In a season that has been relatively devoid of Obi-Wan Kenobi thus far, Deception brought the focus back to The Negotiator in a unique and compelling way. His transformation into bounty hunter Rako Hardeen gave us a chance to see him on the opposite side of the law, and it brought up the question of proper ends and means for Mace Windu and Yoda to consider. After episodes like the Krell story arc and A Friend In Need, we're used to stories with big-picture implications. While there was some of that in Deception -- mostly with Mace and Yoda, but also in terms of Anakin's grief -- this episode impressed me for other reasons.
I noticed that The Clone Wars animators are paying more and more attention to the facial expressions of their characters. For example, Obi-Wan's face betrayed a weary look as he stepped out from cover to be shot by Hardeen. In addition, Ahsoka's face, welling with tears, perfectly reflected the grief she must have been feeling as she confirmed to her Master that his former teacher was dead. This grief, transferred to Anakin, became fury as he stood over Obi-Wan's body in the Jedi Temple -- and his eyes reflected that combination of rage and agony. I also have to give major props to Matt Lanter for infusing his character with just the right dose of frustration and anger as he confronted Hardeen over Obi-Wan's death. On another face-related note, the significance of Anakin's Dark-Side-ish mood was compounded by the worried look on Ahsoka's face as she stood in the shadows behind Anakin and "Hardeen." This moment continued the series' new and ominous motif of Ahsoka casting concerned and disapproving glances as Anakin briefly loses control.
This episode also had a handful of "Easter eggs," some light-hearted and some more serious. On a funny note, one Coruscant cantina patron was overheard referring to Hardeen and saying, "I wanna check his midi-chlorian count. I also found it funny that one of the guards in the crematorium processing center was eating a sandwich. Plus, when the prison crematorium officer went to check out the life signs in the escapees' pods, he told his coworker, "Alright, I'll check it out," in an apparent reference to the TK-421 scene aboard the Death Star in A New Hope. It's little details like these that bring life to a universe as dynamic as Star Wars. On a darker note, it wasn't lost on me that as Anakin closed his eyes in despair at Obi-Wan's funeral, a brief strain of the Imperial March could be heard.
I've been referring to Obi-Wan's death and his funeral, but of course good old Kenobi's staged incident was all part of the plan. The idea to insert a senior Jedi into a Republic prison to stop an assassination being planned by one of its inmates was an interesting one, but Yoda and Mace Windu pointed out the fact that such a ruse would require Obi-Wan to adopt highly un-Jedi-like methods to win Moralo Eval's trust. The plot, Yoda noted, could lead them all down a "dark path." I've long been a fan of the series' occasional glimpses into the workings of the Jedi Council, so the disagreement between Mace and Yoda about the undercover operation was great to watch. Predictably, Yoda, ever the philosopher, feared that their deception would open the door to the Dark Side, while Mace Windu, the consummate tactician, believed that it was the only way to avoid the bloodshed that would come with an assassination attempt on Chancellor Palpatine.
It was exactly because of these morality concerns that I found Obi-Wan's personal transformation very interesting. The Jedi are trying something this covert and tricky out of desperation; they've exhausted their other avenues. Because this is not the kind of thing that they're used to, the plan requires a senior Jedi who's an expert at improvising. Even though he's one of the Order's finest, the implications for Obi-Wan going undercover are serious. He may be experienced, but as tactics go, he's very straight-laced. Adopting the methods and persona of a criminal was clearly outside his comfort zone. I liked seeing him play a role that he wasn't used to, one that he had to adjust to on the fly.
When he actually arrived in prison, Obi-Wan started getting into character almost immediately. Even after facing down one of Riff Tamson's shark buddies, he was still clearly uncomfortable with some of the violence inherent in his cover story. This concern intensified when the prison break began, but he got better and better at emulating his fellow prisoners with each minute he spent in their company. With that in mind, and given the earlier concern about ethics, there was no mistaking the look that Mace gave Yoda after Obi-Wan told them, "I'm starting to enjoy playing the villain."
