After last week's episode, I think we were all ready for some intense combat and Jedi battle strategy. We certainly got all that and more with this week's episode, Cat and Mouse. There were tactics and ploys aplenty. We saw a new side to Yularen and a familiar side to Anakin. While sparse on actual plot (not much of substance actually happened in the course of 22 minutes), this episode showed us a great deal about the characters we already knew and the fictional war we've been immersed in for the past few years.
As a prequel to the Clone Wars film from August 2008, this episode built up a lot of what we saw in that movie and the first few episodes of Season One. I realize that this episode was essentially a prequel of a prequel of a prequel to the Prequels, which I understand can be confusing, but I enjoyed seeing our heroes at this stage in The Clone Wars. Bail Organa doing work on the ground on Christophsis was an excellent case of foreshadowing; I imagine him doing very similar work as part of the early Rebel Alliance. The conversation between Anakin and Admiral Yularen at the end of the episode was also a great way to lead into the TCW film. Yularen tells Anakin that he had heard of Anakin's unique methods from the Chancellor, adding that Palpatine meant it as "the highest compliment." This brief exchange set the tone, in my mind, for Anakin and Yularen's future missions together. Watching this episode before the movie definitely gives one a better sense of how Anakin's working relationship with Yularen evolved over time.
Aside from setting up the future, this episode also introduced a new character into the ranks of Separatist leaders. The spider-like Admiral Trench, whose legendary ruthlessness was matched only by the unnerving chittering noises he made, represented a unique take on the prototypical episodic foe. Trench was a very cool villain, and not just because of how he looked and sounded. He was a devious leader and a master strategist; his reputation, at least in Yularen's eyes, preceded him in this episode. I get the sense that Trench fought in numerous off-screen battles resulting in bitter defeats for the Republic. In a show that is primarily centered on the heroic achievements of legendary Jedi, I'm glad that these Republic mishaps are at least being implied. (I would, for the record, like to see more cliffhanger episodes that leave the fate of some minor Jedi and crucial star systems uncertain.)
And to be honest, we really haven't seen many formidable yet expendable Separatist foes. Everyone we meet is either a two-bit bounty hunter like Hondo or an untouchable Sith like Dooku. That's the curse of intermediary television, where you're bridging the gap between segments of a story: there are some characters you just can't kill off because they appear later, and because you're not willing or able to go the clone route. (A shockingly apropos dilemma, considering that the show is called The Clone Wars.) In light of this quandary, I was impressed with Admiral Trench's abilities and his ruthless demeanor. It's a pity he won't be haunting our heroes in future episodes.
Tying into how cool Admiral Trench was in this episode is his relationship with Yularen. As formidable, renowned space admirals from opposing sides, they were worthy opponents and their face-off was exciting. You have to figure there was a great deal of competition going on off-screen between those two. I also liked that this episode showed Yularen in a more concerned and personally-invested light. He was a more complex and truly three-dimensional character than we've seen him before. He had personality, sure, but before this episode I always saw him as just the Force-skeptical military traditionalist. His recollection of a defeat at the hands of Trench enhanced the plot and was a great way to get him onboard Anakin's stealth ship, where he saw first-hand how effective Anakin's unorthodox tactics could be.
This episode had some of the most exciting space battle scenes I've witnessed so far on TCW. The animation team employed great camera angles to heighten tension and portray the mood. There were also some shots that were simply cool: the close-up on the Separatist missiles as they flew towards the revealed stealth ship was fittingly dramatic. Along the same lines, I have to say that I really noticed the music in this episode. Whereas normally I find most TCW music to be more subtle, this episode's score really stood out, in a good way. The music mixed so well with the visuals; the plot of this episode drew quite a bit from what we heard and how everything was framed. With little actual plot to speak of, it says a lot that I came away from this episode with an overwhelming positive feeling. That, I believe, is due to how everything looked and sounded.
