Rob's Pile of Transformers: Manic Ramblings


Manic Ramblings and Delirious Ranting
Re: Why Dinobot is the Greatest Character in Transformers
2/22/99

 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 about Dinobot.

 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 foot here:

 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 considered maneuver.

 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 ends.

 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 victory."  

 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 its inception.

 "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 so?

 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.

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