ve put off reviewing it until now. It’s just not that entertaining, and the parts that are entertaining are few and far between. This is a kid’s-focused episode with enough technobabble that makes no sense to give Star Trek Voyager a run for its money, interrupted by the occasional funny scene. It’s harmless, really, but it’s also pretty boring. There’s not a whole lot to talk about with this episode in terms of character, so brace yourself for a good helping of summery with this review (sorry).
We start out with Starscream and Megatron having a conversation about loyalty, and considering Megatron’s threat in “Out of His Head”, I think Starscream’s getting off super easy here. I guess we’re meant to infer that Megatron beat him up a lot, and the damage to his body certainly backs that up, but I don’t know; this isn’t any different than any other time Starscream’s been Megatron’s bitch, so what the hell? After Megatron leaves, Starscream gets up and retrieves his own shard of Dark Energon (the original one that Megatron had), and plans to get himself super powered up with it. This begs the question as to why Megatron didn’t inquire as to where the original shard went after Starscream plucked it from his chest. I’d assume Megatron would want to stop Starscream for this very reason, but no, apparently Starscream’s free to just stash it anywhere.
The Autobots are alerted to Starscream’s Dark Energon signal, but they think it’s actually Megatron. Everyone’s on edge about what they think Megatron could be up to, reasoning that if he recruited an undead army once, he could do it again. They’re only half wrong- Starscream is actually planning on raising an undead army, and he’s beginning with Skyqueke, the dude from “Masters and Students”. Chucking half of the shard into the burial site and the other half into himself, Starscream gets all BURNING JUSTICE purple. Meanwhile, Optimus orders that he, Bumblebee, Bulkhead, and Ratchet will go out into the field to stop Megatron, sticking Arcee on GroundBridge duty, and get used to that, because that’s the entire reason things go the way they do this episode. Anyway, Optimus is sending Ratchet out there because they might need a medic to help out with Dark Energon exposure. (And yes, I realized right after I rewatched this one that I made a mistake in my “Stronger, Faster” review saying that Ratchet hadn’t been out in the field since the “Darkness Rising” arc, sorry).
Miko’s acting very reserved and calm given the situation- earlier she had perked up at the mention of Dark Energon, and she’s been rather miffed that she didn’t get to see Optimus and Ratchet throw down in the opening of the season, so this is a little surprising for her. Jack and Raf are on edge about this, and sure enough as the Autobots depart, Miko makes a break for it… with Arcee standing right there, and not even giving a shit. We’ve seen Ratchet operate the GroundBridge while holding entire conversations- hell, Raf used it and didn’t even worry about any of the technical stuff besides just pulling the lever down. Anyway, the kids go through despite Jack’s protest, but in their haste, Miko’s phone slips from her belt.
Optimus and the others find Starscream, and it’s taking a really long time for his one dead warrior to rise- it only took Megatron seconds to raise an entire army last time- and the fight begins. Starscream’s pretty confident during this, boasting of how he can’t be harmed while Dark Energon is inside him. Then Optimus just shoots his arm off! Damn. Well, Starscream’s pretty screwed now, missing an arm and apparently having a really crappy wifi signal on his Dark Energon zombie, because it still hasn’t risen yet. Faced with that, Starscream calls for a GroundBridge, and around the same time is when Miko’s yelling at Jack for no reason alerts the Autobots to their presence, and so they send for a GroundBridge too.
So yes, there are now two GroundBridges online at the same time… and considering how this is a war and how Space Bridge technology was rampant on both sides, you shouldn’t be surprised that Ratchet and the others are a bit taken aback by there being two portals that can transport troops instantaneously to the battlefield, because the last thing anyone would want in this conflict is to play unfairly, right? Starscream makes it back to the warship alright, but soon after that, there’s a big explosion, and the kids are now in an alternate dimension. So congratulations, Arcee and Miko, you two are responsible not only for getting the kids trapped in an alternate dimension, but also indirectly responsible for letting Starscream get away with his Dark Energon and with a potential zombie on the loose.
After some back and forth, the kids deduce that they’ve ben transported to another dimension- Raf labels it a Shadowzone- and this is backed up by the fact that nothing in the “real” world can see, hear, or touch them, exemplified when Bulkhead just walks right through Miko. It’s weird how they can see and hear the Autobots, though; you’d think that with an alternate dimension, this type of thing would work both ways. Anyway, the Autobots find Skyquake’s tomb empty… and I love this: Optimus brushes this off, preferring instead to look for the kids. I like to imagine that he’s more worried about getting into some serious shit with the kids’ parents than another Decepticon zombie. Given that Jack’s mom gives him a stern talking to in “One Shall Rise, Part 2” and what we see two episodes later in “Crisscross”, he’s probably making a wise decision here.
The kids also discover much to their horror that Skyquake has actually somehow been transported to the Shadowzone along with them. No explanation is given as to why or how- presumably the explosion caused him to get trapped here, but if that’s the case, why is it that the Autobots themselves didn’t get trapped either? Why is Starscream’s arm- as we’ll soon see- here as well?