Besides Trench, the other highlight of this episode was the stealth ship. It was an interesting twist on things to have the Republic possess a ship that could essentially defeat all attempts at interdiction. Keep in mind that, had Anakin not decided to blow off Obi-Wan's assignment, he would have made it to the surface completely undetected and successfully delivered supplies to Bail Organa. Yet as the episode progressed, it became strikingly clear that Anakin was turning a surefire success, a 100% detection-proof aid mission, into a risky gambit. You have to imagine how Obi-Wan must be feeling on the bridge of his cruiser as he waits for Anakin to do his thing: "On the one hand, he just sabotaged our only guaranteed method of helping Bail [who, as we know from the TCW tie-in novels, is good friends with Master Kenobi]. But on the other hand, his tactics nearly always pay off."
I think the TCW struck the right balance between the stealth ship's technological brilliance and Trench's experience with such vessels from past battles. I really like that Admiral Trench has dealt with stealth technology before. It would have been too easy for the Republic's stealth ship to be the ultimate trump card. The ship itself is also evidence of both sides' constant struggle to develop new war tools and stay one step ahead of the enemy. It's the little things -- like this example of the technological arms race -- that lend a greater credibility to TCW's portrayal of this great conflict.
I've heard some fans describe this episode as "Red October in space," and I agree with this interpretation. Cat and Mouse was a World War II submarine warfare drama set in the Star Wars universe. The stealthy, suspenseful music complemented the tense, silent scenes as the stealth ship drifted past the Separatist cruiser's dormant gun emplacements. The scene where the Republic stealth ship narrowly avoided conflict with the Hyena bombers was one of the episode's high points because of the way it was portrayed on screen. The mood in the stealth ship after everything was powered down, Admiral Yularen's worried outcry of "They're going to hit us!", and the too-close passing-over of the bombers as they abruptly darted past on the viewport combined to form one nerve-wracking scene.
The scenes with the clones in the body of the stealth ship reminded me a lot of the innards of submarines. The troopers' stations were even bathed in red danger lighting. This episode was a great snapshot of what it's like to be at war. And as if these weren't already great elements of a Star Wars submarine drama, the stealth ship was even outfitted with shockingly Sonar-esque scanners. They even pinged as the Hyena bombers closed in on the ship's position. I would say the TCW team definitely nailed the stealth battle atmosphere.
At various points in the Original Trilogy, Ben Kenobi describes Anakin Skywalker as a great Jedi, a great friend, a superb pilot, and so on. In this episode, we really saw that come to light. Anakin's evasive maneuvers just barely managed to avoid the laser fire from Trench's ship, and his piloting -- which ultimately gave him away as a Jedi -- was a fine display of the reflexes and talent that we hear about throughout the saga. I also liked how quickly Anakin was able to figure out the ace up Trench's sleeve. When he deduced that Trench was using the stealth ships' magnetic signatures to destroy them with torpedoes, it was another indicator that he is a brilliant tactician.
Of course, not all the Anakin traits in this episode were purely good. We also saw one of Anakin's critical weaknesses resurface: his confidence in his own abilities. He won the day this time, but ultimately, how good is it for him to gain more and more ammo in his arguments with Obi-Wan about strategy? It is partly his overconfidence that leads to the demise of the Anakin we know, and with him the Republic. We saw Anakin's brash, headstrong behavior repeatedly in this episode. Twice in the middle of combat he cut off Obi-Wan's holotransmission, once with a witty remark. Even in just those little moments, it's clear that Anakin has a policy of "I know what I'm doing, stop holding me back!"
In my opinion, Cat and Mouse certainly delivered on its promise of an intense space battle with significant character development and tactical ingenuity thrown in. From a devious Separatist to a self-assured Jedi, from the subdued pinging of the scanners to Anakin's "I'll do it my own way" behavior, this episode fits in well with the atmosphere of all-out war, and it does so while adhering to the continuity of the characters it features. And of course, who can forget one of the best lines in the entire episode: "Help us General Kenobi, you're our only hope!" If that doesn't make you want to watch A New Hope, I don't know what will. A job well done by Dave Filoni and his team.