There are some things from a person’s childhood that are probably remembered to be far better than they actually were. The original Transformers series (or G1 as it is known now) was a little before my time, running for 98 episodes between September of 1984 and November of 1987. That meant that by the time it had ended, I was two months past my 5th birthday. But from the books, toys, and lone recording (a VHS copy of the 1986 feature film that my mom despised) in my brother’s collection, I remembered the original series with some very rose-colored glasses.
It was in the ending days of 7th grade in 1995 that I stumbled upon the re-airing of the original series in a new format as Transformers: Generation 2 to go along with a re-release of the original toy line (with wrong colors – I mean ORANGE Constructicons?). I had been home sick when I came across the show, and immediately hit record on the VCR. It would be cool for both me and my brother (who didn’t actually care) to see these old episodes again, nearly a decade after their original run.
That first episode I caught was Autobot Spike, the first episode of the second season. It…wasn’t very good. Sure, it had a lot of the characters I had watched get massacred countless times in the movie, but the episode was kind of boring. And by that, I mean really boring. I learned then that Transformers traditionally had a problem of spending way too much time focused on the human characters rather than the super-awesome giant robots who could transform into vehicles. Autobot Spike in particular spent a lot of time seeing Spike and his father, Spark Plug, whine and cry at one another. I felt like maybe I had just caught a down episode. The rest of the series had to be good, right? I went back to school the next day, but I set the timer on the VCR to record the next episode. I came home that afternoon to find City of Steel waiting for me.
And I learned just how awful Transformers could get.
City of Steel is the 18th episode of the 2nd season of the original series, and the 34th episode overall. Had the episodes actually aired in the order they were written and produced (you know, to make sense and keep continuity going), it would have been the 3rd episode of the 2nd season and 19th episode overall. Had I watched it originally, I probably would be wondering where all the new characters that had been introduced this season were. Because it had been produced earlier, only the original characters appeared. The newest additionss were the (correctly colored) Constructicons. But that’s me nitpicking.
In episodes of Transformers, there are several distinct animation styles that are used in episodes. One has a shiny, glossy finish like that in episodes like The Ultimate Doom trilogy or Countdown to Extinction. Then there is the one that is used here, as well as The Autobot Run and The Core, which has far less-detailed images, and shoddy animation. It’s just a far inferior product. So this gets off to a bad start right away.
We begin our tale with Laserbeak flying around New York, then shooting a manhole cover, not to blast the path open, but to gingerly move it aside, then place it back in its spot. He then flies through the sewer system into an underground Decepticon base where the Constructicons are busy tearing into the ceiling. Megatron tells everyone to shut up and get to work, saying that soon all of New York City will be his, then starts waving his arms around and laughing like a maniac.
As it turns out, what the Decepticons were doing was loosening the ground that the Empire State Building was standing on so they could lower it down into their base. Now I’m not going to take the time to look up the dimensions of the Empire State Building or try to estimate its weight, but I would assume that you could not just build a base directly underneath the building big enough to lower its entirety underneath the street surface without anyone noticing. But, unlike most of his plans, this one goes off without a hitch and the Empire State Building sinks into the ground before a gathering of shocked onlookers.
And then someone finally points it out.
Back in their volcano-lodged ship, the Autobots catch the news coverage that officials are “baffled” as to the building’s disappearance. Apparently no one bothered to look down the gigantic hole in the ground. Optimus Prime blames Megatron, because of course he does. Optimus Prime blames Megatron for everything just like Freddy Jones always blames Red Herring on A Pup Named Scooby Doo. Anyway, he orders the Autobots to roll out because if they don’t hurry, “there won’t be a city to get to”.
Now I don’t know how long you think it would take to steal every single building in New York, but that’s a pretty big city. I understand the call for urgency, but I don’t think the city’s going anywhere just because you didn’t put a little hustle in your bustle.
