June 8, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Operation: Breakdown


Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 1, episode 16, “Operation: Breakdown”

Alright, so I’m finally going to be taking a look at the incredibly loose MECH arc that runs throughout the first two seasons of the show, and we begin with this episode, coming right before “Crisscross” to give you a time frame. This is the second appearance for the human villains, offering up our first real look at how they operate when not in the field. Let’s jump in and see how things play out.

Breakdown and Bulkhead open up the episode in a pretty kinetic fight, made all the more impressive by how dark and gloomy it is out here. There’s some… well, frankly anemic banter between these two; I really wonder how Baldwin reacted when he got this script, because his lines here are, well, they’re not bad, and his delivery is okay, but they have that “kid’s after school program” vibe to them, which I guess is appropriate considering this show’s target audience, but this time it’s just a bit too pandering. Anyway, thank god this is only a teaser, because after cleaning Bulkhead’s clock, Breakdown is about to finish him off when MECH shows up, and Silas orders that they take Breakdown.

After the credits, Bulkhead wakes up with a really annoying Miko chatting his ear off with a game of Marko Polo… god, I hate that game. Anyway, he returns to base, and we get yet another lecture from Optimus, who reprimands Bulkhead for engaging the enemy on his own. Well, considering that he was scouting for Energon… I mean, really, what’d you expect to happen? Considering that you’ll later order Bulkhead back to base so as to take on Megatron yourself without any backup, this seems a might overcautious. But then, what do I know? I’m not carrying the Matrix inside me. Bulkhead thinks that the Autobots or maybe Agent Fowler saved him, but Fowler has a feeling that he knows who it was.

Meanwhile, on the Nemesis, Starscream reports to Megatron about Breakdown’s kidnapping, and… man, Megatron seems really bored with this whole thing. Y’know, Breakdown’s a pretty top-tier ‘Con, Megatron, and considering that humans love new technology, I gotta wonder why you’re not taking this more seriously. Starscream’s apparently in agreement with that, but his reason is that Breakdown is a supposedly “key player” in his own plan to take down Megatron. He doesn’t say that, of course, instead saying that Breakdown’s important to Megatron… and just Megatron, by god; it’s not as if another Decepticon finds his help useful, help that actually benefits your own team… and you.

“If Breakdown allowed himself to be captured by those smaller than him, weaker than him, he deserves whatever fate awaits him.”

I have to wonder if initial plans for a different ending to this season were scrapped, because this episode is leaning heavily on Starscream’s ambition to overthrow Megatron. I mean, he’s always like that- in this season, at least- but here and towards the end of the episode, you really get the sense that there’s more of a cohesive plan going on, but later episodes never reinforce that.

We cut to Breakdown having awoken, surrounded by nasty looking surgical equipment and, I do love this, he’s strapped to the table by bonds that are only slightly bigger than the dimensions of his forearm armor, but since his hands are smaller than that and his wrists don’t intrude, he could just slip right out of those if he wanted; it’s just the way his model was designed for the show. But he doesn’t, instead struggling until Silas (he’s the MECH leader, remember?) finally explains what’s going on:

“Oh, you misunderstand. We don’t want a ransom. We want only you. All of you.”

Well, now we know which line cost Silas those scars, eh?

Anyway, back at the Autobot’s base, Fowler explains that he had intel of MECH activity in the region where Bulkhead and Breakdown fought, and Arcee asks why they don’t just let MECH keep Breakdown; he is a bad guy, right? But Optimus says that any Cybertronian biology in the hands of a terrorist group is probably not the best option for Earth. I do love Optimus’ reasoning, and Bulkhead’s response to it:

“Sometimes, we must rise above ourselves for the greater good.”

“Aw, what’s that supposed to mean?!”

Optimus says that while Breakdown’s probably not gonna be the next member of Team Prime, he does still have potential to change. Bulkhead’s still a bit incredulous at the idea of saving someone just because he’s on the side of the good guys, but Optimus presses that he meant “human kind” when he said ‘greater good”. Well, that shuts Bulkhead up, as even he can see that letting MECH get their hands on anything Cybertronian is pretty much the “holy shit” definition of the word “bad”. With that, the Autobots prepare to leave.

