“New Recruit” is an episode of introduction and one of slight transition. This comes right before “The Human Factor”, just to give you some idea of where we are in the series, and it introduces us to Smokescreen, who I’ll talk more about as we get further into the episode. This also features one of the dumbest secondary plots that this series has ever done, indicative of the T-Arc, but without the drive that made a few of those episodes work. This episode will lead us into another scavenger hunt, actually, but for now, let’s just jump in and see what’s what.
The episode starts out with Raf and Jack scrubbing the internet of Bumblebee sightings (the ‘bot, not the actual animal, otherwise I’d question how bored Jack is right now), and they happen to catch a grainy picture of a Cybertronian escape pod. We also see Bulkhead’s initial steps to recovery, and it’s not promising, with Miko making him do workouts for his legs, and she restarts at the beginning if he can’t finish the complete set. Well, with him out of action, they’re down one ‘bot, and when Ratchet objects to bringing Wheeljack along for fear of that character getting further development, Optimus decides to just go in and check it out, reasoning that an Autobot could be in distress.
We get a neat throwback to the G1 episode “A Plague of Insecticons” with a red Decepticon insignia on the downed ship, and then a bunch of Insecticons do show up to claim this escape pod. And in an unfortunate throwback to “Armada”, the Insecticons die really easily here. I’m not kidding: Arcee and Bumblebee shoot at one for a bit with their fire looking like it’s not doing much damage, but then the poor bug just falls over. Way to weaken one of the most interesting adversaries, guys. Anyway, the firefight quickly turns… I guess more in the Autobots’ favor as they seemed to be having little trouble to begin with, with the arrival of a new Autobot on the scene. This guy takes out some ‘Cons with a few flashy moves before accidentally shooting the giant river of Energon that’s leaked from the ship, igniting it and causing a massive explosion that takes out the enemy. Good coincidence, but as Arcee points out once the smoke’s cleared, it was just that, and this guy’s boasting about his victory brings no smiles to the team. Optimus congratulates the new guy, who calls himself Smokescreen, and who is pretty awed by being able to meet the great Optimus Prime. I do like Smokescreen’s little geek out moment there, with the rest of the team just looking at him with smirks on their faces.
They don’t know what to do with him now, though, as the last time they got a new person to their team, he turned out to be a fake and the real one turned out to be insubordinate and reckless. I’m sure Smokescreen won’t turn out like that, right? Optimus notices Smokescreen’s insignia is that of the Cybertronian Elite Guard, again taking a cue from Animated, except this is about the one and only time that team is mentioned (it would have been super cool to have Ultra Magnus with that logo in this show too, but oh well). Smokescreen reveals that he was actually a security guard under the direct command of Alpha Trion of all people, the same guy who recommended that Optimus be made a Prime, and with Smokescreen specifically knowing that information, that’s enough for Optimus to let him back to their base, much to the shock of Arcee who, much like the audience, is slightly taken aback by how quickly Optimus can just accept the word of a new guy thanks to information that, while implied to be held in strict confidence, I find to stuff that would frankly be out in the open: Optimus is the leader of an army, after all, you’d think he’d have something like this on his service record or in his history or something.
Miko begins grilling the new guy right away, asking him about his backstory and his weapons, naturally suspicious and excited. Ratchet shares Miko’s thoughts, too, and this leads to Smokescreen spilling how he got to Earth, that he was the last line of defense when the ‘Cons attacked the Hall of Records, but since he hadn’t seen any actual combat before, he quickly fell unconscious and was captured. I admit, I do like this story. It tells of a young green soldier who failed on what was essentially his first mission. Smokescreen spin-doctors this, obviously, but it’s certainly better than having a character who is already seasoned with this kind of stuff.
Anyway, he says that he escaped in a long-range Decepticon pod, and now he’s here. His confidence blown up to eleven, he says that now that he’s here, they’ll have no problem finishing off the Decepticons. Yeah, good luck, buddy- so far all I’ve seen you do is accidentally blow up a giant river, and according to your backstory, you spent your time being bookkeeper to an old guy, then got knocked out by exploding door, and then you ran away. You’re really not impressing us with your charm either. Bulkhead’s in agreement with that, limping out from his quarters to show Smokescreen how dire the situation is. Optimus suggests that Smokescreen become acclimated to his new environment, starting with a tour of the base. Miko offers to do it, but grumbling from Bulkhead makes her hand that responsibility over to Jack. Y’know, I’ve got little love for Smokescreen here, but Bulkhead’s being a bit of a tool. And his whining isn’t going to stop here.
