June 10, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Nemesis Prime

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

We continue our look at the MECH arc that I actually started with my first Prime review ever and then promptly forgot about- I ditched it to cover Arcee’s episodes in Season One. But here we are, four years later and I’m back to it with “Nemesis Prime”, one of only two episodes this season to be about MECH specifically, and is certainly an enjoyable outing. What really helps this episode is the pace, as it starts off with Agent Fowler leaving his military base and getting chased down by what appears to be Optimus Prime in vehicle mode.

This continues even after the title sequence in a riveting chase scene. Fowler calls up the Autobots to ask what the hell, and transitioning over there, we get possibly the tightest foreshadowing ever for this series: Raf, Miko, and Jack are all racing remote control cars and Raf is winning; this’ll be important really shortly, I promise. Anyway, Fowler’s not doing too good on this bridge that he’s on, with the apparent Optimus truck ramming him hard enough to send his car breaking through the barriers and then dangling over the side of the bridge. The truck nudges the car forward and the tension here is just great. The music really sells the scene, and Fowler’s expression of worry is nicely animated.

This is when the foreshadowing comes back in. Granted, this is only about a minute after that race, but it’s a cool little thing that they didn’t have to tease. Bulkhead, Bumblebee, and Arcee arrive in vehicle mode via GroundBridge and quickly speed to help Fowler. Bumblebee pulls ahead of the other two- mirroring Raf beating Jack and Miko- and manages to catch the falling car by the fender. This theme-like writing here works for two reasons. First, throughout this whole opening scene, the tension has been high, so the fact that Bumblebee is now racing for real to save someone clicks with the audience. Second, this contrasts nicely with the lighthearted stuff back at base before Fowler interrupted, bringing both scenes together in a subconscious way for the viewer. It’s very cool to watch.

Arcee goes after the retreating Optimus-look-alike, knowing that it’s not him because as she says “Primes don’t run.” Bulkhead rushes to help Bumblebee out with his car problem, but the fender that Bumblebee’s holding on to snaps from the car, and Fowler plunges to the ground. Well, this is animation, so gravity, physics, and common sense all kinda go out the window more oft than not, so like in many comic books, Bulkhead leaps from the bridge after the car, manages to surpass the car despite both of them being in free-fall, and catch it without crumpling it or injuring Fowler. Damn. They even have the belated airbag gag at the end there. Meanwhile, Arcee’s chasing down the truck, which catches her off guard and promptly runs her over.

This whole opening section was very fun to watch. It’s typical kid’s drama, sure, with the chase, the dangling car in peril, and then the more subdued ending as the audience catches its breath. But what elevates this for me is the combination of the music (Brian Tyler really knows how to make a score riveting) and the lighting, which casts the Autobots during nighttime and brings out their colors in a great way, especially for Bumblebee and Arcee. The opening sets the stage very well for how the rest of the episode plays out, not necessarily in terms of narrative, but just in terms of how quickly things get under way. David McDermott wrote the script, and he demonstrates a handle on being able to keep things centered and on target, much like his previous script for “Loose Cannons”. (We’ll also be taking a look at his only other Prime episode, “Alpha/Omega” later this month!)

Arcee comes to, now back at base, reporting that she was blindsided by Optimus. Ratchet’s naturally incredulous about this- after all, it’s not as if Optimus has defected before, right? Actually, Raf does bring that up, suggesting that he’s reverted back to being under Decepticon control, and Miko… well, she’s Miko, so she takes that a step further and says that maybe Optimus has just been faking being a good guy this whole time. Yeah, sorry, but I think Optimus’ monotone voice sells him as the real deal. Fowler’s concerned that, if Optimus has gone AWOL for whatever reason, things won’t turn out well, and he’s right. Anyone who can reach Optimus’ level of pissed off should be put in the government’s “kill on sight” book right now. Ratchet’s not buying any of that, though, and a quick scan for Optimus’ signal reveals that he’s returning to the base. Everyone’s on edge as he arrives, surrounding him in a cautious ring. Well, he takes one look around this place like he’s just realized that they know it was him who took the last cookie.

Optimus: “…Is something wrong?”

Arcee: “We were just… wondering where you’ve been.”

Bulkhead: “We haven’t been able to reach you.”

Optimus: “I have been… outside of our communications range.”

I like that little pause there in Optimus’ line; it kinda throws us off for a brief second and almost makes us wonder if that was him earlier, or at the least makes us suspect that he’s up to something devious. (In reality, this is a tiny hint at a crossover with Prime’s sister show, Rescue Bots, which I haven’t seen- but I did read the TFWiki file for this episode, and while they may not know much about the tightest shirt, they do know their trivia.)

