Hard Knocks is the forty-eighth episode of Transformers: Prime.
Soundwave is still working on decoding coordinates, while Megatron gloats about his recent victory of defeating Optimus in battle. Soundwave soon comes up with another set of coordinates, and Knock Out insists on going. Though Megatron is skeptical, recalling the last time the doctor tried to obtain a relic, Knock Out insists he won't fail this time, and borrows Soundwave's Resonance Blaster.
In the Autobot base, Optimus Prime is likewise decoding coordinates. Smokescreen annoys everyone by boasting it is his destiny to be a great warrior and being generally exuberant. To his disappointment, when Optimus decodes a set of coordinates, Arcee and Bumblebee are the ones selected to go on the mission, and he is left at base. Arcee and Bumblebee arrive at a lakeside and spy the second Omega Key sitting out in the open, but Knock Out is already there, waiting. Using the Resonance Blaster, both Autobots are sent flying and when they try to flank the Decepticon, he shoots it at the ground, raising a cloud of dust so he can use it as cover to zap them. By the time Arcee and Bumblebee recover from unconsciousness, Knock Out is long gone with the key.
Back on the Nemesis, Megatron inspects the relic and wonders if it is a decoy, though Knock Out protests the Autobots fought too desperately for it. Soundwave decodes more coordinates which Megatron believes will provide them with more answers, but when Knock Out declares to investigate, Megatron instead gives him the task of analyzing the key and its purpose. Meanwhile, Bumblebee undergoes repairs, and Smokescreen's swagger continues to get on Arcee's nerves so she goes to find some peace and quiet. Bulkhead reminds Smokescreen that the war has been going on a long time and he needs to have patience to work as a team player.
Starscream has finished refining his Red Energon, but finding it slow work and with only a small yield of a one-time use. Luckily the Harbinger computer picks up more Decepticon activity, and Starscream decides he can use the Red Energon to obtain a more valuable artifact.
The Autobots gain a new set of coordinates, and Bulkhead and Smokescreen roll out, though Arcee reminds Bulkhead to keep an eye on their eager comrade. The pair arrive on a forested mountainside where Dreadwing is waiting. The Decepticon knocks them flat before flying off, and the two Autobots realize that Dreadwing has mined the trees... all of the trees. They manage to outrun the explosions, and Bulkhead sends Smokescreen after the relic while he goads Dreadwing into a fight. As they exchange blows, Dreadwing plants a bomb on Bulkhead's back, and after Bulkhead manages to knock him flat, sets it to explode. Unfortunately for Dreadwing, Bulkhead already noticed the bomb and transferred it to his back during the fight, and though Dreadwing throws the bomb away, it goes off close enough to knock him out.
Smokescreen uncovers the Omega Key, only to be rendered unconscious by a blow from behind. When Bulkhead wakes him, the key is already gone. Smokescreen is deflated by his failure, but as they return through the Ground Bridge, Bulkhead reminds him that they need all four keys to revive Cybertron. Starscream, hiding nearby with the key he grabbed, overhears them talking, and regards the key he holds with new respect and ambition.
Back at base, Smokescreen exclaims his inability of securing the key and Arcee lectures him on realistic expectations (and despite Optimus telling her to stop), tells him he needs to be a team player. Stung by this, the already upset Smokescreen snaps that maybe he isn't good enough and leaves the base. Rachet rebukes Arcee for her harshness, telling her that next time Optimus tells her to stop, that she should probably listen. Bulkhead makes to follow Smokescreen saying he would bring him back, Optimus stops him, saying the young and inexperienced Autobot needs to clear his head, returns to decoding the coordinates. On the Nemesis, Megatron is unhappy at Dreadwing's failure, and checks with Soundwave regarding the project to find where the Autobot base is located. Soundwave reports that he has Laserbeak scouting around Jasper. As both sides complete their decoding work, the final set of coordinates resolve into an image—a picture of Smokescreen himself, to both sides' surprise. Unfortunately when Optimus tries to call in Smokescreen, the rookie does not answer due to deactivating his comlink, and has instead fallen into Laserbeak's sights. Laserbeak fires on Smokescreen, who transforms to confront the drone, only to be knocked flat by Soundwave's Resonance Blaster. When the Autobots arrive at the location, they are just in time to see Soundwave dragging their unconscious friend back to the Nemesis through the Decepticon Ground Bridge.
"Last one to the Omega Key has to scrub the Energon tanks for a week."
"Didn't know we were keeping score."
- —Smokescreen and Arcee
"Who knew that sound waves could be such a knock out?"
- —See what Knock Out did there?
"Grrrrr...! Hurry up, already! How is it possible that speed-enhancing Energon takes longer to process than regular Energon?!"
"Make sure you keep an eye on 'destiny's child', okay?"
"Compared to watching Miko? Piece of cake!"
- —Arcee giving Bulkhead some advice on handling the rookie.
"You love doing your dirty work from a distance, don't ya? Too bad you don't have the ball bearings to fight up close and personal!"
"In this particular case, I would be all too happy to make an exception."
- —Bulkhead gives Dreadwing some smack talk.
- Megatron brags about his accomplishments in the previous episode to Soundwave.
- Megatron loosely refers to the events of "Tunnel Vision" while expressing surprise at Knock Out's willingness to get his hands dirty in light of what happened the last time, as well as more directly in his failure to obtain the phase shifter.
- Optimus still has the improvised sword-holder Ratchet made for him in the previous episode.
- Knock Out and Soundwave both use the Resonance Blaster, which Soundwave retrieved in "Triage".
- Starscream has refined the Red Energon he obtained in "New Recruit", though it's only enough to last for one use or two. He also remembers the loss of the Apex Armor in the same episode.
- Dreadwing reminds Bulkhead of their previous battle in "Loose Cannons".
- Megatron mentions that recent events have allowed them to narrow down the location of the Autobots' human allies, most likely referring to their discovery of Raf's house in "The Human Factor".
- Knock Out hopes that the new relic is an electro-disrupter cannon.
- The concept of an Autobot being the Omega Key comes from Transformers: War for Cybertron, only with Omega Supreme being the Autobot instead of Smokescreen.
- "Slow and steady wins the race," is the moral in Aesop's story, "The Tortoise and the Hare".
- The title could be a reference to two things: the famous cafe-themed restaurant Hard Rock and the song Hard Knocks Life.
- Smokescreen could be using his exuberance to hide fears of letting the others down.
- This is the last appearance of the Resonance Blaster.
- Knock Out should also be affected by the ray when he used it on the ground.
- When Bumblebee and Arcee go out of the Bridge, Bumblebee slightly slips towards.
- Even before all the pixels come in to place, the image is very clearly Smokescreen.
Main Article: Hard Knocks Gallery