June 15, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Armada


Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 2, episode 8, “Armada”

Oh boy.

This is the worst episode of Transformers Prime.

I’ve been putting off reviewing this ever since it first aired, knowing as soon as it was over that I’d need to re-watch and review it. I actually haven’t seen this one since it aired, which should tell you how much I either despise it, or at the least suggest that I forgot that it happened (which is also probably just as accurate). While it’s definitely not the most boring, this one has several problems that drag it down and make it just a dull ride all the way through. And the real stinger here (for me, at least) is that this is essentially a microcosm of Season Two’s problems: poor follow-up to established plot points, the substitution of action over character at the least appropriate times, a script that is overstuffed but lacking any meat to it, and ret-cons across the board that make previous episodes’ content worse or at the least now out of place. It’s an impressive clusterfuck of ideas that go nowhere, and that is such a shock because the writing credit for this episode goes to none other than Matt Wayne, someone who churned out some pretty memorable Justice League Unlimited episodes (memorable in the good way, obviously); and from what I’ve heard, his run on the comics of the same name was very well received. So where did he go wrong here? I have no idea. It’s not as if the director’s to blame for this; Vinton Heuck is a series regular in the director’s chair for Prime.

I’ve tried searching for background info on this episode with minimal success. There’s no commentary for it, no interviews with either Heuck or Wayne on the subject, so I don’t know really why things went so bad as they did here. When I realized I only had a handful of Prime episodes left to review, I specifically put this one in the middle of the pack for June just so that I had other stuff to come after it, y’know, so that I didn’t end my look at the series on a bad note. (Then again, we do still have “Patch” to get through, so no promises there.) Let’s get started, I guess; can’t put this off any longer.

The episode starts out really promising, with Bulkhead waking up on the Nemesis with no memory of how he got there. Unable to contact base, he sneaks around for a while before coming across Starscream, who at this time in the show isn’t aligned with the Decepticons, so Bulkhead’s a little surprised to see him walking around. He asks for the exit, but Starscream’ isn’t telling him anything, so Bulkhead finally gets up the courage and kills him. Yes really. In the teaser, no less, so you know something else is going on.

When we come back from the titles, we skip back to a day ago. This is the first mistake of the episode. We’ve only been here for three minutes, one of which was the intro sequence. So going back and filing in the gaps now seems a bit premature, doesn’t it? In the past, Starscream finds the Harbinger ship still abandoned from “Partners”- it’s not as if the ‘Cons would want to secure that or anything- and he goes in, on the hunt for Energon because he’s low on fuel. And in a brazen move of stupidity, upon finding a laboratory for cloning, he not only doesn’t find any new Energon, but in order to power this giant lab, he takes some Energon from himself, also obviously to mold the clones to his image. So now he’ll not only have to scavenge for himself, but for five other people- people who are all him. Yeah.

Meanwhile, Bulkhead is scouting for Energon, and this is where that whole flashback thing becomes completely irrelevant, because he finds boxed Energon ready for pickup, and on his way down the giant hole drilled into the ground to reach the stuff, he slips, falls, and gets knocked unconscious, even as the Nemesis comes to collect all the Energon, with Bulkhead mixed up in the pile. And it’s not as if the ‘Cons would want to sort through it or maybe have some guards on hand to oversee its transport- ‘cause otherwise this would be a perfect strategy to use for the Autobots getting aboard the ‘Cons’ warship. So with him knocked out, that means that unless he woke up before the beginning of the episode and did something that we don’t know about yet, then this is all that happens in the past day for him. This is how cut the episode feels, because we’re not even through the first act and already we know one of the stories for this episode. If you’re doing a flashback story, generally it’s best not to give everything away within the first six minutes.

