Rob's Pile of Transformers: Manic Ramblings

Manic Ramblings and Delirious Rantings
Re: "Enter the Nightbird"
9/15/00

Manic Ramblings and Delirious Ranting
re: "Enter the Nightbird"
9/15/00

You guys had it comin'. Heh heh heh. Time to look at the *rest* of the episode, rather than just the one-shot title character. Brace yourself, 'cause it's not very pretty.

Enter:

The Autobots are busily welding away, as Wheeljack explains to the viewer (or to Optimus Prime, take your pick): "These detection panels are just what we need to keep us safe. Watch how the sensors react to metal!" Prime is pleased. Cliffjumper bursts into the room just then: "Optimus Prime, come quick! It's Doctor Fujiyama the famous scientist!"

The good doctor, a suit-and-tie fellow with a stereotypical light Japanese accent, has called to enlist the Autobots' aid, to "guard my latest invention when I present it to the world." Fujiyama is hesitant to speak, lest the Decepticons eavesdrop, but Ironhide assures him "it's not too likely." The creation is "a special robot... At the risk of seeming boastful, it is the greatest robot created by man... which means it is, a-heh, well, primative by Autobot standards." Prime's curiosity is aroused; he agrees to come. "All the top scientists of the world will be on hand for the unveiling!"

The connection is closed, and Wheeljack is amused: "Imagine, Autobots playing nursemaid to an Earth robot! It's probably just a glorified wind-up toy." "Nevertheless, we'll go, if only to make sure the Decepticons don't get their hands on it," Prime says.

At the assembly hall, the Autobots are on guard. "Doctor Fujiyama's doohicky's under that drape," Ratchet comments. "If it walks it'll probably need a long extension cord!" Wheeljack cracks. "Heh heh heh! I wonder if batteries are included?" Ratchet replies. Wheeljack: "When they turn it on it'll probably blow the lights!" Prime wanders by just then with a stern admonition: "We're here to guard the robot, not to make jokes at its expense."

Fujiyama takes the stage just then: "Gentleman! What you are about to see is state of the art robotics!" The curtain is raised on Nightbird, the world's first female robot ninja; the crowd is impressed. Spike and Jazz explain to Prime what a ninja is; someone in the crowd asks the very logical question of "Why build a robot ninja, doctor? Isn't that rather dangerous?" "Nightbird has been constructed to demonstrate to the world the limitless capabilities of technology. She will expand the horizons of robotic research, to assist mankind, and not to harm him. I assure you gentlemen, she is not meant for battle, or assassination, and I have limited her capabilities accordingly. Now, gentlemen, if I may..."

Just then, the door behind Trailbreaker melts and explodes, catapaulting him across the room. "It's that dynamental delinquent Rumble!" Prowl observes. "And his punk pal Frenzy," Mirage adds. "Let's send 'em directly to scrapiron city!" Jazz says, but Prime calls him off -- they can't fight with all the humans around. Frenzy randomly fires into the crowd (well, above them, actually) as Rumble pile-drives the building: "Your theory seems shaky to me, Doc!" The humans flee as a laser beam begins tearing through the roof from the outside. More Decepticons pour into the building, each making his own entryway. The humans finally are gone; the Autobots fight back, but by then it's too late: the roof has been carved loose; Skywarp snags it from the outside with a grappling hook and abruptly yanks it open like a gigantic lid. Thundercracker and Starscream hook Nightbird and carry her away; the Decepticons clear out as Skywarp drops the roof back onto the hapless Autobots. The Decepticons return to their temporary base of operations, a giant Decepticon emblem carved out of rock in the desert somewhere.

"This is child's play compared to Decepticon transform circuits," Bombshell says, as he tinkers with Nightbird's innards. "Spare me your critique. Can you do it?" Megatron asks. "With a little re-wiring, some additional circuits, and a triple power booster... perhaps," Bombshell answers, stuffing a big round tube into Nightbird's torso. "Report progress on optic interface, Soundwave!" "Almost completed." "Good! I love warping minds for you, Megatron, ha ha ha! Love it!" BS says, slipping a card into a slot on Nightbird's head. Nightbird stands up, and does some simple karate kicks and chops. "She looks like some Earthling play puppet!" Starscream laughs, before getting a whack to the chest. "Yes, but this puppet has a punch!" Megatron says. He stops Screamer from retaliating: "She is not meant to be your sparring partner, Starscream!... Is she fully programmed, Soundwave?" "Affirmative." "And what are her orders?" "To steal the World Energy Chip from the Autobots, and then... exterminate them."

