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Analysis / Transformers: Prime

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Transformers: Prime is a realistic deconstruction (and probably will end up a reconstruction) of the Transformer mythos.
Technically, Transformers: Animated already did this, but it focused more on the sociological and political deconstruction rather than personal/thematic deconstruction like this series.

     War Is Hell 

We start out the series with a pair of lovable Autobots on routine patrol, admitting that they almost miss the action of fighting Decepticons. Yet only five minutes in, we're reminded that at its core, Transformers is a war story, and in war, people die. Hence, with brutal fanfare, Cliffjumper goes out a Deadpan Snarker to his last as The Dragon Starscream slays him with one strike.

This element is probably the most prevalent in the whole series, with the only thing keeping the Autobots from becoming the same is their Morality Pet humans giving them something to fight for rather than only fighting against. However, it also mixes a terrifying degree of realism into the idea as well. Both sides might be The Remnant, but the 'Cons have a warship and army. The most the Autobots can do is strike out and slow their progress. When push comes to shove and the 'Cons attack full force, all the Autobots can do is retreat, while the 'Cons Blow UP the Autobot base.

     Killed Off For Real 

This also explains why the show's creators keep trying to emphasize their idea for the show that, "When we kill a character, we kill a character." They want to show that such a war can't be shrugged off, and to take seriously that in some situations, you can't just repair your team back to working order (though they do show the importance of medical facilities quite a bit). Even when a person seems to be revived, it's usually only at the cost of their old selves, so that the character is never really the same anymore. Optimus getting the Matrix of Leadership back, Bumblebee being revived by the Omega Lock and Megatron's resurrection at the hands of Unicron being the only exceptions.

Even character death can be considered to be part of this deconstruction. It's rarely a blaze of glory which kills a bot (aside from the Mook soldiers, of course), but a sharp drop and a sudden kill. Cliffjumper, Tailgate, Makeshift, Skyquake, Breakdown, Seaspray, Hardshell, Dreadwing. all of them died not honorably on the field of battle, but through a dirty trick, or a quick stab to the spark. Perhaps they're trying to build the idea that Death isn't some great gambit to face in battle for a name or a commander. It's messy and nasty, and often it's the grunts who end up with what could be a "glorious" end.

     Starscream the plotter 
Theme: The Starscream
Starscream is himself a meditation on just what kind of Decepticon would stay The Starscream for a long period of time. The answer, surprisingly, isn't so much a shadowy plotter like G1, a two time obvious snake like in Beast Wars, a complex yet powerful man that needs to be kept close like in the Unicron trilogy, or even a powerful yet sneaky boaster like in Animated. Starscream wants to be "his own master", but takes a page from his Transformers: Cybertron and Transformers: Animated counterparts in trying to be smart about it. He enjoyed autonomy with Megatron gone, and does obey his general commands, while on occasion taking a safe route rather than following Megatron to the letter. Sometimes it pays off, and for almost 10 episodes, we have the rare moment where Starscream is Big Bad of the Decepticons. However, sometimes it doesn't, as Megatron eventually gets back on his feet.

Starscream clearly enjoyed being leader and desired to leave Megatron's shadow, but perhaps he wanted autonomy to do it more. He slowly begins to lose everything, but it was only when he thought he lost his position within the Decepticons that he thought he had nothing more to strive for as a Decepticon, and he decides his own freedom of action is more important than being a powerful leader. Starscream declares himself Chaotic Neutral, at least for now, and literally disappears from the war. It's a pretty good meditation on what kind of soldier would keep trying to reach the top, and just how they would do it without getting killed.

It also answers the question that always plagued Transformers fans as a haunting fear: What would happen if Starscream got control? The answer: Things wouldn't go nearly as poorly (for the Autobots or the Decepticons) as many assume, though his planned actions are much lower key compared to the grandiose plans of Megatron. True, he's not nearly as competent a fighter, but at the very least, his priorities — finding the Autobot base, gaining weapons for the war — are reasonable.

