Continuing where the action-packed first episode left off, the second part of the Mon Calamari trilogy finds the Separatists searching for Prince Lee-Char and his Republic allies. While I had fewer notes for this episode than the previous one, I nonetheless found it to be just as exciting, especially once a certain ally appeared on the scene. Gungan Attack featured a similar mix of breathtaking visuals, impressive battle scenes, and cinematic scoring, with Prince Lee-Char's continuing leadership lesson forming the centerpiece of the story.
In my review of Water Water, I said quite a bit about how the underwater setting affected certain dynamics like movement, and I pointed out that the camerawork did a great job of showing us how big the underwater city complex is. Those observations remain true for Gungan Attack. Also in this episode was the impressive, highly-realistic explosion of the Republic corvette that the Jedi were hoping to use to escape Mon Calamari. I really liked the moment where Riff Tamson stared at the holographic image of the ship and ordered it destroyed when the Republic and Mon Calamari forces were almost to safety. That contributed to the portrayal of Tamson as a heartless creature who delighted in the pain and suffering of others. (Maybe Anakin shouldn't have said "Still in one piece.")
When the debris crashed into the ocean and sunk, there was another great shot of Padmé and Lee-Char staring down at the ocean floor as it rushed up at them and the many pieces of debris all around them. Speaking of swirling debris, the end of the episode featured a really great moment where Kit Fisto faced off against Tamson amid a storm of swirling sediment on the ocean floor. Just when you thought that Fisto had his work cut out for him, numerous aqua-droids appeared out of the shadows like robotic ghosts. The final visual I'd like to note is the wide panning shot that we get when the Gungans enter the fray. There's a great moment where Lee-Char and his group look up to see who's come to their aid, and all of a sudden a massive swarm of Gungans rush by. The bolstering effect that this has on the Prince is not lost in either the dialog or the soundtrack. There's also a fantastic wide panning shot as the Gungans ride clone subs all around the hydroid medusas that gave me a sense of the epic scale of the fight.
One of my favorite musical cues in this episode was the scary theme that played as the concealed Republic forces watched Quarren and droid guards herding Mon Calamari prisoners to slave camps. The fact that this mass of slaves is floating by instead of walking contributes to the creepiness of their appearance -- they almost look like lifeless debris, very similar to the bodies we saw in the last episode where the hydroid medusas appeared. Speaking of droids, I thought the use of a sonar-like ping for the aqua-droid patrols was a nice touch too.
In the previous episode, we saw the Quarren leader Nossor Ri begin to chafe under the control of Dooku's lieutenant, Riff Tamson. The conflict between them bubbles up once more when Dooku orders Tamson to send all captured Mon Calamari to work as slaves. Ri questions the count's order, bypassing Tamson and voicing his apprehensions about enslaving women and children directly to Dooku. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that Ri will either turn coat or sacrifice himself to buy the heroes some much-needed time in the final part of this trilogy. That seems like the kind of path a disheartened pseudo-Separatist would take upon realizing that he was being supplanted as the leader of his people -- that Tamson was, to borrow a phrase, "altering the deal." We see the first instance of this when Tamson orders Ri's Quarren guards to follow him, not their official leader.
As Ahsoka says to Lee-Char, the Quarren aren't in charge of Mon Calamari anymore; Dooku is. Dooku's control of the situation stems from his understanding of the value of charisma. He knows that the Prince's mere survival would motivate the prisoners. He knows that hope springs from the barest mention of a celebrated leader. The Mon Calamari, he must be saying to himself, will not be easily subjugated if they hold out hope of survival and rescue. This calculating personality is what has enabled Dooku to do so well as a Separatist firebrand.
If The Clone Wars intends to portray the Separatists in a villainous light, I think that giving Ri and future Separatist allies a change of heart would be a nice way to do it. Eventual realization of one's mistakes, combined with shocking displays of Separatist ruthlessness that weren't part of their allies' original arrangements, would be a nice theme to sprinkle throughout the series. It's important to show how one might want to ally with the Separatists, but it's equally important to show those allies as repenting for (or at least acknowledging) the error of their ways. Perhaps in Prisoners, the next episode, we'll see Dooku or Tamson allude to the idea of enslaving the Quarren population as well.
I'd like to think that the Gungan "involvement" in this episode began as soon as Obi-Wan realized who Yoda wanted to call for help. Obi-Wan's tone while uttering the word "Naboo" just about says it all -- it's a reminder that Obi-Wan hasn't exactly had the best experiences with Gungans. Even so, the Gungan antics are about as minimal as possible in this episode. The sole bit of slapstick consisted of the Gungan high councilor saying he needed time to consider Yoda's request for help, Jar Jar saying that they need to help Padmé, and the councilor saying with comic suddenness that thinking time was over and they were off to Mon Calamari.
