Friday, March 16, 2012

Clone Wars Review: "A Friend In Need"

By Chris Seekell

This was the episode that I was looking forward to the most this season, and it didn't disappoint. From the beginning to the end, it flowed well and brought together the Mandalorian and Lux Bonteri storylines very well. Considering that Mandalore Plot and Heroes On Both Sides were two of my favorite episodes, A Friend In Need naturally measures up. There were a few little things that I would have rather been different, but overall, this episode held my interest, and moved the characters and plot along significantly, which is something that the Clone Wars series doesn't always do effectively.

At the end of Season Two's Mandalore arc, Death Watch was left hanging when Satine and Obi-Wan thwarted the Separatist plot to doctor a hologram and sway the people against the pacifist government. This left myself and a lot of other fans extremely unsatisfied with the way things ended. It was even more mind-boggling that the writers turned their focus in the following season to Satine and the pacifist yet corrupt government of Mandalore, and did not return to Death Watch. Thus I am elated that this fascinating fringe faction that hearkens back to classic Mando culture has finally been thrust back into the spotlight in Season Four. After Dooku's withdrawal of support from Death Watch's impending invasion of Mandalore, it only makes sense that Pre Vizsla would turn against the Separatists. I am always intrigued by wild card characters and groups in Star Wars, and Vizsla and Death Watch certainly are fitting that mold.

Governor Vizsla himself looked a bit ragged. After turning on Dooku, he has become even more beleaguered and wary than he was in Season Two. While his reduced mojo takes a bit way from his character, his new scar definitely adds some cool factor back, and who doesn't love a little Darksaber action? Yet even with the return of Vizsla, the real scene-stealer was his new lieutenant, Bo-Katan. It was great to see another strong female villain in the Clone Wars series, and the fact that she was wearing Mando armor tripled her cool-factor. I am really glad that the Clone Wars writers took the initiative to add her to the ranks of Death Watch, because she only heightens their already high level of epicness.

But it can't be all great. The fact that Lux Bonteri and his supposed "romance" with Ahsoka would show up in this episode certainly created some nervousness and negative anticipation among fans. I liked Heroes On Both sides due to the role it played in opening Ahsoka's eyes to the reality of the war, and felt like her relationship with Lux was an unnecessary embellishment. Yet I promised myself to push aside any negative views I held on Bonteri's character before watching the episode, and I have to say that I feel like the writers did a decent job with him and Ahsoka.

From Lux's point of view, the Separatists that he grew up trusting and supporting were proven treacherous when it was revealed that they were behind his mother's death. The situation that was created reminds me of Asajj Ventress' plight in Season Three. But unlike Ventress, Lux isn't filled yet with hate, and seems to have a good heart, even though it is filled with the lust for revenge. This is evidenced by Lux's desire to protect Ahsoka, and I respect his character for that reason. I am now very interested to see the parallel journeys for revenge by Asajj and Lux, and also consider young Boba Fett's journey to be similar. The collection of these rogue characters that the Clone Wars writers have assembled will certainly make for some interesting story-telling down the road.

And now to the elephant in the room, Lux's "relationship" with Ahsoka was definitely the most shocking aspect of this episode. I was afraid that the two teenagers would naturally be drawn together in a cringe-worthy sequence of events worthy of a certain teen vampire franchise. But if the writers really wanted to use Lux to broach the topic of romance with Ahsoka, I feel like they did it in the best way possible. Forcing the two into a fake relationship was a well executed manner to hint at their possible attraction to each other light-heartedly. Because of this approach, I found any affection between them to be more humorous than nauseating. In fact I really enjoyed the overall humor in this episode and laughed out loud several times.

It says a lot about the growth that Ahsoka's character has seen, now that she is being mainly used as a positive influence on other characters like the Padawans in the Season Three finale, the Prince in the Mon Calamari arc, and Anakin in the Slavers arc. I really liked her portrayal in A Friend In Need. In Heroes On Both Sides, it was Lux opening her eyes to the world of the CIS civilians, and now in this episode she has returned the favor by being by his side in a very confusing time. Hopefully her influence will prove successful in the end, but regardless of the outcome, I am fully invested in these characters' journey.

There were a couple of undertones in this episode. The first was the political undercurrent at the beginning between the Republic and the CIS. Once again, the Sith's involvement in the politics of both peoples has dashed any hopes of negotiation, as Palpatine's insidious plot continues to thicken. I really liked the design of the female Separatist representative. There was something saurian about her species' appearance. I also liked Padme's outfit, and it was good to see Satine and Bail Organa again. I was also happy that Dooku was not overused in this episode, as he put the plot in motion, but was not lazily used as a tool to resolve things.

The other undertone was the sub-story of the struggle between Death Watch and the native people of the planet they were occupying. This served the purpose of illustrating to Lux that the path toward vengeance will most likely take him into some very dark places. Bonteri's reaction toward the Mando's oppression of the natives shows the audience that there is good in his heart. It was great to see a new race being introduced into the story in a controlled and meaningful way like this, and added a great deal of depth to the story.

Aside from all of the wonderful plot points, dialog, and character development that this episode included, the physical look of A Friend In Need was very well constructed from an artistic point of view. I loved everything from the designs of the Mandalorians to Ahsoka's winter coat, to the outfits of the natives, to the whole environment of the snowy planet. While the Clone Wars can slip into mediocrity plotwise sometimes, the aesthetics of the show continue to improve, and are without question the best on television.

With a great plot and look, the only thing that this episode needed to be a classic was great action, and it certainly had that. The initial sequence with Lux being hauled into the CIS ship with Ahsoka in tail moving through commando droids like water carried an ideal amount of suspense. Later in the episode, the final battle sequences with the heroes, Vizsla and Katan were very well choreographed and edited, and the wintery environment only added to the tension and visual appeal. Ahsoka's duel with Pre Vizsla and her speeder-top showdown with Bo-Katan were both fantastic sequences from all perspectives, as character, animation, plot, editing, and choreography all were sewn together masterfully. I can only hope that this intensity continues and increases throughout the remainder of Season Four.

In conclusion, A Friend In Need was one of my favorite episodes of this series and certainly one of the best in Season Four, right up there with Carnage of Krell. As a Mando fanboy and a fan of character development this episode seemed to be made just for me. I am elated that Pre Vizsla and Death Watch are back, I am excited to find out what happens with Lux in his journey for revenge and how Ahsoka will play into that, and I am pleased that the Clone Wars continues to bring us awesome new characters like Bo-Katan. This episode felt very Asian to me from the look to the plot, which is usually a good sign that I will appreciate it, due to a strong focus on character and morality. I can only hope that future episodes will be just as good and am greatly anticipating the continuation of this arc.