In addition, Season 2 gave the "Starscream as independent operator" idea more realism while still mixing in some components from Transformers: Animated. Starscream has become a walking contradiction. He's still important enough to throw substantial monkey wrenches into both Autobot and Decepticon plans as the Spanner in the Works and strong enough to defend himself sneakily. On the other hand, as a rogue, and then without a T-cog, he lacks the means to become a major threat for the most part, and even the more pragmatic Autobots consider him too pitiful to finish off. Though interestingly, as an independent, he makes use of EVERY weapon at his disposal. Clones, a Groundbridge remote, Armor of Invincibility, Super-Speed. All of these are utilized to their fullest, because Starscream is realistic enough that he doesn't stand a chance without his gizmos. Starscream even comes to realize that alone, he cannot reach his full ambitions. And so, in the moment he has all the chips on the table to become savior of Cybertron, he turns that honor over to Megatron, coming back the humbled pariah. Satisfied for now, but the specter of treachery probably still looming over him in the future.

     Starscream: the soldier 
When you look back to the pilot, it seems to me that Starscream didn't get truely treacherous to Megatron until their leader was seemingly killed. I'm certain he enjoyed ruling the Decepticons while Megatron was absent, but I also think that he was well aware of who was still in command, and didn't want to risk overstepping his boundaries unless he was certain Megatron was dead. At the end of the pilot, when the spacebridge was exploding with Megatron on it, it's worth noting that Starscream even warned Megatron about the danger he was in, rather than standing by and waiting or actively helping Megatron to die.

My perception is that prior to Megatron's supposed death, Starscream was playing the long game - establishing himself as the Megatron's undisputed lieutenant, and more than ready to take over command if Megatron ever met his demise. And I have little doubt that Starscream suspected that Megatron would eventually be killed one way or another (or at least hoped as much), which meant that all he would have to do is wait for that time to come and then seize control once Megatron was out of the way.

So then you have Megatron's supposed death, at which point Starscream no doubt thought his waiting and preparation had finally paid off - Megatron was dead, leaving him as the obvious replacement. And it was a death that he was certain no one should have been able to survive (and if it weren't for the Dark Energon, he probably wouldn't have). He knew that Megatron was gone, the Decepticons were his to command.

Except that Megatron cheated death - suddenly, Starscream's undisputed command of the Deceptions wasn't undisputed anymore. At which point I think Starscream felt he had been robbed of what was rightfully his. I think from that point on Starscream wasn't acting so much in an effort to seize command of the Decepticons so much as reclaim what he felt had been stolen from him and rebuff and doubts that he should have been the one to lead them - Megatron had his chance, and it was supposed to be Starscream's turn. By surviving, Megatron opened up the box with truly made Starscream The Starscream.

Of course, he then proceeded to learn that reclaiming what he was certain should have been his was far easier said than done, and I think that everything we've seen since then has been a long, slow process of Megatron taking Starscream's "Starscream" and putting it back in the box it got out of - I think that he actually succeed for a short time during Partners, except that just as it was put in the box, Starscream was betrayed by a fellow Decepticon - Airachnid - which let that ambition out of the box again.Which brings us to Starscream rejoining the Decepticons - I think that after all he'd been through on his own, the problems and humiliation he's face trying to fly solo have been enough to temper his ambition, at least for the time being. And by sparing Starscream, saving his life, and then offering him his old position, I think that Megatron has safely put Starscream's ambition back in its box, and that unless Megatron cheats death again, he's not going to actively try to betray his master.

He may let Megatron die if he ever finds himself in a position where he alone could save Megatron and he knew that the result would be death, but otherwise I think he's going to remain loyal to the leader of the Decepticons and once again wait for Megatron to meet his end on his own.

-Space Jawa

     Megatron: Rebel Leader and Bad Boss 
Theme: Megatron, and his problems.
Megatron takes the most ruthless characteristics of his older counterparts and shows what kind of leader would arise in that situation. Determined, powerful and ruthless, he's still the Bad Boss of the team, and many of the other Decepticons fear him and his wrath just as much, if not more, than they respect his authority. Indeed, it also gives a thoughtful idea of why Megatron became evil, as it mentions his ambition drove him to destroy Cybertron to achieve his goals. He's calm and thoughtful in handling the failure of his lieutenants, and he permits disobedience to a degree, but when it comes to traitors who directly attack him, he wastes no time to eliminate potential threats.

