The rise of the Decepticons puts the Autobot team on edge. Stressed out, Optimus Prime makes one bad decision after another, creating internal strife amongst the crew. Will he get his act together in time to save Detroit from the Cons?
How do you define Optimus Prime? From what I’ve gathered, he’s usually the de facto leader of the Autobots. To many, he’s considered a father figure and a role model. He readily spews out sound advice and pontificates speeches about goodness and free will (to all sentient beings.) He provides a comforting hand to his fellow soldiers and teammates. He’s the guiding light that commands the heroes to stop Decepticon menace. He’s the defining example of Ultimate Good, praised and perhaps worshiped. Megatron acknowledges his talents and considers him a worthy opponent. Optimus is hardly questioned because he can do no wrong. He’s not a character as much as he is an archetype of the perfect leader. We look up to him.
Animated Optimus is not any of these things. Oh, he’s a leader, but not of the entire Autobot population. He’s the commander of a small janitorial crew nobody knows or cares about. He’s prone to indecisiveness and criticizes himself. His crew treats him as a fellow soldier, but don’t idolize him. He doesn’t have a laundry list of fortune cookie messages to counsel his teammates with. Megatron doesn’t think much of him at all—he doesn’t even know his name! At best, he seems to be a subversive take on past incarnations and a downright insult at worst simply because he isn’t the all-knowing, all-wise figure we admire. But he is neither of those things. Animated Optimus isn’t any less “Optimus Prime” than the others; he’s a younger version who has all the qualities to be a superior leader one day. What he lacks, he slowly overcomes through experience and growth. His journey is only beginning and if it’s not quite humble, it’s a bold start. Optimus still proudly commands his no name crew regardless of what others think of him and he still strives to be a good role model and hero regardless of the task. Transformers Animated serves as something of an origin piece; it is an ode to the underdogs and their rise to triumph. No, we don’t look up to this Optimus, but that’s because he is us. He resonates for me because he’s easier to relate than most other Primes. Even great leaders have to start somewhere.
“Megatron Rising” explores a core issue that is essential to Optimus bettering himself: what happens when the boss has that one bad day. With recent Decepticon attacks underway, the Autobots are at their breaking point, but nobody is more stressed than Optimus. He wards off Sari when he forcibly commands Ratchet to take away her key, prompting an offended Bumblebee to run off afterward. Optimus snaps at Prowl and Bulkhead over the former keeping the Dinobots’ continued existence a secret. Insultingly, even the Dinobots refuse to bend down under Optimus’ command. The thing is, he’s not completely wrong: Prowl did lie to his commanding officer. Taking Sari’s key for everyone’s safety is a good reason. Never mind that the Allspark chose her, she’s proven to be just as irresponsible as she is reliable with it. Optimus’ decisions are arguably justified, but it’s how he executes them that matters: he insults his crew, snaps orders they’re uncomfortable with, and will have none of their protest. No leader ever got anywhere without breaking a few eggs. Only at his lowest point does Optimus gain some clarity and realize he has no clue what he’s doing. With the risk of sounding pretentious, this episode openly analyzes Optimus’ cherished leadership by breaking it apart, stomping on it a few times, and leaving it to linger until he picks up the pieces.
The episode lays out numerous events that slowly builds up to the big cliffhanger reveal. The Autobots struggle to keep their act together amongst the recent chaos and their hardheaded leader. Optimus tries to keep his teammates together and prepare them for the big battle. Sari is unwittingly kidnapped by Blackarachnia again. Angry with the Autobots, she vindictively teams up with the spider to find the Allspark. Finally, the separated Cons reunite with Megatron once they discover he is actually alive. While Blitzwing and Lugnut retrieve the Allspark key, Starscream reunites with Megatron. Their time together is minor, but it’s the sort of quiet moment that adds nuances to their characters. Starscream lazily parks himself down and calmly chats with his decapitated leader. It’s an almost comforting and, dare I say, intimate moment between the two. Guess old memories are hard to dismiss, even for backstabbers. But he’s Starscream, nothing ever goes his way and he doesn’t get the chance to kill his former commander. Megatron gains a new and improved body through the key, concluding this episode with his triumphant return.
Part one finishes spectacularly, preparing you for the second half and hitting you with the big question: how will the Autobots get out of this mess?