I'll go ahead and say the obvious: This was the best episode of Season 3 so far. Now I'll go a step further: This was one of the five best episodes of the whole series so far. I loved pretty much everything about it, from what we saw to what we heard to what it all meant. The team behind Assassin took an easy premise ("Padmé's in danger again!") and developed it into something so much deeper than the assassination attempt. In the process, we got hints of the films, implications about something deeper in Ahsoka's future, and one of the most dramatic scenes in all of TCW.
Visually, this episode did not disappoint. The Coruscant cityscape looked fantastic, as did Yoda's meditation chamber. Alderaan looked beautiful, just as it always does. Aside from the landscapes, however, the visual style of the episode was also impressive. The camera movement from Ahsoka's point of view as she assesses the conference chamber before Padmé's second speech made it clear that she was frantically searching for a clue as to Aurra's location. When the bounty hunter finally locates Padmé, we're treated to a terrifying close-up of Padmé's face as she continues to speak, unaware of the menace hidden in the air vent. Of course, the close-up is only terrifying because we do see Aurra hiding there as she watches Padmé and prepares to strike.
On the audio side of things, there were two major components. Obviously the music is always important in dramatic stories like this, and what better way to enhance the story than by pulling in classic John Williams music. We certainly got it in spades, with Yoda's theme appearing when he counsels Ahsoka and Leia's theme popping up as well. It wasn't subtle, but I think most fans watching this series prefer it that way. The more we associate certain strings of music with certain themes, the more powerful that music becomes. Ahsoka now joins Luke as Jedi to whom Yoda has given deep on-screen philosophical lessons about the Force in their times of need. That's a great way to tie together TCW and the Original Trilogy.
I was also impressed with how subtle audio elements were used to heighten the drama in this episode. One of the most obvious examples is the tick of Aurra's rifle as she prepares to take the shot. Padmé's voice was muffled, leaving only the noises of Aurra's weapon, which is a classic dramatic technique that worked really well. The music in that scene also helped increase the tension, building up to the eventual confrontation between Ahsoka and Aurra. Subtle audio was also used in concert with Ahsoka's visions throughout the episode. When Ahsoka is done searching for clues in the Force about Aurra's employer, you can hear a slight "swirling wind" noise. That was a great way of bringing the scene back to "the here and now," to quote Qui-Gon Jinn. It emphasized Ahsoka's ability as a Jedi to probe the Force, to dive into something all-encompassing and larger than the present day.
It is my humble opinion that this episode featured the most carefully-crafted, dramatically-portrayed scene in TCW so far. Certainly there have been more epic, intense conflicts, but something about Aurra Sing's second strike really resonated with me as someone who enjoys analyzing cinematic execution. I am a big fan of the now-concluded series 24, and if anyone has seen it, they'll probably agree with me that the unraveling of Ahsoka's "decoy Padmé" plan resembled a classic 24 twist in a lot of ways. At first, everyone walks in, and the plan is set into motion. Ahsoka (whom I liken here to Jack Bauer) surveys the environment to look for clues as to when the inevitable will occur. The situation that the protagonists have set up begins to occur -- in this case, Padmé's speech. As the situation progresses, the hero (Ahsoka or Jack Bauer) begins to suspect that something is wrong. What is the assassin waiting for? He or she might ask. Then it hits them: the villain is onto them. The hero rushes to the location of the real target, as the villain does the same, as the initially constructed situation (here it's the speech) continues to play out in muffled, now-unimportant tones. Finally, the hero arrives just in time to prevent the murder. My explanation obviously doesn't do the dramatic tension justice, but in watching that confrontation, I immediately thought of 24 -- and anyone who's familiar with the critical success of that show will agree that such an association is a very good thing. Bravo to the entire team for one of my favorite scenes in the whole series.
Ahsoka's nightmares form a core part of this episode. They're portrayed very creepily, with an unsettling urgency that Ahsoka recognizes as impending danger. Aurra Sing is the perfect boogeyman for the young Jedi -- she looks, sounds, and acts dangerous, and after their previous confrontation in Lethal Trackdown, they might as well be arch-enemies. I thought it was interesting that the origin of the visions themselves wasn't really addressed -- they're saving that for another time, which is good, because I'd like to see these premonitions become a recurring theme. What is the Force trying to tell Ahsoka? What is the TCW team trying to tell us about Ahsoka through these visions? Both great questions that I'm sure this series will answer in a truly Star Wars way. Visually speaking, the style of Ahsoka's nightmares reminded me of Anakin's dark dreams from the Prequel Trilogy, which adds another layer of menace to Ahsoka's possible future.
When Ahsoka's in trouble, she naturally visits Master Yoda. We saw Anakin do the same in the Prequels, and Obi-Wan visited the Jedi Master when he was assigned Anakin as a Padawan. I've always wanted to see Yoda do more counseling like he did in the TCW series premiere with the clone troopers. The light music we hear when Ahsoka arrives at his chamber, combined with his wisdom and his reminder that "Always in motion is the future," make for one heck of a scene. It's classic Yoda in a way we rarely see him, and I'm thrilled that it was put in this episode. I hope to see the Yoda/Ahsoka bond strengthen throughout this series; she could always use more guidance.
