Last summer I was excited to watch the new series, Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege. I grew up with the toys and cartoon series, which was appointment viewing after school each day. Transformers: The Movie arrived in theaters the year after my father died; I recall being in the theater with my mom when Optimus Prime died. I was nine-years-old, and there are some moments that just sorta hang around in your brain….
So I was excited when the franchise was rebooted through live-action films though those quickly became a mess of computer-generated effects and flashes that resembled little of the characters I knew so well from childhood. I was pleasantly delighted by Bumblebee, which toed a similar line to Cobra Kai by updating a franchise from the 1980s for the modern world; it’s a fun movie, and worth your time if you haven’t caught it yet.
I never delved into the comic book versions of Transformers, so maybe the War For Cybertron series on Netflix closely aligns to that content; I would not know and I acknowledge my ignorance of the comic stories. As a fan most familiar with the animated series and toys, Transformers: War For Cybertron: Siege is a tough watch. The show is dark in every way imaginable from the color palette to the content. The show begins with the Autobots near extinction and running out of options. Energon is scare on Cybertron and the Decepticons are searching for a means to deliver a final blow to win the war. I cannot properly do justice to the grimdark setting of the show, though I’ll briefly try.
Ultra Magnus leaves the Autobots in hopes of convincing Megatron to end the war; Magnus is tortured repeatedly and dies. Bumblebee is not an Autobot but a freelancing energon scavenger; a fend-for-yourself mercenary that Prime pleads with to join the Autobot cause. The show elects to give the robots very mechanized voices, which makes sense considering they are robots AND it is extremely disruptive to trying to figure out what the characters are saying. It reminded me of Bane from The Dark Knight Rises; it’s a struggle to comprehend what is happening at times. The leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime, is beleaguered and running on fumes and desperation. His confident (and maybe love interest though it’s never quite defined) is Elita-1. Of all the challenging things to endure during War For Cybertron, the incredible negative of Elita-1 was the most difficult.
I even make a joke about it!
Captain Panaka (better known in my brain as Captain Pessimism) is a minor character in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace who brings such encouragement as:
Your Highness, this is a battle I do not think we can win.
If we can’t get the shield generator fixed, we’ll be sitting ducks.
You can’t take Her Royal Highness there. The Hutts are gangsters. If they discovered her…Captain
I somewhat chuckled at the negativity of Elita-1 and wrapped up War For Cybertron deciding, “Eh, that wasn’t for me and that is fine.” My stronger reaction to Elita-1 would creep back into my mind from time to time. Why did this show and – specifically this character – irritate me so much? Is this a sexism thing on my part? Would I have a similar reaction if Prime’s second-in-command was a male character with the same lines? Is it partially because the voice for Elita-1 is purposely shrill (and again, way too robotic sounding)?
It nagged on my mind so much that I decided to test my assumptions by going back to War For Cybertron to write down every line she has in the first six episodes. I know War For Cybertron has another season on Netflix, and I’ll likely give that season a watch at some point to see if it becomes a little less grimdark.
In the meantime, here is every line from Elita-1 from Transfomers: War For Cyberton: Siege:
- “Not while you’re…. <grunts>”
- “Who’s this?”
- “What was that back there?”
- “Not that, the explosives. The idea is to be as far as possible when you blow everything up! I swear, one day, Optimus Prime, you are going to… <sigh> Forget it. Where’s the energon? And what exactly are you?”
- “If the job’s done, where’s the energon, energon scavenger?”
- “You’re welcome to go back out there and see how hospitable the Deceptions are.”
- “You should all report to medical.”
- “Optimus… if anyone should get checked out by a medic, it’s you.”
- “Yeah… well, we can’t have our commander getting his brain module caved in.”
- “Kind of.”
- “Maybe I should…” <threatens to kill Bumblebee>
- “Settle down, everyone.”
- “He’d deactivate himself before he’d let that happen.”
- “<sighs> I… of course.”
- “The Allspark?”
- “How do we stop him?”
- “Am I that obvious?”
- “I don’t mean to question your command, but search for a long-lost relic? It feels like a fool’s errand.”
- “I’m not sure you do, Optimus. We’re barely surviving as it is.”
- “Options, I’m not sure what we’re even fighting for anymore.”
- “<sigh> Of course I do. This was not the life I imagined for us.”
- “This looks like the perfect location for a trap.”
- “Or we’re being set up.”
- “You believe the best in everyone. That’s the problem.”
- “Magnus is in the hands of the Deceptions. They can never be trusted.”
- “Here comes the calvary.”
- “Autobots! Pull out, retreat!”
- “We suffered casualties.”
- “And we walked right into it.”
- “Optimus, we’re gonna need time to recover from this.”
- “<sigh> No, Optimus! You heard him. We don’t have the resources!”
- “Nowhere would be safe on Cybertron. <gasps> Optimus?”
- “What… do you mean?”
- “If you believe the old religions, remove the Allspark and Cybertron dies.”