Megatron is also deconstructing the Rebel Leader trope. It's mentioned many times over that Megatron wasn't always the megalomaniac warlord he is now, but once he was a political activist fighting for the civil rights for the Cybertronian working class, and for a society there individual success would be based on merits, not on inheritance or being born into a special social class. Of course, these ideals brought Megatron enemies within the Cybertronian leadership and this forced him to turn to violence in order to make sure his movement would survive. As the revolution went on, it became more and more violent as Megatron was forced to use more brutal and ruthless tactics in order to counterattack the Cybertron leadership's own brutality. This caused him to become more cynical in his views.

Also, his past as a gladiator has some influence over his personality. At first it inspired him to fight the injustices of the society but as he became more cynical thanks to the war, it later inspired him to adopt a Social Darwinist mentality: that only those who can fight with their skills and will alone deserve to live and reach success. Those who fail at that have only themselves to blame on and they don't deserve pity from those who did succeeded. Also, being a gladiator also meant being a slave who didn't had any power on anything, but as Megatron became the leader of a mighty army, he had for the first time in his downtrodden life tasted the sweet fruits of power, and he became addicted to that very taste.

As he won the war, its brutality, his violent past and the new-found powers all combined had corrupted Megatron so that he has forgotten what he fought for in the first place, only remembering the rage he feels towards the Autobots. One who started out as a champion of the weak has become a tyrant that is just as bad, if not worse, like the last tyrants thanks to the hardships he was forced to endure in order to win. History is filled with these examples of revolutionaries that started out as fighters of certain rights, only to become just as bad as those people they fought against.

Interestingly enough Megatron's recent torture at the hands of Unicron appears to have shaken the tyrant to his very core. Being unable to resist with the weapons he's most familiar with, his wit and his strength. The two things he prided himself on most, and what he used to ultimately win the war for Cybertron were in the end ultimately useless. After he was freed from Unicron, Megatron seemed to realize that his entire life's philosophy was wrong. Upon coming to this realization Megatron disbands the Decepticons and flees Cybertron. This too is an example taken straight from history. Many revolutionaries who've been beaten but lived have gone into hiding to live out their remaining days in exile.

     Shell Shocked Veteran 
Arcee takes the idea of a Transformer war, and deconstructs how it can affect the people in it. Ratchet of Transformers: Animated did this too, but this again takes a realistic, non-romantic approach. Arcee lost two of her friends/partners in the war, and her mentality in fighting 'Cons is brutal determination over all else, her life filled with a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the organization who took two partners away. It often leads her to rash decisions and coldness towards her team. It makes it hard for the others to warm up to her, despite her status as Optimus' Lancer. Yet perhaps she's the one character who's being rebuilt the most. She's growing to realize how her quest for revenge might lead her to becoming the very thing she sought to defeat. She becoming more patient and level-headed in talking with her fellow Autobots about their Team Pet humans. She's even gotten smarter in how they engage threats, calling out others on fighting too quick and rashly. Finally, she's formed a third partnership with the Badass Normal Jack, which is helping repair her emotional health, and Jack is quick to offer her an appreciation for her work protecting mankind.

