I’m gonna be a great warrior someday… Like Optimus!
What I liked about Hard Knocks was that it really hammered home a theme that I feel has been underlying Transformers Prime throughout it’s run. That being a hero, or living legend, is actually an extremely raw deal.
I’ve discussed before that TFP!Optimus as a character is basically a critique on epic heroes and war idols. He’s big, strong, and rarely in the wrong. The perfect solider, father, leader, and an all around gentleman. However, it’s also very clear that behind those gleaming windows and deep baritone, Optimus is crying on the inside. He lives, works, and speaks all for the sake of others and must forgo personal expression/wants for his cause. His value as a person rests not on who he is, but rather what he is.
This is contrasted in the latter half of S2 with the idealistic, fresh-faced Smokescreen. Introduced as a young solider desperate to prove his strength and become a legendary warrior just like Optimus Prime. Indeed, Smokescreen comes off an intentionally cliche archetypical character, flat out stating his desires for heroic status, claiming it’s “his destiny”.
Of course, we know that destiny is an unkind force in the TFP world. And we also know that Smokescreen is barking up a very unhappy tree when it comes to his life goals.
Do you really want to be “like Optimus”? Do you really want social isolation from your friends, family, and loved ones? Do you really want to repress your personal desires that much? You want Optimus’ life of pain and sacrifice?
Smokescreen is ultimately revealed to be the final Omega Key, proving that he’s more like Optimus than thought previously. His value now being on what he is rather than who. Let us also not forget that in the Orion Pax 3 parter which opened S2, Optimus was also called upon to sacrifice his youthful self for the sake of the Autobot cause.
And they used a key to do that too…
And that’s really the great tragedy of this whole event. Optimus shoulders the burden of living as a Prime so that no one else has to. Yet in the end, he cannot protect Smokescreen from being placed in a similar position. Being a hero is a path of horror, and having your inner being torn out for the sake of others… Much like what Knockout plans to do with Smokescreen.
You wanna be something, kid? Well, wish granted…