Rob's Pile of Transformers: Manic Rambings

Manic Ramblings and Delirious Ranting
re: "The Master Builders"

The G1 cartoon seems to be having a renaissance at the moment. Between the Rhino videos, the BotCon video room, online copies of episodes, and people doing private tape trading, it seems like more people are seeing the original Transformer episodes now than at any time since they first aired. Huzzah! It's about time. For years now, even hardcore fans like myself had only vague memories of many episodes.

Me, I picked up a full set of G1 eps at BotCon, and I've been having a fantastic time watching the old episodes. Season Two has been reaffirmed as my favorite season, when the status quo was expanded, bunches of characters got great highlighting, and we really got a sense of having a look at a small slice of a large world. And as I've said before, what strikes me is the care that was seemingly put into these episodes -- little touches that today are the standard (that standard having been established by the Simpsons), but back then, made "The Transformers" a true stand-out among cartoons.

Take "Microbots", for example. The Decepticons sit around in this episode and get drunk. They GET DRUNK!! It's a hysterical scene, full of the non sequitir sort of blather you'd expect (or not expect) from a drunken robot: "Hey, these're good! *hic* I needed to refuel... energy!" What the hell! Why would Rumble just say, "Energy!" "Ah, those were th' good ol' days back on Cybertron... didn't have to sneak aroun' in these... ugly Earth disguises, heh..." It's tiny details like that little "heh" at the end that really put this show over the top. (There's some fantastic animation in this ep, too: check out Brawn when he smashes the electro-sanitizers. Definately worth a frame-by-frame watching.) And in this same episode, there's a short but incredibly tense moment, which I never grasped till this watching: Brawn quite literally holds Megatron's life in his hands. He is *this* close to *killing Megatron*, by RIPPING HIS BRAIN APART!! An instant later the moment is killed by the kid-vid "evil brain impulses", but still, it's there. Wow. Heavy, heady stuff. Brawn owns you, baby.

But that's not what I came here to talk about. I came here to talk about "The Master Builders."

Schematic design:

Powerglide is sailing blissfully along as the ep opens, modestly chatting to and about himself: "King of the cloud chasers, sultan of the stratosphere, ace of the air!" Skywarp randomly attacks for no apparent reason, but "Old Powerglide" shoots him down; Starscream then gets the drop on PG and sends him falling.

At Autobot Headquarters, Grapple is putting the finishing touches on a model of his latest building design: a Solar Power Tower. Hoist is suitably wow'd by it, but Grapple frets: "Will Optimus Prime like it?" "I'm sure he'll be impressed." "Well, if he's not impressed, I'll... be *de*pressed." Hoist offers to help present it, and the two wheel the model off through Autobot HQ. Wheeljack, whom they pass on the way, rates it as "A-okay, Grapple. With a capital A!"

Prime, meanwhile, is learning the intricacies of basketball from Spike: "Am I drooling correctly?" he asks. Prime also has mastered spinning the ball on one finger. When our enterprising duo enter, he passes the ball to Spike: "Here, Spike. Compute, quickly!"

"Wow. Did you guys make that slick dohicky?" Spike asks after he recovers from Op's pass. "And just what does your dohicky do?" Prime adds. Grapple and Hoist explain and demonstrate the tower, and ask to build a full-scale version. Prime asks how they intend to defend it; Grapple hasn't considered that issue yet, and Prime withholds approval. Teletran notifies them of Powerglide's altercation just then; Hoist urges the morose Grapple to come with him, saying "The action will do us a world of good." The two roll out.

"I should give up solar architecture and become a grease monkey. Then my genius might be appreciated," Grapple grouses, as he and Hoist finish the repairs to Powerglide some time later. PG takes off: "Hey hey hey! Airborn is reborn! Thanks a zillion! And awaaaaay we go!"

"You see the value of my Power Tower, don't you Hoist?" Grapple asks later, as the two roll through a rocky canyon. Hoist stops and transforms. "Of course I do." "Well then, let's build it! You and I." "What?!" "I said why don't we--" "I heard you the first time! But you much have a glitch in your circuits. Optimus Prime said NO!" "We can't let the Decpticons intimidate us," Grapple says, earnestly. "Think of the energy it would create!" The camera pans up, to show Scrapper intently watching from concealment, as Hoist replies: "Think of the energy it would take to *build* it! Two of us can't do it alone!" "Yes, I guess you're right. I suppose it is a selfish dream. But some day, some how... my solar tower is going to become a reality." The cam shows the other Constructicons also watching; Hoist sounds worried: "Uh, Grapple... I don't like the vibrations here. Let's... roll." A falling rock reveals their observers, and the two quickly transform to escape.

