The Headmaster’s return spells trouble as he takes over Sentinel’s body. Now the egotistic Elite Guard has to suck in its pride and ask Optimus for help.
Sentinel is every annoying jerk you’ve ever meant: he’s the pebble in your shoe, the papercut that ruins that your day, the wrong number that wakes you at three in the morning, you get the gist. If he rubbed people off the wrong way during the last episode, “The Return of the Headmaster” is practically cathartic!
The Headmaster (still as groan-worthy as ever) is freed from his penitentiary stronghold thanks to Sumdac Systems’ newest president, the oily Porter C. Powell. His crude capitalist mind is what causes him to release a known terrorist out of jail while simultaneously kicking an eight-year-old out of her only home. Not once does he hesitate; he keeps that greasy smirk throughout the entire episode.
While that guy doesn’t get his just desserst, karma does comes knocking for Sentinel. Sharing a history with Optimus does little to improve their mood with each other. Sentinel is a xenophobic Organic-hater who has no qualms putting humans in their place (for their part, the humans take him about seriously as a day old bagel.) He is constantly rude to Optimus and callously drives around the joint like he owns the place, though doesn’t want to step foot on Earth if he can help it. There’s almost no reason to like this guy despite his past trauma. Optimus passionately tries and fails to keep his partner in line, but Sentinel doesn’t get humbled until he loses his body. When that happens he’s forced to rely on his former friend and Optimus’ reactions to that easily speak for the rest of the episode and the audience: justified amusement. Sentinel is humiliated as he’s literally teased, tossed, and kicked around.
It feels like an extreme departure for Optimus to get a thrill out of this, but it never betrays who he is. He’s already a saint for putting up with Sentinel, but when he sees an opportunity to tease, he does. It’s never mean-spirited as his insults are generally rather benign, yet you nod alongside Optimus because you know Sentinel deserves to get taken down a peg or two. They also show that Optimus is still young and vulnerable enough to poke fun. In the end, it isn’t all for naught. Sentinel won’t change from just one bad experience, but it’s enough for him to genuinely thank Optimus for his efforts. There’s still hope for these two to patch up.
The B plot is quieter, but essential. With no place to call home, Sari takes up the Autobots’ offer to live with them. Bumblebee and Bulkhead try their hardest to lift her spirits, but they have no idea how to care for a human girl and don’t understand that she needs a listening ear instead of busybodies. Being the youngest members of the group and the closest friends with Sari, Bumblebee and Bulkhead are hilariously inept but so adorably loyal that it’s hard to fault them for unintentionally annoying Sari. Their scenes are distinguished by tearful emotions and you feel something when the usually perky Sari breaks down in tears because her entire life has been a lie.
Thanks to all this, the return of an annoying villain isn’t enough to diminish this episode. It’s another great analysis of Optimus’ character and explores another aspect of his personality in a fresh way not done in past episodes.