"I'm sorry that we failed you and the University, Dr. Fujiyama," Prime says to the good doctor. "It could not have been foreseen, Mr. Prime!" "Nevertheless, I vow that we will return the robot ninja to you as quickly as possible." "I only beg that she will be returned unharmed. The technical components are irreplacable, and are needed for research." "Don't worry, Dr. Fujiyama; we'll bring the little lady back in perfect condition!... I hope," Jazz adds dubiously. "The damage report is not good, Prime," Mirage says. The 'bots head for home; Brawn, unable to transform, has to be persuaded to accept a lift from Ratchet.

Nightbird observes the entrance to Autobot HQ; a security camera watches the front door, so she scales the adjacent bluff instead and enters through the top of an elevator shaft. Prowl and Spike board an elevator at the top; Nightbird hops on the roof for a ride down. Spike wonders why the 'cons stole Nightbird; Prowl replies that "I don't understand *anything* the Decepticons do." "Yeah, it's over my head too," Spike says, unaware of how literal his statement is. Prowl: "Well, we can't expect her to come to us. We'll have to find her!" Prowl and Spike leave, as the object of their conversation enters behind them.

Nightbird makes her way around Wheeljack's security floor panels by walking across the ceiling; she quickly locates the World Energy Chip and rips it out, causing a blackout in Autobot HQ. Prime immidiately suspects an intruder, and the 'bots go hunting. Mirage finds her first, and gets a few good belts before pressing the alarm button. The 'bots corner Nightbird in a corridor; she produces sawblades from each wrist as they face her. "Don't harm her!" Prime says. "And definately don't shake hands!" Jazz adds. "Lookout!" Prime warns, as NB throws a few sawblades at them. NB then begins to spin around till she's a blur. "What's she doin'?!" Cliffjumper wonders. "She's makin' me dizzy!" Jazz says. A flash of light envelops her, when it clears, she's gone.

"That little she-bot's sure no demo model when it comes to action!" Ironhide comments later, as the 'bots check their headquarters over. The 'bots roll out to find her; Ratchet promises to "have the rest of the Autobots and Teletran One operating in no time."

The Autobots locate Nightbird outside base; Prime zaps her with a stun ray, and she falls. When they approach, she leaps back up: "She was playing robotopossom!" Prime sagely observes. NB hits the group with throwing stars. "That's it! I'm gonna cool her coalators once and for all!" Cliffjumper promises, before Prime calls him off. NB pulls out a laser sword. "Nightbird... we've come to help. Don't force us to fight you," Prime says, only to get his rifle knocked out of his hand. Bluestreak disarms her with a laser shot; she grabs Prime's rifle and flees, jumping off a cliff. The 'bots see no sign of her when they reach the edge. "With all the weapons she has, why would she steal your laser rifle?" Jazz wonders. "It's said the ninja always takes a part of an enemy with her. Thank goodness it was only my weapon." "And she left her sword behind! But why is she attacking us in the first place?" Cliffjumper wonders. "I suspect Megatron could answer that question."

"So, poor*** Optimus Prime has lost his laser rifle to little Nightbird," Megs says, watching from inside his base. "He will lose much more before we're finished!" "We should have located+++ Dr. Fujiyama's toy chest sooner. His ninja robot is magnificent!" Bombshell comments. "Bah, she'll burn out fast, after the way Bombshell overtalked her circuits," Starscream retorts. "Who asked you, nitro-nose?" Bombshell snaps. "Nightbird won't burn out until she returns with the computer chip we need. It's all been programmed," Megs says. "*If* she returns, you mean. She's not so hot." "She's hot enough to replace *you* whenever I choose!" Megs replies, as Starscream frowns.

"It's much worse than I thought, Ironhide," Ratchet says back at the 'bot base. "They've stolen the chip that itemizes the world's energy supplies." "It's got to be Megatron." "More likely that ninja she-bot!" Ratchet patches up Teletran and notifies Optimus of the situation. "Whoever has that chip can tap into all the power supplies on Earth. Finding her now is more important than ever."

The 'bots use Hound's infrared to locate Nightbird in a box canyon. Upon seeing her sword in Prime's hand, she activates some kind of energy field to snag it out of Prime's hands and draw it back to herself. "It's your sword! Come and get it!" Prime says, only to have it yanked away. "Not one of my better ideas," he mutters. Nightbird whacks Prime around with her sword for a bit before fleeing; the Autobots follow. They catch up with her when she falls while climbing a cliff. "No more Mr. Nice Guy," Cliffjumper says. "The she-bot's bought it!" But more throwing stars knock his and Bluestreak's weapons out of their hands before they can fire.