     Kid Sidekicks: both unneeded and helpful 
Theme: Kid Sidekick. All of the kid sidekicks both deconstruct and reconstruct this in their own ways.
Miko is a deconstruction on the idea of it being fun to see giant robots fight, or as a WMG put it, a deconstruction of the Leeroy Jenkins Kid Sidekick. True, they always emerge unscathed, but everyone else sees her enthusiasm as foolishness rather than endearing, given her size and lack of strength. All the Autobots and humans constantly try to keep her safe while she observes the brutal fights going on around her, and sometimes, her lust for observing the great war between giant robots can get her in trouble. After all, this is a Transformer's War Is Hell scenario. Her recklessness even almost gets her friends killed on several occasions, not to mention almost wiping the mind of her own partner. It's practically a Take That! to any person who thinks giant fighting alien robots is a safe pastime to observe in real life. Yet despite all that, there are the seeds of Reconstruction in the works, as her Undying Loyalty is always admirable, and despite going through Aesop Amnesia at first, she's starting to mellow from her original ways. And of course, if there's two things she brings to the team, it's creativity and FUN! Fortunately in season 2, she became more mature and her action are less reckless. As the result, we began to saw how her courage helped not only herself, but also her friends. This is shown fully when Miko saved Wheeljack instead of running away like Wheeljack told her, and getting her first Deception kill. This goes further in season 3 when she had managed to acquire Apex Armor. With her physical disadvantage amended by the armor, we saw that Miko is actually capable of handling several Deception all by herself while wearing it. By the time of Finale, she played a role in taking over the warship bridge as well as taking care of Soundwave, which allows the Autobot to commandeer the warship once the battle is over.

Jack is a bit of deconstruction on how parents affect the battle as well as the answer to the question, "What if the humans didn't want to be part of the war?" Jack started off not wanting giant robots trying to kill him in his life, fully understanding the inherent danger of the war. He even tried to bow out after the first grand adventure on Megatron's ship. And yet, both Miko and Arcee saw that Jack had so much potential, and thus they both convinced him to return to the fight. Afterwards, he had to keep The Masquerade from his mother, and when she found out, she really wanted him out of there. Yet despite the danger, Jack is also a reconstruction of an Audience Surrogate, as a cool-headed thinker who helps the Autobots in his limited fashion, and even gains some respect from them through his actions. He even calls out his mother on the fact that in their current situation, giant robots are the best way to stay protected from other megalomaniac giant robots, and from all this, he's given Matrix of Leadership by Optimus, an indirect way of Optimus acknowledging his leadership and virtues.

Raf meanwhile is used as a deconstruction of kid sidekicks and the dangers they would face on the battlefield. When Raf first sees the Autobots he's impressed by them, like any other typical twelve-year-old would be, and wanted to spend his free time with them and be with them when they fight the Decepticons; fights he at first thought as cool to look at. However, this ain't Transformers: Armada but Transformers Prime so pretty quickly Raf found out that being a defenseless kid on the front lines in a war of 20-foot tall robots killing each other isn't as cool like they make it look like on television when he, along with Jack and Miko, gets chased around by bloodthirsty Decepticon warriors without any form to protect themselves, and when the Autobots comes to their rescue they end up witnessing the brutal battle very close, like in right in the middle of it. The stress coming out of it and the rest of the situation causes Raf to have a near-emotional breakdown, like any kid would have in this kind of situation. He comes out of it later and it looks like the show is now going to reconstruct this trope until the Unicron-saga, there Raf himself nearly ends up as another casualty when Megatron himself blasts Bumblebee from the skies when Raf was inside him. Bumblebee is okay since he's an experienced soldier used to wounds but not Raf. He's nearly killed by the shock of the energy blast and the poison from the Dark Energon Megatron has enpowered himself with, and it causes a scene where the Autobots, not knowing human anatomy, don't know how to save Raf and it causes them to panic. Luckily, Jack's mother arrives and save Raf's life, but the situation proved that in war, there's no such thing as Improbable Infant Survival, and bringing children to the front lines is just idiotic and immoral by the heroes to do so. Also, Megatron's completely unrepentant behavior of what he did serves to show just how deeply he has truly fallen.

This probably also explains why the kids have gotten far less screen time in Season 2. They're either just friends at this point, or Mission Control. At the same time, there might even be a slight reconstruction going on as well, even from Raf. In Season 2, the kids have only ever gone into the field either out of desperation (getting the Iacon Database on the Nemesis/turning off the dark energon), or as a necessity to complete the mission (Jack on Cybertron/The hunt in New York). Raf thankfully has only gone into the field once this season, and that was during the case of desperation. Now he operates the much safer and probably more useful post of Mission Control. And finally, their reduced role is taken to the ultimate strain, when the cons take them hostage, and use their lives as bargaining chips against the bots.

