The Clone Wars Season 3 Episode 14: Witches of the Mist
I knew this would be an exciting episode because of several things. For one thing, Savage would face Anakin and Obi-Wan. For another, Asajj would face Dooku. What I wasn't expecting was the way the episode's major reveal at the end came into play. I had heard rumors of this twist happening, but I was genuinely shocked by the way it was incorporated. That doesn't mean I'm thrilled, but we'll get to that later. Suffice it to say, I did like almost everything about this episode, from the plot to the animation to the sounds. Witches of the Mist , improved on the way this series depicts lightsaber duels, and given that this episode was almost 50% lightsaber duels, that improvement mattered quite a bit to help this episode stand out as the high point of Season 3.
In a lot of ways, this was a watershed episode for Savage Opress. Having only been in this gig for what I can assume is a short period of time, he had to come to grips with his training, his Masters, and his place in the galaxy. In the beginning of the episode, we were treated to a nice, if fairly tame, duel between Savage and his new Master. Dooku, of course, easily disarmed the Zabrak. The duel had fantastic choreography that really helped suggest how easily Dooku was besting his apprentice. Every time Savage swung his lightsaber, its hum made a beastly snarling sound; this primal attack juxtaposed nicely with Dooku's controlled, refined defense. It almost looked like Dooku was toying with his apprentice, as he stepped casually out of the way and swung his blade lazily around to disarm Savage. The degree to which this was evident in the animation is a remarkable thing, and the team at Lucas Animation deserves tremendous credit for producing such an intricate fight sequence. (Although, as we will see later, the best was yet to come.)
Savage later displayed his fury while attempting to recover Toydarian King Katuunko for Dooku. The combat on Toydaria was not all that intense, as it was clear who was stronger. That said, I really liked the ominous music in that scene, as it reminded me of the music from Vader's fateful mission to Mustafar. Savage's fury was both evident and important, as it showed how he was learning to control his raw power and direct it for Dooku's purposes. When Obi-Wan and Anakin arrived, I expected the fight to get more interesting, but strangely the two Jedi were not really a match for Savage. Perhaps this is because this was their first encounter with him, but regardless, his brutal efficiency in slamming the platform down on them and escaping with Katuunko's body showed that he was getting used to his newfound power and his work for Dooku. I wasn't sure why he felt the need to kill the King, however; I doubt Katuunko would have escaped in the time it took for Savage to defeat Obi-Wan and Anakin.
When Savage left the King's palace, he demonstrated a remarkable improvement in his strength by disabling the Jedi's ship. Such a feat might seem implausible given his earlier inability to lift a few rocks, but I think I understand what happened. I don't think his raw strength itself increased; rather, his anger at failing Dooku allowed him to channel his rage into a large-scale use of the Force. Later in the episode, he demonstrates this again with a massive, hate-fueled Force repulse that disables the droids that Dooku has turned against him. That moment reminded me a lot of The Force Unleashed. At the end of the day, I think Savage grew as a character not due to Dooku's training but because his hate for various involved parties started to shape his use of the Force. This was also evident in the raw strength Savage displayed as he temporarily beat back both Dooku and Asajj for a short time. It looked like he was frustrated with Asajj's orders and was relying on his personal fury to escape.
Dooku played an interesting role in Witches of the Mist as the Master who started out with the upper hand but almost lost it. Though he remained proficient with his lightsaber and the Force throughout the episode, the fact that he could not see through Savage's ruse almost cost him his life. His ability to survive, and indeed to route both of his enemies, reminded us that he is a very formidable Sith Lord. I found it interesting that his Jedi training under Master Yoda had influenced his own training of Sith apprentices -- the rock-lifting scene on Serenno was a great homage to The Empire Strikes Back, right down to this exchange: "What you ask is impossible." "Only impossible because you have deemed it so." Given that Yoda was Dooku's Jedi Master way back when, this was not only a nice tip of the hat but also a fitting reminder of Dooku's own past training. Also notable: In a nod to his own death in Revenge of the Sith, Dooku placed Savage in a lightsaber "scissor-grip" when he beat him at the beginning of the episode. Oh, cruel irony.
Dooku also gave viewers a lot of evidence that he viewed Savage as nothing more than an unrefined brute. He said as much right before Asajj arrived, calling Savage an "ignorant beast," and at other times he disdained Savage's lack of discipline. When Asajj arrived, he seemed genuinely surprised to see her alive, but not very afraid of the way she began to control Savage. In examining Dooku's treatment of Savage in this episode, I very rarely got the sense that he was pleased with his apprentice. That may explain why he felt so confident in taking on both failed Dark Side acolytes; after all, in his mind, only one of them posed a real threat.
While she may have posed a threat, Asajj didn't do much to live up to that menace. During the fight with Dooku, her strikes were unrefined, and due to the attention to detail in this scene, it was clear to the audience that she was letting her anger overcome her own well-honed discipline. Asajj's fury overtook her training, and although the Dark Side frequently allows rage to build competence, she was clearly too angry to fight properly. Dooku was almost able to kill her because of her sloppiness, and it was only because she cleverly redirected his lightsaber that she was able to survive. When Asajj escaped, it was obvious that she was extremely disappointed. Her failure to defeat Dooku with what may have been her best chance left her visibly depressed and despondent, both emotions that we never saw from her before this trilogy.