"She'll pick us all off, unless..." Mirage activates his invisibility. "I swore not to damage you, Nightbird, but you're leaving me no option," Prime says -- at which point Mirage grabs his rifle off her back and returns it to him. "I truly regret this." A single shots knocks her down. "At least we now know you're not invunerable." NB whips out more throwing stars. Cliffjumper: "We've got to find a way to stop her!" "I'm open to suggestions. And you don't have to raise your hand before you speak!" Prime says. The Autobots try lasers (she dodges them), missiles (she catches them), Cliffjumper's glass gas (she throws the missile into the nozzle), and Jazz's sound'n'light show (she shuts his speakers down with some kind of metal donuts taken from her waist.)

"Terrific!!" the watching Megatron enthuses. "Yes, you're definately on my replacement list, Starscream. She's everything I've always wanted!" "Replace me? NEVER!" Starscream knocks Megs over; Megs responds by having Screamer put in an energy cage. "You can't keep me in here, Megatron!" "I don't see why not! That little cage was something I rigged up for the Autobots. But I'd like you to have it. Think of it as a... a farewell gift! Now, what did I miss..." Megs turns back to his monitor to see the Autobots restraining Nightbird with energy beams. "Impressive... I didn't know the Autobots could create an electromesh prison so powerful." The beams form into a net: "No! They finally got her! We must rescue her *and* retrieve the World Energy Chip at once. It will give us total control of this planet's energy supplies. We must not fail!" The Decepticons move out, minus Screamer.

"Well done, Autobots. Nightbird is contained, and unharmed," Prime says. The WEC flies out as Nightbird struggles in the net; when Cliffjumper goes to grab it, a blast knocks him back. "Keep your hands off my property, Autoclod!" Megatron says. "Megatron... I knew it. Take 'em, Autobots!" A battle ensues. Bombshell grabs the chip, but Brawn blasts it from him, and Prime catches it. "Watch how my anti-matter blaster eats up energy!" Megatron announces, firing a beam that evaporates the electromesh, freeing Nightbird.

"Megatron... you fiend!"Optimus says, as Starscream -- still in his cage -- watches on a monitor. Screamer manages to free himself by shooting the control button with a mini-missile, and flies out, promising to "show that Megatron what his precious ninja is really like!"

"Looks like I'm just in time," Starscream says, landing (with a bizarre sound effect). A fast series of battle scenes. "Megatron's new assistant, eh?" Another battle shot, of Nightbird knocking Autobots around. "My null ray will put her out of commission!" Starscream shoots NB in the back, causing her to fall inert. "Nightbird -- no!" Megatron says. "Hey! Say good night to your Megatron!" Starscream laughs from nearby, before flying away. "Decepticons, after him! I want that traitor's steel hide!" Megatron orders. The 'cons fly away. "It seems that Megatron's schemes have backfired once again," Prime observes.

"Oh, Mr. Optimus Prime, I'm so glad you've returned Nightbird. And not a scratch on her chassis!" Dr. Fujiyama says, back at the destroyed auditorium. "Well, I'm glad she's back in your possession, Doctor. Deprogrammed, and neutralized." "And, safely locked up... forever," Fujiyama says, as a clear cover seals Nightbird inside some kind of box. But behind him, we close in in NB's face... which screws up into an angry scowl as her eyes ominously light up. Fade.

*** What Megatron actually says sounds like "Pure Optimus Prime", but I think it's meant to be "Poor Optimus Prime."

+++ What Bombshell says could be either "located" or "looked into"... I'm not sure.

Exit:

This episode blows hot and cold for me -- mostly cold. The basic plot premise is fairly standard kid-vid fair, as are many of the smaller moments. On the other hand, the art and animation definately have their moments, and even this episode does have a few nice character moments.

Let's start with the visuals. The animation -- the actual cell-to-cell transitions that create the illusion of moving pictures -- is very fluid and dynamic throughout much of the episode, most notably in the two big battles. Check out the scene of the Autobots and Decepticons charging at one another near the end -- there's a LOT going on there. Brawn skidding to a halt a moment later is one of my favorite little bits of Transformer visuals.

The first battle scene is *intense*, with the advantage flip-flopping wildly, and both sides leveling a lot of firepower at one another. I *love* Prime's disoriented grunts as Megs shoots him in the back (though they don't quite sound like him... were they lifted from a movie? They sound kind of familiar.) Mirage for once makes logical use of his invisibility powers, to take Soundwave by surprise. The overall impression of the Decepticons just *flattening* the building is cool -- swift and brutal. When Prime delivers his final punch to Megatron, you really get a feeling of power, both from the way he moves and from how Megs is tossed out of the way. And I love how the battle kind of pauses as Skywarp's hook snakes in and abruptly yanks the roof off the building.

