June 19, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Alpha/Omega


Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 2, episode 21, “Alpha/Omega”

“New Recruit” saw the introduction of a new character, Smokescreen, and while the plot of that episode was a bit bland, the character stuff in there was pretty good. Smokescreen is a character who I’ve gone from being indifferent about to being oddly intrigued and charmed by, I think because of his arc throughout Season Three. In this season, he comes off more as just another body to throw at the ‘Cons than anything, but there are a few moments in here where I actually do enjoy his presence on screen. The episode right before this one, “Legacy”, had Arcee reprimand him for putting Jack’s life in danger, and it was good to see his rash actions actually have consequences and be called out by the other members of the team. Far too often in this type of television, everyone will go along with the new character’s stupid or common-sense-defying actions on the grounds that the writers think this kind of thing is cute. It’s not, or if it is, only to the most low-brow kids. I tell ya, I was infuriated as a child whenever a character did something like that, and to think that kids will be entertained by this type of thing is selling your target audience short. So, I’m very happy that Prime decided to own up and admit that, yeah, maybe Smokescreen was acting like a bit of a dick. This episode sees Smokescreen move more into a supporting role as we now have his character firmly established in the series, and that makes for a surprisingly unwelcome change back to what we had before he arrived, which is more relic-hunting and more plot exposition.

The episode starts out with the Decepticons retreating from their battle with Optimus, who managed to get the Star Saber last episode. Dreadwing’s all set to launch a counterattack, but Megatron appeals to, y’know, common sense! This is a dude who just saw Optimus break a freakin’ mountain in half with a sword last episode, and when the face of the guy who had the balls to punch Unicron the Chaos Bringer himself in the face looks like this:


Well, that should be a sign to pack it in for the day! Still, Megatron is just insane enough to want to control this devastating power for himself, so he plans on using the Forge of Solus Prime, inaccessible to those who aren’t Primes, but it’s okay, ‘cause Megatron has a twisted way of getting around that little hiccup!

Meanwhile, Optimus is in the midst of receiving a message from Alpha Trion through the Star Saber itself, telling him that he’ll participate in a great battle against Megatron, the outcome of which is uncertain. Well, Optimus quickly informs him that he already did that back in “One Shall Fall” and that they even faced Unicron- oh, no wait, I’m sorry! That’s what should’ve happened though, because it would have actually made some sense. Alpha Trion’s message could also hint at the wider scope of the series, that the battle that he’s talking about is essentially all three seasons of the show, but I doubt that. No, instead Alpha Trion also tells Optimus that he’s launching a special foursome of relics, the most important relics ever… and with that, the message ends. Optimus tells his team that they must recover the final four Iacon relics, which are actually the Omega Keys, and with them, they’ll be able to restore Cybertron! Well, this sounds like a pretty sweet deal; you guys get all these hot new (or old, I guess) toys, a giant sword, a new member of your team, and four magic reset buttons for your planet! Naturally, there’s no way you’ll fuck this up… right guys… (yeah, good luck, bastards! I laugh at your pain and drink your tears of futility, mwahahaha!)

It seems that they’ll have to hurry though, because this week, the writers remembered that the Decepticons have a Space Bridge and know how to use it, as Megatron and Dreadwing travel to the far side of the moon where it lies out of reach of the Autobots. Megatron’s plan is to go to Cybertron, raid a tomb for the arm of a dead Prime, and return to use the Forge once he’s attached the limb to himself. Yes, really. Y’know, in covering these last ten or so episodes of Transformers Prime, I never thought that an unintended theme would be having the Decepticons act like Silver Age supervillains, but there ya go! Still, compared to using a lens to melt a polar icecap, this plan is pretty mundane, especially for Megatron, who’s initial plan, need I remind you, involved him defeating the Autobots with a giant purple rock. He’s come such a long way as a character, hasn’t he?

The Autobots are naturally pretty excited at the prospect of restoring Cybertron, but a few words about their human friends are reminder enough that they’d be leaving people that they know here behind. It’s all a bit on the nose though; the dialogue is already well-worn, and the actors, I’m sorry to say, try way too hard to make us care about this dilemma. Smokescreen asks Optimus how these keys work, and all Optimus can say is that… well, Alpha Trion says they work, and dammit, you should know, Smokescreen, you were his book-keeper after all! Smokescreen’s pretty confident that they’ll be able to secure all four no problem, what with Optimus having the Star Saber… and aw man, why’d you go and say that! Come on, that’s just wishing for bad luck to befall the team, man!