To be honest, there isn't much to say about Anakin and Obi-Wan's involvement in this episode. Obi-Wan puzzled me by assuming that Savage was Maul when Yoda showed him the security recording. Shouldn't he have been briefed on Dathomir's tribes of fierce Zabrak warriors after the Battle of Naboo? If I had just defeated a newly-revealed Sith warrior, I would want to investigate his origin to prepare for a possible "next time." It seemed that Obi-Wan was excited to face Savage; when they first met face to face, Obi-Wan muttered, "At last." A decidedly un-Jedi-like exclamation, but then again, this man had just murdered two of Obi-Wan's comrades. Anakin was also anxious to defeat Savage: "We'll make him pay," he told Obi-Wan on their approach to the Separatist cruiser. Yet it seemed Anakin now knew when restraint was in order: As they prepared to face Savage for the second time, Obi-Wan, in a throwback to Attack of the Clones, said, "We'll take him together," and this time Anakin complied.
Later in the episode, Obi-Wan warns the Zabrak village leader, "The Jedi Council knows [Savage is] from this village. We have seen it." The way he emphasized that second sentence ("We HAVE seen it") was extremely matter-of-fact, as if he were silently advising the Zabrak to consider whom he was dealing with here. That's a lot of confidence from Obi-Wan during a time when the Jedi are losing their ability to read into the Force. Indeed, Plo Koon's observation that "Someone or something has eluded us" is a fitting reminder of the Order's growing complacency. Still, this devastating weakness has not yet been revealed, and the villagers looked uncertain when they realized the Jedi were so powerful, so the illusion of Jedi omnipotence is not totally gone.
While Obi-Wan and Anakin did not play a major role in the events unfolding in Witches of the Mist, the supremely creepy Mother Talzin most certainly did. It is clear to me now, more than ever, that this is all part of a long-term plan -- to accomplish what, I can't say for sure, but if she turned out to be power-hungry, it would be a nice nod to the Expanded Universe description of the Nightsisters cult. Talzin was constantly scheming throughout this episode, and when the two Jedi arrived at her doorstep it was almost as if she had been expecting them. The one thing I didn't get was why she tried to lie to the Jedi about the extent of her manipulation of the planet's Zabrak males. Also, I thought the whole scene where she revealed Savage's existence felt rushed. They had to cram a lot into this episode, but the suddenness of Talzin's crystal ball routine was jarring.
Other than that, Mother Talzin remains a smart antagonist whose aims remain shrouded in mystery. While she told Savage that he had an important destiny to fulfill, I think it's much more likely that this is another one of Mother Talzin's ploys. In fact, Savage's failure to carry out Asajj's orders was probably itself a part of Talzin's long-term scheming. In the aftermath of his failure, she fed his anger just enough to persuade him (interestingly, without that creepy forehead-tapping mind control) to begin a quest. By playing on Savage's sense of meaninglessness and referring abstractly to his destiny, she displayed a level of deviousness and manipulative cruelty worthy of a Sith.
Putting aside its plot for a moment, Witches of the Mist was visually stunning. From the remarkable full planet shot of blood-red Dathomir to the challenging-but-well-executed Coruscant rain sequence, I think it's clear that this episode took the animation quality up yet another notch. There were also more detailed facial expressions in this episode than ever before, such as when Obi-Wan implored Mother Talzin to reveal Savage's location, and when Savage himself limped back to Mother Talzin at the end. In the latter example, the detailed animation of Savage's moments showed how much he had suffered at Dooku's hand.
This episode's lightsaber duels also benefitted, as I briefly touched on before, from magnificent fight choreography. Between Dooku's deft maneuvering, Asajj's sloppy but furious attacks, and Savage's own angry strikes, each character's fighting style seemed to take on its own "physical personality." In addition to the choreography of the characters, the way the camera tracked the final lightsaber duel by spinning around the room greatly enhanced its dramatic feeling. I particularly liked the shot where the camera zoomed toward Dooku's exposed back as Asajj lunged for the kill.
Also: Delta Squad cameo. Hooray. ... ... Okay then, on to final thoughts. (Sorry, I really don't have anything to say about them. But hey, I'm glad Dave threw the Traviss fans a bone.)
There's no way to end a review of Witches of the Mist without discussing what I believe is the single most shocking development in The Clone Wars thus far. When George Lucas announced that Darth Maul's brother would appear on the show, I don't think anyone expected to hear that Maul himself would return as well. Given the events of The Phantom Menace, the writers will half to do a good job of explaining this huge reveal. (Get it, "half"? Darth Maul jokes never get old.) Obviously Mother Talzin's remark, "He lives in the Outer Rim in exile," could be interpreted in a variety of ways. It was an interesting choice to bring him back, but I'm more worried than excited at this point. Unless this is done really, really well, it will be a cheap trick to pump up the series. It's too early to do a lot of speculating, but bringing back Maul (if he's truly alive) cheapens the impact of Obi-Wan's momentous victory over the Zabrak Sith in TPM.
It's been a while since Obi-Wan and Anakin have had a good, old-fashioned mission on The Clone Wars, and unfortunately Witches of the Mist was not a return to that type of storyline. However, it was the conclusion to an arc of a different nature, so I can understand the lack of focus on the Jedi. As I said before, this episode was about Savage failing Asajj and leaving to pursue a new quest, setting in motion both Mother Talzin's greater plans and the introduction of Darth Maul himself. There's no question that Witches of the Mist held its own and ended the Nightsisters trilogy with a bang. It was jam-packed with enough action and violence to satisfy anyone tuning in for the "war" aspect of the series. With a fairly minimal plot, the characters had to hold the episode together, and they certainly did.
I want to congratulate Katie Lucas on a job well done for bringing so many new and exciting story elements into the series, and indeed the Star Wars universe, in the course of just three short episodes. Nightsisters and Monster built up Savage, and Witches of the Mist literally unleashed him for future development and exploration. With Darth Maul now back in the picture, this has the potential to mean big things for the Star Wars story as a whole.