Some of the artwork is very good too, though not all of it; much has a low-grade feel to it that I can't quite put my finger on -- the opening scene is a good example of what I'm talking about. The characters generally look good and solid, though. One thing I've noticed as I've re-watched episodes is that the Decepticons generally get all the cool-looking, well-drawn close-ups and profile shots (I'm keeping a mental list of eps with great character shots that I'd like to see screengrabbed and put up on a web page, simply because they look so terrific, and most of them so far have been Decepticons. ###) This ep is a welcome change from that trend; there's a great profile shot of Prowl and Mirage standing next to each other, a good one of Cliffjumper and Brawn when Nightbird looses the energy chip, and a decent (but very brief) profile of Jazz and Bluestreak during the last battle.

The background music in this ep is strangely under-dubbed; you can barely hear it much of the time. It gives the episode a slightly creepy feeling that's always put me off a bit from it.

Moving on to the story: Human creates robot; Decepticons steal robot and turn it into a weapon; robot steals chip; Autobots pursue robot; Starscream zaps robot. The end. It's nothing profound or complex, and the only real hitch that differentiates it from more ordinary cartoons is Starscream's antagonistic role. He's his usual miscreant self; usually, however, he doesn't go so strongly *against* his fellow Decepticons' plans (not without going to Cybertron first, anyway. :]

Why exactly did he zap Nightbird? I guess he really believed Megatron was planning to replace him with her. I seriously doubt that was the case... Megatron never, ever passes up a chance to ruffle Starscream's pompous feathers. When I was a kid, though, he seemed pretty serious to me; I remember finding it vaguely disturbing that Megs would just put Starscream in a cage like that, to await his fate.

Nightbird herself doesn't impress me all *that* much, at least in the warrior department. She infiltrates Autobot HQ effortlessly, and pulls a pretty nifty (and unexplained) trick to get out. However, when she's cornered, all she can do is throw a bunch of projectiles that, while no doubt deadly against a human opponent, prove to be little more than irritants to the Autobots. Did any one of them recieve even the slightest nick from all her little throwing stars? They did serve to disarm Cliffjumper and Bluestreak, at least. NB has better luck in close-quarters combat, putting the smack-down on Mirage, then later tossing Brawn and Jazz into a heap and knocking Prime down. Still, she strikes me more as an infiltrator and commando than a front-line warrior.

On that note, let's catalogue all the stuff this robo-chick could do. It's actually quite an arsenal:

* Grappling hook * Walk on the ceiling * various martial-artsy moves * sawblades from wrists * either turning invisible, teleporting, or generating a blinding light display (it's never explained) * throwing stars * laser sword * electromagnetic field * some kind of jamming disks

Some of the kiddie dialogue in this ep is just painful: "It's Dr. Fujiyama the famous scientist!" Thank you, Mr. Explication. Not "the engineer", or "the robotics scientist", or "from XXX Robotics Corporation" or "from Tokyo University", but "the famous scientist." Arrrrg! "Watch how my anti-matter blaster eats up energy!" Right, Megatron. Watch how it also causes an explosion the size of a few dozen hydrogen bombs and vaporizes you and everything else in a hundred mile radius. This must be the same brand of mostly-harmless "antimatter" the Decepticons used in "Roll For It".... "Megatron... you *fiend*!" Prime says immediately after this, in one of his most horribley over-dramatic lines since "Laserbeak! You tin foil turkey!" in "Prime Problem"... "She jammed it!" Cliffy says, when Nightbird uses Bluestreak's missile to stop up his glass-gas weapon. Well, duh, dummy, try pulling out the missile. It's not exactly an irreversable procedure... Soundwave opening the Decepticon base door seems like it's supposed to be a kewl-looking scene, and it fails utterly, instead giving the viewer time to wonder when the plot is going to get going... The "It's over my head" bit was *painfully* cheesey...

Another kiddified moment, and one of my favorite non-sequitirs from all of G1, occurs at the second commercial break. NB does some sword work, then raises her sword over her head, as if to chop Optimus in half. Fade out. Then when we fade back in, Prime is on the ground, and NB is just standing there spinning her sword in a circle like she's bored. Are we to assume she knocked Prime down instead of slicing him open? Why the hell is she just standing there? This bit of absurdity is one reason I could never take this ep very seriously as a kid. This scene continues into some rather confusing editing, in which Nightbird suddenly runs away because Prime is about to -- stand up. Ooooo, scary.