Alright, truth be told, they haven’t given everything away, just all the parts of this that might have been interesting. Starscream briefs his clones on what his plan is. They’re going to assassinate Megatron, and it turns out that his clones have T-Cogs inside them, while the real Starscream is left grounded. This episode came out about two years after Transformers Animated had left the airwaves after Cartoon Network decided to be a dick and cancel it for no reason, and in that show, Starscream also created clones. The difference between the two shows’ handling of the situation, however, is pretty obvious, and only makes Prime look really cheep by comparison. First, Animated had several episodes with the clones active and running around, and the most effective Transformers finales that I’ve seen was Animated’s “A Bridge Too Close”, which had the clones try and kill Megatron, much like this episode does, but it evolved organically from a good season’s worth of character arc and plot. Plus, the attack itself was riveting and compounded all the other stuff that was going on in the episode; all the clones had different aspects of Starscream’s personality be dominant within them as well, making them more memorable instead of just canon fodder.

Well, Prime isn’t going to fare as well, and the reason for that is because this feels so self-conscious of itself and what it’s referring back to that we can’t help but compare the two. Starscream’s speech here is almost word-for-word what the Animated Starscream said to his clones before their assault, so it’s not as if the writer’s trying to hide his inspiration (or blatant rip-off, depending on how kind you want to be towards Prime). After some posturing, they all get ready to take off, transforming and flying off to the warship (they can track it thanks to the Harbinger’s sensors being synced with the Nemesis’).

And that’s it. I’m serious, that’s all we get of the day before. I assume the clones stopped at a drive thru or something because otherwise the timing is way off. Just think of all the story possibilities you could have told with the, what, twenty-two hours remaining! Because, aside from the clones getting to the ship and Bulkhead sleeping (neither of which we have to see, thank god), we get nothing. And it’s all hampered by the fact that this is only one of two huge plots running through the episode. We cut back to Bulkhead waking up, running into Starscream (who we now know is a clone). We also find out that the real Starscream can feel each of his clones’ pain, because the universe hates Starscream personally. I’m not giving him much pity this episode either though; I hate this episode and everyone in it.

Bulkhead tries calling for backup using the ‘Cons’ own tech, but this only manages to bring Airachnid into the picture. Why? To overstuff this episode with nothing, that’s why. Y’know, I love Gina Torres, but my god, she practically sleeps through this episode. Not that I blame her- I wouldn’t be surprised if she just phoned it in given the state of this script. Anyway, she awakens her Insecticon hive that she discovered at the end of “Crossfire”. At the end of that episode, it was a butt-puckering moment because we had just seen Megatron nearly get killed trying to beat one of those things, so a whole army of them? Well, that was just a recipe for disaster. Of course, I assumed that disaster would be something related to the Autobots or Decepticons having to deal with that in-universe, y’know, not the episode itself. But yeah, she awakens the hive, and this in turn alerts the Autobots, who rush to the scene to check it out.

And this is where the second huge mistake comes in, as Airachnid orders the rear guard to engage the Autobots even as the rest of her fleet goes off to find the Decepticon warship. Practically speaking, yeah, the Autobots are roundly screwed now with them facing down a good small army of things that even the mightiest of warriors second probably only to Optimus himself could barely beat and get out of alive. It should be no surprise then that Bumblebee is able to kill one with one shot. Sure. I mean, obviously they couldn’t hope to beat the Insecticons given what we saw of the bugs’ power back in “Crossfire”- they’re just too powerful. But that’s where a good writer can turn this kind of over-powered adversary into an asset instead of a hindrance. Instead we get this, and I’m sorry, but there’s just too much going on already for me to really care about this, especially when this type of enemy has been reduced to canon fodder. We not only have Starscream’s clones and Bulkhead’s journey to worry about, but now we’re also piling on this, and it not only contradicts the previous two episodes in which we’ve seen the Insecticons in terms of their power levels, but it also makes this entire plot pointless to watch, as now- thanks to the Autobots showing that the bugs can be killed by one shot from a scout (or by a tree; no, I’m not joking)- we now know that any attack on the Decepticon’s warship is going to result in likely the same thing, so the stakes and dangers are completely gone now. Arcee can’t leave well enough alone, though, because she goes chasing after Airachnid, leading into pretty much a paint-by-numbers standoff between these two… which again, we’ve already had not two episodes ago!

