Origin stories are usually hit-or-miss with me. Much of what they’re telling are events we already knew about, so further elaboration tends to be repetitive and unnecessary. “Out of the Past” does suffer from this, since it explains how Arcee and Cliffjumper became partners and eventually end up on Earth. It doesn’t advance the overall plot, instead merely occurring when Arcee tries to lift Miko’s spirits after Bulkhead’s near-death experience. To be fair, it’s an appropriate moment between the two. Arcee’s personal journey was sparked by her loss of two partners, so she understands Miko’s ordeal. Also the two of them haven’t really connected before, so this event is a nice treat.
The only benevolence I can give to the flashback is for its attempt to flesh out Cliffjumper’s character. It works beautifully, and I came out of the episode with newfound admiration for him. I change my mind about Wheeljack possessing Cliffjumper’s personality; he’s not as rambunctious, though the drive is there. Cliffjumper is actually more of a roguish figure. His sleek way with words and constant confidence oozes charm. He gently teases but reminds open and kindhearted, playing off of Arcee’s acidic tone perfectly. If this origin story is extraneous, his suaveness is nevertheless makes it worth sitting through. It helps that he has an equally alluring smile.
It’s satisfying to revisit a dignified Starscream after enduring countless episodes that undermined his ego and exaggerated his cowardice. His cocky attitude makes him a deadly enemy, but I was still amused by his wimpy demeanor and there’s a balance between those two traits here that I feel the current Starscream doesn’t exhibit as successfully. Shockwave is an acceptable level of creepy, but I wasn’t satisfied with his voice. It’s suitably deep, but it doesn’t possess the chilling British accent Corey Burton usually lends to his Shockwaves. His callousness and array of torture devices emits an intimidating air regardless; it’s just a shame he doesn’t appear as much as I was expecting him to. Here’s hoping he’ll make a repeat appearance with a larger role.
I’m continuously disappointed in Bulkhead’s story arc. “Hurt” indicated that his coma wouldn’t be an easy thing to recover from. All of a sudden though he’s alive and well, if not temporarily handicapped. I didn’t like that they kept him alive because it demeans the emotional poignancy of “Toxicity”, but I was at least expecting his coma to last longer to give what happened to him lasting consequences that would keep the tension high and further Miko’s maturity. Instead, he’s fully conscious an episode later and all the drama surrounding his fate is likely all over and done with. Bulkhead’s entire struggle has been repeatedly rendered cheap; anything further done with it at this point would be beating it into the ground.
Ultimately “Out of the Past” is dispensable, but there are some worthy character moments that keep it going. The interaction between Arcee and Cliffjumper is excellent while their bond organically grows throughout the episode, and this was enough to keep me glued to the screen.