This is where the b-plot creeps in, and it’s really silly. Starscream is in his makeshift base of the downed Harbinger ship, searching the internet for signs of Cybertronian sightings. And thank god this is a children’s cartoon or we’d be let in on Starscream’s deepest, darkest, most fucked up sex fantasies imaginable, and no one needs that (except for angry fanfic writers). Anyway, he’s found some really powerful Energon, so powerful, in fact, that it takes on a red glow. Well, such a commanding form of Energon must have a name as equally powerful as it no doubt is and also denote something about its nature, like Dark Energon, or ToxEn or SynthEn, I mean, that’s just how the rules go. So, in keeping with that, we get the awesome name of… Red Energon. I feel like a -_- is necessary.
Jack’s showing Smokescreen around the base, even showing him the top secret we-do-not-want-the-Decepticons-to-ever-get-their-hands-on-them super powerful relics, some of which took four whole episodes to fine, and Smokescreen seems particularly interested in the Phase Shifter. They’re also keeping Airachnid in here, because why not? I figured when Optimus said in “Partners” that they didn’t have the capacity to hold Starscream prisoner, I figured he… y’know, actually meant it, not that he was just really lazy. It could also be that Airachnid’s okay in here since she’s in stasis; we have seen how thin the walls are on this base. Bulkhead’s not too happy that Smokescreen’s here, thinking that they’re replacing him, but the team assures him that his position with them isn’t being handed off to someone else.
“Bulkhead, your place with us is not in jeopardy. But there is no dispute that we have long required additional firepower.”
I don’t know, Optimus. Given how easily three of you handled a Decepticon raid on an escape pod (against Insecticons, no less), I’m thinking your firepower capabilities are just fine. Still, having another guy on the team isn’t a bad idea; they are outnumbered here, however much the script requires the Autobots to win in the end, and the shake up that this will cause later on will be a nice change of pace for this show, especially during this Season Two lull period.
Raf finds the same picture of Red Energon that Starscream found… by the way, just as an aside, I love how dramatically Optimus announces “Red Energon” to everyone, with the music swelling to let us know that this is a dangerous and powerful new discovery. Sorry, Peter Cullen, not even you can pull off making that silly name sound like anything but a joke. It seems the stuff’s power is more along the lines of a joke too, as Ratchet says that when turned into a consumable form, it grants the user with hyper speed… which just begs the question as to why this shit wasn’t called “Hyper” Energon, or “Velocitron” Energon, then you could’ve had a throwback to Cybertron in there, because we all know how much Prime loves to wink at the Unicron Trilogy with fucking episodes like “Armada”, dammit!
Smokescreen is just giddy to see some action, but Optimus belays that, telling him that he’s too undertrained to go out into combat, and he doesn’t even have an Earth-based vehicle mode. Arcee points out that he needs one in order to blend in and maintain a low profile… says the ‘bot who picked possibly one of the sexiest bikes to scan… and it’s blue! I could cry.
Um, anyway! So Starscream arrives at the dig-site:
“The Red Energon is mine, puny humans! For you are powerless in the name of the mighty Star-… what? Where is it?”
Yes, it seems that Fowler cleared the site as Optimus instructed, and way to go writers for slipping this little scene in there; I did chuckle at seeing it!
Meanwhile, Smokescreen is trying to pick out his vehicle mode with the help of Jack. I’m not sure why Jack’s there; none of the other Autobots had any trouble picking vehicle modes without humans… unless Agent Fowler was there on Optimus’ shoulder, whispering terrible things about Hondas. I guess now would be an okay time to talk about Smokescreen’s design. I love it! It’s all the right mix of Bumblebee’s and Knockout’s rolled into a slick package of white with blue and red trim, and something about it just really works! It just looks like it could be the body of a teen/early-twenties kid… in robot form… look, I’m saying the design evokes youngness, rashness, a sense of flair, and a drive for speed. That’s why I really like how his character switched paintjobs in Season Three as kind of a conscious step forward of maturity for him. This Smokescreen is, as Arcee said to Bulkhead, very green (as in young), and so his design mimics that, and I like it.
