Monday, February 08, 2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - 2.13 - Voyage of Temptation

How nice to be able to kick off my full episode reviews with handily one of the top five installments yet!

Obi-wan and Anakin defend Duchess Satine from spider-bots and a snivelingly traitorous senator all while the debate between the merits of violent and pacifist methodologies rages on.

This was a fairly simple outing, plot-wise - but then the majority of Clone Wars outings seem to revolve around simple action-based defend/attack/protect/retrieve premises. What the show is getting better and better about doing is filling in the nuance of these stories with ramifications that muddy the moral/ideological value of these seemingly simple objectives. We keep getting more and more cracks in the Jedi methodology as Season 2 proceeds. These often come from Ashoka questioning things, but it's even more powerful to watch a character like Obi-wan (usually a veritable rock of Jedi integrity) taken through the ideological ringer.

While there can be no simple solution to Obi-wan and Satine's argument over Jedi peace-keeping methods, I do wish the back-and-forth hadn't been quite so one-note. There can be compromises on these matters and to hear only black and white opinions stated repeatedly kept things from getting as interesting and/or meaningful as they potentially could have been. But then to hear the debate presented at all is a breath of fresh air for this show (reminiscent of Season 1's "Defenders of Peace"), and even if words didn't lead the debate into as many gray areas as I'd have liked, the characters' actions certainly did. Evil Sniveling Senator Guy may have been a bit too delighted to find himself being threatened by a purported-pacifist, but the question of whether Satine would/could have gone through with shooting him was presented with raw honesty.

It's a bit of a shame that Anakin gave Satine the easy way out... but then his brutal heroism, followed by his splendidly candid simplification of the situation into "Oh, come on, he was going to blow up the ship," was absolutely priceless and one of the best Anakin character moments yet -- a seamless merging of his roguish hero's charm with his darker tendencies high-lit beautifully by a musical hint at John William's Imperial March. Where was this Anakin in the Prequel Trilogy!?

But the jaw-dropper of the night was Obi-wan's honest admission that he would have left the Jedi Order for Satine if she had only asked. Um... wow? I mean, we all know love is the great equalizer -- making all people capable of all things -- but these are strong words from the Jedi usually tasked at keeping Anakin in place. There's a part of the critic in me that would like to be cynical and say this was out of character for Obi-wan and that it wasn't properly led-up to in the series, but the viewer in me bought it entirely and there are times when things that maybe shouldn't work theoretically just work entirely.

It's a testament to the voice-acting and dialogue given to Satine and Obi-wan that they make a believable couple against all odds. That they're both characters who breathe (and are wholly devoted to) their own moral codes and ideologies is what simultaneously makes them a perfect match while making it impossible for them to unite. They both have an adherence to order and principle, sharing the same ultimate goals and values, but the difference in their methods keeps them apart as much as Obi-wan's Jedi vow to remain unattached. Yes, love is the one thing Obi-wan would break his code for, but Satine can never ask him to do so -- he wouldn't be the man she loved anymore if he willingly ditched his values and beliefs. Deep stuff from a show that so many have written-off as kids' entertainment.

So, what else was cool? The ritzy setting. Hyperspace outside the dining room window. Spider probe droids. Spider probe droid babies. Spider probe droid clone puppetry. Anakin and Obi-wan ACTUALLY behaving like buddies (gasp!). R2 getting some quality screen-time. Hunting the cargo bay in the dark (though why exactly it was so dark in there was a bit cheesy/dubious). An on-going story arch that gives its ideas and characters some breathing room.

As a middle-chapter of a multiple episode story-arch, "Voyage of Temptation" served to clarify/strengthen the Obi-wan/Satine pairing while simultaneously revealing just how deep Deathwatch's influence has been planted. If even Mandalore's senator prefers the culture's old warrior ways over Satine's pacifist standing, we have to wonder just who exactly IS Satine speaking for? How many of the common people on Mandalore are behind her abstinence from the war? I feel Satine's side of things has been well-explored now, and hope in future Mandalorian installments that we can get a strengthened sense of just how deep wartime honor is ingrained in the culture. This would go a long way in framing the Mandalorians as a unique set of villains in the future of the series, rather than just another bunch of typically-devious Separatists. I could see them being an X-factor in the war, switching sides on occasion depending on where true military honor lies in a given situation.

The Rub: A great combination of action and intrigue infused with deep moral issues and refreshingly solid characterizations. I like Satine as a character, but even better is what she's brought out in both Obi-wan and Anakin. I don't think I've ever liked these guys more, and in a show where they're vying for attention with other Jedi, far more complex Clone characterizations, and the compellingly naive and open-minded outlook of Ahsoka... they really needed an episode like this. If I have any niggling complaints they only lie in the simplistic repetition of the arguments presented by Obi-wan and Satine's pacifism debate, along with a need for further clarification, embellishment, and definition of Deathwatch as a unique group of villains. But there's still time for that in future Mandalorin-centered episodes. What was here was great. 4.5 stars.

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