Rob's Pile of Transformers: Manic
Manic Ramblings and Delirious Ranting
Re: Why Dinobot is the Greatest Character in Transformers
Why Dinobot is the Greatest Character in Transformers
It distresses me to no end to hear people denigrate the Beast Wars
character Dinobot. While nowadays we're mostly free from the "Grimlock
would kick his sorry organic butt!" outbursts that appeared when BW was
new, the seeming vogue today is to attack the erstwhile Predacon for being
a dispicabley whishy-washy traitor with an arbitrary code of so-called
honor. Even if you think that's the case, though -- and I'll address
those points and many others below -- it's completely missing the point
Dinobot is a great *character*. Not a character like your weird
Uncle Bob, but a *literary* character -- a fictional creation who transends
his own non-existance to become something universal, something that reflects
our own human condition on an intensely personal and perhaps disturbing
level. Like the mad McBeth, he's not someone you would necessarily
want to know personally -- indeed, much the opposite. But through
the course of his story, he paints for the viewer a picture of some very
human struggles. And in doing so, he becomes more 'real' than the
vast majority of characters in the Transformers mythos.
Dinobot's history, motivations, desires, and morals are all vague
and complex. Let's start with a history, so we're all on the same
Dinobot is, by all accounts, a warrior by trade. In the setting
of the Beast Wars show, this means he is a fighter on a planet where there
is no enemy to fight. As with all the BW Predacons, the exact nature
of his relationship with the rouge Megatron is never clarified -- but the
two apparently share some degree of history. "You know me better
than that," Dinobot tells him in "Maximal No More", referring to the time
before Dinobot joined the Maximal side. "That Predacon chip still
ticks beneath your armored hide," Megs says of Dinobot in "Chain of Command",
again implying some past familiarity beyond simple recruitment. So
it would seem a safe wager that Dinobot -- unlike Terrorsaur, Waspinator,
and perhaps Tarantulas -- had been at least a close acquaintance of Megatron's
on Cybertron. His joining was no arbitrary whim, but a carefully
In the BW pilot, Dinobot believes Megatron has failed as commander
-- squandering a golden opportunity to vanquish the pursuing Maximals,
and stranding his crew on what is apparently the wrong planet. He
challenges him to a duel for leadership... a duel which Megatron sidesteps
by having Dinobot blasted over the horizon. A disgruntled (I dare
say infuriated, based on Primal's comments in "Equal Measures") Dinobot
turns to the Maximals to gain the strength he requires to overthrow Megatron.
He challenges their leader to a duel for leadership... a duel during which
Dinobot passes up an easy chance to defeat Optimus Primal, on the grounds
that it would be "lacking in honor. I would not have earned the right
to lead." And when Primal gets him down, he urges the Maximal leader
to finish him off... and rejects the proferred offer of mercy, choosing
to attack instead. The duel finally ends in a draw when the other
Predacons attack without warning (or provocation, interestingly -- and
several of them seem eager to send Dinobot plummetting to his doom.)
At this point, it is Primal who saves Dinobot a second time, at considerable
risk to himself.
After this short battle, Dinobot begins to assimilate into the Maximal
camp. He offers advice to Primal on what Megatron will do next, and
joins in the two skirmishes on the Maximals' sides (blasting rather eagerly
at Terrorsaur and Waspinator at one point; saving Primal from a missile
hit at another.) "My actions do not imply loyalty, Optimus Primal.
I owed you my life. Now we are merely... even," he says as the episode
Over the next few episodes, Dinobot displays an eager bloodlust for
victory over his one-time allies. In "Chain of Command", he would
be happy to blast the Predacon base and all its occupants to atoms.
He uses and disposes of Terrorsaur in the same episode (in a relatively
harmless manner, it should be noted -- rather than shoot him, he simply
stuffs him in an airlock and fires him over the horizon. He also
gives no verbal consent to any sort of partnership. From the look
on its face, he clearly intends to play Terrorsaur for the fool right from
the start.) In "Gorilla Warfare", he waxes militaristic to Primal,
emphasizing the need for constant vigilance and non-stop effort to defeat
their foes. And he flat-out rejects Megatron's offer to rejoin his
forces in "Fallen Comrades", telling him instead to "Eat SLAG!!"
