"Divide and Conquer"
Written By Donald F. Glut - Directed By John Walker
....."Factories are busy, manufacturing weapons to be used against the greatest threat the world has ever known...."
"Evil, super-powerful robots....Decepticons."
.....The scientist in charge of of one of the
human munitions plants walks with Chip Chase and asks the boy for help in
increasing the plant's efficiency. Chip attempts to do so, but his efforts are
interrupted as three jets arrive and blast a huge hole into one of the
factory's walls. Starscream, Skywarp, and Thundercracker transform and are
greeted by three guards, who fire without effect on Starscream. Annoyed, the
Decepticon Air Commander fires a pair of laser blasts, sending the guards
running. Then, Skywarp gets into the act, teleporting behind three guards and
scaring them off as well.
.....Soundwave arrives, and begins producing Energon Cubes on Starscream's order. Next, Thundercracker severs a pair of power lines, and Skywarp teleports over with an empty Cube, which he fills gleefully. With all hope seemingly lost, Chip logs onto one of the computer consoles in an effort to get help at the plant....
"There's nothing we can do to stop them!"
"Well, don't cash in your computer chips yet, sir! There may still be a few buttons we can push..."
.....Meanwhile, at Autobot Headquarters, Ironhide
is speaking with Optimus Prime about the location of the Decepticons' Space
Bridge. The previous location near Dr. Alkazar's antimatter research facility
is just as it was previously, with no sign of where the Space Bridge may next
appear. Spike tells Prime that they should probably just scrub the search and
go home, but Chip's distress signal prompts Prime to order the Autobots to meet
him at the munitions plant. Ironhide and the other Autobots follow suit,
leaving Sparkplug to wonder if he'll ever get used to the sight of the Autobots
.....Back at the munitions plant, all of the energy has been drained from the place, with no word from the Autobots, as Prime and Spike race to the rescue. Starscream reports back to Megatron word of his success, and begins fishing for compliments.
"...but surely you wish to commend my efforts, after all I was-Autobots!"
.....Before Starscream can properly respond to the
sound of his engines, Optimus barrels through the stack of Energon Cubes and
the Decepticon Air Commander, much to Chip's glee. Spike jumps out of Optimus'
cab to allow the Autobot to transform, and the battle is joined as soon as
Megatron points out that Prime is outnumbered. Starscream blasts Prime into a
wall, while Skywarp and Thundercracker decide to attack from above.
.....Spike asks the prone Optimus if he's alright, but is waved off, and just in time, as Thundercracker attacks with a barrage of missiles that the Autobot easily destroys, and Skywarp fires a missile, which is just as easily avoided. However, Chip points out as the missile makes a u-turn that it is in fact heat-seeking, although Prime is able to deflect the missile with his forearm, sending it to explode into the ceiling.
.....Starscream uses the confusion to dive at Prime, causing the Autobot leader to drop his weapon, which fires right into the plant's main computer, putting Chip and the factory worker in danger! Optimus bats away Starscream, leaping up to the computer core and shielding the two humans as the machine blows to kingdom come. Now thoroughly dazed, Prime turns around, only to be pummeled by Starscream, Skywarp, and Thundercracker.
.....Spike tries vainly to lift Prime's
rifle in an effort to help his friend, but Optimus quickly tumbles over from
the assault, just as the other Autobots arrive. On Megatron's command, the
three jets and Soundwave take the Energon Cubes and leave, post-haste. Ironhide
is ready to smash some Decepticons, but Spike directs him and the other
Autobots to the true dilemma: Prime is seriously wounded.
.....As the other Autobots tower over his prone body, Prime asks if he can be repaired, but even Wheeljack is unsure that it can be done. The mood is somber at the factory as Optimus struggles to transform and even roll out of the building, and as the Autobots tow their leader home, Bumblebee is the only positive voice, as he tells Chip and Spike, "Hey, lighten up, you guys! Optimus is gonna pull through, he's....he's got to!"
.....Meanwhile, Starscream's raiding party returns to Decepticon Headquarters with their generous bounty of Energon Cubes.
.....Megatron, however, is more concerned
with Optimus Prime. When Starscream assures him that Prime has fallen, Megatron
demands proof, and has Soundwave dispatch Laserbeak to infiltrate Autobot
Headquarters. Laserbeak, however, balks at this idea until he is "convinced" to
go by Megatron.
.....Entering Autobot Headquarters through the rim of the volcano, Laserbeak is able to transform into cassette mode and hitch a ride into the repair bay on Brawn's shoulder, unobserved, before finding a good spot to broadcast the proceedings to a delighted Megatron. Ratchet's diagnosis is suitably dire, as is Huffer's rather unprofessional prognosis, so Megatron orders Laserbeak to finish the job. With pinpoint precision, Laserbeak fires....
....and hits Optimus right in the chest! Prime's already severe condition immediately worsens, as a chain reaction starts in his chest, causing a huge explosion!
.....The dust and smoke clears, and everyone in the repair bay is alright.....with one major exception. Electricity flares around Optimus Prime's exposed chest as he gives an increasingly dire self-evaluation of his condition.
