The Clone Wars Season 2 Episode 14: Duchess of Mandalore
Last week's episode was all about romance. This time around on The Clone Wars, it's all about political intrigue. As a political junkie in the real world and a proponent of more politics in Star Wars, I was really impressed with this episode. It had all the right elements: political machinations, fight scenes, displays of day-to-day Coruscant, and a few good nods to the films.
Let's start with the sights and sounds. The opening shot of the episode was very reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back, with the wide shot of the Separatist starfighters flying toward the capital ship. I also liked the design of the Mandalorian ship that Almec's scout uses to report to his boss. In general, everything I've seen of Mandalore reinforces the notion that they are a highly cultured world, from the painting on the wall behind Almec to the beautiful tracking shot as his scout flies back. I really enjoy seeing the TCW team flesh out a relatively new culture to this degree, because it shows the extent to which they'll go in immersing us in the world. Another nice touch to this episode was the fact that we saw the explosion of the Death Watch assassin's detonator from Obi-Wan's perspective. Immediately after it went off, we heard a ringing noise, movement slowed down, and the screams of onlookers were muffled. This reminded me a lot of AOTC, in the moment of aftershock from Slave I's concussion missiles.
The warriors of Death Watch certainly established themselves as powerful people in this episode. Seeing them as an army in the beginning reinforced their threat, and depicted them as a large fighting force rather than a small terrorist group. The difference in definition is important. The fact that the Coruscant assassin wore Fett-style armor was another highlight for me. It was just another stage in the evolution of the Fett story. I also thought it was good storytelling to have the assassin appear for a few seconds in Act One of the episode. When Satine's speeder crashed into the Coruscant landscape, it made us more excited to see more of the mysterious assassin.
Perhaps the most exciting part of this episode was the new light shed on the bureaucracy of the Republic, specifically the Senate. There were homages to The Phantom Menace everywhere you looked. Some might say it's obvious that there will be TPM homages in an episode featuring the Senate. Still, there's nothing like seeing that gargantuan chamber and seeing the faces of Senators from various systems as Palpatine speaks. Of course, the inefficiency and corruption of the Senate were far more important in this episode than the flashbacks to TPM. We got the full picture of how the Senate works: Palpatine has the delegates eating out of the palm of his hand. All he has to do is show them one video message and impress upon them the weight of the situation with news of the speaker's death. That's his M.O., it seems, and it's easy to extrapolate this episode out into various other incidents that played out similarly. Overall, I was extremely pleased with how this episode showed the proceedings of the Senate. I doubt anyone views the Senate as a well-oiled machine after seeing this episode, and Satine's reaction to the events.
Satine's reaction, of course, is utter disgust. She's used to efficiency, and the fact that the Republic wants to jump into her affairs in this unsightly way is an affront to her dignity. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing her react to Palpatine and his assurances of goodwill. Hearing Satine's argument for Republic non-involvement is interesting, because although I don't agree with her pacifism, she has won me over regarding government occupation. Dave Filoni and his team did a remarkable job portraying her anger at the Republic and showing why she had reason to be so angry.
While we're talking about Satine, I really enjoyed the overarching plotline of this episode: Satine out of her element and on the run. It was a nice change from a lot of the episodes where the characters are in danger on their home planet. Also on the subject of Satine, I like that she and Obi-Wan aren't just best buddies. The fact that their relationship has depth to it makes it more believable. One minute they're on great terms, the next minute they're arguing over philosophy. In every argumentative sentence we hear the difference in ideology, background, and experiences.
Hearing Deputy Minister Jerec's speech, followed immediately by the announcement of his death, made me suspicious. It sounded like something Palpatine might have done. This suspicion, of course, was immediately confirmed in my mind by Palpatine's facial expression when Padm? presented new evidence concerning Jerec's actual message. I really liked the element of a cover-up. This would have been a strong episode without that element, but it became even stronger because of the conspiracy angle.
If this episode did anything for Palpatine, it enhanced his status as the puppet-master. Palpatine's seeming indifference to Satine's plight underscores how everything is playing into his hand. When Mas Amedda sides with Satine, only to ultimately rule against her interests, it is obvious why she despises the Republic's government. From Dooku's assassin to doctoring video, Palpatine had his hands in all sides of this conflagration. When you really step back and examine his involvement in the proceedings of The Clone Wars, it's remarkable just how much he does.
The political division in this episode was fascinating. Palpatine's perspective -- "We mean to save your people!" -- underscores the political differences between the Supreme Chancellor (even if he were well-meaning) and someone like Satine. As usual in TCW, we get a fair exposition of both sides (even if one perspective is held by a Sith Lord). From Palpatine's "point of view" (or so he'd like us to believe), the Republic has a fundamental duty to protect its member-worlds and keep the peace. Of course, from Satine's perspective, her world is not duty-bound to accept anything the Republic throws at her. This conflict, as with so many others, is portrayed with a lot of depth. There's very little in this controversy that's crystal clear.