The first part of that report from Obi-Wan instantly caught my attention, as I asked myself, "What did Obi-Wan just use for a codename?" Indeed, as Pablo Hidalgo confirmed today on Twitter, this was the first time that we've heard Obi-Wan go by the nickname "Ben." The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this enhances A New Hope for me, because it means that Obi-Wan's hermit pseudonym has connotations that go back to "the good old days." By employing a retcon, I will speculate that his decision to go by "Ben" on Tatooine meant he was constantly thinking about his undercover Clone Wars missions. At least back before Order 66 he could walk around as Obi-Wan Kenobi without a price on his head -- oh wait, that's what Deception was all about! On a more serious note, I really wish we had more information about how he chose the codename in the first place.
Codenames aside, the Republic prison setting generated a number of other interesting moments. Aside from a brief scene involving Ziro the Hutt a while ago, we've never spent time inside the walls of a Republic prison. This new environment received a fantastic treatment on The Clone Wars, with a realistic audio backdrop of prisoner chatter, that funky cell block arrangement from the Ziro episode, and, of course, several colorful characters inhabiting the clink with Obi-Wan. Speaking of colorful characters, I'm glad that we're getting the opportunity to see Cad Bane again. The same goes for Boba Fett, and if I'm not mistaken, we'll be seeing Dengar soon as well. I like that this story arc is bringing back a lot of the bounty hunters from seasons past. Seeing Cad Bane deal with "colleagues" instead of targets was also a refreshing change of pace. His grudging cooperation with Moralo and "Rako" established a different tone for his character than we see when he's facing down Jedi.
When it came time to break out of the prison, I was surprised at how easy it was. The clones offered very poor resistance, and since this looked like a maximum-security joint, you'd think they would have been better prepared. If the end of the episode was any indication, even Cad Bane was surprised by the ease of their escape. When Obi-Wan, as Hardeen, asserted that his skills had been invaluable back in the prison, Bane coolly replied, "Funny how that worked out." At that moment, I found myself wondering something that I never expected to wonder while watching this episode: had the Jedi plot been unraveled already? It remains to be seen if Bane has caught onto Obi-Wan's ruse, of course, but I suspect he'll be watching "Hardeen" closely in the next episode. Only someone as careful and attentive to detail as Cad Bane could see through something this well-played.
The setting for Deception's main action sequence presented a nontraditional look at knocking down those ever-present clones. We don't usually see the enemy making such easy work of the Republic soldiers -- mostly because battle droids don't have the tactical experience of these hardened inmates -- so the scenes where the guards and officers got slaughtered were pretty grim. And speaking of the security clones, one thing I found curious was Moralo’s statement that he had "influence" in the prison and the way he was clearly able to boss his cell guards around. It got me wondering how one could bribe clones as one would with regular prison guards. I wouldn't have thought that was possible until this episode.
While Deception primarily centered on Obi-Wan's brief time in the slammer with a bunch of scum and villainy, it also sprinkled in some other nice moments. As a big Mace Windu fan, I was glad to see him appear again, and I was especially intrigued by his using the Force to put Hardeen to sleep. In a story as fast-paced as Deception had to be, it was nice to see the Jedi using special new tricks like that. Furthermore, I appreciated that the episode slowed down to fit in a quick conversation between Obi-Wan and Mace. While they're both senior Jedi Masters with very serious jobs to do, they clearly have respect and admiration for each other, and I'm thankful for any opportunities we get to see that camaraderie play out on-screen.
All in all, this was a pretty straightforward "shoot-em-up" kind of episode. There was a dash of Dark-Side implication when Anakin completely lost it following his close friend's apparent death, but for the most part, this episode's pacing and simple chain of events reflected its basic purpose -- to set up the rest of the story arc and establish that Obi-Wan faced a challenging mission. Regardless of how nuanced this four-parter turns out to be, I'm glad we're finally seeing a story arc that focuses on Master Kenobi, even if we're not literally seeing him. The man has largely been absent from Season 4 and he's part of what grounds the series in its Star Wars roots, so it was about time we checked in with him for some serious character development and a seriously harrowing adventure. The fact that James Arnold Taylor also voices Hardeen in this story arc brings a vocal consistency to the two characters' personalities and attitudes that really helps sell the Jedi General's transformation. I'm excited to see what's next for Obi-Wan Kenobi on this mission, because Deception, with its emphasis on the danger of entering a prison environment to make allies, set the right tone.