These Autobot scenes become quite tedious actually, as they basically rerun their dialogue from the relic hunt, except now tailor it to the Omega Keys, saying that they can’t lose a single one to Megatron. And by god, these are the good guys, right? How could they possibly lose anything? Optimus even resumes his station of decoding the relics’ locations as he did before. What gripping drama. I really wish this time were spent developing the characters a bit more; we see how the prospect of returning home is weighing in on Bumblebee, Arcee, and Bulkhead, but it’s only about half as long as the time we sit around talking about the damn Keys. And I’m sorry, but I just can’t bring myself enough to care about this new plot; it’s introduced so late in the show that things feel either overstuffed or underdone. We already have a new character in the mix, we just spent a good amount of episodes searching for trinkets anyway, so why the hell are we retreading this ground? Season Two always felt very thin to me, and this is a prime example of why.

Megatron’s returned to the Nemesis, by the way, having raided a tomb on Cybertron.

“Yes, I can do it, Lord Megatron, if you’re certain that’s what you really want.”

“Like nothing I’ve ever desired before, doctor.”

Um… yeah, don’t read anything into that. Knockout’s just making sure Megatron is sure about slicing off his own arm and attaching the new Prime arm in place of it. This would be a good prompt for a Knockout/Megatron fanfic, for all two of you who are interested in that, though!

Optimus finally decodes one of the coordinates, and Smokescreen and Arcee are off to go look for it. I praised Season Three heavily for being able to use the “searching for the relic” plot as a backdrop for new character interactions, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say that Season Two does try to do that on some occasions. The problem here though, is that they always fall back to talking about the thing they’re searching for, always playing it safe. Smokescreen brings up Arcee’s reprimand from last episode, vainly apologizing for endangering Jack, but Arcee finally says that the Autobots can’t afford to lose any more people, ‘bot or human, and this quickly becomes personal:

“I’ve already lost two seasoned partners. I don’t need a rookie on my scorecard.”

While this is almost certainly referring to Jack, the perhaps-too-obvious foreshadowing does allude to Smokescreen himself, as we’ll see here in a bit. But see, even with this, the writers still rely on plot exposition more so than any actual character stuff. Besides that one line, we have yet another reminder of Cliffjumper’s death, plot from last episode, and more pointless relic-related dialogue. My mom came home from work the other day, telling about how she was in this meeting with this guy who was talking but wasn’t actually saying anything (like many a meeting of Congress, I’m sure); that’s how this and many other scenes from this point in the show feel, as there’s clearly a script, but that’s all there is. There’s no feeling behind what’s on the page, no insight into the characters, and that’s a real shame, because this plot involves them hanging their hopes on restoring their home. I mean, that’s huge! And yet they treat this as just another mission, just another day at the office.

As this is going on, Megatron has got his new arm attached, and he’s busy whacking the Forge against a giant slab of Dark Energon. Wow, sounds powerful, whatever he’s making! This is sure to excite, and with Soundwave having decoded the next set of Iacon coordinates (the very same as Optimus did, of course), Megatron hastens his project.

Arcee and Smokescreen recover the Omega Key buried in one of the pyramids (hey, at least this one was hidden in a plausible location, with much of the pyramids having gone unexplored), and when they come back out, Megatron’s there carrying a giant purple sword that looks like it’d fit perfectly among Hades’ other death trinkets. That sword must have a very powerful and awesome name, right?

Anyway, Arcee takes one look at this and decides to haul ass out of there, but it seems this new sword of Megatron’s has the power of the Star Saber, as Megatron wings it around and does a similar wave attack to Optimus’ own seen last episode, and the two are blown back. Smokescreen still isn’t letting that stop him though, and he fires away until Megatron uses the wave attack again, causing Smokescreen to get hit full in the chest with it and then colliding with the wall. There’s not even a body to recover! Wow! Yeah, it looks like Smokescreen’s dead! This sword better have a kickass name if it can kill people with a single strike, yeah? Seeing this, Arcee loses her will to fight, looking down at the stupid Omega Key. And that one line from before comes to the front of the audience’s mind as we realize that she’s just lost another partner, that she’s added a rookie to her scorecard. I love how the animators really took the time to animate Arcee’s just total lack of caring about anything anymore; she’s just seen a partner die again, and now she doesn’t even have the energy to scream. Megatron puts salt in the wound by not even killing her there, but instead letting her go with a message that Optimus must come here himself if he’s to reclaim the Omega Key. It’s a great moment, one of the strongest for the season, and certainly the best thing about this episode.