This is where the b-plot takes over pretty much fully to have an excuse for the full action climax! The Autobots arrive where the Red Energon has been moved to, but Starscream’s already there and he has his Apex Armor with him. As I mentioned way back in my “Triangulation” review, I don’t like the look of the Apex Armor very much. Even the concept of it is kinda stupid; it takes away your transformation ability, rids you of offensive and long-ranged weapons, and robs you of more agile fighting, all of which the Prime robots have shown in spades, so I don’t understand how this thing could possibly be an advantage in the field. You’re basically at a stalemate now if you put the suit on (since it makes you impervious to firepower), but you yourself can’t do any more damage than you could when you didn’t have the suit on. I suppose you could crush things with it, but that would require more maneuverability than this thing allows you to do; even Bulkhead, the roundest character on the show, shows more agility than this. It’s just a stupid design, expect on Miko, who wore it for far too short a time, I’m sad to say.
Optimus gives the order for Bumblebee and Arcee to secure the Energon and bridge it back to base… so Starscream naturally goes after Optimus, engaging him in battle while the other two are free to carry out that order. Optimus gets knocked around a bit, then tells Ratchet of what’s going on. Smokescreen is now just itching to get in there and help out the ‘bots, but Ratchet refuses to send him in, on the grounds that to not do so is common sense, while Smokescreen is more of a rookie idiot. Starscream apparently has managed to take out all of Optimus’ crew, because the next Ratchet tries contacting them for a status update, there’s no response from anyone. So, much to his chagrin, Ratchet orders that Smokescreen be sent in… but he’s not in the main hanger.
No, he’s staring at the Phase Shifter, unlocking the door (there’s no security to keep people from opening the cells, don’t be stupid) and clearly planning to steal it. But Ratchet shows up and catches him, and there’s a brief moment where it looks like Smokescreen is willing to fight him over it. It should be noted that when Jack was showing him the relics earlier, Smokescreen was behaving semi-shadily, and the music helped to pump that suspicion up even more, so this is merely playing into that suspicion. It’s a bit of weird red herring, thinking that Smokescreen would turn out to be evil, and I never much cared for this misdirection even upon initial viewings.
Meanwhile, the Autobots have managed to get on top of the crane to get the box of Red Energon, with Optimus punching Starscream clear off the support structure to fall all the way to the ground, but before he falls, he gets a chunk of the red stuff. Then, instead of running with the chunk of Energon that he has (a not-so-insignificant chunk, I might add), he prepares to destabilize the crane and make the Autobots fall too… not sure how this is helping your strategy, ‘Scream, but whatever.
Well, luckily (dear God), Smokescreen arrives, zipping through the GroundBridge in his new slick vehicle mode. Arcee’s less than impressed:
“Apparently no one defined ‘low-profile’ for him.”
Yeah, but come on! This thing is so awesome that I think upon seeing it Knockout fainted! Anyway, there’s no point in Starscream running now; that would defeat the whole purpose of Smokescreen’s being here, so instead Starscream turns to face him, but Smokescreen’s awesome enough to have taken the Phase Shifter, and drop-kicks Starscream through the Apex Armor! Damn! That is impressive, I’ll give him that. This is enough for Starscream to run off with the Red Energon that he has.
Back at base, Smokescreen is welcomed to Team Prime, with Optimus even commending him for thinking outside the box, taking their tech without asking (Ratchet sanctioned his plan only after he broke into the vault), and getting them the Apex Armor. Optimus even commends him for “choosing to place strategy above bravado”… yeah, way to spin that, Prime. The dude scanned some slick wheels and then took out Starscream in a pretty flashy move there; that’s pretty much the definition of “bravado”. We also see Bulkhead limp off in a depressed state, with Miko trying in vain to cheer him up. It’s a good character moment, if a bit overdone.
Post episode follow-up: Final score for “New Recruit” is 7/10. The introduction of Smokescreen went much better than that of Wheeljack. For one, we got to see right off the bat that this guy is fresh, new, and full of energy, but also really overconfident and rash. I like Arcee’s commentary on his various antics; she’s genre-savvy enough to know that he’s the rookie hotshot kid of the group, and her comments help to keep the audience grounded in not being swept away by this new character. I also like how he’s an evolving member of the team, as we’ll see in our next review: Smokescreen may have proven himself here, but he clearly has a lot to learn, and him filling the “kid” role would go on to have backlash to it. Smokescreen would of course go on to be a fun character, and I think that’s mostly due to how the writers never wrote him as though his rash behavior was meant to be endearing; he’s charming, sure, but we’re never meant to think that he is in the right, which is a smart move, and a breath of fresh air.
BUFFY, Part III