When he reaches to pull something from his hip, the Autobots flip out, drawing their guns on him. But he’s just brought back some Energon, so they all relax, though still noticeably shaken up. Fowler tells Optimus what happened. I liked this scene a lot, from the Autobots debating about how and why Optimus might be doing what they think he did, to Optimus’ return and how uneasy everything felt. We don’t even see his face for a good twenty seconds, only focusing on the sound of his engine, his footsteps, and then getting a shot of his legs as he’s walking into the base. It’s extremely effective at getting across that all might not be right with Optimus here. There’s also no music during this whole bit which oddly helps both the conversation feel more natural amongst the Autobots, and further raises the tension when Optimus does return. It’s just a cool scene! And again, this comes directly after that opening chase, so while this does provide us a chance to catch our breath, we’re still being treated to more tenuous situations.

And it just keeps going! We transition over to the Optimus look-alike who just decides to attack a military base (it’s a different one than the one Fowler left at the beginning of the episode). It smashes up some choppers but eventually gets surrounded. This is clearly inspired by the Blackout attack from the first Transformers film, as the Optimus knockoff transforms in a slower, more deliberate manner (with a turnaround that resembles his film counterpart’s own initial transformation sequence). I do like how slowly this one transforms, as the Optimus model is one of my favorites on the show, and here we get to see all the little pieces move and it’s so cool! And it turns out that the not-Optimus robot can not only transform, but he can also speak, and he tells the military people that he’s in fact Optimus and that he’s here to kill them all… so again, not too dissimilar from his film counterpart! The fight itself is fairly epic, with many military personnel converging on the scene with tanks and copters and such, which is impressive especially considering that the animation guys don’t have a whole lot of time to whip up models for this show, so while the army people look kinda bland, some of this stuff is actually better than what we would get out the military models in Season Three.

As this battle’s going on, Fowler gets called about it, and he sends in the Autobots to deal with this threat… and oh look, they brought Optimus along, ‘casue that won’t end badly. Well, shockingly, this isn’t seen as some great rescue, because after the fake Optimus robot retreats, the military comes in with reinforcements and starts firing on the Autobots, thinking that this evil Optimus brought in reinforcements, and so the Autobots are forced to retreat.

Well, things are grim. Even Fowler’s rank (which remember is so awesome that he can just radio the freakin’ Pentagon whenever he wants something done) isn’t enough to stop the military from putting out a kill order for the Autobots. Wow. And to further tie this back to the film franchise, remember that Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon both had similar plots in mind with the military’s relationship with the Autobots, and this episode manages to do that, squeeze in a MECH story, and do this all in the span of twenty-two minutes.

This is where the episode transitions to being about MECH, actually, as Ratchet deduces that they’ve managed to “crack the code” about Cybertronian biology. This is also where the momentum kinda slips up here and there. For one thing, as we see Silas piloting the robot, he’s sitting in a chair and controlling it with an ‘80s controller system. It’s no small wonder Fowler will, later on in the episode, refer to it as “a video game”, because that’s pretty much what Silas is doing. And that’s a bit of a shame, and actually creates a pretty ridiculous story problem later on. Well, it seems that MECH’s testing of this faux Optimus was a success, and yeah, I think crippling the US military as a part of your plot to become the new tech powerhouse in the name of humanity is a logical step forward!

Ratchet reminds the audience of what MECH’s been up to since their introductory episode, recounting how they captured Breakdown and then managed to get their hands on Starscream’s T-Cog, and thus were ready to begin building their own robot, and who better to base their design off of than a dude who was willing just last episode to use a WMD that sucks out his species’ hearts to end the war, eh? Miko’s nice enough to finally give this Optimus knockoff a name (“Nemesis Prime”), which then Ratchet snatches up without even giving thanks. They do have some good news though: MECH’s base of operations has to be within driving distance of both the opening car chase and the recent base attack, since they don’t possess teleportation tech, so that’s good. That’s also a bit of smart writing; it would’ve been easy to just have them be anywhere and have Ratchet pinpoint their location using technobabble, but this way offers us a more realistic problem-solving approach.

Fowler’s ready to put some hurt on MECH, but Optimus insists that he remains here at base, reasoning that MECH’s robot just might hold a grudge and come after him again. Fowler’s counterargument is a bit more sensible, that he doesn’t want the Autobots running around with a kill order on their heads. But Optimus insists that they’ll maintain vehicle cover until the time is right, plus they’re heading out under cover of night, so that’s good. Optimus himself isn’t going out there, right? I mean, he’s the most likely target, and the military likely knows what his vehicle mode looks like… oh, never mind, I guess he is going out there.