"Functioning.....but energy draining fast."
Wheeljack asks Ratchet how long Optimus has
until his energy drains completely, to which Ratchet replies by pulling a
ruined piece of equipment from Prime's chest and declaring that it won't be
long unless the part is replaced.
.....Wheeljack recognizes the part as a Cosmotron, and knows that he has one....but not with him. Determined, Bumblebee demands to know where this Cosmotron is as he transforms, but Wheeljack tells him that it's not that simple: the Cosmotron is in Wheeljack's old workshop.....on Cybertron.
And, to make matters even worse, the
Decepticons have placed a computerized lock on the door. Huffer, ever the
optimist, reaffirms his declarations of how hopeless the situation is, but
Ironhide shuts him up, saying that Chip might be able to defeat the lock. Chip
eagerly agrees, noting that he's always wanted to go to another planet.
.....Meanwhile, at Decepticon Headquarters, Megatron declares the Autobots to be helpless without Prime to lead them. Starscream notes that it's usually a good idea to attack now while the Autobots are at their weakest, but Megatron will have none of it, instead contacting Shockwave in order to find out the next time and place that the Space Bridge will materialize. Shockwave gives Megatron an estimate of 72 billion astroseconds, with the coordinates being in a forest.
.....In the meantime, the Autobots still have no idea where the Space Bridge will be next, but Chip points out that Optimus never used his greatest resource: Teletraan 1. By inputting all known data on the Space Bridge's last (known) appearance, Teletraan may predict where the Space Bridge will next appear. However, Optimus Prime's time is slowly running out....
.....Later, at the site of the Space Bridge, Starscream is commanding the operation, and is yet again upset at being assigned such a menial task by Megatron. Reflector declares that the Space Bridge is ready to transport the Energon Cubes, and Rumble asks if they need someone to ride along with the Cubes. Unfortunately for the other Decepticon in Starscream's party, they do.
"No! *gasp* Please! *gasp gasp* No!"
Starscream effortlessly lifts the dismayed Decepticon into the transport
vehicle, and sends him on his way. After the vehicle arrives safely on
Cybertron, Shockwave sends word to Megatron of the successful transfer.
.....Meanwhile, a raiding party led by Ironhide arrives at the location of the Space Bridge, attack Starscream's diminished unit right as a thunderstorm rolls through the area. Reflector uses his viewfinder to blind most of the Autobot, with the exception of Bumblebee who has lagged behind in vehicle mode with Chip in tow. The two, however, are not completely safe, as a tree struck by lightning, followed by Rumble and his piledrivers, conspire to ruin their day.
.....As Starscream gets ready to use a tree of his own to bash the Autobots, Megatron orders him to throw the fight, as he suddenly has an idea. After Megatron threatens the confused Decepticon, Starscream allows himself to be frozen by a blast of Ironhide's liquid nitrogen, while Bluestreak and Trailbreaker dispatch Reflector and Rumble, respectively, before departing for Cybertron, much to Megatron's satisfaction.
.....On Cybertron, Shockwave and his new friend are unloading the Energon Cubes right as Ironhide's group arrives. Not surprisingly, the Autobots are fired upon the instant the Space Bridge doors open, and Bumblebee takes a shot right in the hood while the others scramble to avoid the incoming fire. Ironhide ends up stopping by a conveniently placed cannister of liquid nitrogen on the wall, and he transforms and uses it to breach a hole through the wall, allowing the others to escape. As a parting gift, Ironhide sprays the floor with glue,
leaving Shockwave and the Decepticon warrior trapped.
.....From Decepticon Headquarters on Earth, Megatron signals his forces on Cybertron to deal with Ironhide's strike force.
"Destroy all intruders with rain! Acid rain!"
Three Decepticon fighters transform, and immediately take off in search
.....The Autobots, meanwhile, are outside Wheeljack's workshop, as Chip finally hits upon the combination to open the door. Ironhide is able to find the Cosmotron almost immediately, but then disaster strikes: the Decepticon-created acid rainstorm hits, and after a second blast from the Decepticons, Ironhide's unit is completely debilitated by the acid rain....
.....With the Autobots on Cybertron
incapacitated and Chip having no choice but to look on helplessly, Megatron
gloats happily until Starscream suggests yet again that they should attack
Autobot Headquarters, to which the Decepticon leader readily agrees. With
Optimus dying, and four Autobots stranded on Cybertron, Megatron decides to
lead an assault that he is certain will begin a new age of supremacy for the
.....At Autobot Headquarters, Sparkplug asks again for Prime's chances, but Wheeljack declares that all of his and Ratchet's temporary fixes have failed: if the Cosmotron doesn't arrive soon, Optimus is doomed. At that very moment, the Decepticons leave their undersea base, with victory a growing certainty.
.....Meanwhile, Chip is pleading his Autobot friends to carry on, when Bumblebee mentions that his circuits are disabled, which leads the human boy to point out, "No one's ever really disabled as long as he has courage!" Now inspired, Trailbreaker successfully attempts to create a force field, which allows the Autobots' automatic repair systems to kick in while Bluestreak disperses both the storm and their Decepticon tormenters. Now fully functional, the reinvigored party transforms and heads back to the Space Bridge.
