June 12, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- The Human Factor


Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 2, episode 19, “The Human Factor”

Transformers Prime gets a lot of hate, not all of it undeserved. People point out that it never seemed to give good payoffs to its setup, that it had weak or “safe” character development, that it was trite, or that it was repetitious. Those are all valid and debatable points. I certainly can at least meet the critics half way regarding the first point, especially considering that the episode we’re covering today is in the latter half of Season Two. Personally, I quite enjoyed the character development on the show for the most part; sure, by the end of Season Three it was more about plot than character, but there were definitely some good nuggets of good in there too. Regarding the third point, again, I have to say that I agree somewhat with those who say that this show was repetitious. All of these points are important for today’s episode, because while not as bad as “Armada”- an episode that I am so dreading to cover, you have no idea- this serves as a fairly weak payoff to MECH’s story; it definitely offers little in the way of Silas’ character development, preferring to put much of the attention on Bulkhead instead; and it revisits what “Nemesis Prime” tried to do, which was make to MECH a credible threat to the Autobots, however, this one has a more interesting premise if a less than satisfying implementation of that premise.

The episode begins and MECH’s been quite busy since we last saw them at the beginning of the season, as they’ve not only managed to stabilize Silas enough to get him to talk and such, but they’ve also learned advanced biomechanics in order to hook up their leader to the corpse of Breakdown, who was killed in “Crossfire”. And man, for a children’s show, this beginning is pretty dark! I mean, Silas looks like shit, with all these scars across his face and a metal cap overtop his head (though you might wanna loosen that bolt on the side)! And I do like the patchwork job theyv’ve done on Breakdown too; it’s like they clearly know just enough about Cybertronian biology to get all this to work, but not enough to pull it off flawlessly. And Silas is apparently not grateful enough, as he activates Breakdown’s weapons systems and just kills everyone in the base, reasoning that he now can get in good with Megatron. And  hope you liked that, because that's literally the last we'll see of MECH as a group. From here on out, it's just Silas, and I'll tell ya right now, we won't get any confirmation that MECH is actually defeated or if it's still operating.

This episode comes right after “New Recruit”, which we’ll be covering shortly (I only have like ten episodes left or something; it’s kind of ridiculous), and so we now also have to get that Smokescreen/Bulkhead rivalry in here, and it kind of works this episode. I think last episode ended on a much more powerful note, but expanding it here was okay. Bulkhead’s not too happy with how he’s pretty much useless now, given his battle with the Insecticons back in “Toxicity”, and now that Smokescreen’s here, he’s feeling more and more like dead weight. Smokescreen offering him the newly-acquired Apex Armor to use isn’t filling him with any confidence either, serving more as a reminder that he’s wounded and of little use to the Autobots right now. We also get the important plot point that Raf is grounded- I guess spending large amounts of your days and nights in a secret missile silo probably gets the family worried (though knowing Raf’s family is quite large, I like to imagine that they only noticed his absence when they all had to do a head count before the big Christmas photo).

Knockout discovers Breakdown’s signal back online, although now it’s corrupted. Megatron orders that he go check it out, and we find that Silas has not only managed to get into a military base using his military rank, but then just as easily destroyed said base and retrieve his suitcase. Well, if Brainstorm from More Than Meets the Eye is any indication, this can only mean something super unsafe! Knockout’s a bit taken aback by Breakdown… well, kinda looking like shit, and Silas reveals himself and asks to be taken to Megatron.

Back at the Autobot’s base, Fowler reports that what was stolen is actually an insanely powerful satellite, and on the Nemesis, we find that Silas (who now introduces himself as the rather flimsy acronymic Cylas, and I’ll be referring to him as that from now on) is want to join the Decepticons of all things, proposing that Megatron take into account that what gives Optimus Prime an advantage on Earth is that he has his human allies to count on, and that Megatron should do the same. Well, that sounds fine, except Optimus mainly uses the humans for behind-the-scenes stuff; he rarely sends them out into the field, and while he does have the support of the government at his back, the Autobot/Decepticon war remains largely devoid of human interference. Megatron even points this out:

“Look around you, Cylas. I command an army from a mighty warship. What could a human possibly offer?”