Well, they all go on this search, and Bumblebee’s the first one to find something out here, and it just so happens to be the MECH base. A bit of a long shot, but we’ll let it slide. Optimus orders him to proceed with extreme caution and that the rest of them will be there shortly. Silas puts Nemesis Prime into action, masquerading as Optimus to try and throw Bumblebee off, but ‘Bee only speaks in bleep bloop for right now, so when Nemesis doesn’t understand him, that’s tip enough for Bumblebee to start a’shootin’! It’s a quick fight, though; a few punches and a kick are all it takes to knock the poor scout out. The rest of the Autobots arrive on the scene, with no sign of Bumblebee or Nemesis Prime, so Optimus gives a good order:

“Beware of anything that might resemble me.”

Bulkhead is the first one to be taken out- jeez, he just can’t catch a break from Optimus ridiculing him for no reason, blaming him for shit that was other people’s fault, and now he’s getting beat up by Optimus’ evil clone. Poor guy. Arcee’s next; we don’t see her getting taken out, but that’s important because it leaves room for the Arcee/Optimus shippers to squeeze in a whole fanfiction about this. Anyway, Ratchet gives a line that kinda makes this whole excursion pointless:

“If I can isolate the control frequency of the remote link Silas is employing, I should be able to pinpoint his exact position.”

Great! So… why didn’t you do that earlier? I mean, the other plan was good too, don’t get me wrong, but this seems both faster and would actually be easier because if he can isolate the frequency then he should have little trouble in cutting Silas off from control of the robot. I don’t know, it’s like, while the show was trying to acknowledge the elephant in the room, they were just kinda ignoring the mammoth standing next to it.

Miko’s disappointed that Silas isn’t inside the robot itself, and I for one echo her disappointment. I guess they’re saving that for the next episode we’ll be covering, but still, this whole video game controller thing Silas has going on is a bit silly. Fowler wants Ratchet to open up the GroundBridge and send him through to take on Silas, reasoning that, since there’s a human as an enemy, he should be the one to take that human down. Miko’s in full agreement with that:

“Yeah! Plus Silas tried to run him off the road! It’s personal.”

You’re really adorable this episode, y’know that?

And sure, Fowler may be out of shape, and- as we see after he goes through the GroundBridge- prone to motion sickness, but dammit, this is ‘Merica, and who better to stand for that than a rich overweight government affiliate? I’m sure that phrase will never be taken out of context! Anyway, Fowler tracks down Silas even as Optimus finally meets the Nemesis Prime robot. Silas isn’t shy about showing it off, too:

“My robot chassis possesses all your strength, speed, and firepower! Add my extensive combat training, and MECH has clearly achieved the perfect meld of man and machine.”

This is where the whole video game console thing becomes a real issue, because Silas isn’t actually doing anything beyond moving some stick shifts and levers around. I really think this should’ve been him even just in a motion capture suite, just something so that the robot could mirror his movements; that would make sense and gel with the quoted line. Instead, we get this really weird setup that actually hinders Silas more than it helps him. After all, how flexible are the commands of a break pedal, a joystick, and a pulley?

Anyway, the fight manages to make it’s way to the roof of the complex that Silas is hiding out in, and Nemesis Prime manages to stab Optimus, something that Megatron himself couldn’t do. Man, you’re lucky Optimus isn’t in pissed off mode right now, man, or you’d’ve never gotten that shot in. Fowler sneaks into the control room and confronts Silas head on, distracting him long enough (in a really sad fight between an old person and an out of shape dude) for Optimus to get his bearings and just wails on the Nemesis Prime robot, really beating the shit out of him before delivering the crushing blow that brings the roof and the Nemesis robot down on top of Silas. Again, this is Optimus when he isn’t angry!

In the coda, as the Autobots are getting patched up, Fowler informs them that Silas’ body was actually never recovered even after they searched the wreckage for it. And in the second coda, we see Silas is indeed hooked up to life support, with the looming body of Breakdown next to him.
Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Nemesis Prime” is 7/10. The first half is outstanding, with a breakneck pace and an excellent atmosphere that really keeps your interest. The effects and detail work on the Nemesis robot look great, with its beat up look, withering and matte paintjob, and overall meaner appearance, and that military base attack sequence was awesome. The second half is where this drags just a bit. Silas’ contraption seemed way too simple for such a complex task, and Silas himself again didn’t really seem to grow. I know he’s there just to be evil, but come on, Clancy Brown, give us some layers! The kill order on the Autobots, you might have noticed, didn’t get resolved this episode; that’s because it’ll get resolved in a clip episode of all things. We won’t be looking at that one next, instead jumping ahead to MECH’s next big episode, “The Human Factor”.


BUFFY, Part 2- June 11

"The Human Factor"- June 12

"Armada"- June 15

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