The Clone Wars Season 2 Episode 19: The Zillo Beast Strikes Back
This week on The Clone Wars, the Zillo Beast takes advantage of poor planning and makes a mess of Coruscant. Plus, Dave Filoni and his team crank the Palpatine foreshadow-ometer up to 11; spoiler alert: he becomes the evil Emperor. Also, if you've never noticed the music in TCW before, I can almost guarantee you'll notice it this time. Can you guess which film's score influenced this episode's musical cues? Oh, and Mace Windu was right, just like I said last week. Let's jump right in!
Even before the episode begins, we get a taste of the theme for the next twenty-two minutes with the fortune cookie. I like these weekly words of wisdom (I imagine them coming from Yoda but being edited for grammar by the newsreel guy), and rarely have they be so easily applied to the situation at hand. As we see in the ensuing conflict, sentient beings have the capability of being just as monstrous as "dumb animals." Humans define themselves by their actions, and monstrous behavior leads us to become monsters in our own right. Indeed, this is the central theme of the six Star Wars films: the Dark Side is always just around the corner, waiting to seduce us with the easy, seemingly-right choice, and the greatest test of will is how firmly we can reject that path. This episode did a great job of showing how and why the Republic fell. Killing the Zillo Beast may have been the right choice in this incident, but only because Palpatine's decision-making led to an unavoidable conflict with only one way out. The Zillo Beast duology showed us that we need to be careful how we deal with the unknown and threatening, lest we become as heinous as the creature we are trying to defeat.
The opening scene of the episode definitely set the right tone, both visually and audibly. The show of military might and extreme precautions at the beginning emphasized how dangerous the Zillo beast truly was. There was palpable tension (no pun intended) as the monster was brought to the Coruscant lab, from the music, to the sweeping camera angles, to the views from inside gunships, and the shots of walker cannon barrels following the creature's progress. Even if you had no idea what would happen in the next twenty minutes, you'd get your first clue when you saw how cautious the Republic was being with its captive (when dealing with epic monsters like the Zillo Beast, these precautions never pay off for long).
The title of the episode may have been "The Zillo Beast Strikes Back," but I thought this episode was more about Palpatine than it was about the beast itself. I liked seeing Palpatine (in "end this terrible war" mode) square off against the Jedi, because it reminded me of the growing tension between the Jedi and the Republic that comes to a head in ROTS. It was also interesting to see how he dealt with Doctor Boll; clearly she was naïve at the beginning of the episode, and clearly she regretted ever agreeing to this assignment when she got her orders to kill the beast. That's classic Palpatine, of course; many people regret working with him when they see how far he's willing to go.
This episode certainly had the highest count of Palpatine facial expressions in the entire series so far. From his evil grin when the Jedi left the Coruscant lab, to his expressions at the very end as he himself flies off, this episode did a great job of dropping little clues about his true nature. In a lot of other ways, this episode was one of the best -- if not the best -- displays of Emperor-esque Palpatine. Despite what he said, Palpatine couldn't care less about civilian deaths in the Zillo Beast's wake. At one point, Padmé said, "I wish we had never brought the beast here." If I didn't know that Palpatine could care less about collateral damage on Coruscant, I would expect him to agree with Padmé. Later in the episode, Palpatine shows that he actually values his own life above all others'. At first, I thought it was interesting how quickly Palpatine left his guard behind. As the Republic's benevolent leader, I sort of expected him to at least feign concern. Then again, there was no one else around, and since his guard was a dead man anyway, Palpatine could feel free to drop the kind, caring charade.
Palpatine's true machinations are evident throughout this episode, and even before he gives the doctor her cloning task at the end, we can tell that he's up to no good. He does a pretty good job of justifying his actions outwardly, even though we can tell that he has ulterior motives aplenty. At the end of the episode, we got the traditional double-speak from Palpatine: "I will make sure that that sacrifice was not in vain." Of course, what he really meant was that he intended to capitalize on the creature's death in any way he could. That, again, is classic Palpatine, and I'm impressed with how well the TCW team depicted him in this episode. Obviously a lot of TCW viewers are Star Wars newbies, young kids who don't know that Palpatine becomes the Galactic Emperor. But there are also a lot of older viewers who have seen all six films and who are looking for some significant foreshadowing about Palpatine's future. Dave Filoni and his team are walking a fine line here, as they are with a lot of other TCW elements that lead into the PT (Anakin's fall, for example). They seem to be doing a good job balancing the desire to drop hints with the need to resist giving away too much.
Palpatine was one focus of this episode, but the Zillo Beast was definitely in the spotlight too. We first got a sense of how he was being treated in the secret lab, where Doctor Boll took care of her "patient." The scenes inside the lab did nothing to discourage Zillo Beast sympathizers. We heard ominous music and groans of pain from the beast, as worker droids scurried about poking their syringes into the creature's skin. So intense was this experimentation scene that I dubbed the episode "Lucasfilm Angers PETA" on Twitter. When Palpatine visited the creature in confinement, he received a malevolent stare from the creature in response to his insults. I enjoyed seeing that stare, because it set the stage for the Zillo Beast's single-minded pursuit of the Chancellor as soon as he escaped.
I really liked the shot of the doctor speaking to Palpatine with the Zillo Beast in the background. That was excellent juxtaposition between an obvious menace and a "phantom" one. Also, the scene where the doctor tried to kill the beast (only to have him break free) was the classic "monster escapes containment" sequence from any number of movies. Of course, just about anything can seem fresh and unique with a Star Wars approach; the escape itself was well shot and well-scored. I liked seeing the doctor look out over the landscape as it began to crumble under the beast's rampage. I also found it funny how one clone waiting outside the lab said, "If that creature's as powerful as they say, what good are these rifles gonna be?" Truth be told, I was wondering the same thing.