Now, Cylas could use the argument that he knows this world better than the Decepticons, but instead he offers new technology… and given that he’s ex-military and thus doesn’t have the resources of any government, and given how inferior human technology is to Cybertronian, particularly Decepticon, it’s rather odd that Megatron would go along with this, especially considering that technology is the one and only thing that Cylas is bringing to the table here, something that the Decepticons could have easily taken by force.

Fowler lays out how dangerous this satellite is, saying that it can “slice up the Pentagon like a birthday cake”. Wow, better keep that thing locked up at SHIELD then; I mean, seriously, what the hell was it doing in some random military base? I also like the idea that no one at the base or in government decided to not move all of Silas’ projects once they found out that he was operating with MECH. I mean, I know they thought he died, but they knew about him before that too, so what the hell? Also, this project seems to have been approved by the military enough to draw up a prototype, but not approved enough to launch it (probably good, considering the whole Outer Space Treaty thing). And Megatron’s getting all this essentially for free, as Cylas merely wants “a place at the table”; I mean, this seems like a pretty sweet deal, man- you’ve got a giant death ray, and a new underling to beat up whenever you’re angry.

But while the Decepticons may have the physical satellite, they can’t actually use it without the interface code, the only existing copy of which is stored on the servers in Colorado. Optimus says that they need to keep the code out of Decepticon hands, and Bulkhead’s all ready to join in on that action, but Ratchet says that he’s not yet cleared for action, seeing as how his legs are still pretty weak. Soundwave’s already at the base, though, getting all the humans to leave by disguising his voice as Fowler’s to order them to evacuate, again showing off that awesome rank Fowler must carry if he can just up and order an entire base to be abandoned. As Soundwave begins doing his really creepy tentacle hacking interface thing, the Autobots arrive, and this is the part of the episode I actually like. Sure, I’ll take a good plot, character development, or good thematic undercurrents in an episode any day, but I’ll also happily sit down and watch some sexy visuals, and this prolonged battle offers up many. Aiding in this task to deliver awesome eye candy is Cylas’ deployment of this super Silver Age comic book satellite, which he says Soundwave can operate while jacked into the serves at the base. This thing just looks so sci-fi ridiculous in every great way. It’s similar to Starscream’s huge ice-melting lens thing he had in “Out of His Head”; it just drips with retro future awesome! And Soundwave does something similar to what Starscream did at the end of that episode, turning the satellite on the Autobots so he can kill them all from orbit! Nice!

Smokescreen takes out a few Vehicons with some flashy moves before having to retreat thanks to the giant laser beam from space! Well, Optimus gives an order that he’s so good at giving at this point in the show, to fall back, ordering Ratchet to try and disable the satellite remotely. (I don’t know why he didn’t just order up a GroundBridge and work the problem from the base, but whatever.) Ratchet’s pretty worried that he won’t be able to do so due to his operating from a human-based network whereas the satellite is on a human-based network; I trust you see how complicated this is. He also points out that Raf isn’t here to help him. And I’m sorry, but if you can completely reverse-engineer Space Bridge tech and make it smaller while operating a human-based network, I’m pretty sure you can hack a human-based satellite. I suppose one could make the argument that Raf’s hacking skills are faster and that there is a time limit, but I still don’t buy that a twelve year old can outdo a super advanced alien robot. I do love that when Fowler and the kids show up at Raf’s house via GroundBridge, Fowler just hands Raf the classified documents. Even Sam Witwicky in Dark of the Moon was given a strict warning that he’d do time for treason if he so much as whispered about what he saw on a military base. Another plot point I have to bring up here is that the interface code was said to be housed in only one server, the server that Soundwave is now at, so I don’t get how Raf can undo that which requires an interface code to make possible in the first place all from his laptop at home on a likely public and definitely not government grade wifi setup. Whenever Prime tries to do tech, it always winds up looking really, really stupid.

Optimus has a plan for his field team:

Optimus: “Autobots, we must draw its fire to distract from Rafael’s efforts.”