.....At the Decepticon command center, Shockwave has managed to free himself from Ironhide's trap, and just as he frees his companion, the Autobots arrive and speed by Shockwave's barrage on their way to the Space Bridge, and Earth. After a successful journey across the void, Ironhide's team redoubles their efforts to get home.
.....The scene at Autobot Headquarters is far more morose, as Sparkplug sadly tells Spike that, sadly, some things can't be changed no matter what level of effort you give. And, after Spike voices his disbelief at the idea of Optimus Prime dying, things go from bad to worse: Teletraan detects the Decepticon attack force. Though Huffer is typically pessimistic about their chances, Spike is far more determined.
"We can't go down without trying! Prime would want us to go for it, no matter what the odds! Well, are you with me, or do I fight this battle alone?"
Grabbing Jazz's gun
and urging the Autobots on works, as even Huffer is swayed. Wheeljack and
Ratchet decide to guard Prime, while the others transform and depart.
.....Outside, the Autobots wait, and as Huffer asks Hound to search for the Decepticons on radar, Spike spots them. The battle is joined as Megatron declares that no prisoners be taken.
.....Thundercracker transforms and lands in front of Huffer, earning a solid punch to the face for his efforts. Reflector arrives, taunting Spike as he ineffectively tries to blast all three components of the Decepticon warrior, and Soundwave touches down to easily pick off Windcharger. Meanwhile, Skywarp mows down Sunstreaker and Prowl while Soundwave dispatches Ravage to dispatch Spike, which he does, sending the boy to the ground, and Jazz's weapon bouncing down the mountainside.
.....Now recovered from their meeting with Skywarp, Sunstreaker and Prowl vainly try to gun down Rumble as he dashes for higher ground. Their failure is costly, as Rumble uses his piledrivers against them. At that point, Sideswipe takes to the skies to shower the Decepticons with his flamethrower, but is easily taken down by Megatron. Starscream grouses about the Decepticons' energy expenditure to his leader, who is busy taking shots at all comers.
"We're expending too much energy. We must conserve!"
Annoyed, Megatron declares that he'll just have
to end things before transforming and letting his Air Commander do the
.....Spike, still in Ravage's clutches, is saved when a blinding light shines in the robotic jaguar's face, scaring him off......and it's from the headlights of Bumblebee! Spike hops in after confirming with Chip that they have the Cosmotron, leaving Ironhide, Bluestreak, and Trailbreaker to join the battle. Starscream, now without Megatron, begins firing at them from above, all while boasting that their participation in this battle will be short lived.
.....Bumblebee arrives with the Cosmotron, with Spike handing the device off to Sparkplug, who gives it to Wheeljack and Ratchet. The battle, however.....
"We are victorious!"
......has been lost by the Autobots. Bragging shamelessly, Megatron asks:
"Is there anyone in the universe who'll challenge the might of Megatron?"
The answer he receives shocks everyone.
"I, Optimus Prime, challenge you!"
The battered Autobot forces look up in disbelief at their reinvigorated leader, and Starscream rather gleefully points out that under the Battle Code, Megatron is obliged to answer Prime's challenge.....alone. Prime concurs, and Megatron answers by firing at the Autobot leader with a glancing blow, which sends Optimus diving.....
......right into Megatron, sending his fusion cannon flying! He tries attacking Prime, anyways, without his primary weapon, but it quickly becomes clear that Starscream was right, and Megatron has wasted too much energy in battle as the blast is ineffective, and is followed with a listless shove when Optimus tries to punch him. Prime then disrupts the loose overhang that Megatron is standing on, sending the Decepticon tumbling. Optimus begins taking potshots with his rifle as Megatron finally admits the truth, much to Starscream's smug satisfaction. Megatron leaps back up to Optimus' level as Spike, Sparkplug, and Chip arrive to view the battle, but he is easily knocked down by a blast from Prime's eyes. Seeing his fusion cannon lying on the ground, Megatron reaches for it, but Optimus steps on his opponent's hand and knocks away the firearm, while asking the clearly outclassed Decepticon to yield. Megatron yields...but only for now.
"Retreat.....and take our leader back for repairs."
With Starscream's call for retreat, the Autobots are victorious! While the Autobots celebrate, Chip remarks that the Decepticons must be finished, but Spike is not so certain.
"Uh-uh. They'll be back, I just know it. They'll be back."
....."Divide and Conquer" exists in an
odd position in the first season of The Transformers. It is the first
episode to air that does not explicitly continue from the prior episodes (the
reference early in the episode to the first appearance of the Space Bridge in
"Transport to Oblivion" notwithstanding), and also has no explicit effect on
the following episodes. Furthermore, it is the first episode written by Donald
F. Glut, the only person to write both for Season 1 of the series, and for
Season 3, in addition to being one of the few pre-movie Transformers
writers to also get work on G.I. Joe. And, on a sadder note, it's the
first episode of the series (and the first cartoon reviewed on this website) to
be disowned by its writer.
