Stuck onboard the Nemesis, Smokescreen attempts to retrieve the Omega Keys from the Decepticons.
Ever the naive kid, Smokescreen spent the better part of last episode’s “Hard Knocks” boosting his own ego. He thinks he is destined for greater things because he’s part of Optimus’ crew and had openly declared how special he is. As kindhearted as he can be, his constant need to gratify himself was tedious and annoying. Hardly anyone calls him out on his actions sans Arcee, while what punishment he gets tends to be a miniscule. We eventually find out he holds one of the coveted Omega Keys, which only serves to enhance his pride. In the end, we have a character that’s well-meaning, helpful, and honest to God, legitimately destined for some form of greatness. Never have I needed a desire to slap on the label “Special Snowflake” faster than him. However, “Hard Knocks” also delivered a massive subversion when the Decepticons kidnapped him. He contains something of value to them and the Decepticons have no qualms cutting him open to get what they want. Knock Out is the current King of psychotics and his very nature could have been a gateway to traumatize Smokescreen into realizing his path isn’t as exceptional as he thought it would be. It was the episode’s major saving grace.
Cue “Inside Job”. Knock Out removes the key from Smokescreen and digs into his mind to retrieve information on the others. Smokescreen isn’t remotely fazed at any point and manages to trick Knock Out and escape. He also manages to swipe the other Omega Keys the Decepticons had and hightails it out of the Nemesis. The Cons pursue, but he evades them and returns to the Autobot base. Throughout the entire sequence, he remains lighthearted, whimsical, and energetic. When he reunites with his teammates, he concludes smugly that this outcome had been his destiny all along. In one fell swoop, his ego is completely validated. Smokescreen at no point learns his lesson; he does not suffer the consequences of a swelled head nor does he realize that war is not a game. He’s still the same arrogant Bot he was before he was kidnapped. Arcee even praises him for his “hard work”. The episode does state he was merely the key’s vessel instead of actually being one so this does lessen the “specialness” down a notch, but he never learns a moral lesson and essentially gets away with murder. “Hard Knocks” hinted of actual consequences, “Inside Job” stripped it away and Smokescreen did not grow as a character.
Fortunately, Starscream completely owns the second half. He’s been rummaging around trying (and failing) to be his own faction. By the time “Triangulation” aired, I was getting pretty tired of his usual shtick and wondered how long he could keep this up before it crashed down on him and he’s forced to beg his way back into Megatron’s good graces. It turns out he didn’t have to do either. Using the remainder of the Red Energon and a dead clone, Starscream efficiently tricks the Autobots and obtains all four Omega Keys with barely a sweat. Outside of appropriate cockiness that nearly does him in, Starscream’s plan is magnificent. He then presents the set to Megatron as a bargaining tool to return to the Cons. This changes the game plan and nicely boosts Starscream’s competence. Everything he does from start to finish is brilliant and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Optimus’ anguished scream is very appropriate and a nice way to cap off how screwed the Autobots currently are.