The Zillo Beast's rampage was one of the best scenes in the episode. The gunships spinning around the beast, firing at it, obviously stood no chance. I also liked how a recording of Palpatine speaking was playing in the background for the initial rampage (before the Zillo beast, showing yet again his single-minded rage at the Chancellor, destroyed it). And as with all monster movies, we saw a typical Coruscant business meeting interrupted by the beast climbing the building. When the Zillo Beast finally reached Palpatine's office, he stared down the Chancellor with one green eye. Palpatine's subsequent distress was more evidence that the beast had a personal vendetta against the Chancellor, and potential support for the theory that Palpatine was actually afraid of the creature.
There was some excellent camera movement as the Zillo beast headed toward Palpatine's office. I also enjoyed the tracking shots of the beast climbing and leaping toward the Senate. Part of why this episode really worked for me was the camera work; just like the previous episode, the camera angles did a lot to heighten the tension and tell the story. The scene where the Zillo Beast grabs Palpatine's shuttle reminded me of the classic King Kong scene atop the Empire State Building. I was actually surprised that Filoni didn't have the beast grab Padmé, if only to give them the opportunity to recreate the exact shot.
As I mentioned in my intro, this episode practically hit me over the head with foreshadowing for Revenge of the Sith. Palpatine said of the Zillo Beast that "nothing is indestructible." I saw this as a veiled reference to the "indestructible Jedi" and the folly of their overconfidence, foreshadowing Order 66. The Jedi Council's mission for Anakin in ROTS was also foreshadowed, when Obi-Wan and Padmé get Anakin to intervene with Palpatine on the beast's behalf. When Padmé said, "It's what we're capable of that frightens me," I pictured the execution of countless Jedi in ROTS, and what the clones will eventually be capable of. Even Palpatine's emergency escape route reminded me of ROTS. The Chancellor and several Jedi and bodyguards try to evade General Grievous through what I assume is the same escape route just before ROTS begins. When Mace and Obi-Wan briefly commented on Anakin's strategy as the Zillo Beast gripped Palpatine's shuttle, I remembered how the Jedi Order really frowned on Anakin's unconventional tactics during the Clone Wars, and where that led in ROTS. Mace was truly in disbelief, and Obi-Wan just displayed that feeling of being used to Anakin's hare-brained schemes. Throughout the series we're seeing the same types of reactions from these two Jedi (and many others), and I'm glad the TCW team is keeping the characters consistent, both within the show and with regard to the PT films.
The other important element of ROTS foreshadowing wasn't seen, but rather heard. As the gunships fired poison gas at the Zillo beast, the music intensified to become the closest replica of the Order 66 music from ROTS that I've ever heard in this series. That music, plus the shots of the beast succumbing to the poison gas as Palpatine and the Jedi looked on, really set a somber tone. The music we heard when the camera zoomed out on the beast's dead body sounded exactly like the music from ROTS when the 501st attacked the Jedi Temple. Both pieces of music were instrumental (no pun intended) in giving the Zillo Beast's last stand a solemn and depressing feel.
Another thing I liked about this episode was the way the TCW team continued to portray both sides of the Zillo Beast argument as valid and logical. Mas Amedda's line about "the greater good," while making him seem like a slimeball in this episode, does illustrate a good point. There are arguments for action on both sides, and both perspectives are morally and practically justified. We even saw Anakin turn coat a little bit in the Chancellor's office. Padmé had expected him to side with her, but I actually like that he tries to explain the Chancellor's "good points." We can obviously see that Palpatine does have some good points, despite our feelings about the man himself, but for Anakin to talk to Padmé like that is one more indication of how they both end up in ROTS.
Time for some random tidbits that I didn't fit into other points of analysis from this episode. As I said in my review of The Zillo Beast, Mace Windu was completely right to be nervous about bringing such a dangerous creature to such a populated and strategically valuable planet. The Jedi Master's expression as he watched the gunships carrying assault tanks could only be described as "I told you so." Also, how about R2-D2 in this episode? He was really a jack-of-all-trades. During the Zillo Beast's last stand, we saw R2's last-minute suction-cup rescue cable tool, as well as his short-range taxi skills. And for the second week in a row, R2 ended up getting a very intimate hug from someone whose life he'd just saved. Meanwhile, for those of you keeping track of movie quotes, by my estimate we got two in this episode. Palpatine says "I've got a bad feeling about this" as the Zillo Beast rips apart his shuttle, and Anakin says his trademark line from ROTS, "Here's where the fun begins."
This episode was chock-full of ROTS references and foreshadowing, and I loved every minute of it. I've heard people call the Zillo Beast duology a distraction from the rest of the season. I disagree; these two episodes did a great job of exploring the often-overlooked parts of war. Collateral damage, innocent creatures turning into monsters because of overzealousness on the battlefield, and the difficult job of balancing two objectives and weighing the importance of different organisms' lives...all of this happens in real war. If we learned anything in the past two weeks, it's that The Clone Wars is not just about the front lines. This series has touched on a variety of angles to the galactic war, and I hope it will continue to do so.
Even though this episode looked at a different kind of combat casualty, there was a lot to love in these twenty-two minutes for almost every type of fan (except maybe fans of the Anakin/Padmé romance, but then again, we did get that "I'll never let you fall" moment). From rampages on the ground to laser fire in the air, the combat never failed to impress me. Beyond the combat, we were given a concentrated dose of Palpatine foreshadowing, something that I, as a big PT fan, definitely appreciated. And in keeping with the overall theme of the Zillo Beast duology, we saw the ethics of war through various pairs of eyes, from a reluctant doctor to a determined Jedi, from a pure-hearted Senator to an insidious Supreme Chancellor.