.....Don Glut, who is probably still most known for his novelization of The Empire Strikes Back, got his start writing for Filmation's live-action Shazam! in the '70s, followed by a number of freelance gigs for the Kroffts (on Land of the Lost), Filmation, and Hanna-Barbera. He also caught on at Marvel Comics, writing for titles like What If...? and Captain America, which is surely what got him noticed by both Steve Gerber and Stan Lee. The latter figure is likely why Glut became such a stalwart writer for both the syndicated Spider-Man and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. It's also around this time that Glut was hired by Mattel to develop Masters of the Universe, which resulted in him writing the first couple of minicomics packed in with the toys. So, when The Transformers came around, Glut was more than familiar with working not only in animation, but with licensed properties. In the end, it was likely inevitable that Dick Robbins and Bryce Malek would hire Don Glut.
.....The problem is, Glut has personally disowned his toy-based work, and the Sunbow stuff in particular, claiming that it was all for the money (which, due to Steve Gerber, was double the going rate for writers than was normal at other animation studios). Furthermore, he claimed that the story editing was terribly lax, a charge that can certainly be laid at the feet of Robbins and Malek, but is unfair to Steve Gerber, Flint Dille, Buzz Dixon, and Marv Wolfman (to be extremely mild). And, given that his episode of G.I. Joe ("Primordial Plot") has the single worst animated sequence (that made it to air) in a Sunbow cartoon, and he wrote "Heavy Metal War", the poster child for the piss-poor state of '80s animation on DVD, I cannot help but think that Glut is experiencing a case of sour grapes for reasons best left to the eventual review of "S.O.S. Dinobots".
.....As for the episode at hand, it begins once again with a Victor Caroli narration, and while it is as effective as ever, someone on staff at Sunbow instructed the writers to stop, because other than the multi-part episodes, "A Plague of Insecticons", "Autobot Spike", "Atlantis Arise!", "Day of the Machines", and the version of "Dark Awakening" that aired the day before "The Return of Optimus Prime", Caroli's voice would be limited to the commercial bumpers from here on out. As would be the case in most of the future episodes, Glut uses the narration to quickly introduce something specific to the episode's plot-in this case, the human weapons factory.
.....Chip appears for the second straight episode, and again it is as the boy genius computer expert who can help people much older than him. Here, though, it is far more plausible than helping to harness the power of antimatter (this is an incredibly low bar to surpass, though). Surprisingly, the adult Chip helps is Black-something that would have to be specifically requested in the '80s. The whole exercise leads to a classic example of a movie or TV writer just not understanding computers, as after Chip types in a few commands on a terminal, and then a bank of circuits flashes.
The shot is accompanied by the same sound effect as was used in "Roll For
It" when Megatron powers up with the antimatter Energon Cubes, so it's clear
that Chip is supposed to be doing good, but the following shot of the assembly
line do nothing to emphasize this properly.
.....There's no time to dwell on this as we get an immediate flurry of action, and another great example of the oddball shifts from the color timing of the 35mm source prints and the actual broadcast masters.
While it's not unheard of for the color timing to be odd on the prints, this has to be the only time I can think of where the color green is used to simulated brown hair, though, even with Jem. The problem is, when we next see these guys, they are colored like Spike and Sparkplug, in what is actually a re-take!
The short lead times for Season 1 episodes meant that instead of ordering a
second re-take to fix the coloring of the security workers, Sunbow was left to
be satisfied that they had gotten the issue with the color of the laser fire
fixed-never minding that this is the only shot in the sequence where it's
implied that these guys have lasers, as opposed to the typically useless
.....With the Decepticons inside, we get the sloppiest sequence with Starscream, Skywarp, and Thundercracker in terms of their coloring perhaps in the entire series, re-takes or not. With Thundercracker commenting on the humans, offscreen, we cut to Skywarp, who is colored as Starscream when he teleports!
".....funny, don't they, Starscream?"
And the ink and paint artist(s) double
down on the goof, as after the close-up of the shocked soldiers, we go back to
this same angle, and Skywarp is still miscolored!
.....Then, completely independent of the script, Soundwave arrives!
"Drain this factory of its energy at once!"
Basically, it's just so that he can
spit out empty Energon Cubes, as Glut has obviously not provided a way for the
jets to make their own, and this episode's storyboard artist apparently took
the initiative to fix the obvious continuity error. Don Glut must have seen the
episode on broadcast and found displeasure with this, as he would specifically
script a method for the Decepticon jets to create their own Energon Cubes in
"Megatron's Master Plan" Part 1.
.....Next in the poor coloring saga, Thundercracker blasts apart a conduit, and lo and behold, Skywarp teleports in colored as Thundercracker!
With the next shot (which is an excellent example of effects animation on
the show), Skywarp returns to having the right colors, ending the silliness.
.....Once again, though, we get the device of the Autobots doing their own thing as humans send a distress signal. While this is a bit more realistic than the Season 2 method of having the Autobots suddenly show up when the plot calls for it, it's poor storytelling, because any momentum built up here is utterly killed by this slow, talky scene. The only rational reason for its inclusion is for the lip service given to the search for the Decepticons' Space Bridge, and even then there simply has to be a better-paced way to do it. Even more damaging is how the area Optimus and Spike appear in bears next to no resemblance to the river bed seen in "Transport to Oblivion".
