The Clone Wars Season 4 Episode 10: Carnage of Krell
If I had to use three words to describe this episode, they would be "Oh my god." Two words? "Holy wow." I can't even count how many times I was reduced to incoherent and astonished noises at some of the things I saw in Carnage of Krell. I will not hesitate to say that this is the best episode of The Clone Wars ever. Period. End of story. (At least in my humble opinion.) Let's be honest, this episode was everything we've been wanting from a show that bills itself as a clone-focused war drama. Even without Anakin, Obi-Wan, Padmé, or Ahsoka, The Clone Wars managed to pull off a complex, dark, and dramatic story. It's hard to imagine how the bar could be raised higher than this.
Carnage of Krell was such a treat for my eyes and ears. From the neat aesthetics of the holding chamber and its detention pods to the eye-popping explosions on the battlefield, there was always something impressive on-screen. These visuals were complemented by incredible music that fit each moment perfectly, especially during the firing squad scene. Additionally, Dee Bradley Baker's array of trooper chatter and the realistic camera work (following individual clones until they were picked off) lent drama to each moment and brought authenticity to the battle.
Captain Rex truly shined in this episode. There's simply no better way to put it. He was the episode's main character in a way that sometimes even Anakin and Obi-Wan fail to be. He demonstrated his leadership capabilities, risked his life, doubted himself, defied authority, experienced a wide range of emotions, and questioned the nature of the Clone Wars all in the course of twenty-two painfully short minutes. I cannot stress enough how excellent it was to see Rex looking conflicted during the almost-execution scene. He appeared to be absolutely miserable as Fives appealed to the firing squad for justice.
Even we as viewers honestly didn't know what was about to happen. Because they weren't as important as Rex, and because we had no guarantees about their survival, it was completely unclear whether or not this was going to be the end for Fives and Jesse. In a series with so much pre-ordained, I found it supremely enjoyable to legitimately be on the edge of my seat for a while. The tension was mostly relieved when, in an appropriate display of solidarity, the executioners intentionally missed their marks and dropped their weapons. Dogma had been foiled for the moment. Still, if Rex's frustration had been simmering up until now, that experience brought his anger to a boiling point that would soon spill over into more palpable action.
Ultimately, it was the unbelievable twist during the supposed Umbaran surprise attack that sent Rex over the edge. I was legitimately aghast when Rex removed his supposed enemy's helmet to discover the ruse. This moment, perhaps the single most dramatic few seconds in the entire series, was enhanced by incredible music and dramatic choral chanting. As the battlefield noise died down and Rex called a cease-fire, it occurred to me that we were seeing Rex's crowning moment. In running across that battlefield and risking his life to stop the needless bloodshed, Rex demonstrated, to me at least, that he was deserving of main character status right alongside Anakin and Ahsoka.
I didn't process any of this when I first watched the episode, of course. I was far too distracted by what I had just seen. There are very few events on this show that I can't predict a few minutes or seconds before they happen, but this twist honestly caught me off-guard. The moment that I suspect brought some to tears was the gut-wrenching shot of both "sides" realizing that they're all actually on the same side. The moment, replete with incredible symbolism in the bigger picture of the war, was an absolutely perfect example of how animated series can contain just as much drama as live-action shows.
This drama continued when Rex went to converse with Waxer. In such a clone-centric arc, it was nice to see our old friend Waxer again. He even had that Numa drawing on his helmet. Sadly, the man was just a pawn in Krell's game, and we barely had time to mourn his death, complete with regretful single tear, before we (and Rex) had to refocus. Judging by the way Rex's face hardened when Waxer died, it was clear what was coming next. Viewers' anticipation for the looming conflict heightened even further as Rex rallied his troops to confront Krell. "From this point forward, we are entering uncharted territory," Rex said, in a scene brimming with tension and complemented by close-ups on grim clones. This scene was followed by what was visually the stand-out sequence in the episode: the phenomenal shot of Rex putting on his helmet as he and the 501st approach Krell's tower.