They’ll have to hurry though, because MECH is already set on opening Breakdown up, extracting what they can and then turning that into a new generation of weapons. Breakdown’s pretty ornery over all of this, but I guess getting your eye drilled out of your head isn’t the most pleasant of feelings, so we can let that slide. Clancy Brown as Silas, by the way, really fills his role well here. He’s always been a great actor, known for his Lex Luthor voice acting on the Superman and Justice League shows of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, and here he manages to give a sinister villain some levels to his evil. It’s not great character-building material, sure, but Brown does make the most of it, and his presence really gives the character some gravitas.

Back at base, Bulkhead’s pretty sulky over the Autobots doing… y’know, good things- shocking, I know- and while Miko’s insistent that he go, Bulkhead doesn’t want to help rescue his arch enemy. Optimus, shockingly, actually supports this decision, saying that if he went on the mission, his judgment might be impaired, and it’s not like Optimus would know anything about that, right? Bulkhead’s kinda pissed that Optimus of all people agreed with him about this (clearly Bulk was just being stubborn for the sake of it)- after all, it was at the beginning of this very episode that Optimus ridiculed him over engaging the enemy, which is again, something the Autobots regularly do. Man, Optimus is really all over the map this episode.

Speaking of all over the map (I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to use that transition sentence), the Autobots arrive in Russia where Bulkhead and Breakdown’s fight occurred at the beginning of the episode, and after some searching they find Breakdown’s discarded eye lying on the ground. Incidentally, I love the camera work done for them tracking the signature to where the eye is. There’s a lot of good zooming in and around the people in the scene, off of corners and buildings and such; it makes the world seem a bit more three-dimensional. That’s one of the strengths of having a computer be the camera, y’know you can just do anything!

Miko tries to convince Bulkhead to go after Breakdown, but Bulkhead’s not changing his mind on the grounds that Breakdown’s a pretty evil guy- we’re told that he’s done awful things, though I don’t know; I think having the voice of Adam Baldwin in your character kinda makes you awesome by default. But Miko has a very… um, Miko suggestion:

“You don’t need to bromance him, Bulk. You just need to beat him!... No rescue, no rematch!”

Well… this won’t end badly at all, will it?

Meanwhile, the Autobots have found Breakdown’s eye, and I guess Cybertronian eyeballs are like their versions of USBs, because Ratchet plugs the damn thing into his scanner and tries to upload the eyeball’s files to his computer! Damn! Take note, Google Glass. And apparently MECH has such awesome tech skills that they can not only extract the eye without breaking it, but they also somehow know enough about Cybertronian biotech to convert the eyeball into a two-way live feed. Wow. Y’know, screw new weapons, why don’t you just sell this stuff and outdo Skype! Anyway, Silas and Optimus posture at one another for a bit:

“In this circumstance, Autobots and Decepticons share a common foe.”

“MECH is anything but common. Our guest is yielding quite a bit of information about your biomechanics, as you can see. Although Breakdown himself can’t see so well anymore.”

Silas then lets slip that he’s planted a bomb in the area. That’s Clancy Brown for you, always with the theatrics. I’ve always wanted to see the villain’s bomb go off early, y’know, like in the midst of their speech to the good guys, and then the bomb explodes and they lose the feed right as they hit the zenith of their speech.

I do like how Optimus and Arcee are able to exchange banter even as they realize the bomb’s presence:

Optimus: “It’s a trap!”

Arcee: “Would this be a ‘roll out’ kind of trap?”

Optimus: “Evacuate, now!”

Wow, with two seconds to spare, buddy! You’re lucky!