Scavenger blocks one end of the canyon with a bolder; Mixmaster cuts off the other end with a pile of goop. Scrapper leaps down to face the trapped Autobots: "Hold your fire, Autobots!" Hoist: "And miss a chance to nail you? Never!" as he and Grapple let missiles fly. Scrapper dodges (or rather, trips out of the way); above, Bonecrusher shoves a ton of rock down onto the pair, trapping them.

Scrapper speaks to them again: "Relax, Grapple and Hoist. We're not your enemies. Megatron knows nothing of our meeting with you." Hoist gets his gun arm free, but Grapple urges him to "Wait. Let's hear what the Constructicon has to say." "It's simple! If we wanted to destroy you you'd be ten feet under by now." Bonecrusher lands beside him: "And we could still finish the job!" "None of that, Bonecrusher. We've got no grievances against these two." Grapple considers: "What do you want from us? Exactly?" "It's simple! We've left Megatron. He took us for granted, ignored our potential!" A camera rises from concealment nearby; as Scrapper continues, Megatron and Starscream watch by remote: "Back on Cybertron we all admired your buildings, Grapple. They were works of art. So why can't we pool our skills now?"

"Those traitors should be *de*constructed at once, mighty Megatron!" "Leave them to me, Starscream."

"Imagine, Hoist... with their help we could build the power tower easily." "But they're Decepticons, Grapple! Could we ever trust them completely?" Scrapper demands a decision; Grapple demands proof; Hoist is still worried: "This feels dangerous, Grapple!" Scrapper promises proof, then blasts them free; the Constructions fly away.

At Decepticon HQ, the Constructions arrive to find guns awaiting them. "Ah, my *loyal* Constructicons. You are loyal, aren't you? NO! You're TRAITORS!" Megatron gestures to the footage his spycam shot. "And you can't deny it." They do deny it, though, and tell Megs they're still working for him, and that the tower's energy could be used to defeat the Autobots. Megatron proposes to send them back with "his most precious possession" as proof.

Some time later, Long Haul is presented before Grapple and Hoist (the later still suspicous), his bed loaded with energon cubes. "We stole them from Megatron. Is that proof enough?" Scrapper asks. "...Yes. My dream is coming true," Grapple says, sounding breathless.

The Constructicons then pay a visit to a human construction site. "Stand aside!" Mixmaster tells the foreman. Scrapper: "We've got work to do." Hook: "And we need your building materials to do it!" Bonecrusher: "We'll just help ourselves, if you don't mind." Long Haul: "Or, even if you do!" The foreman, apparently on the edge of a nervous breakdown, doesn't mind at all, and happily rips up his blueprints.

Construction proceeds rapidly, and we get views of the Constructicons using their assorted special talents. "As soon as my Power Tower is finished, I must find a place to sign my name... in very *large* letters," Grapple notes.

"He shoots, he scores, what a star!" Prime enthuses outside Autobot HQ, where Tracks, Smokescreen, and Inferno have been recruited to join in the basketball training. "Watch out, Spike! I'm driving for a layoff!" Prime does an impressive layup; when he helps Tracks to his feet a moment later, there's a loud creaking noise. "Uh oh, Tracks... sounds like it's time for a maintenance check." "Absolutely, Prime, but I'm having a deuce of a time getting an appointment with Hoist." "That's not like Hoist... I'll call him in for a talk." Spike tells him that Hoist and Grapple have been out all day; Op sends Powerglide to find them.

