June 22, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Hard Knocks

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 2, episode 22, “Hard Knocks”

I’ve mentioned several times before that Season Two is Prime’s weakest season, nad unfortunately this episode only reinforces that statement. I said in my look at “Armada” that that episode might have been the worst episode of the show, but that it wasn’t the most boring. Well, this isn’t the most boring either, but it comes damn close. There are a couple of good moments in here, but really I just can’t get much enjoyment out of this one. It feels very pat. I don’t have much to say about this one, and I really want to look at “Inside Job”, so let’s get right into it.

The episode opens on the Decepticon warship, with Soundwave having decoded another set of coordinates. Knockout is eager to volunteer to go get this new relic and after some convincing, Megatron agrees. And Knockout’s packing another relic for this job, the Resonance Blaster, because Knockout himself doesn’t have any long-ranged weapons besides that spear of his, so he’ll go with this. Plus it allows him to name-drop a Transformers reference later on, so that’s always nice.

At the Autobot base, Smokescreen is busy annoying everyone, talking about how it’s his destiny to become a great warrior like Optimus. It seems he still hasn’t learned not to run his mouth whenever he pleases even if he has had some stern lectures before. But there’s no time for further character development right now: Optimus has decoded the next set of coordinates, and he assigns Bumblebee and Arcee to go retrieve the relic. I like how they have to constantly remind us that Cybertron’s fate is at stake, like we forgot that pretty important plot point already (though given what a snooze fest the ending of the last episode was, that’s probably for the best). Anyway, ‘Bee and Arcee are headed out, much to Smokescreen’s chagrin; I can’t help but notice everyone’s a bit smug over Smokescreen not going, even Bulkhead, who claps him hard on the back probably just to smite him.

This episode’s biggest problem is that the two big relic fight scenes are poorly done, lacking tension of any kind, and that wouldn’t have been so bad if they didn’t eat up so much of the screen time. But what makes this doubly bad is the reason behind the fights themselves are completely lacking. Take this first one, for instance: okay, so Bumblebee and Arcee arrive, and there’s Knockout waiting for them… with the relic out in the open; it’s not even buried, it’s just lying there. And yet Knockout specifically waited until the Autobots showed up just to pick a fight rather than taking it back to the ship thus avoiding conflict and risk of losing the relic. And we’ll see the same thing happens later on too. So Knockout uses his sonic weapon against them, starting a fight that is just not boring enough to keep me mildly engaged. Seriously though, it’s a very flat fight, I think mostly due to how limiting a weapon the Resonance Blaster really is. Knockout drops his “Depth Charge” comment here too in the hope to lull the audience into accepting this based purely on nonsensical fan-service. The whole fight is only a minute, but it’s surprising how slowly this drags. Anyway, Knockout manages to get away with the Omega Key, and Megatron is still skeptical over this victory.

“It appears identical to the one taken from me by Optimus Prime. Perhaps it is a decoy the Autobots allowed you to seize, as a means of sabotage.”

“Unlikely, my liege. They battled too desperately for it.”

I… wait, really? I don’t think Arcee or Bumblebee fired a single shot through that whole scuffle.

Anyway, Soundwave’s decoded another entry, and while Knockout is happy to take this one too, Megatron reassigns him to examining what this relic is and what it can do for them on the grounds that, y’know, Knockout’s a scientist, he should probably live up to that title. Instead, Dreadwing will go and check out this new set of coordinates; he is Megatron’s bitch after all.

Well, both sides are at a stalemate now, but that’s not enough to deter Optimus, saying that they should still focus on getting the other two. Smokescreen’s becoming more and more grating:

“Man, it must have been crazy with Knockout going all sonic! I wish I’d been there. I would’ve-“

“Would’ve what? Recovered the Key like you did the first one.”

“Well, maybe. Who knows? I just want us to be firing on all cylinders, y’know, now that the Star Saber’s gone. And I have a pretty good track record so far.”

Damn. Remember in “New Recruit” when I was kinda coming down on Bulkhead for being all gloomy… well fuck that, man, let this guy have it! Jesus, he sounds like those hotshot jocks that try to be your friend and only result in pissing you off. But that’s part of the point; Smokescreen is rash, he has a really big ego, and his main arc is going to be about him growing up. I also like that this comes after Arcee just lectured him about responsibility; Smokescreen may be learning, but he’s not going to automatically turn into an obedient soldier without a shred of ego on him thanks to just a few stern words from the others. Bulkhead even points out how naïve Smokescreen is being, calling out his, well frankly bullshit analysis of the situation, saying that just because he’s managed fine so far doesn’t make him any better than the rest of the crew, pointing out how Optimus managed just fine before having the Star Saber, and telling Smokescreen to just wait for when Optimus says he needs to be out in the field instead of just going off half-cocked. This’ll come back later on.

Oi. Let’s cut over to someone less vain and annoying, shall we? Oh, look, here’s Starscream! Thank god! He’s in the process of converting his Red Energon into fuel, but it’s taking a long, long time, and even after it’s finished Starscream only has enough for a few doses. He plans to use this speed-enhancing stuff to his advantage, reasoning that it might allow him to steal a more powerful relic. Just in time too, as there seems to be Decepticon movement, and over on the Autobot’s side, Optimus has decoded the next set of coordinates. So Smokescreen and Bulkhead finally get there chance to shine this episode.