*Giant orange beam of death and destruction comes hurtling towards them from the sky*

Arcee: “Somehow, I don’t think that’ll be a problem.”

This is the second time she’s put in a witty quip after Optimus gives a command right before a life-threatening event occurs. She’s just that awesome!

Bulkhead’s itching to get in on the action, and he finally convinces Ratchet to let him go, but Ratchet gives him the task of monitoring Raf and the rest of the kids. Speaking of which, Raf has apparently grown wise to the plot, because he’s given up hope of breaking into the interface code, instead opting to take out the satellite itself… which now begs the question of why an interface code is needed at all if someone can just access the satellite. I guess it’s for the firing mechanism, but it seems odd that they’d compartmentalize that away from the other systems of the satellite. Then again, I suppose when dealing with an orbiting weapon that makes Independence Day’s destruction look tame, it’s probably best to keep that kind of thing locked up tight.

Megatron sends Cylas to deal with Raf’s hacking into the mainframe. He doesn’t set Soundwave on the task of remotely blocking Raf’s commands, because there’s only so much a badass mute with tentacle hacking cables can do, and Megatron doesn’t wanna overwork his people, after all- he’s just that nice of a boss. Anyway, Bulkhead’s on hand to save the day, and we now enter the admittedly weak portion of the episode. Bulkhead and Silas (the human) have never met before; the former crippled his operation on Breakdown, sure, but that was from afar. Even Silas and Optimus had a minor establishment of chemistry before their fight in “Nemesis Prime”, but here, it just feels very hollow. The dialogue doesn’t help, as Cylas has to apparently narrate how weak Bulkhead is, making the once-mastermind-genius of MECH into sounding pretty dumb. It would’ve been a good moment to use his line from “Nemesis Prime”, actually, where he says that he has all this combat training that the Autobot’s can’t outmatch, because here, he’s actually in a mech suit, so it makes more sense. But no, he just narrates stuff. The fight’s really taking its toll on Bulkhead, who is now really sagging thanks to his bad right leg. Luckily, Ratchet called in backup, and so Smokescreen now arrives, and per children’s television, the mere act of another ally showing up is enough to temporarily heal Bulkhead’s wounds, and so he and Smokescreen now duke it out with Cylas.

Soundwave finally has completed his upload of the codes, and Megatron orders that he now target Raf’s house, but Raf saves the day by taking control of the satellite’s thrusters, making it miss the mark entirely. With the Autobots closing in and the satellite now out of his control, Soundwave hauls ass out of there, and Cylas returns to the Nemesis as well. Smokescreen and Bulkhead have a mild heart-to-heart, so I guess they’re friends now, so that’s good. Slightly less good is how the episode actually ends, with Cylas being reprimanded for his actions and sentenced to Knockout’s dissection table on the grounds that the satellite project was his technology at its best, and with that now destroyed (Raf sent it to crash on Earth), he’s of no more use to Megatron. See, that’s why you don’t put your best foot forward first!

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “The Human Factor” is 4/10. There’re some awesome visuals going on with the satellite and the Autobot’s pitched battle against Soundwave and the base, but overall this feels like a very hampered script, which is odd because Bob Skir also wrote “Flying Mind”, which I liked, and “Inside Job”, which I’ll be reviewing in a week (and spoiler: it’s much better than this). Bulkhead’s character gets little development and his jealousy of Smokescreen is introduced at the beginning of the episode but goes nowhere until the tail end. Cylas too feels very underdeveloped. Clancy Brown can only do so much with the role, and the dialogue they give him this episode brings the character down several pegs for me. As a soft conclusion to the MECH arc, this one is a massive disappointment. It looks flashy, has some good dialogue between the ‘Bots (and Raf’s scenes are hit or miss), but I think this would’ve been better had they eliminated the technobabble, focused on Cylas more or given more room for Bulkhead and Smokescreen’s feud. This episode is still God compared to what comes next, however.

Next:

"Armada"- June 15

"New Recruit"- June 17

BUFFY, Part 3- June 18

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