May 27, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews: T.M.I.

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 1, episode 21, “T.M.I.”

Apologies for not having this review up on Monday; stuff got in the way, and also I really think summer vacation is getting to me! Anyway, to make up for that, you get two reviews today, and to start, we’re finishing off our look at Bulkhead and Miko with this episode, and thankfully it fairs far better than their last outing. “T.M.I.” builds on the rather unfortunately conveyed point about how Bulkhead is not too bright from “Deus Ex Machina”, although here at least it doesn’t make an unintended jab at construction workers everywhere. What’s more, this one is far more of a character piece; while the plot is thin and the action sparse, what makes this episode work is how it hinges on the relationship between Miko and Bulkhead, especially focusing on Miko’s side of that.

It starts off really well, and actually the first act of this is the most enjoyable part of the episode for me as it contains one of the most memorable fight scenes in the series for me. Bulkhead and Miko are chilling back at base with Ratchet, watching some monster truck rally, but Ratchet interrupts to explain what trinket of the week the rest of the team is after, a Cybertronian data cylinder:

“During the Golden Age, dozens of these cylinders were created, each containing the sum-total of Cybertronian knowledge on any given subject: stellar cartography, medicine, ancient mythology. When the war broke out, the cylinders were hidden throughout the galaxies to keep them as far as possible from Decepticon reach.”

So, does one of them contain information about Predacons? What about all the trinkets from Season Two, do you have info on that? And if each cylinder only contains information on a specific subject, then how many of these things are there? Do they have like fifty just devoted to stellar cartography, since that’s a broad subject? Same with ancient mythology; there’s like ten focuses in that area of study alone. I also like that Ratchet only mentions science and mythology as examples of what knowledge the cylinders contain. It’s typical academe nose-picking, y’know: just ignore the humanities, it’s not as if we’re important or anything.

Well, Optimus calls in to report that this was actually an ambush… I don’t know why the ‘Cons didn’t just take the thing since they arrived there first, but whatever. The Autobots are gonna need backup for this, and Bulkhead is all too eager to volunteer, GroundBridging through to aid the others. There’s a weird theme of Ratchet wanting the base cleaned up running through this episode, which I always found weird because while Ratchet can be a bit ornery, I never saw him as someone who would leave cleaning up to other people. This feels a bit out of character for him. It doesn’t matter though, because Miko somehow Bridges to the same coordinates Bulkhead used… and I’m serious, I don’t know how she did that. The camera only shows the broom falling and the sound of the GroundBridge powering up; we don’t even see Miko run down the stairs!

Well, she’s at the battle, and this is another of those battles seen largely from the human perspective. And something about this one just really grabs me. I think it has to do with the lighting, how everyone is almost overly vicious with each other. Knockout in particular was a bit weird to see here fighting Optimus Prime of all people; he’s usually the one to avoid fighting as much as he can. The scale of the fight is very well realized as we see things from Miko’s perspective. Even when Miko’s not in frame and the focus is on the ‘bots, things are still tilted at an upward angle. It makes the fight that much more dynamic.

Miko spots the cylinder just lying there, and with everyone else duking it out, she takes it upon herself to try to get the thing out of here. She calls Ratchet, and, after a bit of back and forth, requests a GroundBridge. But the Bridge appears a good fifty yards away (according to Miko, anyway), and pushing the damn thing isn’t an option, as it’s too heavy for her to even move. She tries kicking it, and apparently that’s enough pressure to activate it, and after Bulkhead gets distracted in his fight when he notices her, he falls right into the path of the beam that’s shooting out of the cylinder. With that done, Knockout steps in and picks up the cylinder, and the ‘Cons retreat; I like too that the Decepticon’s GroundBridge only stays open long enough for Knockout and Breakdown to go through, leaving the Vehicons to fly off instead. Way to treat your underlings, Megatron.

Back at base, Bulkhead is adamant about helping the others get the cylinder back, but Ratchet says that he has to remain here until they’re sure that the cylinder didn’t do something to his brain. Bulkhead insists that he’s fine, but an exchange between he and Miko suggests otherwise:

“Aw, [Ratchet’s] mad with power!”

“Haha, that’s Ratchet! Null-vector squared, alright.”

After this, Bulkhead asks for paint, and really when you hand a giant robot a human-sized mop, it’s either painting or cleaning out your ears. So Bulkhead gets to painting.

On board the Decepticon warship, Knockout reports that the cylinder is actually empty, relating the data stored within to that of a battery’s energy stored within the battery. Megatron quickly realizes that the data must have transferred over to Bulkhead, and that theory is quickly proven right as we see back at the Autobot base that instead of painting art, Bulkhead has begun painting scientific equations.