As this is going on, Megatron encounters Starscream on his bridge, and in the only good scene this episode, we get to see Megatron use his wit and intellect against Starscream as much as his fists. I mean, it’s not a great chess match-like game here, but it is at least something! Megatron tries to bribe the clones into working for him: once they kill the original, they’ll all be his second in command. (Damn, that’s gotta be Knockout’s worst nightmare!)

“Accept my proposal, and we all win. Otherwise, you will merely end up terminating each other to get the spoils. It is your nature, after all.”

That’s about the only good line of dialogue this episode that even hints at something story-or character-worthy. It would have been awesome to see Starscream and Megatron face off with their intellects, but instead, we get the damn Insecticons invading the ship, allowing one of the clones to escape (Megatron killed the other three). With the ship under attack… you shouldn’t be surprised that none of the prominent Decepticons are anywhere to be seen. At this point in the show, Dreadwing was Megatron’s first lieutenant, and he’s been seen as the most loyal nad steadfast of the group, so his absence is pretty glaring. I do like how Megatron just strolls up onto the hull of the ship, takes a look around at all his drones dying around him, and then fires one shot that kills an Insecticon before the episode cuts away to Arcee.

Arcee’s still hunting for Airachnid down in the Insecticon nest, and what tries to be tension just comes off as boring, because this scene offers nothing new in the way of these two’s rivalry with one another. Airachnid finally attacks, and in a bit you see coming from a mile away, she accidentally activates one of the Insecticon pod egg things and gets trapped inside, going into stasis. That’s the end of that arc. I’m serious, these two will never have words with each other again. Arcee doesn’t get closure so much as gets this project off her desk, if you follow me. It’s a very cheep ending to this- not that it had much staying power to begin with, but the conclusing feels especially lacking.

With her unexplained mental link to them severed, the Insecticons now obey Megatron… sure, why not. But Bulkhead has finally found his way to the engine room, and apparently the Decepticon warship is so powerful… that all it takes is one punch to make the engines explode. The ship goes down (apparently, Megatron’s order of “prepare for landing” means “just let the ship scrape into and along the ground with no landing struts to be seen anywhere”), and Bulkhead makes his escape, returning to base. Oh, and the final Starscream clone gets killed off when the real Starscream figures out that he actually accepted Megatron’s offer to kill him. So that plot thread is now also taken care of. Alright, let’s get out of here.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Armada” is 1/10. As I’ve made transparently clear by now, this is a deeply flawed story, with too much going on in it that amounts to barely anything. The most we get out of this episode is the neutering of the Insecticons as a credible threat, the damaged Nemesis which leads into the pretty awesome “Flying Mind”, and Airachnid’s defeat. Starscream’s clone plot goes nowhere (the most we get out of that is a new T-Cog which actually doesn’t even matter because he ends up not using it anyway), and the whole thing feels too much like an homage to really appreciate it. Again, it brings nothing new to the table.

It’s a real shame too, as both the Starscream plot and the Airachnid stuff had a lot of potential, and I feel like this was originally supposed to be two episodes long. The flashback stuff especially feels so truncated that you could honestly start the episode with Bulkhead discovering the Energon and you’d lose nothing. If you were to point to where Season Two took the nosedive that it did, you’d point to this episode. It was a major stumbling block for the writers, I think, and much of the rest of the season feels so much less exciting than the stuff that came before this one. This was a definite turning point for the show, and not at all in a good way. “Armada” was met with pretty much universal hatred or at least indifference by the fans (even those who like Prime seem to not enjoy this episode), and the main reason is that it relies too heavily on homages and throwbacks and action instead of telling a compelling story, which is I think why people find it so disappointing. Prime is usually much stronger with the story stuff. This is Matt Wayne’s sole Transformers credit, and it is certainly one of his weakest stories he’s put out for any show he’s worked on. Definitely one to avoid.

Next:

"New Recruit"- June 17

BUFFY, Part 3- June 18

"Alpha/Omega"- June 19

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