At the building site, a construction meeting is in progress: "What do you mean you don't understand how to weld the joints? Follow my plans!"Grapple says. "You drew them neat," Scavenger says. "But when I do them, they come out sloppy! Maybe I just don't have the knack." Grapple shows Scavenger the process himself: "The secret is temperature and timing, Scavenger. See?" "...You're something else," Scavenger replies. Hook requests help topside: "Got a panel problem." Grapple fixes it: "See? It's not a problem, Hook. This swivel allows the panel to track the sun." "Hmmm, fabulous. But you'd better do a couple more of them. I don't think I've got it just yet. More panels, Long Haul! And be quick about it!" "Awwww. 'Get this.' 'Bring that.' I thought I was finally gonna build something!"

"Monumental, Grapple!" Hoist observes later. "Yes! It's amazing what friends can do together," Grapple replies happily.

Powerglide, meanwhile, observes from above, and patches in Optimus (still fiddling with the basketball): "Grapple and Hoist with some Constructicons!" Optimus is far from sanguine: "They'd better have an explanation. Disaster code blue! Assemble strike force, now!" Grapple faces a small problem as construction nears completion: "My Power Tower will be power-less unless we can get the sun-focusing sphere up there!" Scrapper has a solution: the Constructicons merge. Devastator is plenty tall to reach the top. Grapple positions the sphere; Devasator then sets him down. "Hoist, we're done!"

The ground suddenly explodes beneath them. "And we're with you, Autobot fools!" Megatron gloats from off-screen. Devastator picks the two up and carries them off, as Megs ponders his new acquisition: "Magnificent. Now the gullible twosome shall perish in their own tower!"

The Decepticons have charged over 400 cubes when the Autobots arrive. "No sign of Grapple or Hoist," Prime observes. "Their liason with the Decepticons may have had an unexpected twist. Autobots, attack!" The 'bots (Prime, Warpath, Tracks, Cliffjumper, Smokescreen, Brawn, and Ironhide) move in, firing headlight lasers and missiles, and generally trashing the place (and the Constructicons.) The 'cons regroup behind the tower, and merge (with no transforming noise, but rather some kind of wierd energy noise and blue glowing effect.) The Autobots circle around the tower and find Devastator looking over them.

Dev repells all attacks. Powerglide is not intimidated: "Okay, ???man! Get ready for the old Powerglide Pow!" Megs sends Ramjet to stop him. "Yeeeow! Going to lay a bomb on his chin! Whoah-ho!" PG enthuses. Dev swings at him, misses, and sends Ramjet down in flames. Dev has a bit more sucess in crushing Warpath. Prime finally sends Smokescreen to sneak behind Devastator ("Just call me the Autobot who is *there*!"); Dev kicks at him, misses, and hits the tower. A barrage of 'bot fire sends him crashing into the tower, trashing it completely.

"My magnificent tower -- nothing but junk!" Megatron mourns, before flying off. The battered Constructicons scramble out of the wreckage and follow him. The Autobots celebrate, but Prime is silent. "You're worried about Grapple and Hoist, right?" Spike asks. "Right. Autobots, clear this debris away... our friends may be underneath."

The sun is getting low and the 'bots are still digging, when Brawn finds something: "Optimus, does this look familiar?" he asks, holding up the battered model of the tower. A short while later Brawn finds a passage into the debris, and comes out with a funky door with two familiar shapes. "Hey anybody want some economy-size wall plaques?" Ironhide quips. Brawn bashes the metal aside, and the two builders stumble out.

"I don't suppose these fancy doors were in your original design either, huh, Grapple," Optimus asks. "Oh Optimus... I'm so ashamed." "Me too," Hoist adds. "Apologies accepted. Now we'd better get to headquarters for repairs. After which you'll return here to clean up this rubble.. by yourselves." The other 'bots roll out; Grapple pauses a moment to examine the trashed model. "There'll be other towers to design and build, Grapple." "It was magnicent, for a little while... wasn't it, Hoist?" "Incredible. Absolutely incredible." Hoist transforms and drives off. Grapple stares a moment longer... then throws the model onto the scrap heap, and follows the other Autobots home.

Construction documents:

Whew! The Beast Wars writers weren't kiddin' about the 2 pages per minute! These G1 episodes pack a LOT of action into their 22 minutes. I'd always mentally catalogued this ep as "a pretty good one". After seeing it recently, though, it's shot into my list of favorites.

