May 18, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Sick Mind

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 1, episode 13, “Sick Mind”

We’re running out of episodes to do! I actually picked this two-parter because I think it ties in nicely with what happened in “Deadlock”, y’know, the whole Bumblebee-killed-Megatron thing. That loose thread of character arc has its roots here, though more so in the next episode. I kinda like that I get to revisit Season One, too. This episode comes right in the middle of the season; Megatron’s been offline for a whopping eight whole episodes, Starscream is still in his early badass mode, and Optimus still has his old body that is awesome.

The episode starts out with Ratchet announcing to everyone that they’ve pinpointed the Decepticon warship. Not on purpose, of course; Ratchet just happened to stumble upon it, which is pretty awesome luck for them. Everyone’s chomping at the bit to do some crippling damage to the ‘Cons, but there just so happens to be another ship detected on the same frequency… and it’s an Autobot ship, and we later find out that it’s been here on Earth for centuries… y’know, I’m not the biggest fan of Season Two, but my god, at least those devices were buried in rock or inside ancient ruins or whatever, and they had a convenient plot device that brought them all here. But Season One manages to outdo even that implausibility and just doesn’t even bother with an explanation of how this ship got here, and the fact that tis just out in the open like this doesn’t help.

Anyway, the purpose of this ship is so that Optimus can get infected, because you see, this is plague ship, and its occupants all died due to a virus… and we later find out that it’s called Cybonic Plague… and it seems to infect its prey in ways that are not like that of a virus or a plague, so… man, we’re not starting off on the right foot today, are we, episode? Well, Optimus is infected, so that means that Ratchet will have to find a cure. He doesn’t have one on hand see, because this thing isn’t even a naturally occurring disease, virus, or plague for that matter, but instead a Decepticon-engineered contagion designed by Megatron himself. Wow. So, the ‘Cons not only managed to rebuild the Omega Lock from scratch even though it’s a mystical device, not only did they manage to create impenetrable armor that can change sizes depending on the wearer, not only did they manage to clone deadly beast supersoldiers, but they also had a whole division of their forces devoted to bio warfare! And I actually like the idea that “bio” warfare is even a thing for a race of machines, because it reinforces the idea that these people aren’t just made out of machinery, but are also in some small way organic. It also kinda makes you wonder how this Cybonic Plague thing and the Tox En played out in the war. Did the two ever work in tandem, deployed at the same time? Were they developed at the same time, or was one able to be countered so Megatron had to whip up another deadly thing? All of this is moot; I’m just speculating because it’s fun (translation: complete and utter padding).

Well, they’ll need a cure, so Ratchet gets the brilliant idea of going to the Decepticon warship, hacking the computer, and getting the information they need. They still have a fix on the warship’s frequency, after all- and don’t expect that to change throughout the whole episode. I do like how Ratchet assumes command in this scene, though. Normally, command would fall to Arcee probably, but this is clearly a medical crisis, not a combat one, and so it makes sense that Ratchet gets to be in charge here. And Ratchet is able to hold his own as commander nicely; he’s not Ultra Magnus-levels of ornery, but he’s also treating this with the attention it deserves. That’ll come back when we cover “Stronger, Faster”.

I also like that the Autobots are very collected and professional about this; they’re not losing their heads in this crisis, and while that may derail the tension of Optimus’ plight, I think it serves more so as a reflection of how solid the team is in the early portion of the season, and casts an eerie shadow on how the team will develop as a family over the course of the series- when Optimus gets taken in “Orion Pax, Part 1”, the team is fractured and disorganized; when Bulkhead is near death, Wheeljack and Miko take matters into their own hands; the Autobots are split up literally at the beginning of Season Three; and so forth. Looking at this episode in retrospect really serves to illustrate how bright things were back here in the first season, and helps to recognize that these characters will grow throughout the show’s run. I really like that.

Arcee and Bumblebee go onto the ship, but the cure isn’t in the ship’s database. Bumblebee discovers that Megatron is actually alive, which is surprising for the Autobots to learn. Not for us, though; we saw Starscream pick him up, remember? And they devoted a good chunk of another episode explaining that Megatron was receiving medical treatment- that’s the whole reason Knockout and Breakdown were in the show in the first place. So this discovery isn’t all that exciting from an audience perspective. The writers do manage to make it intimidating and have the tension there all the same, however, as Bumblebee and Arcee marvel at that fact that… well, Megatron survived a Space Bridge explosion- I mean, that has “Like a Boss” written all over it, even if he is in a coma!

Arcee wants to just pull the plug now and kill him for good, but Ratchet says that Megatron could be the only person around who knows of a cure for Optimus’ condition, so now he comes up with a new plan: since Megatron’s brain is still functioning, just hook up either your or Bumblebee’s brain to Megatron’s and get the cure that way. Yeah, that won’t end badly. This is where we are introduced to the Cortical Psychic Patch, something that will be well-worn by series’ end. Bumblebee’s willing to risk it, so they hook him up and let the Inception-inspired tale begin!

Let’s cut over to some Decepticons; we’re on their ship after all, might as well show them. Starscream’s chewing out some poor Vehicon for not fixing the shielding fast enough, ordering him to work harder lest the Autobots detect them. Knockout shows up, informing Starscream of Megatron’s prognosis, that Megatron’s brain is still functioning even though his body’s pretty much scrap at this point. The two then get into a really weird conversation about how Starscream’s going to lead the Decepticons once Megatron’s dead, with Knockout vying for position as second in command. It’s a weird scene, probably only meant to throw a bone to the Starscream/Knockout shippers out there. Still, it does provide a couple of good character beats for Starscream, because here he’s still, y’know, able to respected and not pitied like he would be in future seasons, so he’s suitably menacing and clever here.

