After three underwater episodes and a heavy focus on new characters, it was nice to return to land and to focus at least partially on known entities for the first time in Season 4. In Shadow Warrior, the Gungans once again proved that there was more to them than their floppy ears and funny voices, thus illustrating the opening fortune cookie, "Who a person truly is cannot be seen with the eye." Despite being plagued by some downright puzzling story incongruities, Shadow Warrior was a critical episode for fandom's opinion of the Gungans. I intend to criticize a number of things in this episode, but I want to make that clear: it's difficult, in my opinion, to dislike the Gungans as a people after you've seen this episode.
Some of the best Gungan moments were brief -- for example, I loved that General Tarpals (sweet promotion!) engaged in a bit of nostalgic droid-tipping before he faced Grievous, as it reminded me of the last Separatist/Gungan engagement on Naboo. When it came time to fight the cyborg, the Gungan warriors acquitted themselves with ferocity, bravery, and determination. Grievous started the battle by saying, "You can't be serious," but it was clear that he'd underestimated the Gungans fighters. Even though he was more powerful than each of them individually, they displayed great cunning and skill while working together.
When, in a tragic twist, General Tarpals sacrificed himself to defeat Grievous, The Clone Wars' slow but determined redemption of the Gungan image was complete. I have no trouble taking the Gungan army seriously or giving them the respect that a competent fighting force deserves. Tarpals' death scene was more than a little bit sad for fans who enjoyed the Prequels, because from the moment he appeared in this episode, we made a connection to his appearance in The Phantom Menace; he was one of two on-screen Gungans who grounded the Otoh Gunga experience in film authenticity. He went out bravely and for a purpose, and his willingness to die for a cause underscored the fact that the Gungans can field a potent and serious fighting force.
The other Gungan whose presence created a connection to the movies, Jar Jar Binks, likewise enjoyed a modicum of character development in Shadow Warrior. Anakin and Padmé's realization that Jar Jar looked like Boss Lyonie had two sides to it. Firstly, it ensured that the supporting character we once viewed as nothing more than a bumbling distraction was given more responsibility and another opportunity to shine and prove his worth. Once too scared to even hold his own against Sebulba, now Jar Jar refused to back down and ultimately deceived Grievous long enough to buy Tarpals' warriors time to arrive. I recently watched Supply Lines and came away respecting Jar Jar; it's clear now that he can rise to a challenge, and that the days of his being solely a punch line are long gone. Anakin and Padmé did exchange a knowing look when Jar Jar met them on the surface, but to me it was a look of "It's good to be among friends again" rather than one of "Why do we keep asking for this guy's help?"
Having said all that, there's no denying that the conceit of Padmé's plan was that all Gungans sort of look alike. Ultimately, though, this worked to the Republic's advantage, as Grievous was fooled for a few crucial minutes. Say what you will about Jar Jar, but I loved seeing Grievous frustrated with him. I bet most fans never expected them to meet, and they're so different that it was hilarious. In a rare moment of downtime and waiting, Grievous showed that he was anything but a conversationalist. One of my favorite exchanges in Shadow Warrior (for its ironic punch line if nothing else) was this:
Grievous: "You are a man of few words, Boss Lyonie." Jar Jar: "Meesa more of a deep thinker."
Leaving the subject of Jar Jar and moving to the other side of the Gungan spectrum, we met the Gungans' witch doctor, Minister Rish Loo. I don't think it's a stretch to say that Dave Filoni and his team were definitely going for a witch-doctor-esque vibe. The "voodoo Gungan" theme permeated his character, from his odd voice (especially when he said "Naboo"), to the glowing orbs in his office that gave off incense-like smoke, to the most obvious sign of all: the nose piercing. I also thought it was a nice touch to have Minister Loo constantly fumbling with his necklace while Boss Lyonie was giving his speech. Tying into his witchcraft, Lyonie's conversation with our heroes (while under the necklace's effects) was set to creepy music and swaying camera angles that emphasized the unusual circumstances of the confrontation. Like many traitorous underlings, however, he feel prey to the most egregious Separatist lackey assumption of all: the idea that your secret boss cares about your wellbeing and trusts you not to run your treasonous mouth off in a tavern someday. Dooku executing Minister Loo emphasized that the Sith value eliminating loose ends.
Shadow Warrior's focus on Naboo, and in particular the Gungan environment, afforded us some nice visual elements. I enjoyed the return of the bongo sub and our heroes' descent into Otoh Gunga. Playing up the nostalgic effects of that part of the episode, John Williams' "passage through the planet's core" music was in full force during the swim down there, and Act Two began with a great sweeping shot of those familiar glowing sea domes. Fred Tatasciore, who voiced General Tarpals in this episode, did a spot-on job with it and matched TPM's Rob Paulsen perfectly. Furthermore, Padmé was wearing the outfit that she sported when the Naboo delegation sought help from the Gungans during The Phantom Menace. One new thing we learned about Naboo, during a blink-and-you-miss-it Otoh Gunga establishing shot, is that apparently the Gungans' kaadu mounts can walk underwater too.