I'm enormously baised here, I admit it. I like buildings. I'm a grad student in architecture. Grapple's about as sympathetic character as I'm going to find. That said, I find it remarkable that they made a whole cartoon episode about a guy trying to get a building built. Even if it ultimately is just another AI/ED, it's still remarkable for the way they treat it: Grapple has a highly personal stake in getting this thing built. I feel his pain. :] This is not standard kid-vid fare. How many other cartoons have spent a whole episode fussing over an *architect*??

This is Grapple's starring episode, and the only one where he plays a major role. Most others, at best, feature him fussing over some building that's gotten blown up. Poor guy. Hoist, on the other hand, had not only this episode, but also major rolls in "Hoist Goes Hollywood" and "A Decepticon Raider". Somebody must've liked the guy. I sure do. Someone on the newsgroups once described him as "Santa Claus", and a "jolly fat man". The latter description usually fits. He's the one who cheers others up, who tells Grapple "Don't fret" when the sphere problem comes up. He worries over Grapple and tries to keep him grounded in reality, but ultimately can't help but share his enthusiasm for grand designs.

Grapple is peripherally aware of the potential consequences of his actions... but doesn't really stop to consider it. The Decepticons, to him, are just another obstacle, no different than a lack of materials or workers, rather than a permanent and looming threat. Poor guy. He really doesn't belong in a war... he just doesn't have the head for it.

How sincere was the Constructicons' admiration for Grapple? Scavenger, definately. For one thing, he's enough of a dumb lout to admire those who know how to get a job done right. Scrapper? I can believe it, myself. He, like Grapple, is an artist. He still regards him as an enemy, I think, but an enemy whose work he can admire. Hook? Hard to tell. His "I don't think I've got it yet" really sounds like he's just insincerely kissing up. But, that's also just the way Hook sounds in general. And what would be the point of kissing up by that point in the procedings? Re-affirming the truce? I dunno. It's not like Hook is lazy and would want to trick Grapple into doing his work for him... but on the other hand, he's also smart, and one would think he'd get the idea quickly, too.

Megatron, on the other hand, doesn't even pause to appreciate the dreams -- or the skills -- of the Autobot collaborators before blasting the ground out from under them. What a jerk! At least he recognizes the magnificence of the tower. But then he goes and sticks the two principal builders into a wall. What an ass.

The Constructicons have a couple of sequences that kind of make you think they're mentally linked or at least know each other quite well. The first is when they first arrive in Decepticon HQ; the second is when they arrive at the building site. They don't just finish one anothers' sentences; they all contribute to the same sentence! The result of years of teamwork? Or from repeatedly merging into one robot? Who knows.

Where were those headlight lasers in "The Autobot Run", when the 'bots could have really *used* them? This always confused me as a kid -- I think TAR aired *after* this episode where I lived, even though that wasn't the way they were supposed to go. I wondered at the time why the car-mode Autobots were so defenseless. I guess they learned their lesson, and had the headlight lasers installed.

Why the heck were the Constructicons *driving* inside Decep HQ? The place is only accessible by air or water, and the interior sure doesn't look like it was made to accomodate vehicles. Maybe this was one of the 'cons' temporary bases. That would fit with Skywarp randomly attacking Powerglide -- he had ventured into 'con territory.

A line of Scrappers lends credence to a couple of fan theories, incidentally. "Back on Cybertron we all admired your buildings", he says to Grapple. So the Constructicons *were* around back then, as posited by "Secret of Omega Supreme". And Grapple was there, too. If he was there waaaay back then, it seems more likely that he would have survived the intervening time by being shut down on the Ark (as is implied by "Desertion of the Dinobots") than by hiding out on Cybertron during war time (as would fit with the more popular theory that the second-season 'bots came from Cybertron as reinforments.) And I like the theory that the Triple Changers and the coneheads were onboard the crashed Decepticon ship... maybe the 'cons freed them after the Autobots retreated in "Microbots", and didn't get around to activating them till after that episode?...

I never realized till very recently that Smokescreen has almost the exact same voice as Ultra Magnus. That connection has helped to "unify" his voice for me, which till now has always seemed to vary a lot from show to show.

Powerglide is one of the most likable egomaniacs I've ever seen. He is *over* over-the-top. His total obession with himself would be annoying if it weren't so darn funny. This is *not* the exception to the rule, incidentally. "Dinobot Island" opens with a long sequence of him soliloquizing "ol' Powerglide". "Going to lay a bomb on his chin! Whoah-HO!" I *love* the delivery of that line.

