Friday, October 16, 2009

Season 2, Episode 4 - Senate Spy

I would like to applaud the impulse that undoubtedly drove “Senate Spy.” This episode of the Clone Wars was focused solely on character and plot; it was the only episode in the 26 aired episodes that featured exactly zero clone troopers, space battles or lightsaber duels. If the creative team was out to prove that the Clone Wars was about more than fighting, they did that much.

What they didn’t do was give up the best possible version of a character driven episode. The tone of the episode seemed to shift from slapstick, to politics, to jealousy, to life-and-death without much warning. It never felt entirely coherent, even if intermittent promise was shown.

In this episode, we see a rare visit between Anakin and Padme interrupted by Jedi business. They suspect that new character Senator Clovis is a spy for the Banking Clan, and they’d like Anakin to convince Padme to use her influence with Clovis and doing a little spying herself. Anakin tells her he won’t allow her to get into harm’s way, she takes this about as well as can be expected, and, she winds up traveling with Clovis to Cato Neimoida.

There were a few head-scratchers here. First of all, it seemed contrived that Anakin was deemed the only person capable of convincing Padme to spy for the Republic. No one knows they’re married (always a suspect oversight on its own considering the amazing powers of the Jedi), so why couldn’t Yoda or Obi-Wan or anyone else just tell her why they wanted her to spy for them?

Furthermore, the reason that Padme has been deemed the best choice for this mission is her previous "friendship" with Clovis. I have to say, the insistence on using the word friendship (even when Padme and Clovis are alone!) made the whole thing sound a lot more sordid. Is friendship a euphemism for something in Star Wars? Like S&M? Otherwise, I don't get why they couldn't say "our old romance" or "Clovis used to take me to the Opera" or "Clovis tried to court my affections" or something.

Also, why would a Republic Senator travel to Cato Neimoida with so little concern for her safety in the middle of a war? The Separatists never seemed that hidden to me after Attack of the Clones. Would Padme not be aware for Lott Dodd’s affiliation, even after the Battle on Geonosis? Would Cato Neimoida be about as welcoming to the Republic as Naboo would be to the Separatists? Or am I missing something?

It also bothered me that Clovis never seemed entirely dastardly enough. Perhaps we’re intended to sympathize with him a bit. If so, Anakin’s final act towards him comes off as especially callous. Certainly Clovis is a traitor…but he comes off as relatively honorable and even emotionally invested in Padme. I couldn’t tell if my mixed feelings about him were because that was what was intended, or because the creative team missed the mark a bit.

Finally, Padme’s “I made you doubt me” admission at the end seemed to come entirely out of nowhere. If anything, Anakin’s jealousy in the episode is barely touched on, and when it does come out, it’s juvenile and barely an issue. Even in the second he sees Padme and Clovis embrace, it takes less than a moment for him to understand Padme’s worldless explanation.

I don’t love to nitpick this way, but those were distracting issues for me.

What worked?

I think that even if this episode tried to do a little too much, it did show that the animation could support dramatic scenes on its own merit. The dinner scene with Amidala and Clovis felt entirely natural and well-realized. So did Anakin’s argument with Padme in the Senate. The fact, even, that I had mixed feelings about Clovis’s fate is telling: he became a character with some weight after a few scenes. The dialogue was all snappy and solid. It was nice to see Anakin and Padme scenes that felt clear and fun, without clumsy declarations or forced moments. The more those two come together as characters in this series, the more they deepen the overall mythology of Darth Vader.

So…all in all…”Senate Spy” falls more into the “miss” category. But I’m excited by the direction they’re going with the story telling, and hope to see more episodes like this in the future.

Stars (out of five): **


Anonymous said...

They posted a commentary on regarding the affiliation of Cato Nemodia and others. Basically, they are "neutral" and part of the Republic for "now". Confusing isn't it.

Well, time to check Wookieepedia to get caught up.

CloneWarsFan said...

Huh. Well, if a guy like me - who saw Attack of the Clones in THEATERS 20 times and reviews the Clone Wars on his blog - can't pick that up quickly? Yeah, I'd say that's confusing.

InMediaRes said...

What irked me was the download/theft of the hologram. Could Padme have not copy and pasted it, so to speak? A copy would have been much more discrete, discretion being central to spying. I suppose that, as a plot device, her deception needed to be discovered, yet still...

Dave said...

I've not thought at length about it but gut feeling is that this was weakest episode for me so far. The Padme Anakin relationship seems to lack any substance and his reaction to her "friendship" seemed particularly juvenile.

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