The Clone Wars Season 4 Episode 16: Friends and Enemies
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the second part of an arc that has already seen a Polyjuice potion and a prison break. What we got was mostly predictable -- the usual strife between three edgy types on the run. However, Friends and Enemies also provided a number of surprising and extraordinary moments that had me wondering just how far this series will go to connect to Revenge of the Sith. The fact that scenes on Coruscant can steal the show in an arc that was teased as "The death and undercover mission of Obi-Wan Kenobi!" indicates just how phenomenal it was to see the return of a certain politician and his role in the escalating tension that is Anakin Skywalker's place in the Jedi Order.
The tense working relationship between Cad Bane, Moralo Eval, and a disguised Obi-Wan Kenobi again took center stage, as Cad Bane got decidedly more hostile with the man he thought was Rako Hardeen. For Cad Bane to hate someone this much, the real Hardeen must have really pissed him off. I hope we get some explanation of that as this arc continues. Despite Bane's animosity toward Hardeen, we continued to get a different side of him than we see when he fights Jedi. Although still a quiet man, he occasionally explained himself and his reasoning to the others, something he always skipped while shooting at Anakin and Obi-Wan. One thing I found particularly interesting about Bane was the side-glance he gave as Moralo Eval spoke to Count Dooku via hologram. In a series where every action has to be painstakingly crafted, I have to wonder: Was that glance significant?
Obi-Wan, for his part, was equal parts a convincing bounty hunter and a Jedi Master through and through. He seemed to be getting really good at imitating Hardeen, and I think we saw another concerned glance between Yoda and Mace as he requested radio silence for the rest of the mission. On the other side of the coin, I really liked that he could still call upon his Jedi instincts to predict people's every move. He knew even before the Bith salesman agreed to lower his price that that was the ship he should track. He also knew Cad Bane so well that he expected a double-cross, however surprised he seemed to his partners. Obi-Wan Kenobi, the consummate tactician, was firing on all cylinders in this episode.
Someone else who was firing on all cylinders, albeit in a more discrete style, was Chancellor Palpatine. The secret Dark Lord rarely appears on the series, with Dave Filoni saying in an interview once that he reserves Palpatine for scenes that are intended to tie a story element into the big-picture of the war. That's a wise move, and one that pays off in scenes like this one from Friends and Enemies. The late Ian Abercrombie, who died the day before this episode premiered, did a fantastic job in his brief scene with Anakin. I know I speak for a lot of fans when I say that the cunning and ruthless Darth Sidious won't be the same without his voice behind that sneer.
As with the previous episode, Matt Lanter's performance in the scene with Palpatine reflected his remarkable command of his vocal performance, and Anakin's frustration and grief were perfectly clear in his delivery. I really sympathized with Anakin as he vented his anger at the Council for sitting on their hands while Eval escaped. Palpatine giving him just enough encouragement and information to set him off like a loose cannon was delicious Prequel Trilogy stuff. (To emphasize how utterly in control the Chancellor is, I need only point out that his reliable source for Eval's location was, of course, Dooku via Eval himself.)
Frankly, we've already seen more of this Palpatine/Anakin goading and guiding on The Clone Wars than we ever did in the movies. It was great to see Palpatine further ensnaring Anakin in his web of torment and hate. In a nice bit of foreshadowing, the faint music that we heard as Palpatine set Anakin up for trouble was decidedly Imperial, and the exchange that ended the scene was absolutely phenomenal: "Thank you Chancellor. You won't regret this." "No, I won't."
The other scene with Palpatine in this episode was just as important, just as eerie, and just as well-executed as the first. It was also one of the least remarkable in the overall plot, but I believe it deserves special attention because of its implications. I'm referring to the scene in which Mace Windu requested to speak to Anakin and Rex, stationed outside Palpatine's office, ran interference over the comlink. As a senior member of the Council, Windu technically outranked Anakin, so Rex was demonstrating shocking boldness by refusing what seemed like a direct order to reveal Anakin's location. It made me wonder, with a combination of discomfort and glee, how many more indications we'll get that the Jedi Council is losing its sway over the clone army.
Palpatine's casual way of providing Mace Windu with the information he sought said it all: I've given Anakin what he wants, it ruined your plan, and there's nothing you can do to stop him...or me. I love scenes where the Council and the Chancellor clash. It reminds viewers of the tension that we know is building during the Clone Wars, tension that comes to a head in Episode III. The fact that the Chancellor went over the heads of the Jedi Council during a Jedi mission definitely raised a red flag for Windu, giving more credence to the Council's creeping suspicion -- made explicit in Episode III -- that the Chancellor himself was trouble.
After revealing that he had gone around the wishes of the Council in guiding Anakin, Palpatine had one more line to deliver, and it nearly sent shivers down my spine. With the seemingly simple words "I suggest you have more faith in young Skywalker," he offered the perfect conclusion to a scene in which he outmatched the Jedi and set in motion his own scheme while frustrating the defenders of peace. This line simultaneously highlighted the Council's intransigence with regard to Anakin (they won't trust him no matter what Palpatine says) and foreshadowed the culmination of this distrust in Revenge of the Sith.