A new, surprising side of Dinobot is introduced in "Victory": he
is clearly affected by the news that his former comrades are apparently
dead. "I knew him, Cheetor," he says of Tarantulas -- again, implying
some degree of past familiarity.
In both this and in a similarly-themed episode, "The Probe", Dinobot
has little desire to return to Cybertron with the Maximals. "You're
so eager to return 'home'... but your home is not mine," he tells Rattrap.
"On Cybertron, I will be merely a Predacon criminal," he says elsewhere.
He would rather remain behind on prehistoric Earth, "to conquer and rule".
Yet upon discovering that the Predacons in "Victory" are still alive, his
first thought is to warn Primal.
Dinobot's reactions in "Double Jeopardy" are curious: when Rattrap
has apparently joined the Predacons, Dinobot is most eager to have him
"neutralized and brought to justice." "You're a fine one to talk!"
Rhinox tells him, speaking perhaps for the audience as well.
The parallel issue of military desertion is dealt with in the stand-out
episode "Law of the Jungle". A scheming Dinobot stalks off alone
in pursuit of Tigatron, who has decided simply to drop out of the Beast
Wars: "*Predacons* know how to deal with those who won't fight."
Dinobot is prepared to kill -- or at least seriously combat -- Tigatron,
rather than allow him to leave the Maximal forces. His respect for
Tigatron is clear (as is a thinly-veiled threat): "You have a warrior's
instinct... you know when danger is near." Surprisingly, he first
attempts to *talk* Tigatron back into the ranks("If Megatron seizes the
energon wealth of this world, he will start a war that will consume Cybertron
and shatter galaxies!" Dinobot's own feelings about this prospect
are not made clear.) He and Tigatron have the following exchange:
"THAT is the law of the jungle: the hunters and the hunted. Scrap
or be scrapped!"
"Animals hunt to SURVIVE!"
"And what do you think WAR is about?"
When that fails, he turns to force, first with a shot that misses
("A Predacon wouldn't have missed," he says afterwards.) His second
attempt is interrupted by Primal's arrival, and he departs in disgust.
With Primal gone in "Aftermath", Dinobot makes an almost obligatory
bid for leadership -- but is quickly put down by Rhinox. Abandoning
that route, he is among the first to observe that, after the changes wrought
in "Other Voices", it is now evident that they *are* on Earth. Megatron
was right, he realizes. Acting on his own initiative, Dinobot immediately
infiltrates the Predacon base, disposes of Waspinator (who, like Terrorsaur,
foolishly presumes to form an alliance), and seizes the two Golden Disks,
and gives the most vocabulary-intensive speech ever seen in a TF episode:
"These disks I hold... are they a record of what will be, or only
of what may? For if the future is indeed immutably foretold, then
my demise is but moments away from that confirmation -- for I could not
live if not the master of my fate! But, if indeed the future can
be changed -- if these disks record only one path of all the myriad ways
the cosmos might conform -- then their power is infinate! And yet,
still limited, for they could be used but once -- and then in that change
be rendered fiction forever more. I could destroy them! But,
no.... t'would be a coward's answer. I will know the truth instead.
Then -- it will be either them, or me, that face oblivion..."
He hides the original disk, and brings the alien one back to the
base -- hiding it at first, but apparently giving it over to Rhinox some
time after "Coming of the Fuzors". He and the surviving Maximals
then undergo what is nearly a fight to the death with the Predacons.
"At least we go with honor," he says, when defeat seems emminent.
Two episodes later is the pivotal Dinobot episode, "Maximal No More".
While rather disappointing plot-wise, it does deliver the goods as far
as Dinobot's character is concerned. We get several nuggets of Predacon
philosophy: "Predacons live to command." "We're on Predacon ground.
There is always battle here." "Am I really willing to betray my Predacon
heritage for these Transmetal Maximals?" Dinobot is worried over
Megatron's continuing plans. Ambushed while on patrol with Rattrap, Dinobot
finds himself captured and in the Predacon base. In the face of probable
destruction, he offers his renewed allegiance to Megatron (instead of taking
the chance to assassinate the Predacon leader at the cost of his own life.)