Though the concept of kid sidekicks is reconstructed in a speech given by the Reasonable Authority Figure Fowler to one of his superiors during a debriefing. Folwer explains that the presence of the children was never ment to be anything other than humanitarian, and that each of the kids had already proven (and we later see for ourselves during the above mentioned hostage situation) that they would willingly lay down their lives for their country, their planet, and there Autobot allies.

     Fantastic Racism and its consequences 
We expect Fantastic Racism by Decepticons, and this series does a good job showing the true terror that would be felt by humans facing gigantic beings that place us somewhere around ants on the "ethical consideration" table.

But we also see it from an Autobot, as Ratchet shows with his generalized contempt for human scientific capability. This is shown to be far worse and consequential than it would be in a less serious work, which would probably treat it as part of his Grumpy Old Man persona. His opinion that humans had nothing to offer his "advanced science" caused him to commit an irresponsible act in never bothering to learn about the biological needs of an allied species.

Ratchet: Your mother may be a nurse, but does she know anything about the effects of energon on the human body?
Jack: Do you know anything about the human body?
*Off Ratchet's striken look*

Ratchet realizes that his failure to consider humanity in its own context was irresponsible to the point of dereliction of duty.

Ratchet: We've invited these humans into our lives, yet I bothered to learn so little of their science or medicine.

June's subsequent statement that Raf needs to "be examined by real doctors" can only sting even worse with this revelation. Ratchet failed in a doctor's first duty, and he knows it.

MECH and Silas are the deconstruction of how human military forces would react when alien robots bring a war to their world. MECH doesn't sit on the sidelines while the robots fight, but takes the initiative to achieve its own agenda. They interrupt Breakdown's victory over Bulkhead, capturing and dissecting the former to reverse-engineer Cybertronian technology. Silas forms an alliance with Airachnid, working together until he has a chance to take a piece of Arcee and split before the inevitable double-cross happens. Silas also knows when to quit, ordering his forces to retreat whenever he sees a Big Damn Heroes moment coming his way. He knows better than to fight several Autobots or Decepticons before he can level the playing field technologically. Silas is a genuine human supervillain and a threat to both sides.

Also of note is that, unlike the human villains of the other Transformers deconstruction, MECH is totally normal in terms of being humans with great technology rather than having gimmick superpowers, showing that you wouldn't need superhuman abilities to be threatening to Transformers.

Plus, the way Silas and MECH seem to see Cybertronian life is likely how many real people would see them: not as autonomous individuals with personalities and souls, but as robots, i.e. things and weapons. Due to this dehumanization, they are able to literally dissect Transformers with no more hesitation than one would have doing the same to an engine block.

Ironically, MECH seemed to be moving towards having their own Transformer to control through their scattered appearances. However, when they do reach that goal, they take it one step further when Silas is nearly killed. Using a Brain Upload technique, they use the corpse of breakdown as a surrogate body for Silas to use. "The perfect meld of machine and man." Ironically enough, having finally taken MECH to what could be called the logical end of their progression of the series, we are then treated to the organization Killed Off for Real (presumably), as first the grunts, and then Silas are all taken down by Decepticons: people who despite their advances, were still way out of their league in the grand scheme of things.

     What It Means to Be a Prime 
Theme: Optimus Prime
Even the great Optimus Prime gets deconstructed to a certain degree. In every iteration of Transformers, he's expected to be the leader and The Hero, acting as the wise leader of the Autobots no matter their rank. However, despite his obvious wisdom and compassion, in this version he does have his oversights, such as not condoning a single human death despite Agent Fowler insisting in the military's willingness to die for their work. He leads battles, gives grand speeches and all that, but part of that is just the expectations he's fulfilling as Primus's herald, and two areas are cast in doubt: his idealism, and his identity as a Prime.

