The three-part pilot episode, “More Than Meets The Eye,” set the very large, sometimes quirky stage for the interplanetary resource war known as the Transformers cartoon series. It’s really less of a war than a stalemate: the Decepticons may want to steal Earth’s energy so they can return to, and conquer, their home planet of Cybertron, but the Autobots are there to stop them, and neither side is strong enough to fully defeat the other. Each half-hour of Transformers, then, will be about the (unsuccessful) attempts each side makes to break out of this deadlock. It may be formulaic, but as long as the Decepticons come up with increasingly crazy schemes, and as long as the Autobots find clever ways to foil said schemes, we should have a hell of a lot of fun.
Since the pilot ended with Optimus Prime and the Autobots celebrating an apparent final victory against the Decepticons, the first task in “Transport to Oblivion” is to bring the bad guys back up from the bottom of the ocean. Megatron and his minions have been hiding out there for months, plotting a comeback. And then one day they get a surprise call from the one Decepticon they left behind on Cybertron four million years ago – the one-eyed kiss-up Shockwave. “Our supply of energon cubes is dangerously low,” he tells Megatron, but there’s good news too: “our new intergalactic transport system is almost complete.” Megatron vows to “suck the Earth dry,” which, frankly, is just not something I’m comfortable hearing from an evil robot.
The Earth-sucking begins at a solar power station, where Megatron’s vocoder-voiced lieutenant, Shockwave, is hiding out in his boombox mode, blasting what sounds like “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida.” Apparently this Decepticon loves it loud, because when one of the hardhats yells at his colleague to turn it down, man, Shockwave chooses this moment to return to robot mode and launch his robot-bird buddy, Laserbeak, to start what he calls “Operation Destruction.” The names of Shockwave’s operations couldn’t be more obvious, could they? I bet he calls the Decepticons’ grand scheme “Operation Steal Earth’s Energy, Turn It Into Energon Cubes And Return To Cybertron For Conquest And Profit.”
As the Decepticons fuel up, the nearby human city – whatever it is, the show doesn’t usually give up those kinds of details – turns into what Autobot Jazz calls “blackout city.” Optimus Prime is shocked when he sees who Teletraan-1’s scanners have spotted: “Megatron lives!?!” The good guys hold their own in the robot battle that follows – unusual, compared to their hapless offensives in the pilot – though the Decepticons still manage to sneak off with their energon cubes.
I like to think that if I had four million years to myself like Shockwave did, I’d be able to dream up and construct a space bridge too.
The Autobots are looking on the bright side about the return of the Decepticons and Megatron’s theft of still more Earth energy. “He still has to find a way to get ’em back to Cybertron,” says Prowl. Prime sends Bumblebee and Spike to find out exactly how Megatron plans to ship the energy home, and they quickly stumble upon the plan: a “space bridge” between Cybertron and Earth. It looks awesome – the sky opens up, vacuums everything underneath it and zaps the cargo into a dimensional vortex – but it doesn’t work: in its first test, the energon cargo just vanishes into oblivion, hence the title of the episode. By the way, when my son and I start up our ambient Pink Floyd tribute band, our debut album will be called “Transport to Oblivion.”
“Your space bridge is worthless,” Starscream tells Megatron, his voice dripping with robotic schadenfreude. The leader is convinced the bridge just needs better “guidance,” which makes him sound like that guy who won’t use his phone’s navigation because he really does know how to get to the party and is definitely not lost. Megatron gets no takers on the guiding-energon-to-Cyberton front because none of the Decepticons think the guide will make it out alive.
But Megatron soon stumbles upon a win-win situation – or, technically, Bumblebee and Spike stumble upon it for him. They’ve been watching the space bridge tests from a nearby cliff, and when they decide to bring this news back to Autobot HQ, Bumblebee’s wheels catch on the edge of the cliff and they end up tumbling down into the Decepticons’ hands. “They have just volunteered,” Megatron says, “for the next trip over the space bridge!” Uh oh.
“And you have never heard of the Gobots, either”
But the space bridge starts up again without any cargo inside; the malfunction is so huge the show’s animation is affected, with Megatron saying “test run number two aborted!” in Shockwave’s voice. Megatron regains his actual voice in time to be furious at the fact that the bridge can’t be used again for an “intolerable” 3,000 astro-seconds. Bumblebee takes advantage of this pause in space bridging to do what he should have done from the first: transform into a car and drive away – only he forgets to pick up Spike in the process, perhaps because he’s being chased by the jaguar-like Ravage and shot at by the Decepticon air squadron. And then he gets captured anyway – we’re only in episode four and we’re already filling time with sequences that literally go in circles?!? Megatron zaps Bumblebee with some kind of mind ray. “Once I’ve altered his memory chips,” he says, “he’ll lead the Autobots to their doom!”
waka waka waka waka waka waka waka waka waka waka waka waka
Or, technically, to a cave, which Bumblebee says is the location of the space bridge. Judging by the automatic quality in his voice, even he doesn’t really know that this isn’t true – at least until Megatron and company seal the cave up with the Autobots inside. “So we were expected here!” grumbles Ironhide. “And I insist that you stay – forever!” shouts Megatron. But the Autobots put up a strong and often unorthodox fight – Jazz grabs a stalactite and swings it like a baseball bat to deflect one of Starscream’s laser volleys. Never mind the implausibility, it’s a great moment, especially as he exclaims, “Yer out!” And Ratchet shoots out a flying net that swallows Laserbeak – it looks like a wire mesh Pac-Man!
Das Auto… bot.
Shockwave uses his trademark terrible timing to send a frantic message from Cybertron: “The space bridge is about to open!” Megatron races out of the cave, blasting the cave opening and a few of the Autobots nearby. One of them is Bumblebee, and as Ratchet repairs him he notices the altered memory chips. Bumblebee remembers the real test site for the space bridge, and the Autobots rushes to the riverbed to rescue Spike.
Bumblebee’s buddy is being held in a sphere-shaped laser jail cell. He asks Shockwave for a little leniency: “Well, I guess I served my time and now I’m free to go, right?” Shockwave is not amused by Spike’s little joke: “Free to go… to Cybertron.” For the astoundingly uncreative Shockwave, that was actually a good line. Megatron then gives Spike his instructions: “You will be riding on a beam of light,” he says. “Concentrate on the beam or you will fly off into the cold, dark void… and cease to exist” – so no pressure. Spike is nervous but expects the Autobots will rescue him, and sure enough, they do – Prime frees Spike from the shuttlecraft while Bumblebee races alongside Spike – “I got him into this mess,” he says, “I’ll get him out!” The two of them get away before the craft hits the space bridge.
You could lose your mind, when Starscreams… are two of a kind!
But this test does end up having a passenger: Megatron, who was trying to shove the energon cubes on the bridge in time but ended up in there himself thanks to some Autobot firepower. As he vanishes, Starscream launches yet another takeover attempt: “Megatron is dead; I’m the leader now!” He orders everyone back to base – and in another animation goof, one of Starscream’s minions is, briefly, a second Starscream.
The Autobots, too, are celebrating the end of Megatron – the second time they assumed he was finished, and the second time they were wrong. Megatron is on Cybertron, and once again he vows “I will be avenged!” His eyes glow red with fury, though the power levels are so low on his home planet that he might just be trying to adjust.
And like this, we’re full circle, back where we started, though the trip sure was entertaining, if perhaps a little overcomplicated. Now that the space bridge is working, we can count on regular forays to Cybertron in future episodes, opening up what’s already becoming a fun, fascinating and occasionally inconsistently animated cartoon universe.