"I believe victory will soon be in your grasp... I would share in that
Dinobot's willingness to fight brutally is tested in a match with
Quickstrike... a match in which Dinobot refuses to destroy his vanquished
opponent, claiming that "he is a good fighter... he will serve us well."
Megatron then takes Dinobot to reclaim the Golden Disk, a task that Dinobot
accepts with obvious reluctance. The disk securely his again, Megatron
is about to run Dinobot through from behind, when Rattrap interrupts.
Dinobot downs Rattrap, but ultimately refuses to kill him, turning instead
on Megatron with the assertion that "your ambition has made you insane...
it will destroy both Maximal and Predacon alike, and all who came before."
Megs departs as the other, shocked Maximals arrive. "How could you?
Your honor--" Silverbolt asks. "Is not Maximal honor. It is
Predacon honor. I *am* Predacon... I wish to fight with you till
we win the Beast Wars or are destroyed trying. If you will not have
me, I will fight Megatron alone."
Rejoining the Maximals, Dinobot fights whole-heartedly through the
next few episodes. He urges Primal to attack when the Predacons have
lost two of their number in "Bad Spark" -- "Victors do not spurn opportunity!"
-- before initiating his mysterious download into the Maximal computer.
And at last... "Code of Hero". Dinobot grapples with some unspoken
internal strife at this episode's beginning, contemplating what many have
interpretted as ritual suicide. He can't do it, instead tossing aside
his sword. Rattrap later on tells him that his recent actions "pretty
much speak for themselves", a sentiment that Dinobot can't help agreeing
with. Bespeaking regret of unspecified deeds, he sets off to see
if they "may yet be mitigated." He viciously ambushes Tarantulas,
eventually coming across Megatron's scheme to wipe out the human race at
"The question which once haunted my being has been answered.
The future is not fixed, and my choices are my own... and yet, how ironic!
For I now find, I have no choice at all." Dinobot, ever the warrior,
resigns himself to the battle at hand... a battle in which he single-handedly
defeats the entire Predacon band, excepting Megatron, at the ultimate cost
of his own life. He witholds from attacking Megs in order to prevent
harm to an innocent bystander (a captured proto-human), before finally
siezing and destroying the Golden Disk and its record of the future.
Megatron retreats as Dinobot shares final words with the Maximals: "There
is nothing to regret... Tell my tale to those who ask. Tell it truthfully,
the evil deeds along with the good, and let me be judged accordingly.
The rest... is silence."
And there we have it... the life and times of Dinobot.
The first thing to note is that Dinobot at the end of "Code of Hero"
is not entirely the same person he was in "Beast Wars" Part 1. That
Dinobot would never have had a second thought for Megatron's prisoner;
indeed, seeing Megatron on the cusp of such a great victory, he probably
would have willingly joined in. But life with the Maximals has changed
him -- not into an unrecognizably different being, but one with an expanded
awareness of the world around him. In his first few episodes, Dinobot
seems motivated primarily by anger and frustration -- he wants revenge
on Megatron. By comparison, in mid-Season 2, he shares the others'
sense of urgency at stopping Megatron's schemes as an inherently worthy
goal, even if he disagrees on the tactics that should be used.
Why did Dinobot switch sides? And how can doing so be accorded
with his self-purported sense of honor? Is he a traitor for doing
Taking it case by case... the first switch was born more of circumstances
than choice. Dinobot didn't leave the Preds -- Megs booted him out.
And at the very next encounter, the Predacons attacked him without warning
and without provocation -- while he was fighting one of their enemies!
Is it any wonder Dinobot did not seek to return to them?
His first battle with Primal apparently served to persuade him that
defeating Primal fair and square would not be so easy -- why else would
he relinquish the effort to do so? Either that or something in Primal's
handling of the fight won his grudging respect. Or, possibly, Dinobot
decided that the goal of defeating Megatron was of greater importance than
his aspirations to leadership of the Maximals.
