Optimus Prime is reunited with an old friend who vows revenge for a past incident.
The idea of Optimus Prime as an inexperienced young Bot hit sour notes with a few Transformers fans expecting the older, wiser father figure. I personally think this was a bold switch. Think of it as a “what if” take on a younger Optimus, a portrayal of someone who’s likely to learn lessons alongside his team instead of only delivering them. The pilot episodes took it upon themselves to establish his potential as a humble guy seeking glory, before realizing that true heroism requires much more. However, the one core aspect of Optimus I repeated in past recaps is that he is not acting from simple naivety; it’s a lack of understanding of what war can put someone through that causes Ratchet to correct Optimus whenever he admires the time of the Great War. Optimus honestly understands a great deal about sacrifice and treats it with utmost seriousness in “Transform and Roll Out, Part 3″. There he had to make the difficult decision to either give the Allspark to Starscream or watch Detroit burn. Fortunately for him, he had a third choice. A past incident didn’t even give him that.
When he was a student in the Autobot Academy, Optimus ventured to an organic planet alongside his two best friends, Sentinel and Elita-1. Sentinel Prime is someone we briefly saw in the first episode. His return for “Along Came a Spider” occurs only in flashback, but it managed to characterize Sentinel as brash and showy. Meanwhile Elita-1 is a sassy, adventurous Bot whom Optimus and Sentinel both clearly have affection for. This episode is a great character study for Optimus as even a thousand years back, he remains rational and levelheaded. By contrast, Sentinel and Elita are two peas in a pod. He suggests a trip to an off-limit planet and she willingly tags along, leaving Optimus to play designated driver as he babysits the crazy couple and tries to keep them from getting in over their heads. You can instantly see signs of a future leader here; he’s constantly cautious and by the time the giant spiders arrive, he is calm while he tries to find his friends so they can get away.
Sadly, the incident ends with Elita’s apparent demise. While Sentinel’s reaction is to go after her Optimus opts to lead Sentinel to safety, citing the risk involved in attempting a rescue. It’s a painful decision for him, one that remains the main reason Optimus understands sacrifice and loss. I think Optimus’ situation perfectly captures what a true leader is: someone who has to make the tough choices because no one else can. Optimus got his lesson about about this early and what happened continues to eat at him, to the point that his first exposure to Halloween (specifically the fake spider decorations) sends him into traumatic paranoia.
It turns out Elita is alive, now going by the moniker Blackarachnia. She’s since sided with the Decepticons and only provides a vague reason why she teamed up with the opposite faction, but I think her fear explains plenty. In a desperate effort to survive, she used her absorbing abilities on the spiders and ended up half machine, half organic. As the only one of her kind, she is disgusted with herself and also terrified of being experimented on should she return to Autobot headquarters. This is interesting because it further confirms the callousness of Autobot government that “Thrill of the Hunt” emphasized. What does it say that she joined the Decepticons? They didn’t cut her open as she fears the Autobot scientists will. I think this shows that as awful as the Decepticons can be, they value underdogs like Blackarachnia amongst their crew. The Cons view themselves as freedom fighters seeking to end oppressive Autobot regime, resorting to desperate measures if they must. They’re still largely painted as “evil”, but this further adds to a gray morality that avoids the simplicity of Autobots being purely good and Decepticons being bad.
Sari continues to misuse her Allspark key for fun and amusement. It’s not as disastrous as in the last episode, but Optimus constantly criticizes her abuse of the key’s power and I can’t help but think he had the turbo boosters in mind. After Blackarachnia nearly destroys her and the city with it, Sari learns to take it down a notch. But this won’t be the last time this plot element will rear its ugly head. On another front, like in “Thrill of the Hunt”, a couple of the characters are missing from action in this episode. It says a lot that the show doesn’t need to rely on a full ensemble to deliver an engaging story.
“Along Came a Spider” is an excellent observation on Optimus’ character. It exemplifies exactly why he’ll make a great leader; he suffers the consequences of his experiences and is able to learn from them. This is a tragic tale that doesn’t end happily or go for an easy fix; Blackarachnia and Optimus do not kiss and make up. She walks out on him because he’s long since lost her trust. While Optimus remains hopeful of her heel face turn, she is less than optimistic. Sorry Optimus, your princess is not in another castle.