Wow, what a rush.
I was unsure how season two’s finale would top last season’s. The “One Shall Rise” trilogy brought forth Unicron (essentially the Transformers Devil) and pulled an unexpected plot twist where Optimus loses his memories and joins the Decepticons. That last twist came out of nowhere and drove me into anticipation for months. “Darkest Hour” isn’t close to that level of surprise, but it’s just as abrupt with its results and this time it’s far more personal for our heroes.
One of my major gripes with season two had been the lack of consequences the Autobots faced. Whatever dilemma and complication they encountered, the plot would lead to the issue being fixed and ultimately resume the status quo within a few episodes. It’d gotten to a point where I had a hard time rooting for their survival, knowing that Optimus and friends would make it out with minimum damage. This is especially dubious because the overall theme of Transformers Prime is about endless sacrifices and heavy losses. It’s about how both factions must endure and fight for a better tomorrow, knowing the risks they’re constantly forced to take. Incidents like Bulkhead’s cheap death and quick recovery or Smokescreen’s inability to process the horrors of war contradicts and cheapens the message. Thankfully, “Darkest Hour” may finally be the game changer.
The Autobots exchange the Omega Keys for the children’s lives. However, Megatron one-ups the situation and not only starts terraforming Cybertron, but Earth as well. It’s an egotistical and idiotic move because there is nothing preventing Optimus from stopping him by this point, but it says a lot about Megatron’s insanity. This isn’t just about the Decepticon cause anymore; he’s likely conquering Earth purely out of spite. He wants to watch his old friend suffer. It’s actually Starscream who’s consistently focused and devoted to his cause. When a plan fails, he takes it very badly. The funny, joking Starscream isn’t here today and he even smacks Knock Out for quipping. For all his bravado, Starscream will always remain loyal to the Cons.
The entire episode is an emotional ride, but its highlighted best by Ratchet’s anguish. Optimus Prime destroyed the Omega Lock to prevent Megatron from transforming Earth into his metallic playground. Sadly, Cybertron is forever a lifeless husk, dooming the entire Cybertronian civilization. When Ratchet finds out, he isn’t disappointed or angry—he’s devastated. He questions Optimus for destroying their future despite current circumstances forcing his hand. It’s a tragically beautiful scene and Jeffery Combs perfectly captures his sadness. I don’t agree with his accusation, but I pitied him all the same. His reaction is appropriate regardless: Cybertron missed its one last chance of rebirth and now they’re paying for it.
Indeed, Megatron used the Omega Keys to build himself a massive fortress in Jasper, Nevada. Worse, he also locates the Autobot base. If anything can shift the scenario permanently, it’s these two things. The Decepticon fortress is so massive you’d have to be blind to not notice. After years as literal “robots in disguise”, this could be the very thing that finally reveals the Autobots and Decepticons to public eyes. Meanwhile with the base threatened, the Autobots are forced to separate and reunite later. Ironically enough, this was exactly their situation when the Autobots landed on Earth and was Optimus’ coordination that brought them closer as a team. Now he’s telling them to part ways for their own protection. This includes the kids. What will they do? How will they cope? They can’t go back to school or have any semblance of a normal life; the Cons know who they are and where they live. Jack can’t even see his mother. Their entire world crumbled in one fell swoop and I doubt they can pick up the pieces so easily.
The stakes are much higher here than in “One Shall Rise.” There’s no home for the Autobots to go back to, either on Earth or Cybertron. The Decepticons secured an outstanding victory and the situation is dire. “Darkest Hour” ends in an amazing cliffhanger where fates of every one of our heroes is up in the air. Optimus’ supposed death is the big one, though some Transformers fans will have seen this coming. The question is if he’ll be revived or replaced.
My primary concern is if the upcoming third season will magically reset and fix the damage in just a few episodes. “Darkest Hour” can be the setup for a very different and new outcome. A recent interview with one of the writers even promised tighter continuity with no status quo. The skeptic in me is reluctant to believe, but this episode is convincing me to think otherwise. It raises the stakes in ways previous events have not and hammers the point that normality is no longer an option. A destroyed base, a giant Decepticon fortress and Optimus’ possible demise is something that simply cannot be wrapped up that quickly. “Darkest Hour” perfectly blends anxiety, action, and plot twists. Importantly, it represents the impact of consequences the Autobots have had a habit of dodging and that is something that’s been sorely needed. Bring on season three.