.....So, with Prime receiving Chip's distress signal, we get the plot up and running again, but we also get a very curiously framed pan of the Autobots transforming.
"You heard the Chief. Roll out!"
Rhino and Shout! DVDs are an accurate guide, the shot was shifted upwards
during mastering because most of what happens in the pan falls outside of the
title-safe area, and in the case of Sunstreaker, right in the overscan area of
the unadjusted image. Given that Sunbow did not appear to have their video
editing system in place in 1984, this must have been a pain to achieve.
.....Megatron is delightfully condescending to Starscream as he watches events from the comfort of Decepticon Headquarters. After the events of the previous episode, where an unsupervised Starscream utterly botched a similar raid for Energon Cubes, it should come as no surprise that Megatron is behaving as he is, though Starscream comes off a bit weak for grovelling this bad without any sign that he's been beaten senseless for his prior failure.
.....The perspective on Prime as he comes barreling through the pile of Energon Cubes is great, but the glowing animation of the cubes is missing along the edges of the screen.
It's a key reminder of the handmade nature of this show, as even big-budget
movies of the era like Superman would occasionally have uneven of
optical effects, especially on the edges of the film frame.
.....Less forgivable, however, is how blatantly off-model Prime is drawn when Spike leaps out of his cab (which is a rather insanely stupid thing to do in real life, it must be noted).
Unlike the previous episode, though, this sort of bad art is an aberration
rather than the rule.
.....Megatron provides another clue that Soundwave's presence was not scripted, as he declares that Optimus is outnumbered three to one. And, excepting the banter, the whole thing seems to exist merely to highlight Skywarp's arsenal of heat-seeking missiles (which, as usual in films and TV, exaggerates the effectiveness of the missile's homing mechanism). And Prime deflecting the missile (which looks to be a Sidewinder, one of the three missile types used by G.I. Joe's Skystrikers, and one of the most effective types of missile ever developed by man) sends mixed signals. On one hand, it speaks to Prime's strength, but on the other hand, it defeats the premise that Don Glut in particular perpetuates on the series that no human weapon is a match for the Autobots or Decepticons by obviously being something that exists in the real world (and was in fact thirty year old technology in 1984).
.....A really weird and uncommon animation error pops up in the Rhino and Shout! versions of the episode when Prime's fallen rifle fires at the computer.
Yup, it's gloved hand of the guy who photographed the bulk of this episode
in Japan. This frame might still be there in the broadcast
version, but I certainly can't see it on the Region 2 DVD. Given the missing
cels of Optimus' rifle and the laser fire, it would appear that he pressed the
camera button accidentally while swapping out cels.
.....There's a perfectly valid train of thought that what makes Optimus Prime Optimus Prime is his unceasing propensity to do something insanely stupid in the name of defending life, and it starts in this episode when he shields Chip and the factory worker from the explosion of the computer with his own body. And it's completely on robotic adrenaline, as he smacks the hell out of Starscream but good just to get to the damaged computer. So, with this explosion (which is scientifically dicey, but perfectly acceptable in the context of laser weaponry), Prime leaves himself wide open for attack (and the animation of him turning picks the worst time to be choppy), leaving Starscream's raiding party with an avenue for escape. Spike, however, has other ideas.
While I understand
the sentiment (and it serves the plot well in Act III), it makes Spike look
silly, and is another one of those cogs in the "humans add little to The
Transformers" argument that has rendered humans in later, non-Sunbow takes
on the franchise to be painfully annoying because future writing staffs have
only included the characters because of a perceived obligation, and not because
the characters have been actually desired.
.....Almost as a consequence of the plot slowing down to a crawl during the Space Bridge scene, the arrival of the other Autobots and the departure of the Decepticons happens at the exact same time, which looks incredibly silly with the Decepticons flying directly above the Autobots, in close enough proximity for the Autobots to transform and jump Starscream and the others.
And, yes, "the
others" includes Soundwave.
.....As soon as Optimus is able to transform, the tone goes from, "Oh, crap," to funeral procession, which in the context of the death and return of Optimus Prime (and, if memory serves, this episode was a part of the "Optimus Prime Week" slate of reruns that aired during the third season) seems to be more than a little quaint and overreactionary. But, in this, the sixth episode of the series (and only the third regular episode), there's little precedent for this sort of thing.
.....While it's not the first time in a Sunbow cartoon, or even the first time on an episode I've reviewed, but since this is the first review since I caught up on the past five decades of Doctor Who, I feel obligated to note that the sound of the TARDIS doors opening is used for the opening of the entrance to Decepticon Headquarters. And, to be honest, the TARDIS door opening sound effect was used constantly by Sunbow, perhaps even more than their usage of sound effects from Star Wars. The sonic screwdriver sound effect was also frequently used by Sunbow, as well as a few other less memorable effects created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
.....Inside, Megatron asserts himself as the only skeptic about the status of Optimus Prime, which sets up a comical bit of business where he has to "convince" Laserbeak to go to Autobot Headquarters. The problem is, all of the in-between frames of Megatron's head as he gives his order to Laserbeak.