This whole fight may be stupid in terms of context and plot, but my god is it beautiful to look at. It takes place in this forest during fall where all the leaves are gold and everything’s cast in a gorgeous warm yellow. It looks spectacular, and I’ll be honest, this one does manage to draw me in on visuals alone. But this fight has the same problem as the last one, because Dreadwing hasn’t seemed to have bothered looking for the relic at all, instead just waiting around for the Autobots to show up. He even took the time to plant a whole bunch of bombs on the trees in the forest there, so Bulkhead and Smokescreen have to scramble to escape. Again, the color palate here just makes the scene work despite the logic flaws. As Smokescreen goes for the relic, Dreadwing faces off against Bulkhead in a very okay battle. It cuts to slow motion way too often though, and miniature bomb tactic quickly grows stale. Bulkhead manages to subdue Dreadwing, though, so everything’s fine. Except Smokescreen finally recovers the relic, and ends up getting blindsided and knocked out when he does. Bulkhead wakes him up, but the key’s gone. They think Dreadwing had backup, but it’s revealed that Starscream’s the one who’s taken it, and what’s worse, he overhears the two talking about the revival of Cybertron.

Back at base, Smokescreen’s pretty glum, and after his bravado and frankly obnoxious behavior earlier, well, Arcee’s had enough and finally says what the audience has wanted someone to say to Smokescreen all this time, captured in a pretty good speech:

“You still don’t get it, do you? A couple of victories aren’t gonna make you a legend, and not every mission results in success. Not for me, not for ‘Bee, not even for Optimus. We’ve gained relics and we’ve lost some. We’ve also lost friends. We’ve even lost a world! But this is one time we get a do-over. We have a chance to bring back Cybertron, and everyone in this room needs to be in sync. This isn’t about you or your destiny…. You might actually become a great warrior one day, and I sincerely hope that you do. But greatness begins and ends with putting the team first, not your personal scorecard.”

“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you guys.”

“Then stop trying to be a hero, and start being an Autobot.”

They’re harsh words, but very necessary, and they harken back to what Bulkhead had said to Smokescreen earlier, about being in this for the long haul, about how he must learn to follow orders and work with the team. I like that this speech came from Arcee too, showing how much she’s opened up her worldview. Remember, she started out as a loner too, not wanting to take on even a single partner after Tailgate’s death, and it took meeting Cliffjumper and then Jack and working with him for her to open up again. While she’s a loner still more so than, say, Bumblebee, she’s learned to work with the team.

On the other hand, it could be argued that Arcee’s being a bit hypocritical here. After all, it was back in “Armada” that she went after Airachnid alone… again, settling her own personal scorecard. But I would still say that this speech is coming from an Arcee who’s learned from that mistake, who has recognized her own faults and is seeing something similar in Smokescreen. She could see him as a younger version of herself, full of drive and potential, but she now knows what kind of mistakes come with that. And Smokescreen’s recognition of this in the long term helps lends credence to the notion that he changed his paintjob in Season Three in part thanks to Arcee; while the two rarely interact past this point in the show (alone, that is), I like to think that Smokescreen did take these words to heart, and that he not only remembered them, but also remembered the parson who spoke them, who was able to give him a reality check. But mostly I like this because Smokescreen’s been a bit of a tool of late, and it’s nice to see someone finally put him in his place!

Smokescreen seems to be in denial about that right now though, as he storms out, leaving the base.

Back on the Decepticon warship, Megatron is berating Dreadwing for losing the Key, supposedly to the Autobots, and this latest blunder is enough for Megatron to task Soundwave with locating the Autobots’ base, and their human allies. But Optimus decodes the final entry at the same time as Soundwave does, and this one is different from the others. Instead of coordinates, it forms an image, and it’s revealed that the final relic is… Smokescreen. Well, the Autobots are baffled by this, offering up explanations like maybe he knows where the key is, or maybe he is the key… that would’ve been a funny thing if that were true; could you imagine Smokescreen being plugged into the Omega Lock? Well, Smokescreen’s shut off his comm link, so the Autobots can’t reach him.

But it seems that the Decepticons’ search of the Autobots’ base is not far off the mark, as Smokescreen is seen driving along the stretch of road leading away from the mountain where their base is, only to be attacked by Laserbeak who was originally searching the area for the base instead. I actually forgot that the ‘Cons even had this sub-plot in here when I reviewed “Darkest Hour”, so if I made a comment about how in the world the ‘Cons knew about the base, I’m just gonna retract that now (sorry!). Anyway, Smokescreen gets taken out by Soundwave who’s now on the scene, and we’re treated to the wonderful image of an unconscious Smokescreen being dragged away to the Decepticon’s warship even as the Autobots show up. This doesn’t look good…

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Hard Knocks” is 3/10. It’s not a particularly exciting outing, as the fights are fairly pedestrian and the plot seems very tepid. This is definitely Mairghread Scott’s weakest script, I think, but even with that, she manages to put in a pretty good speech at the end there by Arcee. Still, while the visuals are good, the story could have been tighter, particularly in the first act. We’ll see where things go from here on Wednesday with “Inside Job”.


"Inside Job"

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