It's indicated in the backstory that Optimus was a compassionate, concerned bot before being made a Prime. While others recognized his Right Makes Might as more Prime material over Megatron's narcissism and desire to use force to become the next Prime, Optimus's idealism led him to continue for Megatron's eventual redemption despite years of evidence stacked against him that his old mentor/"brother" would never repent. It takes this for Optimus to finally try to kill off Megatron for good. Even more interesting, by the time of Flying Mind, Optimus has become determined to end the war as fast as possible, deciding to use a Cybertronian WMD to try to beat the cons as fast as possible.

The other side of the deconstruction is in his identity of being a Prime and how the Matrix of Leadership is tied to Optimus's identity and being. Word of God says that the series is all about discovering "what it means to be a Prime." When Primus used divine right to give the matrix to Optimus, it endowed Optimus with all that Primes "naturally" have through the different seasons. Yet in the first season finale, we get a shocking twist on this idea. When Optimus uses the Matrix to defeat Unicron, its energy leaves him (maybe). And when it left him, the collective wisdom he had was lost, and only Orion Pax of Cybertron was left. Thankfully, "Orion" ends up being too good a bot to ever stay a Decepticon, so despite the sobering deconstruction there is a small hint of reconstruction as well, perhaps Optimus isn't so bad a leader after all. This is further supported when it's mentioned that he was nominated for Prime leadership BEFORE earning the Matrix.

     The Hotshot 
Theme: Smokescreen
Smokescreen, in much the same vein as the humans above, deconstructs and reconstructs the idea of the hotheaded young Autobot with dreams of greatness. Much like Miko, his glory hogging antics do not get ignored or rewarded, and instead, he gets called out on it quite a bit. His self centeredness is clearly shown to be a character flaw. Of particular interest is the way he reacted to Arcee's "The Reason You Suck" Speech. He yells in her face that 'maybe he just isn't good enough,' before storming off to go for a drive, hinting that his cockiness is a means to hide some rather serious self worth issues. Naturally, he feels that being on Team Prime will validate his self-worth and this may be a reason he's so determined to contribute.

That said, he was an Elite Guard graduate, and it shows. True, he's inexperienced and impatient, but he's a quick learner and quite capable and intelligent when he stops being such a glory hound. He's even shown to be a good team player. He listens to orders most of the time, and it shows he at least respects his whole team, even Bulkhead whom he got off to a rough start with. His quick thinking has saved the day a number of times and he has proven to the rest of the team if not himself, that he is a worthy ally, with potential to be one of the greats. If only he'd get a bit of perspective on things.

Recently this new perspective came, with a vengeance. After the near death of Optimus Smokescreen has slowly, but steadily matured. Perhaps do to his feeling the impending weight of responsibility that comes with being chosen by the matrix to be the next prime. While he's still childish at times, he appears to be growing out of his hotheaded tendencies.

     Arch Enemies 
Transformers Prime also deconstructs the idea of Arch enemies. We are given several of them over the course of the series. Arcee and Arachnid. Bulkhead and Breakdown. Optimus and Megatron. One could even make an argument that Bumblebee and Knock-Out gained a kind of archenemyhood. However, what's presented in prime is a unique idea that archenemyhood is an artificial construct, and not dependent on either party to resolve. True, Arcee was the one who put Arachnid away for a whole season, but her ultimate end was of starvation rather than death at her hands. Breakdown met his end not fighting Bulkhead but by Arachnid's talons, and Bulk was even greatly surprised when he came upon Silas in Breakdown's body, more disgusted at Silas actions towards a fellow Cybertronian than angry he couldn't finish him for good. Knock-out and Bee eventually became teammates. Even the great Optimus Prime/Megatron rivalry, despite its repeated use in combat is ended not by one killing the other (despite their many attempts), but by an outside force (Bumblebee) putting an end to one of them. What the series seems to be getting across is that you might build up history with someone on the other side of the field, but in the chaos of war there's no "rule" that you get to be the one to kill them and put a rest to your fighting.