The Autobots act as if there's some *doubt* that the Decepticons are behind Nightbird's attacks. Oh, let's see... they kidnapped her, and a day later she's attacking them and stealing an energy-related bit of hardware. What are the possibilities here? She broke free from the Decepticons on her own and spontaneously developed a hatred for the Autobots? Or... hmmm? And yet Prime says "Megatron! I knew it!" when the 'cons arrive, like it's some kind of big revelation.

The infamous ending, the much-debated scowl, is yet another kiddie moment. "Oooooo, scary! The threat's not really gone! She might be back! DUHN DUHN DUN!!" Coupled with the bad sound effect that accompanies her eyes lighting up, and the too-sudden fade-out, it smacks of Hanna-Barbara.

Starscream has what appears to be a mis-written or mis-spoken line: "Hey! Say good-night to your Megatron!" after he zaps NB. The hell?... Wouldn't you "say good night" to the thing or person who just got deactivated? I think it was supposed to be "Say good-night to your Nightbird, Megatron!" Or, maybe Starscream's just stupid. It's not without precedent. :]

Starscream also suffers from under-animation. When the cage is activated around him, he says: "You can't keep me in here, Megatron! AHHHHHHH!!" The whole time he's more or less just standing there... I think he was supposed to make a rush at the cage and get electrocuted or something like that when he screams. Or, maybe he thought he could, in the immortal words of MG Dinobot, "shout the system down". If you fast-forward through this scene, Starscream looks like he's dancing. Heh heh.

Prime apparently did some reading up on ninjas after the first battle with the Decepticons. Before the presentation, he doesn't even know what a ninja is. Later, as they're chasing Nightbird, he knows enough to say that "the ninja always takes a piece of an enemy with her."

Prowl and Spike get on this elevator... is it supposed to be at the top of the volcano cone??? Where are they *coming* from?! Any direction they go up there, it's nothing but air! Upon close inspection, it looks more like it's in a ridge next to the base of the mountain, which would make a bit more sense -- though I don't believe there's ever been an elevator shown going up the volcano cone (or anywhere else) in any other episode. But then, G1 is not known for its consistency in such matters. The terrain surrounding Autobot Headquarters has taken on at least three completely different looks at various times (river valley; pine trees; barren desert), so it's no surprise that the HQ itself isn't consistent either.

What is it with Brawn and Soundwave? This episode makes at least four times they've gone at it (the others being "Fire on the Mountain", "Ultimate Doom" Part 2, and... uh.. I *know* there's one other... Zob, help me out here...) The Mighty Brawn has come out on top in three out of the four, incidentally. This time was the fourth.

I like Wheeljack a lot. He's a brilliant engineer, yet he's downright personable, has a sense of humor, is optimistic and light-hearted, and practically radiates energy and enthusiasm no matter what he's doing. I cracked up at his bit about "it'll probably blow the lights!"

The World Energy Chip is another one of those Plot Devices of Dubious Importance. As I understand it, it's basically just a list of all the energy sources in the world. A *list*! It's not like the Decepticons have a hard time finding energy sources as is. Prime says that "whoever has that chip can tap into all the energy sources on Earth"... surely he doesn't mean that the chip actually allows them to pull energy from anywhere on Earth?? I find such a gizmo improbably miraculous, even by G1 standards. No, the World Energy Chip is just a list.

What the HELL is that temporary base all about? I guess it's not meant to be secret by any means -- you don't get much more blatant than a gigantic faction emblem.

I love Prime's warning when Nightbird starts tossing saws at them: "Loogout!" Heh. That phrase has worked its way into my everyday vocabulary.

As someone -- Recharge? -- pointed out, it's rather amusing that the only Autobot who can't successfully jump all the way up a cliff is a guy named Cliffjumper.

And now, the killer issue. The million dollar question. Nightbird.

Eh, it's too much of a can of worms. I won't touch it.

Just kiddin'!

Nightbird, of course, has been a source of fan contention for several years now. Numerous issues surround her one-episode appearance: is she sentient and self-aware, or just a drone? If she's sentient, did Prime (or Megatron, an issue I'll get to shortly) *know* or even suspect this? How much did Bombshell actually enhance her abilities and intelligence, and how much was pre-existing? Could she do anything at all before the 'cons got their mitts on her? Was she Megatron's secret lover? Would Megs really replace Starscream with her? What was that scowl at the end when she's "safely locked up forever"? And is Optimus Prime an evil oppresser for allowing her to be locked away thusly?

IS NIGHTBIRD SENTIENT?

The key issue is Nightbird's sentience, or lack thereof. Just from watching her actions in the episode, my initial gut reaction is that she is indeed a thinking and possibly self-aware being. She moves with grace and fluidity; she shows clear problem-solving skills (getting past the entry security camera and Wheeljack's detection panels); and she *looks* and *observes* in a way that suggests more than pre-programmed reactions (even though I believe that, in the Transformers universe at least, simple brainless programming *could* account for most of her actions.)