- “Optimus, you’re so caught up on what if and not –-“
- “If we find the Allspark, how in the name of Primus do we get it off Cybertron? Even if we had enough energon to launch the Ark, the Decepticons would shoot us out of the sky!”
- “What are you talking about, Wheeljack?”
- “No, worse. It’s desperation.”
- “We need to move now! We should go.”
- “This was… a theater? It’s hard to remember a Cybertron that celebrated arts and music.”
- “You were an engineer. Your inventions, your manufacturing, your weapons are the stuff of legend.”
- “Ironic. Weapons of war turned into…”
- “Impactor? You treat Decepticons?”
- “Absolutely not!”
- “Okay this is as far as we go.”
- “We don’t go any further until Impactor’s comm is deactivated.”
- “Optimus… what’s happened?”
- “The what?”
- “Rachet and Impactor, to the bridge.”
- “Optimus, I’m not saying I know the answers, but you… you haven’t really considered what could happen when you take it off the planet.”
- “You’re in command, and I respect you. <sigh> We carry forward with the plans, but please… before you take the Allspark off Cybertron, consider my concerns.”
- “<sigh> Affirmitive.”
- “You think they would become involved?”
- “I can’t imagine we’ll find enough unrefined energon to pull this off.”
- “Did you speak to them? Will the Guardians help?”
- “We’ll find another way.” (POSITIVE!?)
- “Optimus, you didn’t start this war.”
- “A lone Deception?”
- “You’re the head of the Seekers. Why haven’t you given our location to Megatron?”
- “Then what did you sign up for?”
- “My recommendation would be to wait until the Allspark reappears in a safer region.”
- “That’s precisely why I’m questioning your decision! Astro-cycles ago you weren’t even sure of this plan!”
- “Look around you! We’re as low on faith as we are on energon!”
- “Did you learn this from the Alpha Trion protocols?”
- “How can we trust you?”
- “Too much is at stake for us to trust a Deception.”
- “Blow up his brain module?”
- “I don’t like it. <sighs> But it’s tactically the right move.”
- “<groans> Not this Dreadwing Deception again.”
- “Optimus, it’s bad enough we’re depending on a Deception to lead us through the Sea of Rust, now we’re bartering with someone worse than a Decepticon for energon?”
- “Down? Reports of what?”
- “Transmit to whoever’s left: All Autobots report to the Ark. Operation Exodus is a go.”
- “Wheeljack, Autobot mainframes are going down all over the planet. Whatever you have to do, get this ship ready for space.”
- “Elita-1 to Optimus Prime. <sigh> Prime?”
- “Wheeljack, come in! All hands… <grunts>”
- “We’re completely vulnerable.”
- “Decepticons transmitted a virus, wiped out our systems and defenses. Did you get the energon?”
- “<sighs> Then there’s still hope.” POSITIVE!
- “Online and in the air as fast as possible, Wheeljack.”
- “<grunts> Optimus Prime, we’re under attack! Repeat, under attack! You must not bring the Allspark. Megatron is here!”
- “We have the fuel. Wheeljack’s working on it. We’re almost ready.”
- “Understood. Elita out.”
- “He knows. He’s going after Optimus! Wheeljack, get those engines online!”
- “Give me a miracle, Wheeljack.”
- “<sigh> Activate defenses and prepare for launch!”
- “<grunts> Launch the Ark!”
- “<sighs> They’re gonna need our help. Ironhide, Cog, Arcee, with me. Wheeljack, keep the Ark out of sight until the Spacebridge opens.”
- “Optimus, go!”
- “I’m not leaving.”
- “Someone has to stay and protect what’s left of Cybertron.”
- “<sighs> This wasn’t the life I imagined for us either… but it’s one worth fightin’ for. <sigh> You’ve got your mission, and now I’ve got mine. Go!”
- “The Ark… did they make it?”
- “The war isn’t over. We have a duty to every Autobot that died on that ship. <sighs> Somehow, we’ll stop Megatron.”
Upon reviewing the data, I do not think my negative impression of Elita-1 is unwarranted or “on me.” And I have been a fan of “strong female characters” for a long time, so I do not think it is some undercurrent of sexism on my part. In addition to the frequent exasperated grunting and sighing (trust me, she’s far from the only character that emotes this way!), Elita-1 rarely voices anything supportive or positive, and perhaps she was written that way so her fragments of hope in the final episode are more noteworthy. No, I don’t want her to smile more!
Another interesting piece is that I find her criticisms of Prime correct throughout the show; he is behaving rather irrationally! It’s another element of the show that is uncomfortable – Prime is sorta fumbling around on a hope and a prayer. The entire premise is foreboding and it is like reading The Road or watching The Walking Dead.
It’s so damn grim!
Perhaps this is the opposite of my reaction to Star Wars: The Last Jedi; that movie took Star Wars lore and turned it on its head in many ways. It was disruptive and I embraced that! Perhaps War For Cybertron turns Transformers into a grating Nine Inch Nails song, and while I like NIN, it’s not something I was expecting.
Your mileage may vary!