"Fly to Autobot Headquarters, and learn the true condition of Optimus Prime."
At this point in the episode, it's starting to become clear that Toei's animators have decided to animate "on 2's" (that is, to animate 12 frames a second and photograph each frame twice) in all the wrong places. And then, the closeup on Skywarp in the very next shot has an odd visual flourish.
"I think Laserbeak's chicken."
It's not unattractive, per se, just a little odd to see a shading detail in the shape of a wave. A few shots later, however, we get a pretty thoroughly botched bit of non-animation with Megatron during a panning shot.
"...was in fact extinguished..."
His lips only start moving when the pan
ends, implying some sort of timing error. Further adding to the mess is a
wildly visible seam in the background art, the poor proportioning of Megatron's
body, and the animation of Megatron turning to the camera (which is yet again
on 2s), that is only partly obscured by the truck-in.
.....Laserbeak arrives at Autobot Headquarters without so much as a wipe to properly mark the passage of time, and lands on Brawn's shoulder in cassette form, transforming back to condor mode in the sickbay, where he finds a hiding spot. All of which happens completely unobserved by the Autobots. It's lazy writing and story editing in an Act with a lot of unnecessarily sloppy writing, given that there's nothing inherently wrong with the episode.
.....With Laserbeak's attack and the very effective end-of-Act cliffhanger, we finally get our episode's McGuffin: Prime's Cosmotron. Keep in mind the image at the top of the page, because the Cosmotron will never look like that after this scene, nor will its appearance be consistent from one shot to the next from here on out. Perhaps the only thing consistent about the Cosmotron's appearance will be that it's never this small again.
.....Once again, the colorists give us yet another blatant example of their first season problems with coloring the Decepticon jets as Megatron walks right by two Starscreams.
"Without Optimus Prime leading them, the Autobots will be helpless."
Only the one in the
background is intended to be colored this way, leaving some doubt as to who is
supposed to be in the foreground.
.....Starscream argues that it's "good strategy" to attack the Autobots, and from the perspective of the viewer, he's absolutely right. The thing is, Megatron loathes Starscream so much that he absolutely refuses to beat the Autobots in any way but his own, which will be his undoing in this episode. And this means contacting Shockwave first, to find out where the Space Bridge will appear. An interesting, though never again used idea shows up here, as the coordinates appear as a sort of modified type of Decepticon symbol.
The presentation is naturally dated, as we're greeted with a plethora of
analog-style static and transmission noise that you just don't see anymore.
.....This is nothing when compared to what we get when Chip starts plugging away at Teletraan 1 in a manner that is frankly unnecessary since the computer can talk and has a pretty distinct level of intelligence.
Ignoring the poor spelling ("patern", "brige", and "reare"), this is some
seriously archaic command line displayed in an episode that was written and
aired well after the release of the first Macintosh signalled the beginning of
the end of the command line as a mainstream tool in the world of computing. It
seems suspiciously like filler, as simply asking Teletraan to extrapolate where
the Space Bridge will appear would speed things along in a much better fashion.
(One could hope that it would also help us avoid the really odd and creepy
groaning from Chris Latta and Peter Cullen as we watch Wheeljack and Ratchet
try to keep Optimus alive.
..... The next scene is far more effective in alleviating any tension as Starscream complains to Rumble about his status in a reprieve of the conversation between the two in "More Than Meets the Eye" Part I. It's also a scene lousy with mismatched effects animation for the Energon Cubes.
"Careful with those Cubes, Rumble. You clumsy clunker!"
.....It becomes instantly clear that something's a
bit rotten in Denmark when the camera cuts to Reflector stress-testing the
Space Bridge doors.....all three of him. So, obviously, Reflector #4 standing
next to Starscream is expendable, and when he speaks and you hear Ken Sansom's
voice, the generic Decepticon's fate is sealed, with a free trip to Cybertron
stock footage Space Bridge express. The posing is great
here, as Starscream, who normally towers over Reflector (and Rumble, for that
matter), but doesn't look that way until the POV shot on the Decepticon, and
then he just grabs the tiny warrior like he was a stuffed animal and shoves him
into the Decepticon Kiddie Car®. However, when the car appears extremely small
before Shockwave on Cybertron, we can be assured that it's merely an animation
.....Transition aside, the Autobots arrive almost immediately, or to be exact, the speed of story. And since Bluestreak is part of the group, my point about just talking to Teletraan earlier is further reinforced since Casey Kasem was going to be in the studio. In fact, later in the series, the writers would frequently include older characters on the basis of who their voice actors were (Ironhide is a serious benefactor of this strategy). However, it's unclear if Don Glut was privy to who voiced who when he was writing this episode.
.....While the rain ends up serving a story purpose, it gives the battle a different flavor than previous fights, as both sides have to be wary of the elements in addition to their opponents. The thing is, only Bumblebee is threatened by the storm (in the form of a tree struck down by lightning), and only then because he doesn't take part in the battle proper because Chip is riding with him. Other than this, the only real effect of the rain is that there were a great deal of re-takes due to the rain being missing from some of the shots, practically none of which were noticed by Rhino or Shout! Factory (never mind that the white "rain" lines are more noticeable on the original broadcast master than the cleaned-up 35mm print).
