Transformers: War for Cybertron, “Chapter 1: Siege, Ep. 3”

Welcome to another recap of Netflix’s Transformers: War for Cybertron series! I’ve been digging the previous two episodes big time and, if you’re here for the ride on episode 3, I assume you are as well.

With only six episodes in Chapter 1 of this show, today represents the halfway point and I’m sure a lot of you have already skipped ahead and completed your binge viewing. I get it, trust me, as I’ve been hyped to get to the next episode as soon as I finished each of these, but I enjoy letting it settle a bit and being able to focus and remember what has already happened before jumping into the next one. Different strokes for different folks, as they say on the streets.

In yesterday’s episode the Autobots were led into a trap after Soundwave detected Ultra Magnus sending communications to Optimus Prime while in a Decepticon holding cell, but – most pertinent to Megatron – Prime still lives which has altered his internal code about honor in warfare leading him to want a full annihilation of the Autobots.

The search for the All Spark continues by both factions which is looked as a game-changer and could swing the war to the side which gets it in their possession. The Autobots, historically the underdogs in all iterations, now seem to be in more dire straits than ever with limited resources and an ever-shrinking roster of manpower from suffering casualties in all battles. There’s even a shot of a medic bay with dead and destroyed Autobots lining the room from past battles giving a glimpse into the severity of war and also causing some within the ranks, most notably Elita One, to question Optimus Prime’s decision-making which has never been a storypoint in any telling of Transformers that I can remember.

All of which sets us up for another interesting day on Cybertron as the next battle awaits. Transform and roll out.

The Plot:

Ratchet is shown walking along a desolate road, the site of the battle in Episode 2 scavenging parts from other robots as Megatron is shown broadcasting on screens throughout proclaiming that the Autobots murdered Impactor, a Decepticon soldier, and spreading propaganda to turn the public sentiment against the Autobots. In Ratchet’s search, he comes across Impactor – not dead as thought – but only barely hanging on.

Optimus Prime, shown with Elita One and Prowl hypothesizes about taking the All Spark off Cybertron. Elita One, already shown to question Optimus reminds him that, if legend is to be believed, removing the All Spark would cause Cybertron to be destroyed. Prime swears to not allow that to happen, but clearly he’s been thinking about this.

Starscream is holding court amongst the Seekers, notably without Jetfire who has – to this point – shown to have been the leader of the group. He thinks that Megatron’s plans to reformat the Autobots is foolhardy and would dilute the Decepticon race by having the garbage Autobots among their ranks. He’s sowing seeds of doubt concerning Megatron’s leadership in his fellow Seekers while, at the same time, propping himself up as someone who would be the one to lead and defend true Decepticonism. He’s pretty much Lucius Malfoy and the Death Eaters defending the merits of being a Pureblood wizard. Already there’s been a lot of similarities between this series and Harry Potter, but I suppose race, religion and creed become the basis for most, if not all wars throughout history and not just in fantasy storytelling.

Jetfire does interrupt this powwow soon to be followed by Megatron and Starscream immediately changes his tune and turns into a faithful devotee of Megatron’s plan for Cybertron which is vintage Starscream. He’s always been my favorite Transformer, so I’m biased, but I have always believed that Starscream was always one of the better written bad guys in classic animation. Always the prototypical chicken-shit heel, looking to improve his own stature with no loyalty or regard to anyone around him, but when pressed, backs down in cowardly fashion as he awaits his perfect opportunity to make a move. That trend is continued here, but seems to have an extra level of deviousness imprinted which I’m totally here for.

Elita One and Prowl are still questioning the logistics of Optimus’ plans to find the All Spark and then take it off Cybertron saying they wouldn’t even have a chance of launching the Ark without the Decepticons shooting it out of the sky when Wheeljack interjects himself into the conversation. He brings up finding the space bridge with the scavenger Bumblebee in Episode 1 and though the tech may be beyond him, he knows someone adept at fixing things: Ratchet. For their part, Elita One and Prowl think this just continues to get more and more insane.

Shockwave meets with Megatron and tells him that with the limits imposed upon him, he hasn’t been able to get any information of use from Ultra Magnus. Megatron needs to be stopped from blasting Shockwave by Jetfire, but once settled, he tells Shockwave to get the information by any means necessary. This shit is getting dark in a hurry.

Speaking of dark, the Autobots go out in search of Ratchet when they come upon a Decepticon patrol team. Mirage disguises himself as a Decepticon, but the “mirage” doesn’t last as he sees that the patrol has a collection of Autobots that they’ve killed and displayed on large stakes and poles. A showcase where the trophies are dead enemies. As a viewer, even I’m aghast that they really went here. Not that it’s shown in close-ups or in great detail, but even from afar, the visual of six to seven Autobot bodies impaled and shown off while a Decepticon flag flies around them is harrowing. It’s a much different tone for this show than in past iterations and it is striking emotionally.

This leads to a pretty quick, but fun battle sequence which allows the Autobots to advance to an old run-down theater where Ratchet is located and nursing robots on both sides back to health. Although he wears an Autobot logo, Ratchet clearly has some issues with Optimus Prime and his methods of leadership. Again, this is surprising each time Prime is called into question. For over 30 years we’ve known him only as this all-good, paragon of virtue and to see those around him not trust him implicitly is pretty shocking.

