Rob's Pile of Transformers: Manic Rambings

  Manic Ramblings and Delirious Ranting
re: "The Trigger", "Spider's Game"
4/08/99

 Having re-watched these two eps for the first time in a while, a number of 
things struck me about their plot and pacing.  I was rather disappointed by "The 
Trigger", but pleased to find that "Spider's Game" stands up fairly well to the 
test of time.

 First, "The Trigger".   Did this story really need to be a two-parter?  It 
seems a vast amount of time was spent on two prolonged battles that did little 
to advance the plot: Waspy and Terrorsaur's first attack on Tigatron, and the 
two of them attacking Rattrap and Optimus later on.  The whole point of the 
first battle was that Tigatron fell off the cliff and into the cloud; this could 
have been achieved much faster -- and without all the slow-motion screaming 
Tigatron shots (the one thing I really don't like about Tigatron is his tendency 
to fly through the air screaming.)  In fact, it might have been much neater if 
he hadn't been in touch with the Maximals at the time.  This would have spared 
us most of the scenes at the Maximal base, up until Airazor makes her report -- 
and we wouldn't have to suffer the Maximals' over-dramatic gasps and repeated 
assertions that "maybe Tigatron's not really dead!" when the viewer knows he's 
alive and well.  Instead, the first indications the Maximals would get that 
something was afoot would be the toasted fliers that Airazor spots.  As was, 
though, the dramatic surprise of the Preds returning to base in totally trashed 
condition was not enough, IMO, to justify a time-consumptive flashback to 
introduce the flying island.  Explication was rampant as well: the concept of 
"the flying island" was explained at least 4 times, which seems a bit much, 
especially since it was done in the kiddy-cartoon style of slowly-spoken, 
overly-enunciated words that always makes me cringe.  My feeling is that if the 
two parts were compressed into one single episode, it'd move a lot faster and be 
a lot more impressive.

 There's a couple of big gaping plot holes, if you keep track of who's where.  
Most notably, the Maximals spend WAY too much time getting aquatinted when they 
land on the island, when they should be making a beeline toward Scorponok and 
Blackarachnia.  Four Maxies, two Preds: you do the math.  With or without energy 
weapons, Optimus and company should have had little trouble tossing the Preds 
off the island before they reached the monument/control center thingie.  Second, 
when they finally *do* get off their duffs and move (AFTER the Preds have 
reached the monument), they apparently don't DO anything.  We cut from Optimus's 
group, who are almost to the monument, to Scorpy and BA inside.  There's an 
extraordinarily long period of time while BA disposes of Scorponok, climbs the 
steps (presumably she had to WALK all the way up to the top!), and gains control 
of the island.  During that time, the Maximals... do nothing.  They don't try to 
get inside, they don't fire, they don't do ANYTHING except run in circles, 
apparently.  At very least, a couple of them could have run up the steps after 
Blackarachnia.

 THEN, when BA finally DOES get control and unleashes all that firepower, she 
apparently forgets how to aim.  Shots fly in all directions... but very few in 
the direction of the four targets that actually threaten her.  Me, I'd lay down 
a stream of cover fire towards the base of the tower, in all directions, to make 
sure no errant Tigatrons could slip by and get through that hole in the base of 
the monument.

 Why do the fliers attack Tigatron right when he's in the middle of calling in 
to Maximal headquarters?  He calls in once a week, and they choose for their 
ambush the five minutes it takes for him to do so?  If they waited till he was 
done, the other Maximals wouldn't even know until a week later.  The Preds would 
have all the time in the world to grind Stripes' remains into unsalvagable dust, 
without fear of Primal and Airazor streaking in with guns blazing.

 Plot-wise, perhaps the nicest moment comes as the destroyed island's wreckage 
comes to a halt.  The monument topples over with a *plonk*, and the viewer 
thinks, ha ha, cute touch.  But then the alien signal beams out of it, and 
suddenly we remember, hey, there was more to all this than just a big plot 
device of the day -- suddenly a rote kid vid battle becomes something much more 
interesting.  The Maximals' moment of reflection afterwards is pretty nice, 
though I think Rhinox's line ("Whoa!  What was that all about?" or some such) 
got mixed up with that of Cheetor.

 I can ignore a less-than-sterling plot if the characters are interesting to 
watch, but there were few lines, no good conversations, and practically every 
one of the characters were annoyingly over the top.  Blackarachnia is the worst: 
her speech about "this flying island and all its power are mine to control!" 
make her sound like a third-rate cartoon villain.  On the other hand, she does 
have several nice moments: "Shell head!  Let's move."  "Terrorsaur and 
Waspinator aren't exactly the brightest witnesses..."  And her quick elimination 
of Scorponok at the end is sharp-witted and believable.  She also seems wise in 
questioning Megatron's orders to seize the island without studying it first.  
Megatron, OTOH,  comes across as an idiot, for whispering his instructions to 
Scorponok right in front of BA, where she can clearly see it, and in such a 
manner that even the average 10-year-old can figure out what those instructions 
are.  Of course, BA herself doesn't seem much smarter, letting it slip in front 
of Scorponok that she intends to seize the island herself -- no less than three 
separate times.  It's both poor characterization and clumsy writing -- once is 
enough to get the point across to the viewer, that BA has no intention of 
handing the island over to Megs.  A person as clever as BA usually is just 
doesn't do stuff as stupid as saying "I'll defeat Megatron and rule the 
Predacons!" when Megs' number one henchman is standing right there.  What she 
SHOULD be doing is pulling off smooth, seemless deceptions like the one near the 
end -- "You fire at this range and the explosion will destroy us both!" was 
delivered with absolute conviction, and that's what made it a believable line 
with a believable result.