But... you knew there had to be a but... Megatron's own words tend to suggest that she's NOT a living creature. Zobovor, in a recent post, quoted the exact lines that I'm thinking of here:

Starscream: "She looks like some Earthling play puppet." Megatron: "Yes, but this puppet has a punch!"

Megatron: "Is she fully programmed, Soundwave?" Soundwave: "Affirmative." Megatron: "And what are her orders?..."

Starscream: "She'll burn out fast enough, after the way Bombshell overtalked her circuits." Megatron: "Nightbird won't burn out until she returns with the computer chip we need! It's all been programmed."

All this dialogue, coming straight from the guys who've just spent a good while messing around inside this 'bot, suggests that Nightbird is basically a sophisticated drone, a machine doing what it's told to do, albeit in a complex manner, and certainly not held in the same regard as a Transformer (incidentally, this fits with way she just stands there, staring vacantly at nothing and not reacting an iota to anything around her, after her initial karate demonstration.)

But then there's that infamous scowl at the end. Nightbird's facial expression remains 100% neutral throughout the entire episode, until this one scene at the very end of the episode. There's more than one way to explain it... but the glaring, stand-out explanation is that Nightbird is pissed off about being locked up in a box. That would indicate emotional feeling, which IMO is the criteria that actually matters. Is Nightbird *capable* of wanting to not be locked up in a box? That last scene seems to indicate so, despite what both Megatron's AND Optimus's actions indicated. As I said recently, I seriously doubt that Optimus would consider a pissed-off robot to be "deprogrammed and neutralized". It therefore follows that he doesn't know that Nightbird is capable of scowling, for whatever reason. And Megatron's attitude towards her... well, that's been established already.

It's important to note that this is the *only* emotional display she makes in the entire episode, unless you count her whacking Starscream at the beginning -- and that could just as easily have been Screamer simply being in the wrong place (or maybe even Megatron having a little fun with ol' Starcreep. I can see it now: "Intial programming directives: demonstrate basic hand-to-hand techniques. Test motor reflexes. Belt a good one to the grey guy over there if he says anything.") If she has desires and feelings, she sure didn't reveal them to anyone on-screen, Autobot *or* Decepticon.

SECRET LOVERS?

For the reasons cited above -- specifically the dialogue -- I definately don't buy the romance angle between Megs and Nightbird. Even more tellingly than the earlier dialogue, when Nightbird is down, Megs hardly even glances twice at her. Just, "Nightbird, no!" Megs has been a lot more upset about losing devices that were nothing but machines: the electrocells in "Traitor", just to name one. If there were a romance there -- or even any degree of true comradery -- I'd expect he'd make *some* attempt to free her. But he doesn't; instead he orders his squad to go after Starscream. This is in a universe where characters get shot *all the time*, by things much worse than Starscream's null ray, and pull through just fine. I find it impossible to believe that Megatron thinks that Nightbird is irretrievably dead after just one shot (heck, she could've been playing robotopossom again, for all Megs knew.) Heck, he didn't even bother to *check*.

(On the other hand, Decepticons have knowingly abandoned their own kind before and since: Ravage in "More Than Meets the Eye" Part 2 (perhaps justifiable given the circumstances), Starscream in "Auto Berzerk", very nearly Rumble in "Sea Change"... and need I mention what Swindle did to his Combaticon buddies in "B.O.T."? So abandonment by the Decepticons doesn't necessarily preclude membership in them. But that still doesn't make up for Megatron's complete dismissal of her once he loses the advantage in the second battle.)

"She's everything I've always wanted!" Meg cheers as Nightbird bashes the Autobots around, and from that line people deduce the "lovers" angle. But what is the line that comes right before that one? Why, it's, "Yes, you're definately on my replacement list, Starscream!" Is Nightbird going to take Starscream's place as Megs' main squeeze? Or is Megatron just happy at the idea of a competent soldier who doesn't talk back, won't try to overthrow him all the time, doesn't have Starscream's cringe-inducing voice, and that the Autobot are hesitant even to use force against?

WHERE DID THIS SENTIENCE COME FROM?

