Hooray! A solid mid-season 2 episode to review. These are the most fun, when the series had really hit its stride and was showcasing new characaters alongside the old. And this one to me has always typified the best of that season.
Comes and goes:
At a human military base, a big treaded vehicle topped by a planetarium projector rolls up to a radio tower. The device fires, and the radio tower disappears into nothingness. "Negavator works!" Ironhide remarks inside a military bunker, where he and several other Autobots are watching. "And very well, too, if I do say so myself," Wheeljack adds with obvious pride. "Satisfied, gentlemen?" Optimus radios a pair of human military observers on the bunker's roof. "Absolutely. We'll report the test results at once." The humans prepare to leave in a helicopter... and one reminds the other not to forget his tape deck.
"Great job, Wheeljack," Red Alert says in the bunker. "You're a genius," Smokescreen adds, sounding awed. Grapple: "Just don't point that thing at anything I built!" Red Alert is doubtful: "I don't know. We've had superweapons before... and Megatron's still around..." His sensors buzz just then, and his head crests light up to indicate an alert: "Decepticons. Prepare for attack!" On the roof, the tape deck -- naturally -- transforms into Soundwave; the humans flee. Prime orders Red to guard the bunker, and the Autobots prepare to roll out. Red: "Not so fast, Inferno. I need back up!" "Aw, not again; I wanna fight!" Inferno grouses.
Soundwave spews out his cassettes, who open fire down the entry corridor to the bunker. The Autobots transform and counterattack, but the heat of explosions drives them back, and the cassettes bury the entrance. "My beautiful bunker's rubble!" Grapple moans. "And Soundwave's got a clean run at the Negavator!" Wheeljack adds. "Not necessarily," Prime says. "Red Alert, come in!"
"Objective accomplished," Soundwave notes -- but the Negavator turns and fires on him just then. He leaps away and transforms, hiding among boulders. "Go ahead, Soundwave --- make my day!" Red says to himself inside the bunker, scanning for the Decepticon. Inferno is pacing restlessly: "Those guys could use a hand out there." "Stay here, Inferno!"
"We'll dig our way out, Optimus," Hoist says, as Prime and Ironhide ponder the wall of debris. "Some day I want to build something that doesn't get trashed!" Grapple says; he and Hoist transform and attack the rubble with grappling claws.
"Capture the Negavator," Soundwave radios his tapes -- but just then the Autobots burst out of the bunker and attack. "I'll teach you to bomb my buildings!" Grapple says, as the group opens fire. Prime takes up position in front of the Negavator. "I can't get a good shot. Optimus is in the way!" Red Alert grumbles, watching the battle. Inferno: "I'll go to help him!" "No! Stay and guard the bunker!" Inferno walks off with an exhasperated shrug.
"Rumble! Eliminate resistance!" Soundwave orders. "I'm *tryin'*, Soundwave!" Frenzy bodychecks Prime from the side, knocking him aside. "Pop him one for me, Frenzy!" Rumble says, scrambling aboard the Negavator and taking the controls. "Now let's see what this baby can really do!" "WAIT! Not yet!!" Frenzy shouts, as the device aims at him and Prime. Frenzy gets clear; Rumble starts to fire -- but the controls short out and he bails. "That put out your fire, huh, Rumble!" says Inferno, who has soaked the machine with some kind of chemical. Prime grabs his gun again, and Soundwave orders a retreat. "Not without leaving a little goin' away present!" Rumble says, firing a missile.
The missile streaks into the base and down a corridor. "Inferno -- is that --" Red Alert gets cut off as the missle slams into his console, blowing it to smithereens and him across the room, where he lies under a chunk of building, his head crests fuzing and smoldering. "Inferno -- help me... Inferno -- where are you??"
"Grapple is going to blow a fuse when he sees this," Hoist notes with dismay at the building's entry, before hearing Red's cries for help. He heads into the bunker and frees Red, whose eyes are darkened and discolored. "Wait till I get my hands on Inferno!" Red says. "Oh, don't overcharge. It wasn't his fault --"
Inferno comes dashing in just then. "Red! You're alright! I was worried about'cha," he says. "If you'd stayed where you were supposed to, you could have spared yourself the concern," Red snaps back [would that make him a red snapper, then?] "Huh?" But Red stalks off, with Prime following him. "Oh, you know Red. He's like that," Hoist says.