.....There's something quite funny about Starscream standing in mid-swing while Megatron tells him to tank the fight.
"Let the Autobots win."
The idea of Starscream's ego letting him do such a thing is funny in and of itself, but standing there with a tree in his hands is always enough to make me laugh. But tank Starscream does, though we get one of the most mistimed Decepticon jet coloring errors of the entire series.
In the very next shot, Ironhide uses his liquid nitrogen gun (which is oddly on his shoulder instead of firing from his retracted hand), and ices Starscream over, turning him (surprise!) blue.
This is nothing compared to what happens with Reflector: Bluestreak shoots the three of him multiple times, and he lands on the ground as only one robot!
The whole sequence merited a re-take, but only for the rain, resulting in a
difficult to understand curiosity, especially since the middle Reflector blinks
in and out for a single frame before disappearing entirely. Bios for Reflector
online posit the idea that this is an ability of Reflector's, but let's be
honest: until the original script and/or storyboards emerge, it's all a bunch
of fanwanky bullshit. (It should be noted that the Toei animators stay with the
one Reflector all the way to the end of the scene as he, Rumble, and Starscream
fly back to base.)
.....The Energon Cubes continue to be inconsistently colored on Cybertron, with the oddest instance being the shot where Shockwave drops his stack of Cubes and begins firing at the Autobots.
Ironically, this was a re-take, as the glow of the Cubes was originally applied to the Decepticon symbol on his forearm, which was removed for this re-take. The Cubes fare better than Ironhide, though, who suffers from a pretty nasty breakdown in continuity by reaching for, and using, an all-too convenient container of liquid nitrogen (or "nitrgen", as spelled by the Toei animator).
We just saw Ironhide give Starscream a hearty taste of liquid nitrogen from
a one-time-only shoulder weapon, but now he uses a cannister that just happens
to be on the wall? And then, to double down on the weirdness, Ironhide prevents
Shockwave and not-Reflector from giving chase by firing glue using his standard
hand-sprayers, in their first use of the series. Why not have him use the
hand-sprayers all three times? I get the feeling that someone overthought this
sequence of events in the name of visual variety.
.....There's an excellent bit of musical misdirection here as the soundtrack leads us to believe that things are dire for the Decepticons, but it's quickly inverted as Megatron calls on three generic jets to shower the Autobots with acid rain. Now, if you aren't from Canada or one of the border states, you may not be entirely aware of what acid rain is, but I can assure you that it is not literally acid, at least not in the Hollywood-style, face-melting variety. Acid rain is rain that has a high degree of acid of the pH variety, often caused by power plants (coal, mainly) and manufacturing plants which spit out dirty smoke into the atmosphere, which, when it eventually comes down in diluted form as rain, is poisonous to fish in lakes (due to the lack of an outlet for the polluted rainwater) and plants, and is corrosive to metals and minerals at a rate far higher than that of normal rain. There is nothing in how acid rain behaves that will instantly incapacitate mechanical life, even if their circuits are exposed (which, with Floro Dery's designs, are completely not the case).
.....This complaint aside, the end of act cliffhanger is handled skillfully as the bottom completely drops out for the Autobots just as they find the Cosmotron (while sparing the viewer the arduous process of watching Chip figure out the combination to the lock on the door to Wheeljack's workshop). It's a classic bit of misdirection, and a definite advantage of the three-act structure. The tension doesn't let up in the least after the break, as the four Autobots are still screwed, and Megatron finally listens to Starscream and decides to attack Autobot Headquarters. The cut to Autobot Headquarters serves as a well-timed "reminder" for the audience, as the clock is now ticking, and fast.
.....Another little side note here, for readers familiar with the Video Variations section. The Autobot-to-Decepticon transition before the Decepticons depart is the one that Rhino stupidly inserted at the end of "More Than Meets the Eye" Part III.
.....As clichéd as it is, Chip's speech about disabilities gives the character some real depth, and addresses the issue in a fashion that avoids being too preachy while making a definitive enough statement to dissuade future writers from going to the "Chip is disabled" well ever again. This would sadly not be the case with the three pyramid fighters that are responsible for the "acid rain" (which, again, other than the fact that it's harmless to Chip, behaves nothing like real acid rain), as, much like the doofy term "Seekers" for the jets, "Rainmakers" as a name for these three would not only pervade fandom for no good reason, but be made official by Hasbro! And then, the lime green one, with muted colors, would receive a figure as "Acid Storm". (The yellow one, however, is not the Takara-created character, Sunstorm. He's the yellow jet who appears in one shot of "More Than Meets the Eye" Part I as part of the "Decepticon Welcoming Committee", something that was so minor to me in 2003 that I didn't even mention it in my review of the episode. I didn't even take a screenshot of him! Have I mentioned how dumb I think Transformers fandom is today?)
.....Since the action is starting to move along at a good clip, it should come as no surprise that Ironhide's glue was made out of Runsoutwhentheplotcallsforitium, though not-Reflector got a nastier dose of the stuff. And, in a rare error, Ironhide is colored black, like Trailbreaker as the Autobots first pass by.
