Monday, November 24, 2008

Season 1, Episode 6 - Downfall of a Droid

Downfall of a Droid is the setup episode for a superior payoff, Duel of the Droids. On its own, it's perfectly acceptable television, with some great character moments and battle sequences, but it's ultimately incomplete. It also reveals an essential weakness the series has: putting well-trod characters in jeopardy.

Artoo is lost in a space battle in this episode, and is replaced by the seemingly incompetent R3-S6. While everyone around Anakin views Artoo as lost and replaceable; Anakin can't let go of his friend. To add fuel to his argument that Artoo must be found, Anakin notes that Artoo contains a full array of Republic Military schematics in his databanks. With that, the Republic agrees to let him seek out Artoo.

Will Artoo be rescued? Of course. As hard as the episode works to establish moodiness and menace, the outcome is rarely in doubt. It makes for a less than compelling storyline overall. The fact that the action and character work rise to the level they do is a testament to the expert work done here. Let's face it: we all know Artoo makes it out alive.

Only 6 episodes into the series, the idea that Anakin can't "let go" is already a bit soggy. In fact, it's almost counter-intuitive. Anakin's loyalty here plays out like a heroic quality; but in the ultimate saga of the prequels, its his fatal flaw. Or, perhaps, its simply Jedi orthodoxy that creates Darth Vader. It's certainly complex, but its thoroughly ambiguous. In episodes like this one, where Anakin's loyalty makes him try to save a beloved character, it's hard to remember the sense of forboding that his rebelliousness is intended to illicit.

Also, Anakin's mistrust of R3-S6 (later vindicated) comes off as baseless and intolerant, initially. It's hardly Anakin's judgment that R3 is a traitor; he simply feels that the droid is incompotent. The distinction here makes for a less sympathetic Anakin (fine with me) but when the second part of the series reveals R3's intentions, it comes off as all-too-easy in terms of justifying Anakin's behavior.

That being said, I enjoyed the smarmy introduction of Gha Nachkt (voiced by Ron Perlman); a sort of less than charming Watto with bad intentions. The IG assasin droid scene, as well, is certainly energetic and fun.

The next episode builds off of this one nicely, though, and winds up as one of the series best episodes to date. So maybe the slow burn here, flaws and all, are worth a few odd notes.

Rating (out of five) ** 1/2

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