Needless to say, the entire scene where the clones confronted Krell had a thrilling Order 66 vibe to it. This was most obvious when Rex addressed Krell and he replied, "It's treason, then." This was, I thought, a blatant but tasteful (if that makes any sense) way to pay homage to the attempted capture of Darth Sidious in Revenge of the Sith. Just like Sidious, Krell responded to the threat by finally jumping into action with stunning prowess. I really enjoyed finally getting to see him fight. He was, as one might have expected, absolutely lethal with his four blades, eviscerating the clones sent to detain him and slaughtering his way into the Umbaran jungle. Those were some of the most brutal clone deaths we've ever seen on the show for sure.
Krell's voice became even more primal and menacing as he fought the clones and called them "creatures bred in some laboratory," reflecting his descent deeper and deeper into the Dark Side. In a move that reminded me of a caged animal frantically seeking to evade capture, he smashed through the tower window and leapt away, beginning the chase. Almost immediately, Dogma rejoined his brothers (he broke away before the 501st entered the tower) to order them to stop. This was yet another deep and thought-provoking scene, briefer than Krell's interrogation but no less significant. We got to see Rex discussing the meaning of being a "good soldier." He was right, of course: clones are not droids, and the Republic wanted them instead of automatons for a reason. They have a duty to think and improvise, to act as individuals when the situation demands it. Dogma might not have fully embraced Rex's message, but when it came right down to it, he was unable to shoot his brothers.
Krell's escape was really the Order 66 resistance that we never saw, except with a reversal of roles, as the clones were still "the good guys" in this scene. The shot of the clones walking through the jungle searching for Krell was a great continuation of this episode's "mad Force-user on the loose" theme. To be honest, the jungle search was what I wanted to see with Aayla Secura on Felucia in ROTS. I loved how Krell's voice echoed through the trees. That sinister effect, and his admission that "I was using you," were the first clear indication of Krell's secret agenda.
I had a feeling that Krell wouldn't be killed on the battlefield, and since he was clearly up to something, it would take an interrogation scene to give us closure about his intentions. So I knew that he'd be captured, but (especially after seeing him escape the tower) I couldn't figure out how. Tup's idea to use the miniature Sarlacc was really smart, and given that we'd seen the creature before, it offered nice Umbaran continuity. I also liked Tup's bitter humor as he shouted, "Hey, ugly! Come and get me!" Krell's ability to defeat the Sarlacc, even if he couldn't stop the clones from stunning him, was the display of Force prowess that we'd been waiting for since the first part of this arc.
The interrogation of Krell was positively fascinating. Krell stunned me and probably fulfilled the expectations of others when he said, "I am no longer naive enough to be a Jedi. A new power is rising. I have foreseen it." Readers of my previous Umbaran episode reviews will note that I didn't predict this. Quite honestly, while I suspected that the war had tampered with Krell's morality, I did not see this coming. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The foreshadowing in this scene was actually more rewarding than all of the combat in the episode. It was, to my knowledge, the first time that such malevolent prescience came to the forefront of the story in The Clone Wars.
In a sense, Krell pitting the clones against each other was a micro-scale version of Palpatine's grand Sith plan. By pitting the galaxy against itself, Palpatine distracted and disoriented the few individuals with the ability to make any difference or foil his plans -- namely, the Jedi. The secret to Krell's scheme was that he counted on certain clones to play everything by-the-book and others to resist him. He wasn't actually troubled by Fives and Rex's headstrong independence. In reality, it served his goal of fomenting distrust and opening up fault lines in the clone ranks. A shrewd manipulator, Krell knew that he could cause trouble by appealing to Rex and other clones' sense of agency with lines like, "Some clones are just defective. They aren't able to succumb to authority." I especially loved how Krell warned Rex that the enemy in the upcoming battle might disguise themselves as clones. In keeping with the rest of this episode's brilliant pacing, this line was followed by a shot of Rex regarding Dogma wearily. After all, the latter could be considered an enemy wearing Rex's own "skin". In reality, though, their enemy was disguised, but as a Jedi.