The Decepticons have traditionally been credited with giving Nightbird whatever intelligence she may have. But throwing further confusion onto this -- or perhaps clarifying it -- is Bombshell's cryptic line, "I love warping minds for you, Megatron!" *Warping*, not creating. The implication is that Nightbird already *has* a mind -- one that by default would have to have been given to her by her human creator. The follow-up implication is that Bombshell merely forced that mind into subservience to the Decepticons (which is exactly what he specializes in, incidentally.) If you doubt this, consider: if Nightbird *were* given her intelligence and/or awareness by the Decepticons, why would they need to journey to Vector Sigma to give personalities to the Stunticons in "The Key to Vector Sigma"? Why couldn't they just duplicate whatever they'd done to Nightbird? The obvious answer is that they *couldn't*. Either Decepticon Nightbird wasn't a free-thinking individual after all, or whatever intelligence she *did* have was not given to her by the Decepticons.

The visuals reinforce these notions; most of Bombshell's twiddling is in her torso area. He does insert a card of some kind into her head -- but, you'll notice, it goes into a pre-existing slot with a sliding cover, probably designed to recieve exactly such cards -- sort of like a disk drive, and hardly the sort of modification that would be required to bring about life or free will.

The second possibility, that of pre-existing intelligence, means that her mental capabilities were given to her by Fujiyama. On the surface, this implies that they are less sophisticated than a Transformer's... and probably would not under any circumstances imply anything the Transformers would think of as "life" or "sapience".

On the other hand, one could easily take Bombshell's statement as being non-literal. Any collection of chips designed to operate a machine might qualify as a "mind" from his robotic point of view, and he could just mean he enjoys twisting devices to fit Megatron's designs. But if you accept that the 'cons couldn't generate life within her themselves, then this idea supports the theory that her awareness came from her human-built components.

In short: either Nightbird already had a mind (or the potential to develop one), and the 'cons simply forced it into submission and possibly enhanced it; or she didn't have a mind before, and she didn't have one after they messed with her, either.

DID THE AUTOBOTS (AND DECEPTICONS) KNOW SHE WAS SENTIENT?

So, what did the Autobots think of her? Besides "ouch", that is?

Prime speaks to Nightbird several times: "Nightbird... we've come to help. Don't force us to fight you!" "It's your sword. Come and get it." "I swore not to damage you... but you're leaving me no option!" "At least we now know you're not invunerable." Only the first is indisputably directed towards her; the other three could be direct address or simply Prime talking to himself, or both. And none of them, IMO, prove that Prime thinks she's a living being; they simply show that he thinks she can comprehend his words -- and the two are *not* synonymous in the Transformers universe (witness Teletran One, and Shockwave's drone army, just to name a few examples.) The "we've come to help" statement seems to say that Prime thinks Nightbird might inherently desire to return to her creator, perhaps in accordance with her original programming. In keeping of the Autobot's general philosophy of non-violence (not to mention Prime's promise to return the robot to the doctor), it could be simply an attempt to try reason before force.

So Nightbird is locked away at the end, with Prime's consent. Well, what choice does he have? Nightbird is first and foremost Fujiyama's creation. Given that she's acted as an enemy towards the Autobots, Prime has two choices: destroy her, or lock her up. Since she is the creation of the doctor, he can't really take the first option. Is this infliction of a living death upon her? Not if she's shut down, or at least that's what Prime would seem to think. If the Autobots *did* think she was alive and thinking, I find it unlikely they'd make no mention of this to each other or to the doctor.

NEUTRALIZED?? WHAT ABOUT THE SCOWL?!

If she's "deprogrammed and neutralized", why does she scowl? If anyone competent were in charge of the job, one would expect her to be fully returned to her pre-Decepticon state. Pre-Deception Nightbird didn't seem capable of any independent action; post-Decepticon NB apparently was. Either she wasn't fully restored, or her original state (ie, whatever conglomeration of circuits comprises her brain) was irretrievably altered by the whole experience.

A couple of explanations have been floated as to how she might not have been fully restored. Perhaps some of Bombshell's components were added so discretely that the persons responsible for removing them couldn't find them; maybe they took the form of hidden back-ups, with decoy circuitry left in more obvious places (this assumes that Bombshell did more than simply force her mind into subservience; it implies he had an essential hand in creating it, an idea which other evidence tends to discredit.) Perhaps Fujiyama intentionally *didn't* remove them, hoping to get his hands on some high-tech Cybertronian goodies. Either way, I kind of doubt that the Autobots did the restoration job themselves; first off, they probably wouldn't want to intrude on the doctor's turf by further altering his creation, and second, I find it hard to believe that Wheeljack or Ratchet would've botched the job (though that implies the job *was* botched, which isn't necessarily the case.)