Back in the A-plot, Bumblebee’s now inside Megatron’s head, wandering around a simulated version of Kaon, the Decepticon capitol. This is where the episode starts to become a bit bland, because sadly, we don’t really see anything interesting in here. This would have been a good opportunity to show us a flawed Megatron, a Megatron who’s brain didn’t automatically go into “kill Optimus Prime” mode once he slept. The actual episode shows that Megatron’s subconscious is cooking up scenarios where Megatron must slay the Autobots over and over again. It might seem weird that I’m saying this considering that I drone on and on about the relationship between Optimus and Megatron all the time, but it’s actually because of that relationship that I don’t find this dream sequence to be at all interesting. One could argue that this is Megatron’s eternal hell, that since he’s never been able to kill Optimus in the real world, he’s now doomed to only live that dream out in his own head, with the realization that he’ll never be able to do it for real forever taunting him. But I still don’t buy it because first, Megatron’s relationship with Optimus isn’t just about his want to kill Prime, but more about him wanting to show him his own side of the issue that they’re fighting over. That’s why he went as far as he did with Optimus is the “Orion Pax” arc. I think it would have been more interesting to have Optimus and Megatron on the same team here in the dream world; that would have all kinds of thematic and character-based possibilities. As it is, well, I mean, I kinda expected what we ended up getting when I sat down to watch the episode for the first time.

It also doesn’t help that Bumblebee has nothing to say to Megatron regarding either of their characters, nothing to bridge the two as people. I’m getting into spoilers for next episode, but having a specific bond established here would have helped made the tension in “Out of His Head” work much better, I think. It’s not as if there’s anything for these two to reflect on… except we do find out later that Bumblebee had his voice box crushed by Megatron himself, and it’s not as if that information wasn’t available at the time of this episode’s writing; that was established in the Exodus novel that had come out about a year ago from this point. That again would have had more of an impact on Bumblebee’s character, and it would have made these scenes much more interesting to watch in my opinion. That's why I say that Bumblebee's rivalry with Megatron really starts next episode, because here, there's just not a whole lot to work with. As it stands, these scenes mainly to move the plot along, which again is fine, especially here considering the running time; there’s only so much you can pack into a 22-minute show, after all.

While Bumblebee’s trying to get the cure, Starscream, Knockout, and Soundwave come into the medical bay where Megatron is, with both Starscream and Knockout trying to convince Soundwave to pull the plug on Megatron, saying that it’s the most honorable thing to do at this point. Also, they’re shields are still down and the Autobots can still pick up their signal at any point, so you might want to devote more resources to that, Starscream, rather than trying to get your old boss killed right this second; it’s not like Megatron’s going anywhere after all.

Well, all this has Arcee antsy, and Ratchet says that if Starscream pulls the plug on Megatron while Bumblebee’s still in his head, Bumblebee’s mind will be lost forever- kind of like what’s happened to the Michael Bay Transformers film franchise, come to think of it. Luckily for them, Soundwave is persistent in trying to keep Megatron alive, going so far as to point out how Megatron’s brain is still at work, and when Knockout says that brainwave activity is no indication of consciousness (so again, not too dissimilar from the Bay films), Soundwave’s next plan is to point out how any random thing is out of place here, pointing to the cable connecting Bumblebee to Megatron. Nice; next he’ll make Starscream straighten all the paperwork out on the desk and fill in the little bubbles with the number 2 pencils. My god! The agony!

Well, Arcee’s in a real pinch now, and back in the dream world, Bumblebee’s finally managed to coax Megatron into at least showing him the cure, saying that if Optimus dies in the real world from this, then Megatron’s dream won’t come true. This is the only part of this that manages to hint at what I think could have been the driving force of the episode. It’s a brief glimpse of that, and then right back to the plot. Megatron says that once Bumblebee releases him from this mental prison, he’ll have the cure in full, but luckily Ratchet’s on hand to replay Bumblebee’s footage of Megatron (they’d set up a visual downlink earlier so that the rest of the ‘bots back at base could see what was going on), and manages to get the cure anyway. So that’s good, and Arcee disconnects Bumblebee’s brain from Megatron’s head.

But apparently the writers themselves forgot that Megatron’s been dreaming even before Bumblebee got in there, as the whole dream world starts to collapse with ‘Bee’s disappearance. It’s a little strange, as Bumblebee should be the only one there to disappear, but whatever. The two Autobots manage to escape even as Starscream discovers them (how freaking long was that cable?), and Arcee blasts the main tube connecting Megatron to life support for good measure.

Optimus makes a full recovery, and everything’s okay. Except it seems that Megatron hitched a ride inside Bumblebee’s head, because we see at the end of the episode that Megatron is indeed “out, or should I say, in!”

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Sick Mind” is 6/10- slightly above average for Prime. This makes sense considering that this was the point in Season One where things seemed at their most episodic; I was actually surprised at the “to be continued” card coming up at the end there when I first watched this because it had been so stand-alone for a while now. The stuff with Bumblebee and Megatron work okay but feel a bit underdone. I liked how Ratchet took command and some of the effects in the dream world were pretty cool (the image for this review is one of my favorite shots from this episode, actually), and seeing Starscream in command and not being sad for once is a nice change of pace. On Wednesday, we’ll see how things resolve in “Out of His Head”.

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