Ratchet explains that the data from the cylinder is has indeed transferred over to Bulkhead’s brain, for now only taking up a small portion of his neural net. Optimus tells of how the cylinders were probably programmed to eject all their data if an unauthorized person accessed them, and since they predated the war, that meant they wouldn’t discriminate between Autobots and Decepticons, only alien life. But there is some good news. The equations that Bulkhead’s been writing down are actually for Synthetic Energon, something the ancients obviously were so concerned about… considering that they probably had little to worry about what with it being peacetime and all that. Everyone’s naturally excited over this, as having Synthetic Energon could turn the tide of the war in their favor. So, it’s decided that Bulkhead should transcribe the data with his paintbrush mop.

This is where we really get into the heart of the episode, with Miko trying to get Bulkhead to have some fun after he’s finished writing out an equation on a giant metal slab… but he’s not interested, only focusing on the math. Ratchet notes that the data is actually taking over Bulkhead’s brain, and that by the time he’s done transcribing everything, his personality will be gone. Well, obviously they can’t lose another one of their own, so Optimus makes a plan to have Megatron give them the cylinder so that they can put all that data back into it… not sure how they’re gonna do that, considering that the data came out in a red beam; it’s not like the data is a physical threat after all, it’s just purging Bulkhead’s personality and memories, intangible things. But I guess they’re machines, so they can do that.

Bulkhead’s memory degradation already seems to be underway, as Miko tries playing her guitar only for him to yell at her despite this being his favorite song, and when Miko mentions Ratchet, Bulkhead doesn’t recognize the name. Well, this is frightening stuff, and when Miko confronts Ratchet over it, and finding out that he already knew about this and didn’t tell her (or Bulkhead himself for that matter) is a pretty big slap in the face for Miko, and frankly something of a disservice to Ratchet’s character. Ratchet withheld crucial information from both the patient and the patient’s best friend, only involving outside people. Granted, Optimus is his commander and the leader of the team, but I find it boggling that Ratchet wouldn’t inform Miko and especially Bulkhead on what’s going on. His flimsy justification for not telling Miko about this is that they didn’t want to frighten her, and I’m sorry, but that flies in the face of what being a doctor is really all about. Sometimes you have to deliver bad news, and, while I’m not fully researched on the subject, I have a suspicion that not doing so is illegal. This action outright makes Ratchet pretty sadistic and not a very trustworthy person. The next episode, “Stronger, Faster” actually somewhat capitalizes on this, but I’ll get to that on Friday.

Miko’s emotions throughout these various scenes between her and Bulkhead and this one here between her and Ratchet are just excellently conveyed both through the good voice work of Tania Gunadi and fantastic animation by the people at Polygon Pictures. The animation team has stated that Miko’s their favorite character, and it really shows in every episode for which she’s the main character. This one here has a lovely close-up shot of her eye with a tear welling in it, and the animation on that is just incredible.

Optimus’ plan is in full swing now, with Megatron taking the bait of the fake energy signature, and this is probably the weakest part of the episode. Nothing comes of it, Optimus and Megatron don’t say anything meaningful to one another, it’s just a minor subplot that frankly couldn’t been cut and you’d lose nothing except the whole cylinder plan, which I guess is what the whole thing hinges on anyway, but this just feels a bit too thin and tacked on, especially considering that it’s taking screentime away from the emotional pull of Bulkhead’s plight.

Miko’s trying to get Bulkhead to remember his past, talking about Wheeljack, but he can’t remember that. This hits its zenith when Bulkhead can’t remember Miko herself. There’s some good animation work on Bulkhead’s facial expression too, the way his eyes sag and how he looks so tired now, it’s really helping get across that this is ailing him. This is made even more harsh when Ratchet shows up, and just says to keep the equations coming, not even a kind word to Miko or a promise to Bulkhead that he’ll get better. Ratchet doesn’t even seem concerned about his mental state anymore. I suppose you could argue that this is now just a waiting game as Optimus’ plan is underway, but I would think Ratchet would be searching for an alternative backup plan should Optimus’ fail. But no, he’s just strutting around the base. Mad with power, indeed.

