Stranded on Planet Earth, Optimus’ crew must battle a beastly creature to save its inhabitants.
With Megatron down for the count, the Autobot’s ship crashes into the bottom of Lake Erie. Nearby, a young Isaac Sumdac discovers the unconscious head of Megatron and uses it as the basis of his robotic industry. 50 years pass and Detroit is now influenced by his inventions. Robots swarm every corner, tasked with menial labor and functionality humanity does not possess. The Autobots awaken to find themselves in a strange and unfamiliar world.
I’ve mentioned before that middle episodes in trilogies often lack because it’s caught between a premise and a finale where nothing usually happens in-between. “Transform and Roll Out” was originally envisioned as a two-part origin tale with the first introducing the Autobots and the second establishing Earth as a new setup. The writers never left this mindset after slapping on a third, so Episode two doesn’t hurt from lack of content. It continues where the story left off with plenty of new materials to work with.
Thematically, Cybertron and Earth contrast each other and how both planets treat Optimus’ crew directly influence and inspire them. After suffering a meaningless existence in their world, Earth opens a different path for them. They challenge a Nanite-infested cockroach and earn Detroit’s respect and loyalty. This benefits Optimus the most because he can now embrace the heroic life he’s dreamed of. He quietly basks in their adoration, but he hasn’t fully grasped the challenges of heroism and the sacrifice it demands just yet. That doesn’t mean he’s completely naïve; Optimus is simply enthusiastic that things are finally going his way. Earth has given them a second chance and he’s not going to squander it. Episode two equally demonstrates his leadership chops. He doesn’t rush into battle, but checks his surroundings. He considers potential Decepticon traps and sends a probe to scan Earth vehicles to disguise his teammates. He doesn’t bellow out a hammy speech during the ceremony, but humbly takes up his new responsibilities. He gives orders, but remains fair. All of this excellently displays the kind of role model he wants to be.
There is a tinge of melancholy tone here and I’m glad the creators didn’t skimp on it. When the Autobots gain their Earth modes, each of them sport either a neutral or a reluctantly distant gaze (Ratchet looks the most disheartened). It’s as if they have no choice but to cast aside their Cybertronian shells to fit into this strange planet’s design schemes. Cybertron may have dismissed them, but it’s still their home. The scene is short, but it effectively hammers the point that they will not be going back for a long, long time.
Prowl continues to be Optimus’ biggest conflict. He dives into battle without a second thought to his commander’s words and callously slices Bulkhead’s cable when his wrecking ball is jammed, much to the latter’s ire. When Optimus calls him out on that, Prowl soberly tells his boss to cram it. You can practically hear karma knocking on his door. His solitary action nearly kills him and Optimus condescendingly points out the irony, giving Prowl the kick he needs to get over himself.
Bumblebee surprisingly holds a lot of reserve in the heat of battle, despite his immaturity. He dishes out quips, but remains focused. He’s likely never seen actual combat before, but he understands the ramifications and doesn’t treat it as child’s play. A kid-appeal character is frequently in danger of becoming useless or annoying. They’re often haughty, rude, and prone to being kidnapped. It’s a special kind of skill that ensures that Bumblebee doesn’t suffer from these negative traits. He jokes and he’s blindingly confident in himself, but he’s not so idiotic that he can’t keep it together when things get serious. Too bad Bulkhead doesn’t get a lot of screentime, though he’s ultimately the one to tell Bumblebee how to properly counter the Nanite creature. That’s a small detail, but it neatly subverts his brawny expectations.
The biggest element to Part two is the proper introduction of Sari Sumdac, the 8-year-old human protagonist and the representative for the target audience of the show. Ridiculously intelligent and self-aware for her age, she balances that out with an abrasive and spunky personality. She kind of straddles between being endearing and grating. Her biggest jarring moment occurs when she annoyingly begs Bumblebee to drag her to their base. Giant alien robots? So cool! Fortunately, there’s a lot more to her character than being a hyperactive nuisance. She has an instant rapport with Bumblebee because he’s the first (besides her father) to treat her without contempt. Hints of loneliness can be traced back to the end of Part one. When she debuts, the other children find her off-putting and strange. She’s not homeschooled by a human, but a non-sentient machine. Strangely, she’s quite knowledgeable about the outside world despite her sheltered upbringing, but that only supports her uniqueness. Under these circumstances, Sari’s begging can be taken on a whole new meaning as an isolated kid refusing to lose her first real connection.
A sneakier plot point comes into play when Sari meets the Allspark face-to-face. “Did we just have a conversation?” She cracks after it “reads” her. Ratchet hinted in the previous episode that the Allspark may be self-aware. It reacts to Sari and quickly transforms her keycard into the elusive Allspark Key, a plot device that she later uses to heal Prowl. It’s clear she’s chosen for a specific reason, but why her? It makes you wonder if the Allspark did this on purpose. After all, its energy opened the space bridge that transported the team to Earth.
I must also lend my praise to the creators for making Sari a female South Asian character. In a series primarily aimed towards young boys, it’s unusual that the only target audience they get happens to be a girl. It’s not that girls haven’t been integrated in past Transformers series, but they will almost always have a male character; usually as the central human protagonist. I think it’s wonderful that the writers had massive faith in the show that they not only made her female, but of Indian descent. Beautifully, at no point in Transformers Animated do they ever make a big fuss about her gender and race that would otherwise invite unfortunate implications. The series wouldn’t falter any less if she was a Caucasian male, but it’s a nice shift regardless.
The rest of the human cast is fine, though not as well-defined. Sari’s father is a well-meaning absentminded professor and his love for Sari is sweet. Fanzone is a bit more memorable. His disgruntled relationship with machines will be a good conflict for the Autobots.
I am irked whenever the action freezes so the characters can talk when it’s not logical for them to do so. Optimus’ crew spends about a minute and a half figuring out a plan while the Nanite monster stands around waiting for its Active Time Meter to fill before it resumes battle. Another scene has Optimus quickly ordering his crew to head back to base because of an emergency, yet they stand around doing nothing until Bumblebee deals with Sari. It’s very clunky and bugs the heck out of me.
Otherwise, part 2 of “Transform and Roll Out” smoothly traverses the path the previous episode establishes. It takes its core concept and skillfully merges it with new elements, characters, and scenarios.