Now it's finally time to address Anakin's part in all of this. After his brief scene with Palpatine, Anguished Anakin briefly transitioned to Master Skywalker when he and Ahsoka landed on Nal Hutta. The fact that he lectured Ahsoka on where to find lowlifes highlighted the fact that they've probably been on countless missions to the bowels of Coruscant with similar investigative objectives. It made their approach seem routine and time-tested, which was a minor but welcome detail that enhanced their relationship.
Once inside the cantina, however, Anakin was back to his frustrated, moody self. He lashed out at the assembled patrons in a way that was about as far from the Jedi path as he's ever gone with a random crowd of people. Anakin's casual use of the Force made it clear that he was in no mood for games. The fact that he almost Force-choked the innocent Ithorian bartender emphasized the way he felt: that he was so close to avenging his Master's death, and he wasn't going to let petty greed get in the way. It was very Dark Side-y, and although we didn't see Ahsoka's reaction, I imagine she looked pretty concerned. Later, that anger boiled over into fury as Anakin fought Bane, and the excellent animation enabled us to see the rage on his face as he relentlessly pursued the bounty hunter across the hull of the SoroSuub yacht.
Speaking of the animation quality, I want to reiterate that the visuals in this episode were nothing short of jaw-dropping. The shot of the ship crashing into Nal Hutta looked almost like a scene from a live-action film. Other sequences also exhibited the animation team's spectacular work, including the variety of well-designed buildings on the planet. I was really glad to finally see a planet that has been mentioned numerous times in the EU get its day on the show, and the design work reflected many of the things I'd read about in Star Wars novels. Sound was also used to great effect on Nal Hutta, especially in the swamp. I really appreciated that attention to detail.
This episode also made great use of camera angles. First, when Bane released his grasp on Pablo the shopkeeper, we got a shot looking up at them as Pablo fell down and clutched his jaw. It emphasized the towering presence of Bane and the lowering of Pablo after he was put in his place. Additionally, right before the Nikto security thug knocked out a pepper-sprayed Obi-Wan, we saw his dazed perspective looking up at the crowd from the ground. Finally, when Obi-Wan was released from his shackles by his torturer, he fell toward the camera which was positioned under him. Speaking of quality framing and pacing, the hallmark of that brilliant choreography was the fight between Bane, Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka. In addition to being well-timed and well-shot, it featured impressive acrobatics, grunts and screams (especially Ahsoka as she leapt to Anakin's defense), and saber theatrics. It reminded me of the intense duels in the Prequels.
Friends and Enemies was full of miscellaneous goodies for those of us who like to re-watch these episodes multiple times and hope to spot something new. I thought it was a great touch to have Cad Bane picking up an Indiana Jones-style fedora before choosing his new hat in Pablo's shop. In addition, I was impressed that Dave Filoni and his team delved into the Lucasfilm archives for something as relatively minor as Obi-Wan's new helmet; eagle-eyed viewers will recognize it to be the original Boba Fett helmet design as drawn in concept art by the brilliant Ralph McQuarrie.
Speaking of headgear, I had to laugh at Ahsoka's comment upon recognizing Cad Bane: "Who else wears a hat like that?" I believe that was the first on-screen mockery of the series' supervising director! As another Easter egg, EU fans might have picked up on the fact that the bounty hunters' new ship is a SoroSuub Personal Luxury Yacht 3000, the same vessel that Lando Calrissian flies in post-OT novels. In what may have been the subtlest cameo in the history of the series, a scratchy yet sultry voice at the door to the Nal Hutta saloon made me wonder if Sy Snootles was present among the scum and villainy.
Speaking of which, it was great to see familiar riff-raff like the Gamorrean guards on Nal Hutta. Speaking of Nal Hutta's criminal operation, we got a fleeting look at it when Obi-Wan was captured and tortured by the Hutt's enforcer. While it was indeed a brief scene, I'm glad that we got a taste of this far-flung corner of the Star Wars underworld. Another thing I enjoyed was finally hearing a Bith finally talk. Those guys have been in many scenes throughout Star Wars media and yet this is the first time they did something other than "play that same song," as Family Guy would say. On that note, I found the Bith brothers' plan to be a nice embellishment, one that made the criminal environment in Hutt-controlled space seem more authentic, and I liked seeing the refueling-station brother wave genially at the bounty hunters in the background as he pocketed Eval's credits.
When all is said and done, Friends and Enemies had a lot going for it. It was fairly light on plot, with a handful of intense scenes and a few exceptional ones. It was more or less just about moving the bounty hunters from Point A in Deception to the Point B that we'll see in the next episode, The Box. That said, I was blown away by the scenes with Palpatine and I think Matt Lanter did a great job bringing Anakin to life whenever he had dialog to deliver. Surprisingly, the bounty hunters were perhaps the least interesting part of this episode, because even though Cad Bane started some drama with "Hardeen," there wasn't much to soak in about their confrontation. Overall, because its slower moments were bracketed by gripping events and interactions that bolstered the excitement, Friends and Enemies was an enjoyable intermission from Obi-Wan's primary mission.