"I'll put it to you straight, Optimus -- Inferno *betrayed* me!" Red says with conviction in the next room over. "He acted bravely to save the Negavator, Red, nothing more." "Why can't anyone see it? Inferno wants my job!" Red says, headcrests sizzling. "You'd better let Hoist check you out. Then get some rest," Prime says. "I'm fine! It's just an electroglitch that comes and goes. Comes and goes." "Alright, Red. But get ready to return to Autobot Headquarters. It's too dangerous to remain here." Prime leaves the room. "Too dangerous, eh? Now Optimus wants me out of the way, too! It's a plot --" Red grasps his head and keels over in pain.
Outside, the Autobots roll out -- as Megatron watches by remote, as relayed by Ravage. "You incompetent fools!! I must have the Negavator!" "Allow me, Megatron! I shall succeed where others have failed," Starscream says.
The 'cons watch from above as the 'bots roll through a canyon. Rumble dislodges a rock, to Megatron's displeasure: "Rumble, you clumsy OAF--!!" "Red Alert! Analyze that noise!" Prime orders. "Noise? What noise? All clear!" The 'bots drive on. "Crush them," Megs orders, and Rumble pile-drives the cliff down onto the Autobots. Ironhide and Prime, in the lead, are buried; the 'cons dive and attack. Red Alert is the first to be hit. Hoist and Grapple (the former abandoning the Negavator) transform to free Prime and Ironhide; Megs sees his chance and dives for the Negavator. "He can't steal what he can't see!" Smokescreen says, using his gimmick to conceal the device. "You'll have to do better than that!" Megs says, flying into the cloud and banging into the Negavator. The jets also pass through, initiating one of Transfandom's all-time favorite exchanges. Ramjet: "The smoke is sticking to us. I can't see!" Starscream: "Fools! Quit whining and use your radar!" "Yeah. Go ahead and try," Smokescreen says, transforming and blasting the jets. Thrust: "Hey! My circuits electric blew just out!" Skywarp: "Too mine! I'm blind flying!" Starscream: "Away move! Before collide we!" Thrust and Skywarp hit the canyon wall; Starscream almost makes it, but not quite. "If I crash, I take an Autobot with me!" Ramjet vows.
Grapple and Hoist have freed Prime and Ironhide -- but Megs is already in the control seat. "You're too late, Prime! Next stop oblivion," he says, preparing to fire -- till Ramjet comes along and knocks him out of the control seat. "I've got MORONS on my team!" Megs despairs, before ordering a retreat. The 'cons launch, minus Screamer who's still recovering from his crash. Ramjet: "W-what about Starscream?" . "LEAVE him! We have more important things to worry about!"
"It'll take days to clear this rock pile," Hoist says. "Red Alert, why didn't you warn us?" Prime asks. "You want to get rid of me! Just like the others do!" "Hmm, you're more damaged than I thought." "There's nothing wrong with me!" "Red Alert needs a complete overhaul," Prime says. "Your logic and reason circuits are fried," Hoist says. "You need immediate repairs!" Inferno adds. "Don't give me any of that. You just want to disassemble me for spare parts! Never! I won't let you!" Red barges between the two and flees. "Wait! We're your friends!" Hoist calls out, to no avail. "Quickly! We must rescue him before he makes his condition worse!" Prime, Hoist, and Ironhide go after Red. From the ledge where he crashed, Starscream observes this: "Megatron will regret abandoning me!" He transforms and flies off.
The 'bots track Red to a city, where they observe a familiar fire chief's car driving past. Ironhide catches up to the car sitting at a building fire. "Come on, Red. We'll take care of ya... Whassamatter? Can'tcha transform?" Ironhide says, picking the vehicle up. "Hey! That's my car! Put it back where ya found it!" the human owner protests. "Aw, sorry, chief; it looked like a friend of mine!" Ironhide transforms and drives off; the fire chief wishes for a vacation.