Another big part of this episode is the relationship between Padmé and Ahsoka. Their interactions are very familial, with Padmé acting like the mother Ahsoka presumably never knew. Their conversation is very candid, and it's clear that each woman respects and admires the other. The way Ahsoka seeks guidance from Padmé (as she does from Yoda) shows that she's still growing as a person and a Jedi; it's sometimes hard to remember how young she is when you see her in combat. In the second act, when Padmé and Ahsoka are talking aboard the Senator's spaceship, their interaction reminds me of a mother comforting her daughter. Ahsoka's not a weak character, but she does seek strength from Padmé nonetheless.
Besides giving us a glimpse of Ahsoka's worry and uncertainty, that scene was remarkable for its casual tone. This is going to sound strange, because I can't explain it very well, but their conversation sounded more informal and relaxed than most of the other TCW dialog I can remember. Something about Padmé's reassuring and semi-contemplative tone struck me as incredibly genuine. It's not that the show's other dialog is lacking in some way; this scene was just above-and-beyond realistic in the way both characters spoke.
Later in the episode, when both characters are on the Alderaanian balcony, their relationship brought back memories of Attack of the Clones, where Anakin and Obi-Wan kept trying to protect Padmé -- "I really must insist you go back inside" -- despite her insistence that she was capable of defending herself --"I'm a friend of the Jedi; I'm no stranger to taking risks." (The TCW team even included a scene where Ahsoka leapt on top of Padmé's bed in the middle of the night to defend her, ŕ la Anakin at the beginning of Episode II.)
Ahsoka's personal growth is blindingly apparent in this episode, but it's depicted very well, from her moments of doubt to her moments of taking charge. She seems to speak with much more gravity in this episode, particularly when she tells Yoda that it's Padmé who's in danger. We also saw that again when she addressed Ziro in the final scene. Ahsoka acted like a true Jedi Knight as she spoke to the Hutt. She's clearly growing up and the TCW team does a great job of depicting that growth in different ways. Ahsoka's dedication is also obvious in this episode; it shows both her desire to prove herself and her deep affection for Padmé. When Ahsoka visits a wounded Padmé in the medical ward, you can hear the remorse in her voice. Ashley Eckstein does a fantastic job of conveying Ahsoka's emotions throughout this episode. She knows she isn't invulnerable; she's still learning. That's a good way to show a balance in her character; it counters her combat ferocity and keeps her relative inexperience in perspective.
In addition to the major plot points, Assassin included numerous miscellaneous things that impressed me. For an episode that had such a heavy premise, it managed to include a variety of minor elements that enhanced the overall story of TCW and tied the series more closely together with the films. I liked the fact that most of the episode took place amidst a war refugee conference; the focus of the plot doesn't need to concern the conference for it to make an impact. Even Padmé's passing mention of the meeting and the brief snippets of dialog we hear add credibility to the context. It makes a lot of sense for Padmé, as one of the best-known humanitarian Senators, to be involved in a wartime discussion that we all know must be taking place. Too often we get caught up in the battles, because that's usually the most visually pleasing part of a war series; it's important for the TCW team to continue sprinkling in reminders of all the other facets of the war.
Something else that made the episode more genuine was the sequence where Padmé re-entered the conference chamber and the delegates began applauding. It wasn't major, but it added another layout to Padmé's character. These people respect her for not giving up, and they recognize -- as viewers do -- the depth of her resolve and the strength of her character. I also enjoyed the inclusion of a Dejarik game between Padmé and Ahsoka on the Senator's ship. If you pay close attention, you can see that the stuttering style of the holo-animation looks a lot like the stop-motion portrayal in A New Hope. It was a nice touch to throw in this classic Star Wars board game, but they took it a step further by paying homage to the look and feel of the game pieces. Something else I liked was seeing Padmé and Ahsoka out on the Alderaanian balcony where Bail and Breha Organa will later hold baby Leia at the end of ROTS. Talk about foreshadowing!
And who can forget Ziro the Hutt? Not only did the fact that he hired Aurra to kill Padmé make sense, it gave us a chance to see (and hear) the fabulous Hutt again. I figured that Aurra would have been sent by the Separatists to ruin the conference, but this unexpected twist puts a more personal spin on things. My hope is that one day Ziro and Padmé will fight one-on-one. I think we'd all love to see how that ends.
All in all, Assassin positively killed it. (Thank you, thank you.) From kick-butt action to serious drama, from character development to light shed on interpersonal relationships, this episode had it all. In addition to everything that Assassin encompassed on its own, it also introduced us to the visions plaguing Ahsoka's dreams. As I said before, I hope future episodes of The Clone Wars expand on this plot point. It would be great to somehow link Ahsoka's eventual fate to something that began to develop in this episode. The nature of visions themselves was also called into question in this episode. In a sense, Ahsoka did see the future correctly -- literally speaking, everything she saw happened precisely as she foresaw it. But did it play out that way because it was bound to, or was it because of Ahsoka's choices? Yoda would simply say, "Always in motion is the future," but I'm going to throw something else out there: destiny versus free will. Ahsoka thought that Padmé died when she was hit, so she tried to stop that from happening, and by acting as she did, her vision came true anyway, but the hit wasn't fatal. If anyone has seen the TV show That's So Raven ... well, it's a kids' show on The Disney Channel, so I'm not going to embarrass myself anymore, but the basic premise is that every episode involves clairvoyance in the same way that we saw here. (I don't watch it, honestly. I just walked past the TV a lot while my sister was watching it.) So I guess you could say that tonight's episode was subtitled, "That's So Ahsoka!"