It occurs to me that the job of the Republic as it pertains to member-worlds mirrors in many ways the job of the Jedi Order as it pertains to the average citizen. Many populations would rather deal with their affairs privately and not risk anything by involving the Jedi (Lurmen, anyone?), just as many worlds would rather keep internal politics, well, internal. The comparisons continue in my mind, because both the Jedi Order and the Republic are being "corrupted." Both are self-corrupting, too: while Palpatine may be casting a shroud over the Jedi, they're not entirely blameless in the course of events. Republic member-worlds want their government to stay out of their affairs -- and some of the citizenry feel the same way about the Jedi -- because they realize how bloated and unimpressive both of these groups have become. Going back to Satine's perspective, it's easy to see why she despises the Republic and mistrusts the Jedi. The rushed pace of the vote was just another nail in the coffin of Satine's frustration with the Republic bureaucracy.
In terms of major movie homages, there were quite a few. Padm?'s exotic hairstyle brought back fond memories of her seemingly-impossible wardrobe changes from the Prequels. When the Death Watch assassin shot and killed Satine's ally Golec, the setting and context reminded me a lot of Jango's similar action in Attack of the Clones. And then there was Mon Mothma. There isn't much to say about her; she was only in the episode for a combined total of a few seconds, but her appearance alone speaks to a profound respect on Dave Filoni's part for the continuity of Star Wars. He knows that Mon Mothma was in the Senate at the time, so why not throw her in? It was a nice little nod to Original and Prequel Trilogy fans alike.
Seeing everyday Coruscant was also cool. Apart from Lightsaber Lost, we haven't seen much in the way of the capital planet's streets. It's great to see how the planet functions on an everyday level, even to the minute degree of police droids and clones following up on a crime. Some of the grandest episodes take place in the least grand of locales. The variety of aliens we saw in the crowd scenes definitely made me appreciate the animation department's work even more.
In this episode, we also saw the two sides of Dooku: the taskmaster and the Sith apprentice. On the one hand, he was kneeling before his master, Darth Sidious, and humbly reporting in on the proceedings. On the other hand, Dooku was himself the man in charge, dispensing orders to Vizsla and reminding him that he's expendable. Even though this episode didn't have a heavy Dooku focus (speaking of which, when will an episode do that?), it was nice to see that Dooku is a multifaceted character with both power and responsibility.
The fight scene between Obi-Wan and the Death Watch assassin was okay, but it left me feeling a little disappointed in Obi-Wan. This is the second time we've seen a Jedi Master have trouble defeating a no-name Death Watch warrior. Armor or not, Obi-Wan's a highly trained fighter. He's also got a lightsaber and mastery of the Force. So why couldn't he just kill this guy? The actual moves the two combatants used were okay -- some of Obi-Wan's tactics were actually impressive. But the overall trend of Obi-Wan struggling to take down some random Death Watch soldier is getting annoying. Come on Clone Wars team, let's see more of the reasons why Obi-Wan was one of this war's most famous fighters. Battle droids are one thing, but armored sentients are another thing entirely.
Two other things struck me as implausible in this episode. For one thing, why would the Coruscant police suspect Satine of murder, given her track record for non-violence? It occurs to me that, even if the police were justified in choosing Satine as their prime suspect, they should have at least stopped for a minute in surprise as the Pacifist-in-Chief became a murderer. Another thing that really didn't work for me was the Great Coruscant Trip. I mean really, I can understand the need to give Satine a head start, but that fumble was really not appropriate for the situation. I would much rather have had the Death Watch assassin shoot a clone trooper and cause a delay in Satine's capture so he could try to finish her himself.
When Satine says "Things are changing," she couldn't be more right. Her questions at the end of the episode, along with Obi-Wan's response about things changing and lines blurring between friend and foe, are excellent messages to use at the end of an episode. Things are indeed changing -- the Republic is getting more corrupt, the old way of governing is fading, and Palpatine is getting more and more powerful. As usual with such a complex franchise like Star Wars, and especially with a multi-faceted series like TCW, we have more questions than answers after "Duchess of Mandalore."
In the end, this was a really good episode. I was impressed with the political intrigue, the new views of Coruscant, and the portrayal of the pacifist's dilemma (credit to the ForceCast's Jason Swank for that name). There were a few less-than-stellar moments, but nothing can take away from the profound issues this episode addressed. It was a fine conclusion to an arc that many fans have been anticipating for a long time, and I can honestly say that this fan wasn't disappointed.
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