Ratchet’s past catches up to him when he confronts an old foe from his war days.
One of the biggest age-old stigmas associated with kid’s shows is perceived childishness; Transformers Animated endures that ill-remarked moniker to this day. There certainly are a number of series that condescend to children’s intelligence, but an edgier product isn’t any better if all its violence and questionable content are thrown in just because. I think the best outcome for an all-age series is one that strives to employ elements that both kids and adults can get a kick out of, with neither side being treated like foreign contamination. It’s all about substance. Before this episode Transformers Animated already succeeded in that front, but for those naysayers still out there, “Thrill of the Hunt” gives it that “edge” without overloading or undermining its prime structure, even removing Sari from the picture. Even so, it’s not so much a “darker and edgier” episode as it is a symptom of “beard growth.” If the first six episodes gently introduced us into its world, “Thrill of the Hunt” provides the next step and expands it.
Ratchet’s curmudgeon shtick has always been his central personality in sharp contrast to his medical profession, but it’s hardly subverted. Though he survived years of suffering from the Great War – a time he refuses to share with others – he provides sagely wisdom and guidance to the younger generation. “Thrill of the Hunt” attempts to explore a segment of his time during the war and justly explain why he comes off as a grouch. A mission to deliver Intelligence Officer Arcee goes wrong when he runs into rogue bounty hunter Lockdown, who was hired to capture Arcee for the Decepticons. He nearly succeeds until Ratchet puts a stop to it, but not without cost. Arcee loses her memory, a tragic incident that still haunts Ratchet’s life.
Right from the get-go, Young Ratchet is shown to be a passionate devotee of his chosen field and is determined to ensure Arcee’s safety. I love his character model. As I stated before, most of the robots’ aesthetics favor simple design schemes that successfully emphasize their persona. A good example is the minor alteration to Ratchet’s chest compartment. His younger self is thinner and lean, giving him a barrel chest of sorts. Compare that to his current counterpart who sports a paunchy, old-man belly. It’s one mild change, but it’s a telling visual that suggests his age and personality. It’s even more impressive when you consider that his Cybertronian mode looks the same in the past and the present.
Ratchet possesses a lot of pride and passion for his work as a healer, while Lockdown serves as his antithesis. He surgically removes his victim’s weapons and powers, claiming them for his own. He insultingly nicknames them his “trophies” and could care less what happens to the poor Bot on his medical table. There’s enough implication to suggest they didn’t survive his amputations. Lockdown is a dangerous foe, operating with both strength and quiet manipulation. He’s a a villain of incredible versatility, matched only by his creepiness. That may not sound like much, but imagine if these were humans. Lockdown is essentially cutting body parts. Head artist Derrick Wyatt stated Lockdown was designed to resemble a skull-headed being in an undertaker’s tux. Now that’s scary. Lance Henriksen brilliantly gives him a dignified, throaty voice that accents his sadistic slyness perfectly.
“Thrill of the Hunt” provides the first hints that the Autobots are not purely good in the way most of the Transformers franchise usually portrays them. Ultra Magnus makes it clear that Arcee’s processor must be preserved because it is vital for the war. He doesn’t ask if she’s all right, all that matters are the codes secured in her head. A leader being detached to win a war might be a necessary evil, but this is equally telling sign of Autobot bureaucracy. Ultra Magnus treats Arcee as an objective needed to complete the mission. Ratchet doesn’t like it one bit, but he never forsakes his Autobot loyalty. He obeys, but shows great concern for Arcee. When Ratchet confronts Lockdown, the episode gives you enough reason to root for him when he takes the bounty hunter down. The victory doesn’t fix everything – certainly not his trauma – but it’s a small win anyway and Ratchet can rest a bit easier. Sadly, I have nothing to say about Arcee; she’s an unfortunate plot device meant to push Ratchet’s character and nothing more.
“Thrill of the Hunt” is the episode that deepens Transformers Animated into something bigger than what was previously established. It also offers depth for Ratchet’s character; he might be constantly grumpy, but he doesn’t see the world with a glass half empty. He’s not cynical; he vows to carry his memories of his time in the war and desires to live for those who could not. Ratchet opening up to Optimus further proves that there’s more to him than a simple archtype. Episodes don’t get much more perfect than this.