Ultra Magnus is shown, tied and being tortured, but still refusing to give up anything about the Autobots. Shockwave advises Megatron that he will need to use unusual methods and Megatron casually agrees as he takes Jetfire and leaves to allow Shockwave to do his job. When the restraints on Magnus are momentarily released, he pulls a laser from one of the Decepticons standing guard, shoots another and aims at Shockwave – a simple scientist – who poses no threat. Running down a hallway, he catches up to Megatron and Jetfire with a clear shot at the Decepticon leader. Jetfire spins around, but Megatron tells him to stand down knowing that if he keeps his back to him, Ultra Magnus would refuse to take the shot out of honor. The hesitation costs him and Jetfire takes advantage, slicing through Magnus’s weapon and re-capturing him. Megatron says this should be a lesson for everyone: always take the shot. Jetfire, another former soldier who shares the sense of honor, is uneasy in his agreeing.

Ratchet finally agrees to hear out Optimus Prime and is adamant about not helping until Prime tells him of Megatron’s plans to weaponize the All Spark. He has since left his old duties as an engineer and weapons inventor behind in order to help and heal wounded robots, but understands what would happen should the All Spark fall into Decepticon hands. He reluctantly agrees to help Prime. Among the individuals being healed by Ratchet is Impactor, the Decepticon soldier which instantly leads to tension with the Autobots. Ratchet is able to keep the peace, but it is with a sense of uneasiness as there is certainly no trust, but Ratchet has a code of his own: anyone being helped must also help those who need it while here.

The torture of Ultra Magnus continues as Shockwave is basically frying his circuits under Megatron’s supervision until it becomes too much and he agrees to give the Decepticons what they want. At the same time, the Autobot party, joined by Ratchet and now Impactor is heading toward the space bridge, but it is commanded that Impactor have his Com turned off as the distrust is high. Impactor agrees whether it’s for noble reasons or not and it is removed and thrown to the side, but still flashing like a beacon which is picked up by Seekers on patrol who had believed Impactor to be killed in action.

On patrol, Jetfire and Skywarp find what appears to be the Autobots hideout. Skywarp is ecstatic, wanting to kill Autobots in their own home and knows that he will be rewarded by Megatron for this. Jetfire, still feeling that sense of honor, says that they should give the Autobots the chance to surrender, but Skywarp refuses, wanting to call this into Megatron himself and saying that Starscream is right about Jetfire being weak. The desire to annihilate the Autobots is strong and when Jetfire grabs Skywarp to try to stop him, he’s knocked to ground. He fires a laser blast out of instinct at Skywarp injuring his own teammate and attempts and apology, but Skywarp transforms and tries flying back to base despite his injuries.

Megatron is giving another of his propaganda speeches, imploring all Decepticons to help find the location of the All Spark and saying that Prime desires to destroy it which could end life on Cybertron as Skywarp arrives back and is met by the other Seekers. Injured, life leaving him, Starscream asks what happened and he’s able to only mutter, “Jetfire…traitor” as his spark expires.

The Thoughts:

I know this was a long recap, but there was just so fucking much packed into this episode. I can’t believe that was just one basic-length episode. For real.

I said yesterday that this series had a grittier tone to it, it wasn’t the bright and fun Transformers of yesteryear, but today’s episode took it to a different level. The death, the torture, the openness about wanting to kill and annihilate was beyond anything I have ever imagined. There is a genuine evil, a real desire to hurt, enslave and destroy and, although every iteration of these characters has always been based around war, just seeing the brazenness with which these things are spoken about definitely makes you take a step back and really process what you heard.

I’m not saying this is bad or they shouldn’t be doing it, it’s just a jolt to have this all play out to such an extent after decades of familiarity with these characters. Really, it’s no different from how people interpreted the animated movie in 1986 where the first 15 minutes is just about killing everyone possible so they could introduce new characters and, by proxy, new toys to be sold at retail. I don’t think this series will or should suffer the same backlash that movie did, but like I said, it’s just jarring.

If you’re not aware what I’m referring to above, The Transformers: The Movie was theatrically released in 1986 and opens with what can only be described as a major shift in the show with robots on both sides of the war being slaughtered to allow for newer characters to be introduced. This culminates with even Optimus Prime dying in what shocked every kid I ever knew and caused a cavalcade of backlash to where Prime was forced to be brought back to life in a following season. It also caused a major change in the script of GI Joe: The Movie in which Duke was supposed to have been killed at the hands of Serpentor. The blowback to Prime’s death was so heated that a line was inserted near the end of the film just assuring people that Duke was still alive to avoid the same kind of feedback.

That being said, I think this tone and presentation works and works well. In incites real emotion in me as a viewer and keeps me fully engaged because the stakes of what’s happening are real and on full display. I am a bit surprised that this still got a rating of Y7, but I’ve never known ratings to really stop kids from watching anything anyway.

It’s definitely a lot, but me to having real feelings and kind of be squirming at some of the visuals of an animated series says a lot for the quality of the writing for eliciting these reactions.

Main Man Standings:

At the end, I’d say this episode achieved exactly what it was meant to: a shocking, harrowing experience that detailed the realities of drawn-out warfare that have raved a planet and its people. I’ll call it a QUADRUPLE AND A HALF MAIN MAN, 4 1/2 stars because I’d be hard-pressed to think of something quickly that gave me the kind of feels that this episode did.

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