We’ve caught up on four million years of backstory. We’ve seen the flummoxed Autobots try their best to stop the diabolical, energy-ravenous Decepticons from helping themselves to Earth’s richest, rubiest energy sources, only to find that their best was about as effective as a Ron “Horshack” Palillo right cross to the jaw of Joe Frazier. The Autobots are on the verge of losing an intergalactic war and, by extension, their own continued existence. Sure, they’ve made two really nice new friends on Earth, but they just may need more.

We’ve made it to act three of a three-act cartoon pilot, the part in which the good guys almost always get more, so this is about the journey more than the destination. But that fits, because the Transformers turn into jets and race cars and things that take lots of journeys and… uh… screw metaphors, let’s just get started.

The Autobots roll Optimus Prime back into place
Optimus Prime’s original catchphrase was “Autobots, transform and roll over.” It didn’t go over too well.

We left off with Optimus Prime rolling down a hill in tractor trailer mode after getting too close to a bomb that he ordered planted. As with just about every TV cliffhanger, the thing we worried about at the “To Be Continued” mark turned out to be not as bad as it looked: Prime’s little trip probably didn’t do him any good, but he manages to return to robot mode with a little extra effort and a lot of grunting. The real problem is that Autobot Bumblebee and Autobot-friendly human Spark Plug were Decepticon prisoners inside the mine the Autobots just blew up – only that cliffhanger resolves itself nicely as Jazz finds both of them in the rubble and pulls them to safety.

Ironhide takes off after the Decepticons
This is a failure-seeking missle and it’s about to hit all the Autobots in the galaxy

“Thanks to you two,” Optimus says, “the Decepticons are finished.” Finished for about five seconds, that is, as said Decepticons blast their way out of the mine. As if their flying away wasn’t bad enough, Prime notes the Autobots can’t match the Decepticons’ air speed, which is the final straw for the indignant Ironhide. “I’m tired of suckin’ their vapor trails!” he shouts, in the show’s most TMI moment to date. “I’ll stop ’em!” Of course, this accomplishes absolutely nothing; Decepticon airplane Skywarp uses his special teleportation power to sneak up behind Ironhide and drop him with a missile shot. “Remember,” Prime says, in his best Zen master voice, “there’s a fine line between being a hero… and being a memory.”

Hound makes a hologram of Megatron
Actually, Ravage, I’m thinking of moving away from holograms and getting into driftwood sculpture.

The Autobots head back to headquarters, where Spike is again writing in his diary (“Optimus Prime cares a lot about his fellow robots,” he says. “He’d make a neat president.” Hound and Mirage are guarding the Decepticon jaguar, Ravage, who they took prisoner in episode two. Hound taunts Ravage by using his hologram power to conjure up a fake Megatron – it’s so real, Mirage asks for a hologram of a “big house with a four-car garage…” after all, he says Hound’s holograms look “so real, no one will know the difference!” A lightbulb goes on over Hound’s head.

“A gigantic illusion that’ll trick the Decepticons into coming to us, on our terms.” Why not a gigantic illusion that tricks the Decepticons into flying off-planet or something? Hound and Mirage set the trap in motion by talking loudly in front of Ravage about discovering an enormous energy source that could fuel “four trips to Cybertron!” Then they “accidentally” leave the key to Ravage’s jail cell within reach, and the evil cybernetic big cat uses it to escape. “Perfect,” Prime says when he learns their scheme is working.

Megatron goes after Starscream
Megatron hulks up as Starscream prepares for a-clubberin’

Megatron falls for the Autobots’ story right away, but before he can fly off to find this purported energy source, he has to deal with another coup attempt by Starscream, who declares “It’s time for a change!” and fires while Megatron’s back is turned. It doesn’t even leave a scratch, so Starscream moves to plan B: snivelling. “I was wrong!” he shouts. “Don’t shoot!” Megatron shoots, and then it’s back to business: “we attack the rocket base at sunrise!”

Autobots in lab coats!
Of course we’re not Brawn and Windcharger! We’re, uh, members of Man? Or Astro-Man?