Before I go on, I need to take a minute to point something out, and there's really nowhere else to put this observation. Did anyone else find Grievous' droid commander to be a little bit ... effeminate? In fact, based on its voice, I would guess it had feminine programming, which is the first time we've seen that on this show. I could have sworn the commander even bore lipstick paint on its vocoder slot as well. Maybe it's just me -- it wouldn't be the first time that I read too much into something while reviewing The Clone Wars.
When Dooku met Anakin for a battle that would facilitate the hostage exchange, I was reminded of the brilliance of setting a show in this era. First of all, in ordering Dooku to perform the exchange, Sidious expressed his confidence that Padmé would agree to trade Anakin for Grievous. This reflected Sidious' knowledge of Anakin and Padmé's relationship, thus hinting -- brilliantly, I might add -- at the Machiavellian omniscience that he reveals in Episode III. Fittingly enough, there was noticeable hesitation in Padmé's voice when she initially refused to trade prisoners with Dooku. As Sidious expected, she ultimately gave in, but for that moment, the audience could tell that she appreciated her unwinnable position. (More on her decision later.) After Anakin arrived, he and Dooku engaged in some brief verbal sparring, during which Dooku reminded the young Jedi that "the war started here years ago." I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation about the true nature of the conflict. Dooku's warning to Anakin that "The Sith control everything, you just don't know it" is a perfect way to lead into the Jedi Council's fixation with finding a hidden Sith mastermind in the Republic government shortly before Sidious reveals himself.
Unfortunately, I am going to jump from my praise of that scene into my criticism of it and of other parts of this episode. I felt that the battle between Dooku and Anakin was tragically rushed. The writers clearly just needed to find a way to get Grievous back to the Separatists, and as a result, what could have been a deeply ominous and more dramatic fight scene was reduced to a few minutes of sparring. I would have enjoyed more of Dooku's taunting and foreshadowing. I also thought it was odd that Anakin rushed off in pursuit of Minister Loo, given that the witch doctor was of no use to them at that point. The only conceivable instigator of the would-be Gungan/Nabooian conflict was the Separatists, so what did Anakin hope to learn from the traitor? From an out-of-universe perspective, however, I completely understand his decision to follow Minister Loo: once again, The Clone Wars' writers had to invent a way to prevent Anakin from Grievous on this show. Indeed, Anakin was unconscious when the trade-off happened, so he didn't see the general and ruin their first meeting in Revenge of the Sith.
Other scenes in this episode frustrated me, too. Why would Anakin and Padmé wait so far away from the door to Minister Loo's office? One would think they'd want to be as close as possible to aid Boss Lyonie when things -- surprise, surprise -- went wrong. Padmé's inability to shoot the Minister as he ran down the walkway similarly baffled me. If she could resist getting crushed to death by a commando droid, how could she not snap off a single shot as the traitor ran right toward her? Padmé's idea for General Tarpals to bluff his way out of a full-scale battle, while inventive, should not have worked. I refuse to believe that Grievous' droid commander, who in fact believed that the Gungans had canceled the attack when he greeted "Boss Lyonie," would listen to Tarpals and deactivate their only defense against skilled Gungan warriors. That was a true deus ex machina in every sense.
I also found it strange that the witch doctor's secret lair would be so thoroughly un-secret. A giant face on the side of a cliff and no one ever came across it? I found that very unrealistic. What was realistic, but also made me think for a while, was Padmé's choice to make the hostage swap. Padmé, not Jar Jar, was truly "right" about the implications of such a trade: with Grievous in custody, the Republic might have ended the war. Perhaps Sidious would have turned Anakin to the Dark Side anyway, but as the Dark Lord himself told his apprentice, General Grievous is a crucial part of his plan for the war. I think it would have been smarter for Padmé to hold onto Grievous, but as I said, she made the only possible choice in this context, given how the saga plays out from Episode III onward. Even so, this episode made me wonder what would have been different if Padmé had refused the hostage exchange.
Padmé's line to Dooku, "You cannot torture a prisoner," was more bizarre and incongruous than many of my other complaints. After all, since when do the Separatists follow any rules of war? Hasn't Padmé learned her lesson when it comes to "negotiating" with the Separatists and expecting them to follow the Galactic Geneva Convention? There's a reason Grievous works with the Sith -- he's not exactly a moral ... well, "person" is too generous. That ties into my last criticism. Why would the Separatists just leave after the trade? Grievous looked like he was in good shape, and even if he wasn't, the droids could have just bombed the gathering of Gungans, Padmé, the queen, and Anakin from their ship. The notion of the Separatists sticking to their word doesn't fit with what we know of them, and I found their peaceful departure an unsatisfying conclusion to the episode.
I'm still not entirely sure if my overall opinion of Shadow Warrior is positive or negative. On the one hand, there was so much to like about this episode, like Tarpals' noble sacrifice, Jar Jar facing Grievous, and the brief Anakin/Dooku confrontation. On the other hand, in three years of reviewing The Clone Wars, I've never devoted as many paragraphs to criticizing an episode as I did with this one. I can shrug off some of my complaints as necessary evils to facilitate a twenty-two minute story, but other observations were simply too incongruous or jarring to ignore. Perhaps it's best if I view Shadow Warrior as a tour de force for Jar Jar and the Gungans. While this episode didn't thrill me, and while it did have its flaws, I appreciate The Clone Wars' increasingly positive portrayal of Jar Jar and his species, and I hope that fan reaction to them shifts accordingly.