Yet, my feeling is that he *did* ultimately plan to return to the
Predacon side -- by defeating Megatron, one way or another. This
is born out by Rattrap's suspicions in "Victory", when the Preds are all
supposedly gone -- "Lookit him. He's a soldier!... He'll snuff you
out the minute you turn your back!" As time goes on and this goal
fails to materialize, however, the alliance of convenience becomes more
permanent. By Season 2, Dinobot is a trusted military commander for
Primal. And it is then that, in a plot twist hinted at in several
previous episodes, he switches sides yet again.
This time, his motives are questionable in more ways than one.
Is the switch "a transparent ploy to save your own hide", in Megatron's
words? Or did he intend all along to return to Megatron's group?
It is here that I see one of the ambiguities of Dinobot's character that
make him so well-written: to me the answer is both, and more.
Unable to reach a decision in the matter, unable to overcome his
own inertia and resolve the delima which torments him in the early Season
2 episodes, Dinobot simply rolls with the flow of events, letting circumstance
make the choice for him. Perhaps he interprets his capture as destiny's
way of saying it's time to return to the fold. Consider that he was
merrily blasting away at Inferno right up until his capture... and when
he awakens, he's offering allegiance to Megatron. The ambiguity is
far more interesting than if he'd simply marched into the Pred base and
announced "I wish to rejoin you", or if he'd never left in the first place.
This is an incredibly *human* delima: Dinobot doesn't know what the right
choice is, and whatever moral compass he uses to guide himself by has increasingly
failed him. Things that once seemed certain to him have now been
called into question -- not in a cartoonish "I see the light now!" manner,
but through a subtle, gradual change of heart that brings not joy, but
confusion, doubt, and hesitation. For all his exterior agressiveness,
within he is a passive bystander -- an aspect compounded or perhaps driven
by his obsssion with being the master of his own destiny.
So he makes the big switch, returning to the Predacons -- and, once
the rush of his battle with Quickstrike is over, feeling heavily the mounting
doubts as a result of his decision. Yet again, this is a phenomenally
human moment -- finally reaching a momentous personal decision, and then
being struck by the awful, creeping suspicion that it was the wrong choice.
The hesitation, the look on his face -- all this speaks volumes of his
feelings about returning the Golden Disk to Megatron, despite his recent
pledges of allegiance. Megatron's grandiose, high-stakes schemes,
in his view, seem as likely to destroy the Predacons as lead them to glory.
And Dinobot, by this point, has become so used to obligatorily thinking
of his alliance with the Maximals as one of convenience that he's apparently
surprised to discover that he has brought back a lot of philisophical Maximal
baggage along with him.
But for all the potential tampering with history and the fate of
his race, it is the life of one individual that forces him to confront
head-on the decision he has made -- and rescind it. Faced with killing
Rattrap... he can't do it. Is it for reasons of personal friendship?
Warrior's comradery (remember the thumbs-up they exchanged in "The Probe"?)
Simple respect for life (first Quickstrike and then Rattrap are spared
in this episode)? Mounting doubts about the path Megatron is following?
Guilt over betraying the Maximals, who have grown to trust him? I
would not cite any one of them as being pivotal -- it is the combination
of them all, presented right there in the tangible form of Rattrap, that
spurs Dinobot to reconsider what he really wants. The turnabout he
has done comes home to him; in the face of all this, the choice is no choice
at all. Dinobot, ashamed of having abandoned the comrades and the
principals he had originally considered "temporary", returns to them whole-heartedly.
This is the beauty of the character. By the choices he had
to make, and his back-and-forth attitude about those choices, Dinobot is
perhaps the most real and empathic character ever to come out of the TF
mythos. You might not *want* to be like him... but in some respects
we all are.
Having to make hard decisions about what you're going to believe,
where you're going to stand on an issue, what moral code you're going to
live by -- these are issues that every thinking human being must deal with
at some point in their life. And in real life, there are no easy
answers, no clearly divided "yes or no" questions, no diametrically opposed
factions to which you clearly do or don't belong. Unlike 99% of Transformer
characters, Dinobot was not painted as black-or-white one-side-or-the-other.
He changed his mind -- more than once. He weighed the evidence, his
loyalties, his beliefs... and wasn't sure what to do. In real life
-- and in great literature -- it happens all the time; it's one of the
classic delimas. In Transformers it's been pretty rare.
