June 24, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Inside Job

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 2, episode 23, “Inside Job”

Alright, I’m just gonna come out and say this bluntly: I love this episode! Prime has always been solid on the action front; even when episodes are bad, rarely are the visuals poor or the fights not engaging, and this episode has plenty of visual spectacle going on in it. It also helps that the plot of this thing is fairly strait-forward and the pacing is excellent. Simply put, if all the relic episodes had been like this, I honestly wouldn’t have had a problem with them, because there’s not a whole lot of character stuff or intricate plot, the momentum and power of the work is enough to keep me engaged and certainly more than enough to keep me entertained.

We begin shortly after the last episode, with Smokescreen waking up to find Knockout staring at him (I’m sure many a fangirl has had that dream). Megatron’s there too, but unfortunately for Smokescreen, this is not some wild sex fantasy, but instead an interrogation… I mean of Smokescreen’s body so that they can… ahem, well, this is not starting off well, is it? Megatron wants the final Iacon relic, but Smokescreen doesn’t know what he’s talking about, so they finally just put an x-ray over him and find that he’s literally packing the final relic inside himself. Wow. Who knew it’d be that easy to find that? I’m also wondering why Ratchet didn’t find it. I mean, I’m sure the doc did a full scan of Smokescreen’s insides when he entered base or at least after battle, right? We see the Autobots get checked up all the time, so what the hell? The TFW2005 people did a podcast roundtable about this episode, and in there they speculated as to where the relic went when Smokescreen transformed into vehicle mode, and how he didn’t notice it at all. And that conjures up the wonderful image of it kinda getting shoved around whenever Smokescreen has to transform, with him wondering all the while why he’s so sluggish at it and all that.

Anyway, after the titles, we come back to the Autobots, who aren’t able to get a fix on Smokescreen’s coordinates, but that doesn’t stop them from debating and speculating how Smokescreen could be the Omega Key. Ratchet suspects correctly that he’s merely a vessel for the key, and Optimus backs this theory up, saying that Alpha Trion likely only had mere seconds before the ‘Cons came bursting through the defenses on Cybertron, so he didn’t have time to send off the final relic in a pod,. So instead he did the next logical thing and performed field surgery to jimmy a really old and sacred relic into the biology of another living person without compromising that guy’s transformation ability, full range of motion, or anything else. Autobot plans are best cooked up convoluted. Still, with a mobile relic, the ‘Cons wouldn’t be as likely to capture him, and Alpha Trion himself wouldn’t know exactly wehre the final relic would be, so everyone would be more or less in the dark. Man, could you imagine if Smokescreen hadn’t arrived on Earth and the Autobots did all this decoding and then decoded the final entry on the database and Smokescreen’s image popped up, and everyone’s left wondering as to who the hell this guy is?

On the warship, Knockout’s ready to yank the relic out of Smokescreen, having acquired his phase shifter. We finally get a rationale for why people don’t just phase through anything and everything when the phase shifter’s activated, so that’s nice if a bit superfluous. I doubt anyone really cared about that so much that we needed that in canon, but it’s nice that it’s there, I guess. Megatron naturally wants to know what these things are, so when Smokescreen says he doesn’t know, Megatron order that they undergo a cortical psychic patch to find out for themselves if he’s telling the truth.

While they prep that, let’s cut over to Starscream, who, in typical cartoon villain fashion, is monologuing to himself about stuff we the audience already know. He does see the potential in possessing even one Omega Key, and we see that he’s kept the one dead clone of himself from “Armada”. We also find that he has one dose of Red Energon left… and the more I type that out the more it sounds like a candy treat. Lastly, we get this line:

“I would gladly trade this simply to be restored to my former glory.”

Yeah, we’ll see how that works out, ‘Scream, just you wait. I’ll be discussing Starscream’s character more in depth when I review “Patch”.

Well, the psychic patch finally reveals to Megatron the function of the relics, and seeing as luck is smiling on him, he orders Knockout to go back into Smokescreen’s mind and find the location of the Autobot’s base. I’m sure Megatron could’ve easily found that out while inside Smokescreen’s head originally, but whatever; it gives Knockout something to do while Megatron puts the third Omega Key away in the vault. But Smokescreen has other plans, wrestling the phase shifter out of Knockout’s possession just as the latter is being phased through the wall, with half of him stuck in there. It’s a good little scene.

But here comes the big chase, and this is where the episode really outdoes itself in terms of momentum, pacing, and entertainment. Smokescreen runs through the ship with the phase shifter on, grabs the Omega Key out of Megatron’s hand and then goes into the vault and takes the other two before making his way onto the outside of the ship. Well, he’s not letting a little thing like gravity or the fact that this ship is really high up in the sky deter him from escaping, so when choosing between leaping to certain doom and spending more time with Megatron, you shouldn’t be surprised that Smokescreen chooses the former, leaping off the ship into free-fall.

Now that he’s out in the open, Smokescreen’s signal pops back up on the Autobot’s radar, so that’s good. But it seems falling from extreme heights isn’t something that Ratchet really thought about when programming the GroundBridge, so it takes a while to figure out how to compensate for that. Megatron’s not having a good time either, ordering his men to go after Smokescreen by just throwing a couple off the ship! And to make this gag really work, they both transform, and one of them turns out to be a car. Oops! The other jet Vehicons do manage to catch up with Smokescreen though, and we get this pretty slick dogfight like thing going on, with Smoke using the phase shifter to avoid attacks and then just blowing one of the ‘Cons up with one shot! Damn. Ratchet finally gets the GroundBridge open directly below Smokescreen, but Megatron in jet mode knocks him off course. Now being close to ground, Smokescreen takes a risk and activates the shifter again, hoping that he’ll be able to phase through the ground. Sure enough he does, and Megatron pulls up even as his jet Vehicons crash and burn. And to top it off… the car Vehicon falls and dies last! Classic. Thoughts that Smokescreen died are quickly eschewed as he calls for a Bridge back to base.