Given that Krell's goal was to foment distrust, it made sense that Dooku would be behind him. I should have expected that he'd be approaching Jedi in the background of the war, just like Palpatine recruited him years earlier. Speaking of which, I wonder if Krell knew about Sidious, too, or just Dooku. He obviously foresaw something more powerful than Dooku alone, but surely he'd have mentioned Sidious as his hoped-for Master if he knew that Dooku was merely an apprentice. In any event, I loved Krell's despicable confidence in his plan to wait out the Umbaran assault and break free then. He clearly relished the thought of his clones being defeated by the Umbaran soldiers.
Krell's confidence, which reminded me of Palpatine in and of itself, led to another scene that carried gripping undertones of Revenge of the Sith. First, there was the interesting fact that Rex seemed reluctant to execute Krell right then and there. Despite everything the Besalisk had done, Rex wanted more deliberate justice. This reflected the early belief of Jedi Master Mace Windu, before he had engaged Sidious in their lightsaber duel. After that duel, Mace realized that in war, nothing was ever clean or simple. Rex seemed to realize the same thing here.
Yet he wasn't able to bring himself to do it. I loved the moment with Krell talking Rex down. In its eeriness, it reminded me of Palpatine goading Anakin to kill him in his office after he revealed himself to be a Sith. Krell noted that Rex momentarily had the power, simultaneously tempting the captain and reminding him of how low he normally was. Rex's response, which I'm not sure even he believed, was, "I have to do this." His bitter acceptance sounded like Anakin warning Mace Windu to back off in Episode III. Anakin, like Rex, didn't fully like what he was doing (and, in young Skywalker's case, what he was about to do), but he knew he had no other choice.
I was honestly expecting Rex to eventually execute Krell, but this episode offered up yet another twist when Dogma pulled the trigger instead. The more I thought about it, the more this decision made sense, but in a dark way. Rex had the moral authority to put down Krell for conduct that he (Rex) had despised all along. Dogma, on the other hand, had gone along with Krell, and it was his feeling of betrayal that motivated him to avenge himself and his brothers. Unlike Rex's drawn-out frustration and calculated contemplation, Dogma shot Krell out of primal hate for what the General had done to all of them. That was a disturbing thing to witness. Dogma wasn't evil, however; he was just too trusting, and as we saw in the episode's final moments, he clearly hated himself for it.
Those final moments bring me to my closing thoughts. Carnage of Krell was, as I have said, the absolute best episode of the series so far. I have high hopes for the future, given what this arc managed to accomplish. Krell was the villain you loved to hate, but The Clone Wars put him in the unique position of being the good guys' ostensible leader. Rex, Fives, and the rest stole the spotlight for the first three Umbaran episodes, and even in this episode, they still rivaled Krell's for importance and audience attention. With a perfect score and phenomenal audio mixing, realistic camera work and eye-popping explosions, and an overarching message as deep as that of the Mortis trilogy, Carnage of Krell blew me away and cemented its position as a defining moment in the series' evolution.
Having summarized my general praise for this episode, I turn now to an examination of a scene that I believe tied everything together. The very last lines of the episode were incredibly powerful, laden as they were with foreshadowing that has only begun to play out, even if we all know the dark conclusion. As Rex and Fives discussed what the point of Krell's dissent had been and what was coming next, they reminded the audience that, despite their uniqueness and displays of individuality, they were considered assets by the Republic. The Clone Wars' focus on the theme of clone brotherhood may be critically important to us as Star Wars fans, but to the grand puppet-master behind the scenes, these remarkably brave and thoughtful warriors are simply short-term tools in a long-term strategy -- a strategy with an endgame that Rex and his men can't possibly foresee.