 On the Maximal side, Tigatron is as heavy-handed a nature boy as BA is a bad 
guy.  You might say that "Law of the Jungle" is worse in this regard, but I 
disagree: in that episode, Stripes was explicitly talking about his philosophy.  
In "The Trigger", though, it's more like we're seeing it in action -- or we 
would be, except that what we get instead are blatant pronouncements.  Tigatron 
*says* he's at peace, at home, that he loves this land, yadda yadda.  But only 
in a few places did I actually *feel* it (the best is when he catches the 
butterfly that Rattrap brushed away.)  I'm not sure what I'd like here instead -
- maybe some conversation with Airazor would have done the trick, or just some 
silent scenes of him wandering and exploring.

 On the other hand, Stripes does get a bit of characterization that's often 
overlooked: he's apparently something of a computer whiz.  He easily 
reprogrammed Scorponok's Cyberbee, just as he later infiltrated the Pred 
computer in "Before the Storm".  In fact, I'd wager that's why he was the one 
sent to look for stasis pods in "Coming of the Fuzors" -- he is perhaps well-
qualified to repair them if necessary.

 In the story arc department, we have the alien signal that would eventually 
herald the coming of the aliens in the season finale.  In the next episode, 
"Spider's Game", we learn from Tarantulas that the planet is "doomed".  I still 
maintain that Big T knew this long before that episode -- at least as far back 
as "The Spark", when he's just itching to assist in the recovery of the pod that 
yielded Airazor.  The scurrilous spider is nowhere to be seen in "The Trigger", 
so we have no way of knowing what his reaction to these events are.  Megatron, 
on the other hand, seems completely taken by surprise by the flying island.  
Personally, I think he went to the island's crash site and conducted some 
research, perhaps learning whatever it was that caused him to expect the alien 
disk to show up.  (On the other hand, he might have gained that knowledge in 
"Chain of Command" -- after attacking the Maximal base and retreating, Megs had 
a indefinite amount of time to study the alien probe before the Maximals finally 
showed up... as did Tarantulas.)  Speaking of the crash, I have to wonder just 
how BA explained THAT one to him.  A bit like a teenager having to call home and 
tell Dad he crashed the car...  As a tie-in, Rhinox reveals to us that one of 
the moons is apparently hollow.

 The visuals in this episode were a bit lacking.  The foliage was well-done, but 
the island itself looked like an Ed Wood flying saucer on a string.  It had no 
sense of mass, especially at the end during its crash and destruction; it looks 
totally fake when it tilts and falls off the cliff edge.  Compare this to the 
amazingly realistic destruction of Ravage's ship and the Axalon, and it's clear 
how far the show's animation has come since Season 1.  The clouds surrounding it 
were more like dirty cotton balls than clouds, but one could argue they aren't 
normal clouds, since they essentially had to adhere to the island as it traveled 
around.  Speaking of which, is it safe to assume that the island was activated 
after the events of "Chain of Command"?  Or was it always just flying around 
randomly?

 Perhaps the most outstanding element of these two eps is the music.  It's been 
three days since I watched Part 2, and that opening flute music (which I refer 
to as Tigatron's Theme) is still haunting my thoughts.  That's one piece I want 
more than almost any other if we are ever lucky enough to get a BW music CD.

 Now, on to "Spider's Game".

 The characterization of Blackarachnia in this episode is what made me realize 
how much of a plastic villain she is in much of "The Trigger".  Here, by 
contrast, she's clever, thoughtful, observant, manipulative... in short, she's 
*believable*.  No over-wrought speeches about ultimate power and ruling the 
Predacons; instead she's eagerly trying everything she can to learn what 
Tarantulas is up to, including some very overt flirtation.  From her line at the 
end -- "Lunatic" -- we can presume it was largely an act, which is too bad -- I 
kind of agree with Raksha's assessment that it'd be more interesting if there 
was some real affection or camaraderie or friendship or *something* positive 
between the two.  It'd just be more believable, more in keeping with the complex 
character that Blackarachnia becomes as the series progresses.