Knowing how much of a dick Ratchet is acting right now, Miko opts for getting the hell out of there, activating the GroundBridge and coaxing Bulkhead into following her. They arrive at the monster truck rally stadium from the beginning of the episdoe, unwittingly alerting Knockout to the fact that they’re now able to be detected. Knockout contacts Megatron, informing him of the situation, and instead of leaving Optimus and meeting up with Knockout so that they can all hunt Bulkhead, Megatron decides to stay put with the cylinder and assigns Knockout and Breakdown the task of killing Bulkhead and bringing his head to Megatron… who is still with Optimus Prime. I really have to question the writers on this plan, a plan that seems very out of character for Megatron, especially considering that he had just berated Knockout before about having failed him; now he wants Knockout and Breakdown to go out there and… hopefully not fail him. Uh-huh.

At the monster truck stadium, Miko’s trying to jog Bulkhead’s memory:

“See, you love monster trucks! Remember when we snuck in here after the show last weak?”

“Mass times diffusion-rate squared is constant.”

“Is any of this ringing a bell?”

“Bell-curve? No, no, that wouldn’t factor in.”

“How ‘bout our Sunday-morning dune bashings? Rocking out to Slash Monkey? Helping me with my homework- ha! Trick question! You know I don’t do homework… don’t you?”

I really have to hand it to Gunadi here. Her voice becomes increasingly more desperate and on the verge of tears as she lists all these things that they’ve done, while knowing that none of it matters to Bulkhead anymore with the data now pretty much having consumed his whole mind.

“Okay, forget the past. Starting now, we can make new memories.”

There’s a great groveling tone to this that masks tears and pain, that desperation that things will be okay even though she knows they won’t. It’s extremely effective and really drives this scene forward! This also builds on Miko’s character and reinforces her bond with Bulkhead instead of sacrificing many of their scenes to plot like last episode.

Knockout informs Megatron that he and Breakdown are currently chasing Bulkhead, and so Megatron does the natural thing and flies off to meat them, ensuring that Optimus doesn’t have the cylinder… oh no wait, that’s what someone who wasn’t a moron would do. Instead, upon hearing that Knockout and Breakdown are in pursuit of Bulkhead, Megatron starts a firefight with Optimus, thus endangering the cylinder, and after all his Vehicons are beaten, Megatron just smashes the damn thing. Bulkhead must have downloaded all the smarts from everyone else in the show, because damn, this plan is terrible, and Megatron’s actions are so at odds with him as a character.

Back in the land of actually giving a shit, Bulkhead’s transformed into his vehicle mode and hidden among all the monster trucks. It’s a pretty neat cover actually, though I always wondered why Breakdown at least didn’t know what Bulkhead’s vehicle mode looked like. Miko tries to call for backup, but her signal is scrambled. I wonder why the ‘Cons don’t use that more often, then; that would save them a lot of trouble down the line. Again, we get a sense of just how large these ‘bots are as Knockout and Breakdown are stomping around and we see all this from Miko’s perspective. I really like that.

Finally, the two ‘Cons find Bulkhead, and all it takes is a punch to knock him out as now the data has so corrupted his systems that he can’t even fight. Poor guy. Miko tries to fight for him, but… well, that goes about as well as you’d might expect, and Miko gets swatted aside, landing against Bulkhead only for her touch to make the beam of data purge itself from Bulkhead’s brain.

Ratchet radios Optimus and informs him of the situation, and the Autobots arrive to save Bulkhead, with Knockout and Breakdown retreating. Back at base, things are pretty grim. Not only do they not have the complete Synthetic Energon formula to show for their troubles, but as Ratchet notes, Bulkhead remains unresponsive. Miko’s quite glum over this:

"Because the energy took Bulkhead's mind with it. Heavenward. Lost to the stars. It's my fault you'll never know the rest of the formula, and it's my fault Bulkhead's gone forever."

Ratchet says that it’s too early to know how long Bulkhead will remain in this coma state, and his suggestion that Bulkhead could wake to a familiar sound gives Miko the idea to play her guitar for him. This works, and Bulkhead awakes, and the status quo returns to normal.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “T.M.I.” is 5/10. This is a very good character piece, with excellent voice acting by Tania Gunadi and great animation on Miko’s character. The emotional punch that this packs is hampered by everyone else either being really, really dumb, like Megatron, or being unintentionally sadistic and cruel, like Ratchet. The plan that Optimus comes up with feels very much like padding for this episode, and I would have much preferred it had they devoted more time to seeing Miko interact with Bulkhead, or give more time to see how Bulkhead was more gradually losing his mind, because as it stands, the transition from being Bulkhead to being math-smart seemed a bit too quick. Still, this is a good episode despite the bad subplots and out-of-character stuff going on, and certainly a far better examination of Bulkhead and Miko’s relationship than last time.

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