Optimus Prime leaves with Ironhide, Bluestreak, Trail Breaker, Ratchet, and Bumblebee, who takes the order to hurry so much that he ditches his BFF Spike who has to run after him on foot, which I find hilarious. Putting this episode into its proper place in production, Optimus Prime has 17 Autobots, five Dinobots, and maybe Jetfire at his disposal. He takes five of them to go to save New York, but at least tells Spark Plug to call Wheeljack “and the others” to meet them in Central Park.
“The others” are Sideswipe, Sunstreaker, Hound and Mirage, who along with Wheeljack are conveniently testing out water skis on the Hudson River. They spot Laserbeak overhead and start whining that he’ll blab their plans to Megatron (despite not saying said plans aloud) and try to outrun him, but since the plan is literally “meet in Central Park”, I don’t think there’s really much to tell. Laserbeak gets back and squawks his report, which again gives Megatron the giggles.
So Prime’s team makes it to Central Park, seemingly having lost Trail Breaker on route. They are greeted by Soundwave and his tape deck warriors, Rumble and Frenzy, who pull out their pile drivers and shake things up. Ironhide falls over and the scene ends.
Underneath them, Megatron and the Constructicons have pinpointed Optimus Prime’s location, so Megatron has Scavenger smack the ceiling of the base so hard, that it cracks not only the ceiling, but apparently himself too.
The interesting thing is that when the ground gives and Optimus falls through the ground into the base, he drops from a far greater height than could have been possible for Scavenger to even reach.
Anyway, Optimus falls down the rabbit hole and Megatron runs over to sever his motor relays, putting him into a state of suspended animation. Megatron flies out of the hole and tells the Autobots that the city and Optimus Prime are his and that if they ever want to see their leader again, they need to vamoose. AND THEY DO.
So after all the fighting, shooting, millions of years, scheming and plotting, Megatron finally beats the Autobots by digging a hole underneath Optimus Prime, then switching him off. Surely they can’t screw that up, right?
Megatron finishes his boasting by returning the Empire State Building to its proper place, but GASP it’s been TRANSFORMED into a…uh…big…purple…uh…dildo.
No telling what they did with all the people within the building, but no one really seems to care. Megatron tells the Autobots that this city will be his new Cybertron and if they interfere, he will melt Optimus Prime down to paperclips. So they join the puny humans in evacuating the city, until Spike comes up with a plan and tells Bumblebee to “take a left”, in which Bumblebee then exits the highway to the right.
Megatron is ready to claim victory, but is still worried by Optimus Prime, so he asks the Jedi Constructicon, Hook, to mutilate Optimus’s body with his lightsaber.
Hook slices Optimus into little-bitty pieces and presents his head to Megatron who cannot just take the win over his foe without gloating. He reactivates Optimus’s head, who has crazy mental powers over the rest of his body, allowing his arms to float over to Megatron and knock him over.
See? You thought I wasn’t doing X-Men this month. Hah!
Megatron, keeping the head with him, orders the Constructicons to dispose of the body in any way they please, so they toss the legs into the sewer, mount the gun-wielding arm atop the Empire State Building, then build a robot alligator out of the rest and let it loose in the sewers.
Spike has led Bumblebee, Ratchet, Hound and Mirage (apparently Wheeljack and Trail Breaker didn’t feel like going) into the sewers to try to find the Decepticon’s base by following Hound’s tracking system for Prime’s signal when he suddenly gets two separate signals. The second signal comes from a giant metal gator that happens upon them, but despite it having an Autobot symbol and OBVIOUSLY BEING BUILT OUT OF PARTS OF OPTIMUS PRIME, none of the Autobots can figure out why the signal is split.
Not wanting to make noise to alert the Decepticons, the Autobots put the Prime Gator onto a subway train and send it off down the line, probably to gobble up lots of innocent commuters who have not yet evacuated the city. Victorious over the alligator that looked a whole lot like it was built out of pieces of Optimus Prime, the Autobots say “Now let’s go find Optimus Prime.”
It really is no wonder that by 2005 the Decepticons have completely taken over Cybertron.
