TV Shows: "Combiner Wars" Episode 7: Darkest Hour
Title: Darkest Hour
Air Date: September 13, 2016
Summary (from Go90):
The end is truly near unless one who is powerful enough to defeat Starscream can be awakened.
Review (SPOILER ALERT):
In 1989, Marvel Comics published a giant sized issue of their "Transformers" title. "Dark Star" was celebrated as a double sized, 50th issue of the title. This story featured Starscream obtaining power through the "Underbase" which made him larger and surging with energy. He proceeded to trash a ton of Transformers who tried to stop him. In the end of course his hubris led to his downfall.
Fast forward to 2006 and a different Starscream from the "Unicron Trilogy" wound up gaining some of the power of the Transformers God Primus himself and would grow to a planet sized threat before being defeated in battle by Primus.
I cite these two examples because they kept popping up over and over again in my head as I watched this episode. The Enigma is basically the Underbase or Primus' energy, and once again in Transformers history Starscream has found power that he cannot handle via an outside source. This time however the Enigma of Combination acts almost like a cheat story-wise. When fans heard "Combiner Wars" as a title, I think many fans had pictures in their minds of Aerialbots battling Stunticons and lots of merging and separating. Perhaps there would be some musings on what it means to merge five (or six) minds into one being. I get goosebumps just thinking of this animation style showing us that type of combat and visuals.
That's not what this show is about apparently.
Now, given the character's history (across timelines), his betrayal is not shocking (disappointing as all get out, but not shocking). However, I was hoping what we would lead to would be a maybe Starscream manipulating the Combiners like puppets against their will. However maybe their "many as one" mentality would have helped them resist and conquer their oppressor. Or maybe Optimus and Megatron could save the Combiners from such a terrible fate. Instead...the poor Combiners are relegated to being floating body parts. I'm not saying that sarcastically, their body parts literally wind up swirling around Starscream's head along with some of his body parts. At first I thought maybe Starscream had grown and somehow bits of him were using the Combiners as limbs (he seems to start that way) but before we know it he becomes a bit of a Cybertronian body horror experiment, reminding me of the form Tetsuo in "Akira" becomes towards the end of that film.
I actually feel like the Combiners have been short changed in this series and what happens to them in this episode is an example. They appeared only in a handful of scenes and some have not appeared at all (Superion and Defensor come to mind). We never saw them as their individual members so that is a whole element of the Combiners that has been lost and now they're basically power ups for Starscream. I really feel like there were a ton of missed opportunities here.
I know at this point I should let this point go, but I cannot get over the lack of characters in this show. This is one of the greatest threats Cybertron has faced in ages and...no one shows up? Not even to just see what's going on? Maybe a line of exposition saying "Everyone is afraid to help!" or something along those lines. I just find it very hard to imagine that not one extra Transformer decided to show up to help or take notice of these events. I know, I know - this is a budget limitation manifesting itself and I've beaten this horse to death. It just continues to bother me.
I found Frank Todaro's performance interesting. I think the director may have been aiming for a build up. We did not see any of Starscream's normal bluster at first. Initially he seems to be in a state of shock at how powerful he has become, but then as the power grows and takes him over he starts to get louder and more bombastic which is an interesting thematic choice in voicing the character. I had half expected him to be cackling and screaming right off the bat, but this makes sense too.
The animation continues to be uneven. Some scenes are smooth, others are a bit jagged in terms of framerate. I honestly do not know what accounts for this shift. That said, I continue to maintain that the visuals themselves are beautiful both color and design-wise. Almost every moment of the show is screen capture worthy, I just wish it flowed better movement-wise.
With this being the penultimate episode, I was hoping to see the Combiners do so much more than they wind up doing in this episode (which is basically nothing). I was surprised this episode basically became "Underbase 2.0" for the character and even after several viewings I find myself wishing for more than this. The Combiner characters deserved better and more and more the term "Combiner Wars" feels misleading with this series.