Friday, March 16, 2012

Clone Wars Review: "Carnage of Krell"

By Chris Seekell

The Umbara arc had a lot riding on Carnage of Krell. After two action heavy episodes, the story slowed down a bit for the more character based Plan of Dissent. However that episode didn't really answer any of the questions we had from the start of the arc. With each episode slowing things down further, the finale needed to include both great action and plot development to end the arc right, and I am happy to say that it certainly met both criteria for me. Right off the bat I had two burning questions, why did the Umbarans leave the Republic and why was Krell such a vicious leader? Only one was answered, but is was answered in such a chilling and extensive way, that I was completely satisfied with the episode.

There are certain episodes of this series that I consider turning points. To give several examples, Lair of Grievous was the first episode that convinced me this series could be as good as any other Star Wars property, Hostage Crisis introduced the bounty hunters and a new level of brutality, Landing at Point Rain illustrated that we could have a cinematic scale battle on TV, Monster brought a new level of darkness and violence that pushed the limits of the show's PG rating, and Overlords proved that the series could handle in depth and controversial plots that extend to the core of the saga.

Carnage of Krell is the latest episode to be added to my list. Sure, I could rave about the animation, the choreography, and the character expression, but these things are only an extension of what we have already seen in this arc. The real achievement of this episode was the audacity of the writers to tell a story that changes the complexion of the entire series, especially for fans that aren't as steeped in Star Wars lore as others.

For three seasons this show has been about Jedi versus Sith, clones versus droids, Republic versus Separatists, and ultimately white versus black. We knew who the heroes and villains were, we knew what side to root for, we knew who had morals and who didn't. There were cracks in this layout in a few episodes like Heroes on Both Sides, but Carnage of Krell completely broke the mold.

The Republic and the Jedi are no longer bending, they are breaking. And many characters are questioning which side they should be on. This all started with Master Krell, for three episodes we saw him belittle and harass the clones, but were only left to guess why. Now we know. The Clone Wars series has brought us our first Dark Jedi, as the words that Krell spoke at the end of this episode were straight out of Count Dooku's mouth. Like Dooku, Krell seemed to know the grand scheme of things, that Palpatine is in control, and that the war is just a device to shift power in the galaxy. However he also shared Dooku's ignorance. Like Dooku, Krell was betting on the Grand Army of the Republic being the catalyst, and the Separatists being the ones who would eventually take over a weakened Republic. He didn't understand that the Republic itself contained the seeds of the New Order, and that Dooku and his political puppets would all be killed off. And foreshadowing the future, Krell suffered the same fate.

Now with allegiances dashed and lines between white and black blurred, Rex and the clones were given a taste of the chaos that will most likely continue to escalate leading up to the crescendo of Order 66. Some clones like Dogma continued to exhibit loyalty to the command structure, like most clones would as their loyalties shifted, but Rex and the free thinkers under him knew better than to blindly go with the flow. But unlike the seemingly simplistic event of assassinating a collection of Jedi generals, the clones were presented with a situation that provoked them into going rogue. Krell went too far; in his overconfidence, the General underestimated the clones, and found himself playing god. The reaction that Rex and his company had to Krell's games proved once and for all that some clones are individuals, with feelings and ethics, miles away from the cold-hearted automatons on the other side of the battle line.

With the treachery of Krell and its impact on the clones, this series has now shifted from an account of two political groups warring, to the pressure of one causing the other to eat itself up. Now the remaining question is not whether or not the heroes of the Republic will be able to band together and overcome these dire circumstances, because we know they won't, but whether or not the individual characters we have come to know and love will be able to stand against the tide to the very end, and remain heroic amid a growing sea of evil. In these episodes, Rex has seen a chunk of the bigger picture, as has Ahsoka in Heroes on Both Sides. Now how will these experiences shape their future?

From the overarching story, back to this episode, the emotion created by the literal carnage of Krell was very strong. The execution scene at the beginning was very well done. The reluctance of Rex, the legalism of Dogma, the facial expressions of Tup, and the final speech by Fives made for the compelling scene that this whole arc was building up to. The clones shooting with the targets off camera was an ingenious ploy to punctuate the tension, and further escalate the joy of the next shot, that revealed Fives and Jesse alive.

Not to be outdone, the creators of this episode then brought us one of the darkest sequences yet in this show. Clones actually being tricked into killing each other. I really did not expect to see something like this in this series. My hat is off to them for having the audacity to bring Krell's sadism to that level. This atrocious act of villainy pushed Rex and his men over the edge, with the pain on their faces excellently animated to a chilling degree. I don't believe we have seen this much horror portrayed on screen since Revenge of the Sith.

Then came the moment for which I and many others have been waiting for this entire arc, all out war between Krell and the clones and a fantastic action sequence that showed off Krell's amazing swordsmanship. By now it was crystal clear that he had fallen to the dark side, and the clones were no longer fighting a Jedi, but an agent of evil. The animation and choreography didn't disappoint. And the final defeat of Krell at the innovative whim of Tup was perfect. Yet the episode didn't even stop there, but threw in another scene where Rex attempted to finish off Krell. This scene was complete proof to me that Captain Rex will not abide with Order 66. He couldn't even shoot a man who had forced his brothers to kill each other. Dogma finishing the deal was a perfect end to the scene, with the misled clone finally redeeming his ignorance to an extent.

Yes, we didn't see Kenobi's invasion of the capital, or explore the motivations of the Umbarans, but in the end this arc achieved greatness in my opinion. It was engaging, compelling, relevant, and daring. It contained decent music with a few John Williams references, adequate but not over-the-top comedy, witty dialog, fantastic character development, mind-blowing animation and action sequences, and an out of the box story line that held suspense to the end. I feel confident in saying that this was the best arc that the Clone Wars series has produced so far, and have a hard time imagining how amazing a future arc will have to be to outshine this one.