But it’s not like they’re any better. Megatron has taken the Constructicons to the surface of New York to rebuild the city and has left Optimus Prime’s head completely unguarded in the seemingly abandoned underground base. The Autobots literally walk into the room and grab it.
I’m going to pause here for a memory trip. Recall, if you will, that I first saw this episode in the summer of 1995. This was right around the time that Superman actor Christopher Reeve had suffered his paralyzing injury from being thrown from a horse. I remember that because when I was watching this part of the episode, Optimus Prime says the line, “I can sense the presence of my legs. They’re nearby.” Without missing a beat, my mother said, “That’s what Christopher Reeve said.” We’re a class act.
ANYWAY, Prime telekinetically pulls his legs to him and the Autobots finally realize that the big Optimus Prime-colored alligator was, in fact, Optimus Prime. They head back to the ravaged subway station that they sent it to and Prime uses his Super Friends-era Aquaman powers to control the sea-ish life and bring him back to them.
With that done, Ratchet guts the critter and rebuilds Optimus’s body. Well, most of it at least, because he leaves A LOT OF PIECES OUT.
Above ground, the Autobots (who had been evacuating the city and hiding from the Decepticons) are leisurely strolling down the street when they notice that Prime’s missing arm has been glued to the side of the Empire State building.
Meanwhile, Megatron remembers that he’s supposed to be doing something, so he checks on the happenings. Remember that he had Optimus Prime defeated and torn apart before him, but now he’s cool with the Autobots having rebuilt their leader. In their view point, Prime even has his missing arm back. That’s weird.
Finally he unleashes his master plan: he tells Soundwave to push a button, because one arm is all you need to defeat the Autobots, and that arm, apparently is controlled by the push of a button.
So now that the Decepticons are using one AND ONLY ONE single gun, the Autobots are in a panic. Bluestreak and Hound transform and drive directly into a hole in the ground which lands them directly in the path of a subway train driven by Frenzy, but they just stand still and shoot at it until it explodes. As you do.
Bumblebee, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker drive down an alley where they are confronted by Decepticon-controlled taxis. Or Decepticabs, if you will. Their strategy in this situation? Exactly what you would expect.
Optimus Prime finally hits his wit’s end and transforms to drive through all of the cabs and the Constructicons’ constructions and decides to go get his arm back. So Ironhide launches a grappling hook all the way up to the top of the EMPIRE STATE BUILDING and he, Prime and Ratchet start scaling the phallic structure, which puts them out of range of the gun, which as you remember is the ONLY THING THE DECEPTICONS ARE DOING. Megatron tells his sluggabeds to get their proverbial rears in gears and sends Starscream, Skywarp, and Thundercracker to shoot down the three climbers.
Instead, they plow through the building.
Skywarp and Thundercracker bail out because they just went through a frickin’ steel schlong, but Starscream stays in. That is, until Sideswipe uses his jetpack (he is the lone non-plane Autobot who can fly) to make Starscream say uncle. Literally. And no, he didn’t know Decepticons had uncles.
So the Constructicons merge to form Devastator, which should be an easy win for the Decepticons (despite them having already won like twice already), but just then Bumblebee and Spike show up at Megatron’s control station and start calling him names. It all comes down to name calling.
Well, Devastator swats Ironhide and Ratchet through the building and clutches Prime, but doesn’t really know what to do with him. Megatron could probably give that order, but unfortunately he is standing directly underneath Ironhide and Ratchet, who kind of want to be jerks in the fight.
Spike tells Optimus that they’ve wrecked Soundwave’s control of his arm, which Devastator dismisses, since it will take far more than a puny arm to defeat him. Optimus agrees, and tells him that it’s a good thing that the arm has a gun. Then he shoots him. Devastator falls to the street and collapses back into its Constructicon source. Ironhide and Ratchet grab Prime out of the air, nab the missing arm, and all is well.
Megatron hasn’t really lost anything here – he’s still got a good chunk of New York transformed into a Cybertron-like city, but he just gives up because I guess he’s had enough for today, because the episode just kind of ends. Megatron escapes, Prime has his arm back, New York is ravaged and techno-organic.