Back at base, Arcee spills about what happened, and Optimus makes the call that he’s not going to endanger more lives with this; he’s going to get that key himself, seeing as Megatron now possesses a weapon on par with the Star Saber. So he goes out there and meets Megatron, a bit taken aback by his new arm:

“By the Allspark, Megatron! What have you done?”

This? I find it affords me certain advantages, such as the use of the Forge of Solus Prime! My first creation, fashioned from the very blood of Unicron! I call it the Dark Star Saber, slayer of Primes if you will!”

When I showed this to my cousin Daniel and Megatron said the name of this new weapon, honest-to-god, I had to pause the video to let Dan laugh for a good minute at this exchange. I mean, seriously, what kind of a name for a weapon is that? This is actually the name of the sword wielded by Megatron from Armada… so it should actually come as no surprise that it’s as stupid as this… but I’m sorry, there’s just no saving that terrible line! Frank Welker even tries to put some power behind the words there and it just comes off as unintentionally hilarious, like Megatron was compensating for something.

Well, it’s time for the epic throwdown, two awesome fighters now armed with giant swords! How epic is this fight? It’s very dry. This makes the fight in “One Shall Fall” or even the one in “Darkness Rising, Part 5” look like Peter Jackson material (y’know, back when he was a good director). This fight is so boring to watch, mostly because it’s not even a melee fight; Optimus and Megatron swing beams of light at each other which the other dodges, so while it’s visually pretty to look at, there’s no power or force behind any of it. Like much of the relic-related dialogue this season, this avoids being engaging or enlightening at all and instead settles for a bland air of unthreatening material. The music is the only thing that helps this scene out at all, going for a subdued percussive undercurrent that tries in vain to convey some semblance of epic feeling. Even the dialogue in this is poor; we all know that Optimus and Megatron posturing during battle isn’t all that exciting to begin with, but just read this stuff:

“At last we take our rightful places, Optimus, as gods, wielding the power of the cosmos!”

“I am but a soldier, Megatron! And you are a prisoner of your own twisted delusions.”

It’s… very tiring to watch this.

Okay, so anyway, Optimus finally gets injured, the Star Saber shatters after making contact with the Dark Star Saber for the umpteenth time, crumbling to dust. I suppose being stuck in a rock for a thousand years or so does make it brittle. Or it could be that the Dark Energon used is more powerful than whatever metal the Forge was made out of, but either way, the Star Saber’s broken now. Megatron’s about to behead Optimus when to no one’s shock, Smokescreen is revealed to be alive. And all that build up around Arcee in the previous scene just kinda withers and dies here. Don’t get me wrong, that scene on its own is great, but the impact of it is diminished greatly by this reveal.

With that, Optimus calls up a GroundBridge, and the next wave attack by the Dark Star Saber (good lord, it’s so hard to take that seriously) goes through him and Smokescreen: seems Smokescreen has the Phase Shifter on him, and if you’re a continuity hound, it has been there the whole time since he left the base, so way to go animation team for sneaking that in there! They escape, but Megatron still revels in his minor victory in breaking the Star Saber, and the tone of this quick scene carries a lot of weight and foreboding to it, which is great… I just wish that had been applied to the fight.

Back at base, Smokescreen explains that the first blast from the Dark Star Saber must have activated the Phase Shifter, so that’s why it looked like his body disappeared after the second hit. He got knocked unconscious when he landed in the pyramid, and then came to shortly after Optimus and Megatron were fighting. He asks Ratchet if he can keep it, and Ratchet agrees, I suspect only to shut him up and keep from stealing more shit from their base. The Autobots lament the loss of the Star Saber, but Ratchet says that Optimus doesn’t need it to be the best among them… and there he is, working tirelessly and tediously at his desk job of decoding coordinates, a fitting metaphor for this episode and arc as a whole.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Alpha/Omega” is 3/10. There are some good scenes in here, but this really feels like a step down from where the show was heading these past few episodes. Certainly after ‘Legacy’ this is a massive disappointment, with the final act just making me laugh more than anything else. The scene with Arcee was about the only thing I found engaging, and even that only lasted about a minute. There’s a distinct lack of tension and excitement going on now, and the introduction of the Omega Keys is something that either should have been introduced sooner in the season or left out altogether (surely there could’ve been a way to work in the Omega Lock without them, right?). All of this is indicative of Season Two at its most banal, with scenes in this episode that fully embrace tedium over substance and scenes that try to be substantive only wind up being laughter-inducing. Not a good way to start the final act of the season, I’m sad to say.

Next:

“Hard Knocks”

“Inside Job”

BUFFY, Part IV

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