Red transforms, exhausted, in an alley, and a whiney girly voice calls out to him: "You can hide in here!" He enters a warehouse and is surprised to learn who his benefactor is. "Starscream!" "Quiet -- or we'll both be caught!" Red raises his gun: "You are -- the enemy!" "Am I? I could have blasted you in the back! We need each other." "I'll never join the Decepticons!" "So? Who's asking you to?"
Outside, the Autobots are still fruitless. "We can't search endlessly... we must take the Negavator back to the bunker," Prime says. Hoist: "But Red's circuits will explode if we don't repair him soon!" Prime: "We have no choice. Our energy level's too low to withstand another attack out here." The 'bots transform and roll.
Starscream continues to lecture Red Alert: "I know exactly how you feel. Megatron and the other Decepticons envy *my* superiority, too!" "That's why Megatron left you behind?" "Yes. He's afraid I'd make a better leader!" "Maybe that's why the Autobots were jealous of me!" "If we had control of the Negavator, Optimus and Megatron would be forced to admit our superiority." "That would show Inferno and the others I'm just as good as they are!" "Better!" "*I* would be in charge! *Me*!" "Of course, Red! You would be supreme!"
The Autobots return to the battered bunker, and store the Negavator on the high-security Level 9. Hoist dashs out as a massive gate slams shut... and we pan up to a vent in the roof.
"We'll never reach the Negavator at this rate!" Starscream grouses on a distant hill side, while Red Alert fusses with some weeds. "This will speed us up," Red declares, pulling the weeds aside to reveal an air vent. "Perfect. How did you know about it?" "As security director, I know *all* the secret entrances. Prime should have considered that, before he betrayed me!" The two head into the tunnel... an action which is relayed via Ravage to Megatron.
"So, Starscream's engaged in some private enterprise with an Autobot." "Just give the order. Megatron, I'll weld that traitor to the wall," Thrust says. "You're so brave now. Too bad your courage does not hold up under fire!" Ramjet says. "Silence! We'll let them do the dirty work... then we'll sieze the reward!"
Wheeljack and Smokescreen head out to hunt for Red Alert. Meanwhile, Screamer and Red are racing to beat the security systems -- "The tunnel drone's unstoppable. Not even I can deactivate it!" Red blasts a lock off a grating, which doesn't move. "If we don't get out of here fast, we'll be atomized!" "I don't want to die!!" Starscream says, taking aim. "No! The alarms!" "I'll worry about them later!" Screamer blasts through the grate; the two run and dive into a floor vent just as the tunnel drone passes over them. They land on atop the other in a large chamber, and find themselves face to face with -- "The Negavator!!"
"Intruders on Level 9? No way," Ironhide says below. "We can't risk it. Let's go!" Prime replies.
"They changed the combination. They never trusted me!" Red despairs, trying to open the doors. "I don't blame them! Now we'll never get it out." "Oh yes we will!" Red hops in the driver seat and blasts the door open. The Autobots arrive just then. "Stand aside, Red, ol' buddy! You're safe now!" Ironhide says. "And Starscream is DUST!" Inferno adds. "Not so fast. Starscream's my *partner*," Red says. Prime: "Red. You need help!" Hoist: "Let me fix you!" "Get back. I know *just* how you want to fix me." "You heard him. Now, move away from the elevator!" Starscream adds.
The 'bots step aside as the Negavator rolls past, but Op adds: "We can't let you take the Negavator, Red Alert." "Blast them while you have the chance!" Screamer shouts; Red fires a shot that blows up a bridge to the elevator. "That was a warning! Stay away!" "Now Red... I know you. You won't fire at me --" Op starts, till a shot cuts him off. "But I will!" Megatron says. He and a half-dozen other 'cons are standing in the entryway, where Grapple and Hoist have been clearing debris.
