If a TV show is very lucky, it will have during its lifespan some singularly defining moment that completely alters the way the entire work is viewed from then onward. If it's fortunate to the extreme, that change of audience perception will even be a positive one. As one of the most important contributors to the overall body of Transformers fiction, Beast Wars was graced with such a moment, when, on this day twenty years ago, March 9th, 1998, the episode Code of Hero debuted in US first run syndication. Keep reading...
(All images link to larger versions)
Code of Hero would be the jumping off point to the end of the season, the three-part story "The Agenda", with only one more episode to be aired before that. The notions of a fluid timeline that were demonstrated in this episode become a major plot point for that finale as well as season 3 in its entirety. While very significant changes require more specific intervention, from here forward it's known that anything the Predacon, or Maximal teams do could have repercussions beyond what they can imagine. Dinobot's sacrifice removes Megatron's options, as he can no longer consult the information on the Golden Disk for clues where he can carefully alter the course of known history. In fact, the events of this episode are sort of followed up later, as it turns out Megatron has sent recon units back to the area seen in this episode to determine if wiping out the protohumans is still a viable option to pursue. But the thwarted attack scattered their numbers, making it impossible to pursue them all. Because of this, Megatron has to take a far more drastic approach, something even he did not want to consider if there was any other alternative. In this way, Dinobot's act of destroying the Disk pushed Megatron over that line, leaving him no choice if he intended to achieve his original goal.
Dinobot wasn't the first series regular to die. Counting by confirmable deaths, Dinobot is the third after Scorponok and Terrorsaur at the start of season 2. Dinobot would stand as fifth, however, if Tigatron and Airazor are added to the list, as at this point in the series they were more reasonably presumed dead rather than simply missing. If not for a new toy coming up later that just barely had time to be squeezed in the show before the end of season 3, it's likely we never would have heard anything more on them. But whether you count him as number three or number five, Dinobot's death was by far the most impactful. The others written out of the show for being Old Toys were eliminated fairly quickly when the time came; such is the fate of Last Year's Product, after all. But with Dinobot a lot more went in it. This episode was used to bring conclusion to the character arc Dinobot started out on in the beginning of the second season, as well as finally resolving Dinobot's status. That, though being born as a Predacon, by the greater weight of his actions since he defected from Megatron's camp, he had proven himself beyond the sum of his programming and the truth of his spark shone through, as evidenced by it ascending to join the Matrix upon his death. Dinobot was allowed to have a meaningful final act as his exit to the series, and to wrap up most if not all of the story threads the character had developed during the two seasons with a death scene that was, at the time, the most emotionally damaging thing for the audience since Optimus Prime died in Transformers: The Movie.
Something this demonstrates well is the difference in first run syndication versus network programming, as well as the larger freedom of portraying violence and injury against robots rather than more human-analogous characters. I can't completely clearly remember what all was trimmed from this episode for the eventual Fox Kids rebroadcast, but even fairly innocuous episodes ended up with cuts for both content and time, and the violence level here was especially high. I'm sure Dinobot's storm through the Predacons on his way to Megatron would have been altered more than a little. But in its original and repeat broadcasts in its syndication package, it was surprisingly brutal. Dinobot was heavily injured, with gaping holes in his torso, pieces of his body just missing, and even some of the outer portions of his head and face coming apart. For anything but a robotic character, this would never have made it to air in anything close to the manner it did even with the more relaxed standards of the time. And what nobody seemed to want to take to account in this process was that for the kids who woke up early every weekend or were able to catch the weekday premieres before school, these being robots didn't diminish the emotional connection to the characters. The level of violence on paper isn't that much different from what had happened to other characters over the course of the series up to that point. yes, mostly Waspinator, but he definitely wasn't the only one. What made this different was the context and the tone of the setting. Dinobot's battle and eventual death were treated with complete seriousness. Everything about it was structured so you knew that it mattered, and the consequence would be lasting. This hit, and it hit hard. I can only imagine the morning of the original airing (which the TF Wiki indicates as March 9, 1998, a Monday, though I'm pretty sure in my market this debuted on a Saturday) and the kids who got to see it right before having to head off for school who would be absolutely devastated. After all, if even 8 year old ExVee was destroyed by seeing Optimus Prime die upon first viewing of Transformers: The Movie, how could this episode do any less for its contemporary kids?