Skyquake begins chasing the kids- and get used to that, by the way, as this is a good portion of the action for this episode- and Raf trips and falls, losing his glasses, and Miko has to rush out and get them so that he can see again. With this anemic action out of the way, we cut to the Autobots back at base, and Bumblebee gets the idea to just call the kids to find out what the hell. Bulkhead tries calling Miko’s phone, but since it’s back at base where they are, that doesn’t do them a whole lot of good. Oddly, Arcee’s call to Jack does go through… but only the signal; they can’t actually hear each other. Okay… but how though? What happens next is both clever and just raises more questions. Since the phone is getting a signal, Jack decides to text Miko’s phone so that the Autobots can read what’s going on. Okay, that’s all well and good, and is actually a nice bit of contrivance… but why is it that texting works but speech doesn’t? That’ll have to wait, however, as the zombified Skyquake catches up to them and they have to run again. They do bump into Starscream’s arm that was left here though, so that’s good.
Speaking of Starscream, he’s trying to get Knockout to get him another arm. But Knockout is a doctor, even if he is a Decepticon, so Starscream’s put in that awkward position that everyone’s been in with their doctor, having to explain what happened:
"Uh, Starscream, I don't quite understand how this could have happened."
"And yet, it DID! Can you imagine my horror? There I am, minding my own business, when my arm just falls off! Clearly, Megatron inflicted more damage upon me than you realized, Doctor..."
Y’know, I may give this episode shit, but these scenes between Starscream and Knockout here are actually what help keep this episode buoyant. This also provides the writers with a good excuse to drop some Transformers references with the various arm options that Knockout proposes, so that’s nice. Starscream doesn’t want a new model, though, so Knockout suggests that they try to repair the original. But Starscream doesn’t have that either:
“It was… beyond recovery.”
I’d love to have seen Starscream trying to explain that in greater detail to Knockout, trying to fit it in with his lame story about how his arm magically fell off. “And then it proceeded to destroy itself as I looked down upon it in great disbelief and horror!”
Meanwhile, the kids have managed to roll the arm into firing position, and Raf remembers that Starscream made his missile fire by flexing his finger, so they do that and hit Syquake dead on, and then his arm falls off too. This victory is short-lived as the arm apparently has sentience now, even though it was established in “Darkness Rising, Part 4” that the zombies no longer function when cut to pieces- they even showed an arm of a zombie in that episode going offline. Then again, the zombified Cliffjumper still functioned after being sliced in half, so who the hell knows. Anyway, now the kids have two threats after them, and the arm can move far more quickly than the zombie itself can.
The Autobots finally notice Miko’s phone lighting up from Jack’s text message, and I do love Kevin Michael Richardson’s Bulkhead reading of the message:
“‘In alternate dimension with zombie. Help’.”
It’s that added “help” that just sells that. Optimus asks Ratchet if they can pinpoint the cell phone’s signal, and I like Ratchet’s response:
"In a parallel dimensional plane?! ... Let's find out."
That right there folks is everyone just resigning themselves to the stupidity of this episode.
On the warship, Starscream notices that his Dark Energon shard is pulsing and realizes that Skyquake must now finally be active, so he moves to leave. Knockout arrives then with… probably the most ridiculous looking arm ever: this thing is literally a hand bolted onto a bunch of missile pods. Starscream leaves, using the excuse that he’s going to retrieve his original arm. I don’t know, man, you’re giving up a sweet deal here with this other arm that Knockout has.
Ratchet’s whipped up a tech-tech solution to get the kids back, leading to this nice exchange:
Ratchet: “If I can recreate the feedback loop which triggered the event, I might be able to generate a rescue portal, allowing passage from their dimension-“
Bulkhead: “Back to base?!”
Ratchet: “No! We’re talking about inter-dimensional travel here, Bulkhead! Attempting to redirect the vortex trajectory would be far too risky.”
Arcee: “Everyone knows that.”
Damn, with this kind of deadpan commentary peppering this episode, I don’t even need to review this. Seriously though, Arcee, you’re like the last person who should be sassy right now after having let the kids go in the first place!
Starscream arrives back at the gravesite just as Skyquake’s arm catches up with the kids. But luckily, Ratchet’s GroundBridge opens up then and the kids leap through, followed by Skyquake’s arm, which latches itself onto Starscream’s face. Nice!
The kids make it back, Miko owns up to her mistake (though noticeably, Arcee does not, though Optimus isn’t bothering to blame her either), and everyone’s okay. Starscream never did retrieve his limb though…
Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Shadowzone” is 4/10. The scenes between Knockout and Starscream are the best thing about this episode, and some of the deadpan snark does help elevate this, but much of the technobabble dialogue by Ratchet is more grating than usual, and the kids’ plot gets old very quickly. I also didn’t like how slowly the kids figured things out- Raf’s deduction of where they are is cringe-worthy at best and presumes very little of the show’s audience, even for a children’s cartoon. There’s very little story or substance to this, feeling more like a very light problem-of-the-week/monster-adventure than anything else. Still, this did introduce the Shadowzone which would be used to far greater affect in the finale.