Bulkhead follows the tracks found on the site to where Breakdown is being held, and while “stealth” and “Bulkhead” don’t really go together, he does his best. Breakdown himself isn’t looking too good now- turns out losing an eye is a pretty nasty ordeal. Well, cue Bulkhead’s arrival, smashing through the bunker door and killing/severely wounding like five guys right there! Evidently Optimus’ “for the greater good” speech either didn’t make an impression, as Bulkhead is clearly not giving a damn about the human life at risk, or it made such an impression that Bulk is now willing to kill the bad humans for the sake of the rest of humanity. Personally, I’m in favor of the former because… well, look, given what we’ve seen over the episodes covered in May, it’s pretty clear that, to the writers, Bulk’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer here, and his frustration may well be overriding his sense of right and wrong. Plus, I like the idea that the Autobots aren’t automatically good just ‘cause they’re Autobots. It’s a theme Optimus will pick up and try to run with in Season Two. I know he mostly just trips over it in Season Two, but I’m just saying!

Of course, Silas just sees this wave of destruction and reacts with expected evilness:

“More grist for the mill.”

Yeah, um, dude… that’s an Autobot who’s weapons are giant wrecking balls!!! You might wanna be more cautious around someone who belongs to a team, the smallest of whom I’ll remind you blew up two of your cars on accident when you last confronted them in person! Anyway, Bulkhead arrives, frees Breakdown (oh, and he does this by just yanking on the restraints that Breakdown himself was unable to break out of, a common problem about kid’s television that’s always irked me), and the two make their escape.

This fight is actually pretty cool. Like in “One Shall Rise,Part 3” with the team-up between Optimus and Megatron, the two fighters here have great synergy together that it almost makes you wonder if they used to work together or be on the same team. Maybe Breakdown was part of the Wreckers at some point, who knows. That’s all speculation, by the way- the show offers no hints of working together at all besides this fight. It’s also really cool to see all the MECH technology being used here, all the copters and trucks and stuff being mobilized and attacking the two ‘bots. It almost makes you forget that these two are pretty much slaughtering all these humans! I do have to admire the directing for this episode, especially here. Shaunt Nigoghossian delivers some excellent battle sequences throughout the series, and this is no different. Again, the camera moves around the field to give us a greater sense of what’s going on, and all the wide-shots help make this feel larger and more theatrical than normal.

Bulkhead radios Optimus for backup, but the Decepticons get there first, and even Silas’ evilness realizes that, y’know, having two of these things trashing up the place is bad enough- taking on five more’s probably not gonna win you any victories. So MECH retreats, and unfortunately, the Decepticon to show up was Starscream- seems his plea to Megatron finally got through- and he accuses Breakdown of consorting with the enemy.

“Bulkhead got me out of there.”

“Many spark-felt thanks, Autobot. [To Breakdown] Now, destroy him!”

“But you-“

“Do you plan on joining their ranks anytime soon? No? Then be done with it already!”

Well, Breakdown grudgingly goes along with this, but the fight quickly turns in favor of Bulkhead, who despite being outnumbered, still manages to knock out Breakdown with one punch and give Starscream a good wallop before Optimus and the others show up. Starscream retreats, and Optimus commends Bulkhead on disobeying orders… because I guess we hadn’t yet tapped that corner of contradictions for the Autobot leader:

“Engaging the enemy on your own was even more foolish this time, Bulkhead. But, I am honored that you saw fit to rescue your rival. You have truly risen above yourself.”

Yeah, and you killed all these humans too, so good job!

Starscream and Breakdown have that exchange that I mentioned at the beginning that seems to hint at future plans, where Starscream says that Breakdown will one day have to choose if his loyalties lie with Megatron or with Starscream… and I guess we’ll never know because Starscream ends up abandoning the Decepticon fold shortly hereafter, and later on Breakdown dies, so… y’know, I guess that’s all she wrote for this plan.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Operation: Breakdown” is 6/10. This is a slightly above average episode for the first season. I actually found it more enjoyable to re-watch for this review than I did when watching it the first time through… almost four years ago now (my god). Anyway, the direction on this one was impressive, and especially since Nigoghossian's previous last outing was "Sick Mind", the weaker one of the two-part Bumblebee story, the episode turns out great! The camera work, as I’ve mentioned, is awesome here, and while the story itself isn’t very good- Bulkhead and Breakdown don’t seem to have grown after this encounter at all, and really the episode is very indicative of Steven Melching's earlier episodes- this is still a fun ride.

Next:

"Nemesis Prime"- June 10

BUFFY, Part II- June 11

"The Human Factor"- June 12

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