"Megatron!" Screamer cries out. "Very good, Starscream. You remembered who I am -- your LEADER!" "Y-you misunderstand! I-I was just --" "You were just about to deliver the Negavator to ME, correct?" "Yes! Yes, of course!" "No! It is MINE!" Red Alert says -- but Starscream dives right THROUGH the cockpit and tackles Red to the ground. "Red Alert's going to explode!" Optimus warns; Screamer orders him to "Freeze!" and shoots him with a null ray. Red's eyes and head clear up -- "My... my logic chips... what's happening??" Megatron: "What's happening is that YOU are going to test the Negavator on the Autobots." "Or, we'll use it on YOU, 'partner'!" Red climbs into the cockpit.
"He's not really gonna do it!" Ironhide says. Prime: "I don't know... but I think Starscream's null ray stabilized his circuits for the moment." Starscream: "Hey... he's messing with the controls!" "The Negavator is set to self-destruct!" Red says maniacally. Megs: "You're bluffing, Autobot!" Screamer: "Can we afford to take that chance?"
The Autobots use the distraction to attack; Grapple and Hoist also dump their loads of debris on the 'cons. "Attack!" Megs orders. "Forget it. The Negavator's going to blow!" says Dirge; he and the other jets transform and clear out. "One day, Prime!" Megs says. "Save the oration!" Screamer tells him; the two depart.
"Take cover!" Prime orders urgently. Red hops out and runs, but only gets part-way before the Negavator goes up. The Autobots (coughing) head out... but Red's not there. "He's gonna be a pool of molten metal if we don't get 'im out!" Ironhide says, starting back in, but Prime stops him: "It's too dangerous. I'll go." "No! This job has my name on it!" Inferno says, transforming and heading into the blaze. He finds Red in the middle of the fires. "Inferno... save yourself. I don't deserve to be an Autobot." Inferno catches a collapsing structural member just before it squashes Red. "Thanks!" "What're friends for, Red?"
"I should've gone myself," Prime says outside, as nothing but smoke emerges -- but then Inferno, with Red on top, emerges, and everyone cheers. Inferno transforms, still holding Red in his arms. "Red... you're safe." "And... feeling better, Optimus. Sorry about --" "No. It was my insistence on testing the Negavator that started our problems. We're just glad to have you back. Both you and Inferno have shown great bravery today." Red smiles: "With friends like these... *real* friends... it's easy to be brave." Fade out.
Comes and goes:
This ep makes you wonder why there weren't more G1 episodes like it -- namely, ones that take a particular character trait and give it a good workout. Gears, Ironhide, Starscream, Grapple, and First Aid all got similar episodes, but that leaves tons of other characters who didn't -- which is kind of a shame, really. Character-driven episodes are generally the best; it only takes one ep like this to get me genuinely attached to a character. How 'bout some Sideswipe rule-bending? Trailbreaker self-doubting? Skids... uh... doing *anything*? Never happened.
In this case, it's an all-pervasive all-paranoia all-Red Alert psychofest, taken to the ultimate extreme, Sunday Sunday Sunday! I feel kinda sorry for Red as a character -- this is his starring episode, and he spends 2/3rds of it in a state of dementia. So, like Mixmaster's speech quirk, it gets mis-propogated by the fandom as his standard state of being -- which is too bad, because he's actually kind of an interesting character. In most eps he's in, he's shown to think a lot more than your typical pre-Movie Autobot. He's the one who questions the validity of yet another superweapon; he continually scans the terrain with the Negavator during the stand-off with the Decepticons; he wisely orders Inferno to watch his back; he breaks the stalemate with the Decepticons by blowing up the Negavator.
There's not a whole lot else going on in the character department. We have Starscream being his usual rebellious self. Grapple gets to gripe a bit about his buildings being blown up, but it's just lip service compared to the characterization he got in "The Master Builders". Hoist is fully in character as the cheerful optimist who tries to put a positive spin on everything. Inferno is nicely impatient and itching to get into battle, to the point of deserting his post, but pretty much disappears after that till the very end. A shame, really -- we should have seen more of him interacting with Crazy Red. Smokescreen and Wheeljack are basically just bodies on the screen (except for Smokey's big smoke scene), as are most of the 'cons. Thrust and Ramjet's little exchange is telling, however, and not the first or last time we'd see Thrust's blustering and bragging.