"The fools, they're back!"
Perhaps odder is how Shockwave's voice raises in volume in an unnatural level as the Autobots enter the Space Bridge.
Clearly, with all of the shooting and
explosions, it was decided when creating the final mix to give the shouted line
a little bit of a boost, and I can't blame the people responsible.
.....While it seems innocuous, the following scene at Autobot Headquarters would have great consequences in the future. Firstly, is Spike's line:
"Optimus Prime, dead?"
In a pre-movie world, this line is simply
unthinkable. Even at this point, Optimus is presented as the
hero of the show, almost as surely as if his name was a part of the show's
title. But, in less than two years from the original airdate of this episode,
not only would Prime be dead, but ads for the movie would openly tease it!
While the next 59 episodes would do little to set up the coming wave of
darkness (even after Sunbow reassigned Flint Dille to Transformers in
an effort to make the transition to the movie), this a key bit of
foreshadowing, in retrospect.
.....And then there's Spike's rallying cry to the Autobots. The Autobots (with the seeming exceptions of Ironhide and Bumblebee) don't have the fortitude to stand up to the Decepticons at this point, and the bulk of the Season 2 characters would be even worse before the movie. But with Spike's words, that starts to change in a big way. They risk everything in a total suicide mission, because Spike argues that not doing anything would be worse than dying on their own terms. This is the first time that we can see the direct influence of the humans on the Autobots, a factor that would come to annoy and aggravate the Quintessons in Season 3 when they decided to attempt to reconquer their creations. It's a great moment for the young series, and does a great deal to justify the presence of the Autobots' human friends, which far too many fans of this series (and the entire Transformers franchise) are unnecessarily negative about.
.....Negating part of this goodwill, though, is Spike actually following through and joining the battle, still carrying Jazz's gun.
(Not explained is how Jazz manages to produce a second gun for use in the
battle.) He actually makes an attempt to fight Reflector before taking on
Ravage, who successfully jumps the boy.
.....There's a pretty major violation of the narrative of the screen as the action of Rumble using his piledrivers flows downward on the screen, only to flow upwards in the next shot, showing the effects on Prowl and Sunstreaker.
"So, you want to rumble with Rumble, eh?"
Alternating the direction of moves crossing
the screen is a major no-no in film and television because it disorients the
viewer, who by nature will be thinking in linear terms. It's a bit appalling
that this error made it all the way to the screen without being challenged.
.....In a pretty blatant example of Chekov's Gun, the character thread of Megatron going out of his way to avoid taking Starscream's advice rears its head in an ugly way when Starscream grouses about the massive amount of energy being wasted by the Decepticons. The implication, of course, is that Starscream thinks Megatron and the other Decepticons are trying to sprint through this battle. A bit of this is borne out by the number of Autobots who are seen back on their feet after being blasted; Skywarp mows down Prowl and Sunstreaker moments before the encounter with Rumble above, for instance. But, instance of listening, Megatron presses even harder. However, Starscream does himself no favors here by not becoming alarmed by the return of Ironhide's raiding party, especially since he doesn't see Bumblebee. He, too, lets victory slip through his fingers in the final moments of the episode.
.....Optimus' big reveal is spoiled by a nasty timing error: Megatron reacts to Optimus' voice during the beat between his and Prime's lines.
Otherwise, it's a great moment, if ever so slightly rushed as the battle
seems to have lingered just long enough to have prevented a moment to breath
between the installation of the Cosmotron and the pan of the trashed
.....The stage is set for "Heavy Metal War" and it's rightfully famed battle between Prime and Megatron when Starscream invokes the Battle Code. While there's no doubt during the all-too-brief tussle that Starscream wants Megatron to fail, the invocation of the Code introduces the idea that while both Autobots and Decepticons may be at each other's throats throughout the history of the cosmos, they have at least (in theory) managed to agree on at least some standards of behavior between the two camps.
.....Chekov's Gun fires on Megatron, and it is a huge mess. Megatron is suddenly a motorized slug, and Optimus outclasses him with what seems like a half-assed effort at worst, and a classic example of Prime at his most sarcastic at best. And then Starscream just piles it on, declaring himself to be a better choice for leader of the Decepticons, and gleefully sneering as he orders the other Decepticons to retreat. It's just a great, great payoff to the suspense of the episode as Glut just totally subvert the expectation of a thrilling end-of-episode battle. Even the closing moment inverts what we expect, as the focus is not on the Decepticons plotting revenge, but of Spike fearing the inevitable return of Megatron.
....."Divide and Conquer" represents a bit of a sea change for The Transformers. It's a standalone episode, and it also focuses on something other than the Decepticons trying to steal energy. And if that's not enough, the drama with Optimus Prime unintentionally foreshadows the events of Transformers: The Movie and the third season. The problem is, though, is that the pacing is a bit uneven, and there are some really silly errors on the animation side of things that drag down the episode for no good reason. Still, "Divide and Conquer" is a really fun ride, and one of the better episodes of the first season.
Moment of Whimsy
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