Prowl is the odd bot out as he suffers through Bumblebee’s rambunctious personality.
How do you solve a problem like Prowl?
Specifically starting off as a selfish loner, Prowl admitted the vital necessity of teamwork and accepted his surrounding crew. Introverts need time to come out of their shell though, and the entirety of “Home is Where the Spark Is” ironically puts him in the spotlight to counter this very issue. While the rest of the Autobots busily decorate their new home base, Prowl is elsewhere, studying the movements of a cat stalking its prey. He leaves the moment attention is diverted in his direction and immediately holes himself in his room. Only reluctantly does he confess his personal issues to Optimus. When Sari announces a slumber party, he declines in favor of solitude. He spends most of the episode denying any form of emotional connection and warding off the extroverted Bumblebee.
At best he tolerates his teammates, but to Bumblebee, it’s open hostility. They’re complete opposites. Bumblebee is young, tactless, loud, and impatient, in contrast to Prowl’s grace, silence and stillness. For the all the stoicism he puts forth, Bumblebee destroys it in seconds. For Bumblebee’s part, he can’t grasp why anyone would willingly want to watch grass grow and unintentionally hounds him. He’s very reminiscent of a kid brother who just doesn’t get when enough is enough. Logically, it takes a disaster to pit the two in equal terms. Prowl’s personal dogma (“Silence, then strike”) is utilized in order for Bumblebee to save the day. As a sign of respect and attempt to open up, Prowl joins the rest for the sleepover. If the setup is predictable and by the numbers, the amount of chemistry both get is nonetheless rewarding.
I’ve always found Prowl’s room to be an amazing set piece because it visually represents everything about his character. The Japanese influence is blatant and kind of cheesy. The floor is neat and clean with not a single leaf on the floor, indicating his organized mind. Potted bonsai trees circle the room as if to provide invisible protection; a barrier Prowl personally puts up around others. In the center is Prowl’s tree, his biggest connection to nature and one of the few things he’s outwardly passionate about. Most amusing of all is the poster of a dog hanging from a tree branch with a logo written on top, “Keep Your Chin Up!” It’s an obvious play on the famous “Hang in There, Baby!” poster and something of an odd choice for the dignified Prowl. It’s actually a very appropriate fit, because the new changes in his life is forcing Prowl to endure and adjust accordingly despite his discomfort. The poster is a simple, but inspiring, motivational tool.
“Home is Where the Spark Is” is a quieter episode than “Transform and Roll Out: Part 3.” For most of the episode there’s a distinct lack of battle heavy scenes, and of Decepticons for that matter. This will no doubt displease some fans who expected at least either one, especially in a show about giant robots! The beginning boldly examines this when Optimus’ opponent isn’t Lugnut, Blitzwing, or any of the Cons, but a human villain named Angry Archer. Clever and swift-footed as he is, his trick arrows are no match for Optimus and he’s downed in seconds. Needless to say, he’s a pretty pathetic baddie. The only remarkable thing to note is that no crime is so big or small that Optimus wouldn’t hesitate to step in. The rest of the episode has Sari hosting a sleepover with her new friends, including such silliness as ghost stories, a game of twister, and Prowl avoiding every ounce of Bumblebee’s antics.
Understandably, this is why Transformers Animated can be so alienating to many fans; Sari laughing at a scared Bumblebee or Bulkhead’s clumsy gestures screams childishness. But as the oft-repeated catchphrase says, there’s more than meets the eye. This is both intentional and meaningful; the comical moments between each cast member effectively offers insight into their personalities, behaviors and thought patterns. It emphasizes how these guys think and act. The hyperactive Bumblebee shows off by posing, while Bulkhead is lumbering as he struggles to slip his feet into Sari’s sleeping bag, hopping like an oaf. Prowl’s graceful movements complement his inability to smile, unless he’s being smug. The animation is quite vivid and though it’s heavily exaggerated, the Autobots’ expressions say a thousand words.
Angry Archer is purposely portrayed as feeble. Of course he can’t stop a giant robot, he was added to highlight how threatening the Decepticons really are. In terms of Autobot powers, they have the natural advantage; this Shakespearean loon is hilariously mismatched. This is hard to make out at first glance and it’s really not something noticeable in this episode alone, so there is merit to some of the fans’ criticism.
It’s not all for naught, though. Megatron may be just a head, but he’s not useless. Waking up from his fifty year slumber, he realizes the limitation of his situation, but he quickly improvises a plan. Surrounded by technology, he sneaks a tiny probe to Sari’s backpack before she leaves for the Autobot base. He uses the infiltrating probe to tamper with the base’s main computer, turning the abandoned warehouse’s tools into murderous weapons of death. This is where the story takes a swift turn into a desperate, all out brawl. Like part 3 of “Transform and Roll Out”, it’s beautifully choreographed and keeps you on edge. I do wish Prowl hadn’t solved the mystery behind the machines’ aggression off-camera. It may have worked better if there had been a small scene where he realizes that motion triggers the machines, or if Prowl had lurked inconspicuously in the background while the rest run around like headless chickens. As it is, it’s too convenient.
“Home is Where the Spark Is” may feel like a letdown after the “Transform and Roll Out” trilogy, but it’s exactly what I expected it to be. With all the introduction and the – yes – epic beginning out of the way, episode 4 is meant to be a low-key break. Transformers Animated is loaded with these quiet moments to develop the characters into passive, three-dimensional people. It establishes key conflicts between Prowl and Bumblebee and also introduces a major plot point, when Sari finds out her key can control any machinery. It’s actually a cheap excuse to utilize the key to do whatever the plot needs it to do, though it rationally limits itself to machinery. Of course, since the entire show deals with giant robots, expect it to conveniently pop up a lot.
The lack of Decepticons, the pathetic human antagonists, and the focus on characters at the expense of battle in an otherwise boy’s action cartoon is likely going to put a damper on this episode for some viewers, but I personally love this subtle approach. Prowl would be pleased.