Powerglide also demonstrates one of the most amazing of G1 capabilities, that of being able to quickly find someone, regardless of how little you know about where they are or what they're doing, just by looking for them. And say, did he *ever* transform in this episode??

Why did Skywarp attack Powerglide? Just for kicks? Skywarp also demonstrates another special G1 skill, that of firing two lasers off the edge of the screen, and having them multiply into about ten lasers when they re-enter the screen in a different shot.

What the HELL was up with Devastator's second transformation? Did someone think this would look cool or something? The Constructicons' merge sequences tend to be wildly inaccurate; at least this one adhered fairly well to the toys, even though Hook's contribution to the whole is, as usual, too small (though I also recall another ep where he not only formed his own portion of Devastator, but parts of Bonecrusher and Scavenger as well.)

Artwork in this episode is consistently good, and there are several great scenes: Ramjet swooping low over the ground... the first closeup of Megatron's face in Decepticon HQ, with those diagonal shadow lines... Hook's transformation at the human construction site... Devastator's face as seen from Powerglide's cockpit... the entire ending sequence, not just for the lovely sunset colors but for some very nicely drawn Autobots (watch the entire sequence of Brawn entering the tunnel and bringing out the "wall plaque"... it's beautiful.) There were few animation gaffs -- none, in fact, that I can recall offhand. I didn't see any out-of-place bodies; the Autobot strikeforce didn't have any random members appearing or disappearing, for example. There were a few bad moments, most notabley Ramjet's awkward maneuvering right after Megatron sends him after Powerglide.

Some bad damage in this ep, too: Ramjet literally went down in flames; Warpath got crushed by Devastator; Hoist and Grapple were pretty beat up after their stay in the tower; and the Constructicons were positively battered after emerging from the rubble of the tower.

People rag on this ep for the infamous basketball scenes, but I think they're funny. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but just funny in an absurd kind of way. Prime saying "What a star!" about himself -- heh! How could they have killed this guy off? A crime, I tell you.

Painful lines: "Right, Megatron! I will knock that flying scrapheap right off his afterburner!" Usually Ramjet sounds pretty cool with his stoic, monotone voice, but he sounds like a dork here. "Man, that's so big the top is in a different time zone than the bottom!" Um, no it's not. Time zones run horizontally, not vertically. Stupid human. :P

Mutant Bastard Spawn of the Incomprehensible Cartoon Lines: "Okay, bite man! Get ready for the old Powerglide pow!" "Bite man"?? That *can't* be what he's really saying.

And finally, a critique of Grapple's building. No, I'm not kidding. Don't worry, I'm not being too serious, either. :]

First, I question the choice of materials. An all-metal exterior is harsh by most Earth standards, and contrasts poorly with the site, which is an undeveloped grassy valley surrounded by low mountains. More natural materials for the facade might have been in order.

Second, the scaling of this structure is immense. It dwarfs the Autobots, and seems to be a blatant attempt to overpower its natural surroundings. The design aesthetic is highly industrial; the tower makes no pretense of being decorative. It is there to do a job, not to look pretty. That said, we humans would do well if all our industrial designs looked this nice. The tower has an hourglass shape that somewhat allievates the harshness of its materials. And the immense solar panels rest on delicate swivels, providing a nice (and needed) contrast of color and shape. The balance of the panels and the antenna at the tower's top create a pleasing composition.

All in all, I think Grapple's mind is still on Cybertron. This building would fit right in there... or maybe in midtown Manhattan. But if it were going up in my neighborhood, I think I'd be a bit ticked off. It's too big and too metal. And yeah, my views are very human-centric. I *am* a human, and Grapple put this thing up on *my* planet. I've got a right to be picky. >:]

Overall: a fine episode, and a good example of the difference between Transformers and a lot of other, lesser cartoons. The basic plot, of course, is somewhat simplistic and kiddified, but I'm surprised and impressed they would do such a story at all.

Bonus Trivia Quiz: Who was the first Transformer whose robot form lacked any visual indication that he was speaking? Answer below...

Bombshell had neither a mouth, a moving faceplate, nor anything that flashed when he spoke.

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