Okay, okay... maybe I should elaborate on Starscream at least a *little*, considering how much self-referential dialogue he gets. "Megatron and the other Decepticons envy MY superiority, too!" Is he just playing up for Red's benefit, or does he really believe it? He doesn't go into his scheme with very much conviction; he gives it up at the first sight of Megatron, instead of taking the obvious path of trying to use the Negavator against him. Yeah, Screamer, I bet Megs REALLY regrets having abandoned you now.
Megatron's sure a grouch, eh? "Rumble, you clumsy oaf--!!" "I've got MORONS on my team!" "You incompentent FOOLS!" "LEAVE him! We have more important things to worry about!"
Megatron's also a fool: "Well, we've got an ultimate weapon and a handful of our mortal enemies at gunpoint. Hey, I know! Let's put one of them IN the ultimate weapon!" BRILLIANT strategy there, Megs. HUGE surprise that it backfired. I'm shocked, truly. Call the meds 'cause I think I'm havin' a heart attack. The 'cons are lucky it didn't backfire even worse... Red could easily have turned the device against them. Of course, the Autobots aren't doing a whole lot better, considering that 'cons got into the cockpit THREE times (if you count Screamer jumping through it!) Hoist earns some Stupid Points for abandoning the Negavator to help Prime and Ironhide -- a task Grapple could have handled solo. Of course, as much ass as Smokescreen was kicking, the other Autobots didn't really need to be there at all. And they weren't -- where DID Wheeljack and Inferno go during that scene? Was their collision at the start of the battle supposed to have put them both out of commission? If so, then who was firing while Red was down and Grapple and Hoist were freeing Op and Ironhide? Good ol' Smokes, I guess.
The Moral-o'-the-Day was laid on a bit thick and heavy at the end; virtually all the last scene could be eliminated or totally re-written, and it'd make the ep seem a lot less cheesey. Prime's apology in particular came up out of nowhere; if we'd *seen* him insisting on testing the Negavator -- and seen Red and maybe some others opposing it -- Prime's apology would seem a lot more meaningful. I guess the "I should have gone myself" scene seems kinda dramatic when you're ten years old, but it seems sort of canned to me now.
Biggest apparent plot hole: the Autobots departed from the bunker to return to Autobot Headquarters. But as soon as they give up hunting for Red Alert, they turn around and trek right back to the bunker. Why? After a couple of watchings, I finally realized that this is the purpose of Hoist's line about "It'll take days to clear this rubble" in the canyon -- the path back to Autobot HQ is blocked now, hence the return to the bunker instead. G1 has an odd tendency to gloss over important and non-self-evident plot points like this, while hammering obvious stuff like "Stay here, Inferno!" into your skull repeatedly.
How does Soundwave manage to pop up in such unlikely places as the roof of an Autobot bunker? Did the military guys carry him up there? Why would they bring a *tape* recorder along for a weapons demonstration? For that matter, how does Ravage always know exactly where to be in order to relay the action along to Megatron?
How does smoke go about sticking to something? You'd think any bonding force the particles have would cause them to adhere to their target -- not hover around it like smoke does. Actually, that is more or less what happens to the jets, but I seem to recall another ep where Megatron flies away with a perfectly round little cloud of Smokescreen dust around him ("Key to Vector Sigma", was it? That's like 4 times Smokey has taken on Megatron with his gimmick -- bonus points to whoever can name the other two times. And like Brawn vs. Soundwave, he came out on top in 3 out of 4.)
Why the big mystery over Starscream's identity in the warehouse scene? It's not like anyone isn't going to recognize his voice. The only wonder is that Red Alert *didn't*. I love the soundtracking in that scene, incidentally. Very powerful bit of music, that.
Why'd the Negavator switch from atomizing stuff to just making it explode? Did Red use a lower setting? Or did he fire out of the other end? The Negavator is basically a planetarium projector on treads... maybe an early-80s in-joke? Does anyone still go to planetariums anymore, and do the projectors still look like that?
Moment of Perversion #1: Red Alert squatting on top of Starscream.