Visually this episode stands out from much of the rest of the series, and there's a reason for that. Bob Forward, one of the series writers and story editors actually went and worked with the animators at Mainframe and directed this episode to make sure everything was just right. (it wasn't quite. oops) Forward even drew up storyboards, which according to the Wiki was a first for the series. But because of this, it was possible more capture the specific vision for the episode. This shows mostly in scenes focusing on Dinobot which are framed quite distinctly from what the show typically offered. Scenes not specifically focused on Dinobot weren't too dramatically different from the series standard look and feel, but the early scene with Dinobot in his quarters and again as he looks over the valley under attack definitely show the extra care and attention the production of the episode was given.
Season 2 definitely had improved visual quality as compared to the first season, though it's small leaps. Even so when compared to more modern CG work this still has much of the quality of a Nintendo 64 game. But that doesn't matter a lot, because after a minute or two when the story really pulls you in, you largely don't pay attention to the technical limitations of the animation. Part of that is thanks to the strength of the writing doing its best to keep your focus, which I think it does well, and it's also a credit to the ability of Mainframe's animators to essentially bleed a stone. They wrung every little bit they could out of the technology they had available at the time. There are flaws, certainly, but in terms of making the characters expressive, giving them distinct body language and personality that comes through with or without the dialogue to go with it, there are still shows being made today that don't accomplish these important things as well as Beast Wars did twenty (and more) years ago.
Something that's not really appropriate to dive in to for this article, but that I hope to have a chance to talk about in the future is the creativity of the animators, especially in season 2. Solutions to toys not being designed with projectile weapons but still needing firepower in the show spawned some innovative solutions, among other interesting interpretations of features the toys had - or needed. Transmetal Optimus Primal's assault mode seen toward the end of this episode is a good example, and is something that the toy is pretty well capable of doing. It's a specific charm of an era where the toys were designed before the show models, and creative animators had to imagine ways to make them work as living things. It's a method of production that I really miss in modern Transformers fiction.
Anyway, to wrap up, because I think I could go on for a while still, especially diverging off on tangents like that last one, Code of Hero was a highly significant moment in Transformers fiction. Many long time fans still look at Beast Wars as having contributed heavily to shaping what Transformers fiction was. This is both in terms of inventing ideas like the Matrix (as in the concept that would go on to evolve as The Allspark, not the gadget in Optimus Prime's chest) and sparks, but also for the kind of storytelling Transformers could be. Long, over-arching plots, carefully developed characters that feel like they really live in their world, and solid sci-fi concepts being folded in intelligently. Somewhere along the way it broke free of just being a new licensed production, and became something more. Code of Hero really illustrates a lot of these qualities all together. The Agenda itself at the end of the season often gets held up as the high water mark for the season - if not the series - and while I can see why, I think as a single 22 minute TV package, Code of Hero really serves to represent what this series is and has to offer better than anything else.
Entertainment News International (ENI) is the #1 popular culture network for adult fans all around the world.
Get the scoop on all the popular comics, games, movies, toys, and more every day!
©Entertainment News International - All images, trademarks, logos, video, brands and images used on this website are registered trademarks of their respective companies and owners. All Rights Reserved. Data has been shared for news reporting purposes only. All content sourced by fans, online websites, and or other fan community sources. Entertainment News International is not responsible for reporting errors, inaccuracies, omissions, and or other liablities related to news shared here. We do our best to keep tabs on infringements. If some of your content was shared by accident. Contact us about any infringements right away - CLICK HERE