Said rocket base is Hound’s greatest holographic creation yet, an enormous, detailed landscape that would fool real rocket scientists. (The only flaw, and an awesome one at that, is that the Autobots are wearing lab coats, pretending to be human workers.) But somehow Megatron catches onto the scheme and sends fake Decepticons to fight the real Autobots – and as he tells Prime, the real Decepticons are at a real rocket base stealing energy. “It’s over!” he tells Optimus, laughing. “You just don’t know it yet!” Man, even when they come up with halfway decent ideas the Autobots still choke.

Megatron has rounded up enough energy to bring his miscreants back to Cybertron, and since it only took a crash landing on a strange planet, a four million year collective coma and the easy routine of outsmarting the most well-meaning but incompetent robots in the known galaxy, he’s quite impressed with himself. “So very, very close to conquest!” he says, though in the most literal way he’s very, very close to Soundwave. “Board the space cruiser!” he shouts, and everybody cheers; even Starscream is pretty excited here.

Skywarp, Thundercracker and Laserbeak
The best air squadron ever: two attack planes and a bird.

The Autobots may be inept, but they’re also persistent, so they launch a Hail Mary attack on the Decepticon base, which, judging from the background art, may just be on the other side of the mountain from Autobot HQ. And for once their plan catches Megatron by surprise. “We’re under siege!” he shouts, rallying his troops for battle. This time, though, Optimus Prime gives as good as he gets – as Megatron fires his shoulder cannon, Prime turns his tractor trailer into a mobile artillery unit, and shoots the barrel right off Megatron’s arm.

It looks like denouement is at hand; Optimus Prime, his hands around his foe’s throat, makes a single demand: “Call it off, Megatron! Call it off!” Megatron opts instead for the “run for it” strategy… and the Decepticons actually get away in their space cruiser. Prime tries to fly after them, borrowing Autobot Sideswipe’s rocket pack, but the Decepticon ship manages to shoot him out of the sky. For those fantasy sports types, the score to this point is something like Decepticons 20424, Autobots 0.

Mirage escapes from the exploding Decepticon space cruiser.
Burt Reynolds stars as Mirage in “The One Competent Autobot”

Or maybe, Autobots 1 – “Where’s Mirage?” Optimus asks as he shakes off his massive fall from Earth orbit. None of the other Autobots have seen him – because he used his cloaking power to stow aboard the Decepticon space cruiser! Mirage blasts the ship’s navigation system and makes a break for the escape hatch. “I’ll say hello to Prime for you, Megatron!” he says. “Happy landing!” And despite Megatron’s cries of “SOUNDWAVE DO SOMETHING” the ship does in fact crash land back into one of Earth’s oceans. How about that – the Autobots managed to not lose for once!

Megatron prepares to leave the ocean
We will conquer the Autobots – and Robert Ballard, too!

“We knew you were anxious to get back to Cybertron,” Prime teases Mirage. “But at least you could’ve waited for us!” “Sorry, Prime,” Mirage quips, “the ship was full!” The Autobots have their own ship to repair, and according to Spike and his diary, the governments of the world are so grateful for their help in stopping the Decepticons that they’re giving Prime the energy he needs to get back home. “It’s probably the first time all the governments ever agreed on anything,” he writes – apparently Spike never heard of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 38/1, in which the governments of the world agreed without objection to give membership to the Caribbean nation of St. Christopher and Nevis!?! Spike gets the last words for the pilot – “I sure am glad we don’t have to worry about Megatron and all those Decepticons anymore,” and the fact that he says this as Megatron crawls out of his underwater space wreck proves that the Transformers run less on energy than they do on dramatic irony.

And thus concludes the pilot – a three-parter that probably really only had enough plot for two parts. The Autobots’ repeated failures played out more like filler than character-building, especially since only Mirage ever really figured out how to stand up to Megatron. Nonetheless, there was a lot of good stuff in here – the heroes aren’t terribly effective but they are likable, the villains are great fun – especially with Megatron keeping his top rival, Starscream, extra close – and even the human companions are ok. Most importantly, there’s a solid premise in place, one that’s simple enough to explain in an opening sequence, yet broad enough to open up a whole series worth of potential plots.

Oh, and you can tell I’m not a toy manufacturer because I said plot was the most important thing!