Moment of Perversion #2: Red relaxing all comfy in the arms of Inferno. They hold their gaze just a leeeetle too long... :P
Rumble's rear-shooting missile is also disturbing. There's just something very *wrong* about firing a projectile out of what looks like an exhaust port. And... isn't that dangerous? Couldn't Rumble blow his own face off while shooting his gun normally if he hit the wrong button? :]
I *hate* it when robots cough. It was disconcerting in "Roll For It" and it's disconcerting here. Whose idea was it to make coughing robots? Even if they have air filters or something like that, I doubt that *coughing* is how they would clear them of airborne particulates.
Dialogue is so-so. Not much is really oustanding, though I do like Red Alert's "comes and goes!" bit. The "circuits electric blew just out" bit is a Transfan favorite as well. But there's a fair number of rather pointless lines like "Rumble! Eliminate resistance!" "We can't let Megatron get the Negavator!" "Here we are...." "...and there they go!" Best voice acting: Starscream's "I don't blame them!" and Inferno's exhasperated "Aw, not again! I wanna fight!!" I also like Hoist's line about Grapple blowing a fuse; Frenzy and Rumble's chaotic teamwork is kinda nice as well.
They seemed to still be settling on Ramjet's voice in this episode. "The smoke is sticking to us" sounds NOTHING like how Ramster's supposed to sound. "What about Starscream?" is a bit closer -- but "You're so brave now" is pretty much the 'correct' Ramjet.
Are they jets? Or are they helicopters? When you're a Decepticon, there's apparently rather little difference. The coneheads fly straight up and turn 180 degrees in a *corridor* for cryin' out loud.
Hoist and Grapple's vehicle modes constitute this episode's Breach of Physics. Is there anything that they *can't* do? Every time they have to clear debris, they've got a different way of doing it, usually involving some incredibly flexible, stretchy, bendy, reforming metal.
The cast (on the Autobot side, at least) is nicely consistent: Optimus, Ironhide, Wheeljack, Smokescreen, Grapple, Hoist, Inferno and Red. No magic appearances or unexplained disappearances. Even Wheeljack and Smokesceen's later disappearance is accounted for, a nice touch. No mini-bots, you'll notice, and all the Season 2 big cars (except Skids) put in lengthy appearances. On the Decepticon side, we have Frenzy popping up for a while, virtually all the Seekers getting in some bit lines, and Laserbeak inexplicably masquerading as Buzzsaw. Thundercracker and Skywarp look oddly hokey and out of place alongside the coneheads, just as the Season 1 'bots seemed out of place in "The Golden Lagoon". I swear it's something to do with those bright-colored background scenes both episodes use.
Pretty good artwork in this ep, and LOTS of nice action sequences: Frenzy slamming into Optimus; the missile blowing away Red's console; Prime firing in front of the Negavator; the various transformation sequences in the first act; Ironhide's extended transform as the 'bots give up searching for Red; closeups of Starscream and Red while they have their little chat; Hoist dashing out of the Negavator storage room (would make a GREAT screenshot -- you paying attention, Nightwind?); Starscream leaping THROUGH the Negavator's cockpit to tackle Red. I also like Inferno's little look of concern after he catches the falling beam. And check out Red climbing into the Negavator to blast the doors open -- the frame rate suddenly *leaps* up. Overall this episode has a feeling of nice, solid quality to it that G1 frequently lacked. I think that may be one reason I'm so partial to this particular batch of episodes, in fact ("The Gambler", "Master Builders", "The Girl Who Loved Powerglide", etc. Of course, "Child's Play" is in there, too, so maybe the theory doesn't hold up so well.)
Odd shots: What the heck happens to the screen when Optimus transforms to leave the bunker?? It's like someone messed with the hue... The closeup on Ironhide's face when Red announces he's buddy-buddy with Starscream is... odd, somehow, like Ironhide has some specially vested interest in keeping Red away from Screamer. Heh heh. Seriously, though, one would expect Inferno or Prime to get the closeup.
I do like how consistently they gave that bizarre darkening to Red's eyes. Very cool. And the buzzing, short circuiting crests is a nice way of demonstrating that Red's all whacked up in the head.
Overall: Not quite as good as I remembered... but still bright, colorful, and fun -- a decently solid episode. This is what I wish they'd done a bit more of with G1.
Back to Rob's Pile of Transformers