That’s the halfway point of the episode, and I’ve gotta say that this is still probably one of the most engaging sequences Prime has ever done! It’s just so gripping, as we’ve never seen a fight or chase quite like that one before, and it puts many of Optimus’ dogfights in Season Three to shame. Everything comes together in the scene too, from Smokescreen knowing now the limits and potentials of the phase shifter, the great Vehicon gag, and Megatron’s flight power, as well as some pretty good drama over at the Autobots base in what has by this point become a tried and honestly quite stale routine. It’s just great, and it leaves my heart pounding every time I watch it. And the clincher that makes this all the more impressive is that this type of sequence would normally be reserved for the climax of the episode, but by putting it in the middle, it gives us a great sense of atmosphere going forward, and lets us know that something even better is coming down the line. Plus it’s just a fucking cool action scene; it’s like eating your dessert first and then realizing you have a gourmet meal coming up!

Naturally, Smokescreen isn’t letting a victory like this go without comment, so he butters himself up a bit, saying that it was destiny that he find and rescue these keys. But Bumblebee notes that they only have three, and while Bulkhead suspects that the other one must still be on the warship, Arcee says that maybe Megatron didn’t have it at all. And as if in response, Starscream of all people calls them up, requesting medical assistance in repairing his T-Cog in return for the final Key. Well, they’re naturally skeptical of this, and rightly so. Giving Starscream his wings back is like the last problem they need right now. Next they’ll lose their base and everything… oh, right. Anyway, Optimus says that it is worth the risk, so he, Ratchet, Bulkhead, and Bumblebee GroundBridge to the coordinates. Now, they leave the Bridge open, with Smokescreen and Bumblebee standing guard over it while Arcee is at controls, and I realize that what’s about to happen could have so easily been avoided had they done what they normally do and close the damn Bridge once they’re there. But I’m okay with this because I feel the last third of the episode justifies itself very well.

The Autobots arrive and quickly discover that Starscream is now dead (a gaping hole in the chest tends to do that, y’know). But it seems that it’s a trick, as Starscream himself is seen coming through the Bridge and into the Autobot base at hyper speed, and we get this great slow-down to catch up to Starscream’s view of things. It’s a very creepy and effective scene, with Starscream strolling about the place with everything else slowed down to essentially be frozen in time. He searches for the keys in the vault, eventually finding them. I really like the music here too. It’s not a new track, obviously, but its use here is great because it helps to elevate the creepiness and unsettling danger present in the base. It’s used well here!

Ratchet discovers that the dead Starscream clone has been deceased for some time, and this is enough for Optimus to order Arcee to close the GroundBridge. It seems that Starscream’s super speed is still active though, as he shoots a missile at the door to get it open, and the explosion is all slow-motion (not sure why the missile itself isn’t, though). Still, it’s a beautiful shot (no pun intended), and this sets the sprinkler systems off in the base for more just gorgeous animation! As Starscream returns to the main hanger bay, we see the water coming down extremely slowly, and I love the way it plays with the lighting and texture of everything. It looks beautiful. It seems that Starscream’ll have to save his gutting of the Autobots for another day, however, as he notices Arcee in the process of closing the Bridge. (And just as an aside, if you do want to read about what would happen if Starscream did gut the ‘Bots here instead of retreat, please go read “How Easy it Would Be to GutYou” because it’s awesome!)

Anyway, Starscream retreats, going through the GroundBridge, only to be met by the Autobots on the other side, still in slow motion, though noticeably not as slow as when he entered. Actually the whole time, things have been gradually speeding up for Starscream, and the animators didn’t skimp out on this detail either, as the explosion from his missile happened at slightly higher speeds than what was going on when he entered the base. It’s a very subtle thing, but it pays off here as the Red Energon’s effects wear off, and Optimus is able to catch Starscream in the process of running away, shooting at him. And to think everything was going just fine, man! If you hadn’t stopped to taunt the ‘Bots, you’d be in the clear. But no, of course he has to do that. Starscream does get away though, calling up a remote Bridge back to his base. This causes Optimus to momentarily just lose his shit, screaming to the skies as Starscream now has all four Omega Keys.

When this sequence was over, I was admittedly taken aback as I thought there’d be more of a battle here and the Autobots would reclaim the Keys. But no! Starscream gets away, and this left me grinning like a mad idiot, because it reminded me of how the writers don’t always play it safe. After a good chunk of Season Two being taken up by pedestrian episodes, this was a lovely thing to see happen, and I was truly curious about where this would go. And I quickly found out, as we cut back to the Decepticon warship where Megatron is making plans to invade the Autobot base, only to be confronted by Starscream… who has come with all four Omega Keys in his possession.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Inside Job” is 9/10. It’s just a wholly entertaining episode, with lots of atmosphere, beautiful animation, amazing visuals and pacing, and an all around great time! This is one that I frequently rewatch if I just want to kill some time, and it’s certainly one of the strongest Prime episodes out there, definitely one of the highlights for this season. I should mention that there will be no review this Friday (Buffy will still be up tomorrow, though), and next month there’ll likely be only one review per week along with the rest of the Buffy stuff; I’ve got a class going on that will likely be taking up much of my time, so don’t be surprised if I don’t keep to my schedule for Prime reviews. I only have four left, so hopefully I’ll be finishing up my look at this show next month!

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