 While the plot of this ep is as simple as that of "The Trigger", it isn't 
nearly as stock.  "The Trigger" basically goes like this: Tigatron finds flying 
island.  BA and Scorponok go to the island.  Airazor goes to the island.  
Optimus and Rattrap go to the island.  Waspy and Terrorsaur go the island.  
Island blows up.  "Spider's Game", by contrast, has several parties all running 
in different directions and meeting up in random places, interspersed with a lot 
of nice character interaction.  In addition to BA's flirting and Big T's 
scheming, we also have a bizarre new character in Inferno, a stubbornly 
independent Tigatron, and the first signs of interest between Airazor and 
Tigatron (at least on Airazor's part.)  This last point is nicely subtle -- just 
a quick look by Airazor, along with less-than-overt line.  And Tigatron 
basically blows it off, too.  Airazor, elsewhere, comes across as rather cocky -
- she laughs off Waspinator's bluster, and pretty much stands there waiting for 
him to attack -- an attack she handily wards off.  (This same scene, 
incidentally, is the first time Waspy refers to anyone as "whatever-bot.")  
YTV's web page blurb on Airazor characterizes her as a bit like Cheetor -- I 
think they must've gotten that from this episode, especially the line "As 
Cheetor would say, that flight mode is ultra-gear!"  But while she may be as 
cocky as Cheetor, she's nowhere near as loud and outspoken about it.  And she 
never comes across as rash or impulsive.  Heck, given what she pulls off in this 
episode and the next one ("Call of the Wild"), I'd say she has at least some 
right to be self-confident.

 Tigatron makes us suffer through another air-scream when Waspy blasts him, but 
I like his pair of lines that follow: "I'm okay.  No internals damaged."  And 
later, after Airazor has departed: "Agg... begin internal repairs."  Is he very 
devoted to the cause, and doesn't want the pod to fall to the Preds because 
Airazor delayed for him?  Or is he just a macho guy?  Either way it's a nicely 
subtle pairing of lines, since enough conversation occurs between them that you 
could forget about the first line by the time he says the second (I think I did 
miss it the first time I saw the episode, in fact.)

 Tigatron also gives us a nice visual moment, when he gets the tar blown out of 
him by the Predacons at the end; I think with this scene he wins the series 
award for "most beat-up Maximal".  I do feel a bit let down by this scene, 
though: from a writer's point of view, what did Tigatron do to deserve to get 
blasted to hell like that?  I wish there'd been some sense of change coming out 
of this, like Tigatron admitting to himself that perhaps constantly prowling 
alone isn't the best idea in the world, or likewise for rushing in against three 
or four Preds single-handed (it worked for him before, in "A Better Mousetrap", 
but not here!)  Or a tension-builder would have worked as well, something like 
the end of "Law of the Jungle" when Dinobot and Optimus are both trapped in 
beast mode and the fliers are closing in on them -- that was a moment what had 
me worried and saying "uh oh!"  The end fight of "Spider's Game" just didn't 
evoke that kind of reaction from me for some reason; it simply felt like the 
obligatory big fight at the end.  Still, it's good plotting that Optimus and 
Airazor basically arrived long enough to scoop up Tigatron and clear out, rather 
than trying to shoot it out with the Preds.
 
 Other plot points: 
 ...Tarantulas's ability to knock out BOTH bases is a considerable talent.  
Wonder why he doesn't use it more often?
... The unastute viewer might think Scorponok is being even dumber than usual, 
when he says that something is chasing Tarantulas: all that's clearly visible on 
his screen at the time is the stasis pod that Big T is towing!  If you look 
really close, however, you can catch a glimpse of Inferno on the screen as well, 
so Scorpy's not so stupid after all.
... It was cool to see a stasis pod set down intact, the way it's supposed to.  
Still, one has to wonder why Inferno came out so messed up, since his was 
apparently the only one of the Season 1 pods that set down without damage!  And 
speaking of the pods, there sure are a lot of those suckers seen in orbit at the 
show's beginning; must've been 10 or 20, at least, just in that one little 
segment of Earth's orbit.
... It's not especially played up, but this is another "bad guys win" episode.  
The Maximals got away with their lives, but that's all.  They lost a protoform, 
they had to blow up a pod to keep it from the Preds, and they nearly lost 
Tigatron.  The Preds, on the other hand, won the battle and got a new soldier, 
though they didn't get the pod.
... Again, one has to wonder how the spiders explained this whole debacle to 
Megatron.  It's telling that in the next episode, "Call of the Wild", BA and 
Tarantulas are in rather subservient positions in Megatron's little hunting 
party.
... Megatron has a nice moment as he enters the battle -- he looks positively 
scary as he roars at Tigatron, and comes across as a serious and formidable 
opponent.
... Exactly what "secrets" does the stasis pod hold that would be worth keeping 
from the Preds?  Everyone seems to forget that the Predacons captured 
Blackarachnia's stasis pod completely intact...

 Does Megatron have some kind of fixation with destroying Tigatron?  He sends 
the fliers to destroy him in "The Trigger"; he seems very upset in "Spider's 
Game" when he gets away; and he apparently sends Inferno and company after him 
in "Law of the Jungle" a few episodes later.

 Overall: "Spider's Game" is a decent example of what you can do to make a 
simple plot be interesting.  "The Trigger" is a good example of why parent's 
groups decry shows like BW as full of "gratuitous violence."  I don't mind a 
bunch of fight scenes, but they should have *some* relevance to the plot, darn 
it!

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