Storm Over Ryloth tried to offer Star Wars fans a strategic duel between generals in outer space - going so far as to make a reference to Grand Admiral Thrawn from the Timothy Zahn books. It was, in my eyes, one of the least successful episodes of the first season. Cat and Mouse has almost exactly the same premise, and it fares far better with clearer choices and smarter writing.
In Cat and Mouse, Anakin and Admiral Yularen are trying to break through a Separatist blockade and bring supplies to the besieged Bail Organa on the surface of Christophsis. Chronologically, (according to the official site) it takes places immediately before the events of The Hidden Enemy, which would then be immediately be followed by the 2008 feature. The episode focuses on Anakin's use of a prototype stealth fighter to break through the lines and overcome the formidable Admiral Trench.
Trench isn't the first character invented solely for the animated series, but he is one of the most memorable. It's not only because of his look (a humanoid Tarantula); it's because of how well the script supports him. He's shown immediately backing Anakin off of the battle (not easily done).Then, in a scene that shows the increasingly depth of character the animation can bring forth, Admiral Yularen explains in hushed tones just how dangerous Trench can be. By building Trench up as an idea, half the work is done before Anakin ever engages with him.
This episode was heavy on quoting (the show abuses quoting lines from the films a bit too much at times) but this episode seemed to have a good sense of how quoting can be used in a way that's clever and sly. Bail Organa literally saying himself "Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're our only hope" was a highlight for me.
Anakin's showdown with Trench, too, was exciting. Anakin's maneuvers seemed deft and daring in equal parts, and there was never, for me, a lapse in logic that distracted from the chess-match tone.
I also liked how this episode extended the mythologizing of the Battle of Christophsis. Raising up specific engagements in the Clone Wars is a smart frame for the series ongoing. I'm curious to see if other battles take on this type of life. I know that the Clone Wars movie's opening sequence was already augmented for me by The Hidden Enemy. Cat and Mouse only adds to this effect.
There were only a few minor issues that kept this episode from perfection for me. First was the throwaway "Welcome to the Army, Rookie!" subplot that seemed to have been largely cut down from a longer version of the episode. The other is that the episode's outcome, while exciting, seemed to knock down Trench just after he had been so effectively built. I'd love a little more long term thinking with these villains. Imagine a character like Trench that isn't defeated until Season 3. That's a moment worth waiting for. Patience, after all, is the Jedi way.
Rating (out of five): *** 3/4