Initially, one might have feared for the safety of Republic, given the fact that there are only so many aquatic species they can call on when these situations arise. Yet the Gungan soldiers did quite well for themselves. As someone who doesn't mind Jar Jar that much anymore, I appreciate any opportunity for him and his fellow Gungans to appear without TPM-type silliness distracting from the plot. We've only see the Gungan high council in Otoh Gunga once before, so bringing us back there was a nice touch as well. Furthermore, given the relative restraint that the Gungan army showed on the plains of Naboo in Episode I, it was refreshing to see them exhibit some warrior spirit as they charged across the deck of the Republic assault ship and dove into the ocean to aid Prince Lee-Char. Despite Jar Jar's goofiness, the Gungans are not an unskilled or useless species. In fact, they're presumably well-suited to this kind of combat. In another welcome turn of events, Jar Jar is growing more and more eloquent and sensible in The Clone Wars. It's harder to hate a character when the creative forces behind him keep toning down the ridiculousness that fuels your anger.
I noticed a few other minor things in this episode that struck me as worth mentioning. First, when Anakin brings down the communications building, it reminded me a lot of Starkiller downing a Star Destroyer in The Force Unleashed -- although perhaps bringing up that comparison is not a good idea, given that the different in relative Force abilities between the two characters speaks volumes about the unrealistic magnitude of Starkiller's abilities. (If the Chosen One struggles to topple a building, how does Starkiller have such an easy time bringing down a colossal space vessel? But that's a subject for another time.) While we're on the subject of the communications building, I'm curious as to why the transmission to the Jedi Council cut out in the beginning of the episode. Given that the building was still standing, why was there a signal problem? I suppose it could be said that the Separatists started jamming communications just then, but that should have been explained. I felt that it was an overlooked -- albeit minor -- plot point.
In my review of Water War, I mentioned that the development of Kit Fisto's character was a highly welcome part of that episode. While Fisto has fewer standout moments in this episode, one of my favorites is when he sneaks up on a trio of Quarren and, after silently dispatching one of them, grins and mockingly salutes at the other two before disposing of them. One gets the sense while watching these episodes that Kit Fisto is as much a "flyboy" as Anakin is. You have to feel for the Quarren soldiers who didn't expect the Republic to bring in so many amphibious allies. Speaking of Quarren, another thing that struck me was the fact that the battle sequences focused almost exclusively on the heroes tearing through droid ranks. There were very few shots of them killing Quarren, and the Quarren that we do see dying are almost always killed during the briefest of glimpses. Geonosians from Season 2 notwithstanding, could it still be a sensitive issue to show "the good guys" killing tons of organics onscreen?
Separatist commander Riff Tamson had a number of great moments in this episode. His swift descent into the center of a swirling sandstorm toward Prince Lee-Char reminded me of a vulture swooping down toward its prey. Tamson continued to exhibit shark-like fury and viciousness throughout the episode, displaying his physical, if not tactical, strength when he wrested Kit Fisto's lightsaber from the Jedi's grip. The roar he let loose as he hurtled toward the Mon Calamari Prince was positively primal. On a less terrifying note, am I the only one who thought I heard a Scooby Doo reference from Tamson toward the end of Act Two? There's a scene where Tamson growls that he's personally going on the hunt for the "meddling Prince and his Jedi friends." I can only hope that, at the end of the story arc, Tamson will moan about almost getting away with it before being carted off in shackles.
Speaking of the meddling Prince, I observed an impressive amount of growth in Lee-Char since the end of the previous episode. As he and the others hid from search parties, it was clear that the Prince was getting restless; he wanted to help his people but was new at the waiting game. When he finally got the chance to fight back, he defeated an aqua droid but then kept hitting it. In his excitement to contribute in a hands-on way, he missed that another aqua droid had snuck up behind him, and Ahsoka had to cover his back. This scene was a perfect encapsulation of what he still needed to learn. That said, I liked that the Prince was willing to risk his life to inspire the Mon Calamari prisoners, because it showed that he was learning how to lead not just with a weapon but with a voice. As the aforementioned Dooku has shown, one's voice can be nearly as powerful as an attack cruiser if one knows how to wield it properly.
I was also impressed with how much Ahsoka continues to grow over the course of this story arc. It started in the previous episode with her refined and controlled attack style, and indeed we saw more of that in this episode, particularly with her spinning strike that sliced through a handful of aqua droids (the whirling hum of her lightsabers sounded just like Grievous's move in Revenge of the Sith). That move alone proved that Ahsoka was steadily growing more agile and deadly. Just as substantial as her developed fighting ability was her improved ability to recognize the wisest course of action and advise others of it. I enjoyed seeing Ahsoka pass on her teachings to Prince Lee-Char. She's a good example of youthful strength in so many ways.
Ahsoka and the Prince being the only free heroes at the end of Gungan Attack sets up the young Togruta to continue Ackbar's lessons. Her advice to Lee-Char about managing his fear ("I used to be [afraid], all the time.") reminds us that Anakin himself ultimately flunks that test. He succumbs to the very weakness about which Ahsoka warns the Prince. It's this kind of wisdom, given without judgment to a fellow young person, that makes an Ahsoka/Lee-Char conversation less like a Master-Padawan lecture and more about Ahsoka growing as a person through her mentoring of others. There were a lot of things to love in Gungan Attack, including a moment of Anakin/Padmé banter that I found legitimately funny ("I just hope you're a fast swimmer." "Says the boy from a desert planet."). Ultimately, however, I was most impressed with how Ahsoka drew from her experiences at Anakin's side and on her own to give Prince Lee-Char the advice he needed. Gungan Attack followed a fantastic season opener with an equally-impressive second act; I can't wait to see how this story arc ends and where The Clone Wars goes next.