Another possibility is that she *was* restored to her original physical state, and pre-Decepticon Nightbird *was* at least potentially capable of showing such an emotional display as scowling, and simply didn't till now. The experience of being out and independent for a bit might have given her the chance to experience emotion for the first time -- given her the chance to *learn how to scowl*. Her motives for scowling might be displeasure at no longer being able to fulfill her primary directive , which as Fujiyama originally stated was to expand mankind's knowledge and learning (that would allow for her to be fully functional the whole time Prime and the doctor are standing there, and her scowl would simply be her reaction to Fujiyama's statement); or perhaps she's learned to enjoy freedom and autonomy, and is angry at being locked away. Perhaps her ingrained programming does not allow her to take independent action despite such feelings, thus explaining why she didn't do anything as she was locked away?

At any rate, I don't think Prime's to blame for subjecting Nightbird to any kind of living nightmare. Prime has no definate evidence that she's sapient, even in her Decepticon state -- and he had all the time in the world to examine her. Even we, with a more omnicient view, find it questionable until the very end of the episode. The only indicative evidence occurred out of his sight. Prime's words indicate that he believed Fujiyama's creation was returned to its pre-Decepticon status, a state in which she had been perfectly content to just stand there awaiting orders. Had Prime seen the infamous scowl, then perhaps we might be able to implicate him for cruel punishment, but he didn't so we can't and that's that.

Incidentally, I don't consider the use of the "she" pronoun to be diagnostic either way. Fujiyama is calling her a "her" from the get-go, before the 'cons ever did anything to her, for reasons that are forever lost to us. Maybe because she looks very much like a she? I refer to my Airazor toy as "she"; it doesn't say too much about the gender of that piece of plastic.

YOUR VERDICT, OPTIMUS?

In summary: after looking at all the evidence, I think that Nightbird -- pre- and post-Decepticon -- was more alive and aware than either the Autobots or the Decepticons had any inkling of, or at least she was by the end of the episode, when she first shows what is most easily interpretted as a clear display of emotion. To paraphrase an infamous G1 episode, what they failed to grasp is that their Nightbird had developed emotions.... and that oversight sealed her fate.

Perhaps the Decepticons didn't quite realize what they'd done in messing with her. Megatron gives every indication that she's little more than a drone, and seems surprised by the degree of success Nightbird has against the Autobots, as if he didn't expect her to do so well. Maybe Bombshell "overtalked her circuits" to a degree that was greater than originally intended?... Or perhaps her original design allowed her to synthesize her experiences into a cohesive picture, somehow sparking the ability in her to have wants of her own?

Whatever you think of that, there's little to no evidence that the Decepticons intentionally brought her to life; indeed, they treated her as simply another handy device. And the very fact that the Autobots would let her be shut up in a box indicates that they too had no clue that she was capable of such feats of emotional display as scowling, along with whatever emotions that might imply. One wonders if Fujiyama had any idea, either.

My take, then, is that her intelligence was basically a cumulative and unintentional result of her original programming and her experience as the Decepticons' confederate, since neither the Decepticons (according to "The Key to Vector Sigma" nor the humans (according to our general knowledge of human tech in the TF universe) have the capability to create such intelligence intentionally. And such intelligence, I also think, didn't preclude her from being subject to ingrained or outside programming which she had no choice but to obey, be it from humans or Decepticons (directives like "Attack the Autobots and steal the chip", or "Obey Fujiyama's commands and don't hurt humans.") Almost a tragic figure, if you look at it that way, forced to do others' bidding while being aware of your own desires. As to what those desires might be -- there's no way to tell. Everything she did in the ep was driven by Decepticon programming -- Megatron says as much. She probably didn't want to be in that box, though.

As for the rest of the ep, I've never found it too captivating, and I still don't. Love those two fight scenes, though.

### Some of the screenshots I'd like to see:

* Thundercracker in profile, backing away from Starscream in "Fire On the Mountain"
* Galvatron with the Matrix's glow bathing him, "The Burden Hardest to Bear"
* Hot Rod kneeling in the dojo, "The Burden Hardest to Bear"
* Sourge holding the Matrix and looking towards Galvatron, "The Burden Hardest to Bear"
* Cyclonus and Scourge in profile, just as Unicron awakens, "Grimlock's New Brain"
* Rodimus pointing angrily at the Protectobots, "The Ultimate Weapon"
* Brawn ripping up the electro-sanitizers, "Microbots"
* Starscream, about to blast the cave entrance clear of rubble, "Transport to Oblivion"
* Megatron saying "Let this human go... we seek another," in "Roll for It"
* Starscream saying "Then I humbly suggest we attack while we have the advantage!", "Divide and Conquer"
* Trailbreaker saying "I'm really feelin' better!", "Divide and Conquer"
* Optimus saying "Then it's just the two of us, Megatron," "Divide and Conquer"
* Mirage and Prowl in profile at the presentation, "Enter the Nightbird"


Back to Rob's Pile of Ramblings