(For comparison, consider, say, Silverbolt... hardly five minutes
into "Coming of the Fuzors", a friend of mine watching BW for the first
time declared "He's really a Maximal!" Blackarachnia? Another
great character, yes, but she joined purely for reasons of selfish survival
(notice she sure wasn't having anything to do with the Maximals before
"The Agenda"'s finale) then was reprogrammed. G1's Skyfire?
Was there ever a second's doubt where his allegiance would end up?)
What about Dinobot's so-called 'honor'?
Predacon honor, as I see it embodied by Dinobot, is not about defending
the weak, nor is it about sticking with allies through thick and thin.
It is about winning -- proving your worth by conquering with strength;
rising to the top, whether as an individual or an entire faction.
Treachery? Acceptable. Defeat? Unthinkable (though dying
in battle is honorable, if you've fought a good fight to the best of your
ability -- ref: "Coming of the Fuzors" 2.) There is honor in a victory
earned by your own wits and strength. And if former allies of yours
failed to see the path necessary for that victory, then the dishonor belongs
to them, not you. Personal loyalty is not Dinobot's way, not the
Predacon warrior's way. "The Maximals have made you weak," Megatron
says to him -- an assertion that in Megatron's view would likely be backed
up by Dinobot's refusal to kill Rattrap for reasons of personal friendship.
When Dinobot was ignomiously booted out by Megatron, he did not concede
defeat, nor did he come crawling back. Instead he implemented a creative
and daring strategy to return in force. When he sensed Megatron was
nearing victory, he humbled himself and asked to return to the fold.
But then, as mentioned above, Dinobot finds out that his values have changed.
"Victory at all costs" has been displaced by a wider-ranging philosophy.
That, however, doesn't mean that Dinobot agrees with all things Maximal.
He still is disgusted by the emphasis on individuals at the cost of victory
("They have lost two; we have lost only one," he says to Primal, urging
an attack on the Preds in "Bad Spark"; "They are casualties of war!
Better to concentrate on saving ourselves," he says of Tigatron and Airazor
in "Other Visits"). But the lengths to which he will go to achieve
that victory seem to have been tempered somewhat. The black-and-white
philosophy he began the Beast Wars with has been muddled into shades of
grey, as he discovers that life does not consist of absolutes.
Is Dinobot a "hero"? In the absence of context, it's a meaningless
question, given how Dinobot changes over time. The only definate
"yes" I would give is at the end of "Code of Hero". There, Dinobot
selflessly gave his life in the defense of others who could not defend
themselves. That is the very essense of heroism. It also accords
with both his sense of honor and his desire for a proper battlefield death
-- he fought and triumphed, even at the cost of his own life.
Does this make him a role model, someone worthy of admiration or
emulation? Given his convoluted history, I would say 'no'.
Even at his death he was still contentious, war-like and confrontational
(though he is also courageous, innovative, persistent, and determined.)
Does it 'redeem' him? Redeem in what sense and in whose eyes?
Whatever evils he may have caused along the way ultimately proved to be
negligable in comparison to his final act, one which preserved the very
existance of billions of future lives. If this is not "redemption",
then what is?
A secondary plot thread to Dinobot's character is his obsession with
fate, destiny, and pre-determination. Though only hinted at a few
times ("Fuzors", "Maximal No More", and "Code of Hero"), it's yet another
driving force for him. Dinobot demands to be the master of his own
destiny. He wants nothing less than for his choices to be his own
-- to be able to control and alter his own future -- and he speaks of suicide
should he find the universe to be structured otherwise. Yet he refuses
to accept anything but the truth of the matter, regardless of what he wants
it to be. One may speculate this matter is what's driving him at
the beginning of "Code of Hero", and perhaps motivating him to steal the
disks as well -- to test the possiblities one way or the other.
Dinobot is almost too multi-faceted to attempt to sum up in one paragraph.
There is his sense of honor... his Predacon warrior nature... the evolution
of his moral framework during the course of the show... his convoluted
and tense relationships with other characters, most notably Rattrap and
Megatron... his internal debate over the nature of destiny and self-determination,
a topic I've hardly even touched upon here... Few characters in Transformers
have had this much going on with their personality. And none of them
have had it so well put-together as Dinobot.
Back to Rob's
Pile of Transformers