The Headmaster unit has stolen Bulkhead’s body and is raining havoc on Detroit. Now only a head, Bulkhead must get his body back before things really get messy!
Nothing grabs the ire of many like an Aesop episode. It’s stamped on a number of all-age series and remains a constant bane to viewers because we often find them condescending and poorly delivered. Few can reach the critical mark employed by the recent My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series. Almost every episode of that show is filled with life lessons, but it works because each pearl of wisdom fits the specific character in question, deepens their personalities, and accompanies witty dialogue and a lampshade or two. I’ve heard criticism for this kind of episode before and I agree with it, to a certain extent; Transformers Animated’s first season is adorned with enough forewarning that it grows tiresome after a while. I know I got sick of Sari misusing her key or Bumblebee pulling another stupid stunt. Still, I’m quite fond of Transformers Animated’s Aesops for the same reason I adore Friendship is Magic’s: they’re tailor-made to adapt to the character they involve and contributes immensely to that character’s overall development.
However, a personal journey can only be tolerated so much before mundane repetition sets in. A good character arc needs to keep moving forward while adding something substantial. If they don’t, it becomes redundant and we’re left screaming, “We already knew that!”
“Headmaster” is the third major Bulkhead episode and again, it focuses on his self-esteem issue. It’s also a perfect example of why this sort of thing works for Animated. Bulkhead’s contrasting gentle giant dilemma was inconsequentially summed up in one sentence during episode two before “Blast From the Past” elaborated on it. There, his frustration and desire to overcome his insecurities caused him to try and become someone he wasn’t. “Sound and Fury” took that further when he felt alone and unworthy because of his destructive clumsiness. “Headmaster” opens a new and fascinating take on his journey when Sari introduces Bulkhead to art. I think it’s very poetic. To counter his disastrous nature, why not engage in something that creates? Bulkhead struggles between his dual role as a big brick wall and a softhearted saint. These aspects are stark opposites of each other, but they compliment him as a whole and he wants the world to know it. Giving him the gift of art is possibly the best visual representation of that. That’s clever! Perhaps also tedious, but each of his spotlights adds something to broaden his attributes.
At first, Henry Masterson’s role is only arbitrarily tied to the plot. Recently hired to work under Isaac Sumdac, an excited Henry introduces a Headmaster unit designed for military use. However, Sumdac isn’t big on building weapons and fires him on the spot, prompting Henry to desire vengeance. He takes over Bulkhead’s body and goes on a rampage until he gets the money he needs to fund his own company. Here Masterson successfully emphasizes why Bulkhead has issues with himself; the guy goes to town with his body. As a baddie, he gets the job done, but I couldn’t stand his raspy voice and dated slang. This is supposed to take place in the 22nd century, so I assume the internet speak is meant to be a parody, but it tries too hard. He’s nothing but a poor man’s version of Teen Titan’s Control Freak. I also think his revenge lacks justification. He never thinks to patent or sell his unit to other companies. Heck, he doesn’t even bother selling it to the actual military.
That last point is worth speaking about because it illustrates how everything only ever occurs in Detroit. A couple of exceptions aside, nobody leaves the city. Apparently the public outside Detroit borders neither knows nor cares that there are giant alien robots living amongst humans. I think this is to establish the “superhero” element the series is supposedly undertaking. After all, a superhero usually has all his adventures in his own home town. Numerous super villains do wander the streets, while canon supplementary materials take it a step further by revealing an actual superhero in existence.
“Headmaster” isn’t my favorite Bulkhead episode, but it’s got all the usual bells and whistles that keep it enticing. An Aesop is an Aesop though and if you’re tired of them by this point, this episode isn’t going to change your mind.