The Clone Wars Season 6 Episode 5: "An Old Friend"
Every season of The Clone Wars has had its ups and downs. In this abbreviated season of "lost missions," the first unimpressive episode was "An Old Friend," the opening act of a three-part story arc about financial corruption and emotional attachment. This episode spent the majority of its time focusing on an esoteric banking controversy that, when compared with story arcs like Mortis and Protocol 66, stood little chance of putting viewers on the edge of their seats. I wasn't expecting another Mortis, but I did expect that a story created so far into the series' progression would have started off on a better foot than this. "An Old Friend" wasn't all bad, but it was so mediocre that it might as well have been called "An Old Casual Acquaintance."
I had decidedly mixed feelings about Padmé's role in this episode. On the one hand, she proved her worth with her quick draw when Clovis snuck into her apartment, and she showed her resourcefulness by sneaking a blaster into the neutral zone in the first place. It was a reminder that, while she was willing to be diplomatic when diplomacy was called for, she didn't trust the Muuns to keep her safe and was clear-eyed about the dangers of unarmed, unescorted travel. This danger was best illustrated by the fate of her handmaiden, Teckla, who paid for her resourcefulness with her life. I was sorry to see Teckla die, especially considering that Teckla had provided moral support and ideological ammunition for Padmé's fight against the Republic military enhancement bill. Teckla's unexpected death raised the stakes on Scipio and showed that Padmé's handmaidens took serious risks to serve her.
I also liked how this episode's opening newsreel described Padmé's current wartime role as aid facilitator, because I thought that added an interesting dimension to both her character and the Republic war effort. Aid, after all, is very much a political tool. Securing a loan to help build a refugee shelter or a new school for displaced children makes the Republic look good. Padmé may not be on the front lines of actual combat the way Anakin and Obi-Wan are, but as a high-profile politician with equal measures of empathy and steely-eyed resolve, she's fighting a diplomatic battle for the spirit and image of the Republic.
Padmé's relationship with Rush Clovis was another matter entirely. When, in the beginning of the episode, Padmé expressed her distrust of Clovis, I was very pleased. Clovis is too self-interested for his own good, and even if he isn't a Separatist anymore, he's definitely not a reliable ally. Even after Embo started shooting at her on her apartment balcony, she pushed Clovis away and fended for herself. Her "fool me once" attitude toward Clovis was refreshing, because I have gotten used to seeing Padmé as overly naďve. I did think it was prudent to investigate Clovis' claims, but at the same time, I wanted Padmé to remain suspicious of his personal motives. She did this pretty well -- right up until the point where she agreed to go with Clovis to his mountaintop residence. Sure, privacy was important in that situation, but did Padmé really think that Clovis wouldn't try to put the moves on her when they were secluded in his snowy chalet? As she began to settle more easily into a working rapport with him and her guarded attitude ebbed away, my familiar disappointment with Padmé returned.
I was disappointed with Padmé's changing attitude toward Clovis in this episode, but Anakin took my disappointment to new heights when he showed up to bail Padmé out of her detainment. If I'm being honest, Anakin's anxieties about Padmé and Clovis were the most interesting part of this episode. The main plot was boring, as I'll explain in a moment, but Anakin's attachment issues reflect a bigger problem that will have serious consequences for Padmé, the Jedi Order, and the galaxy.
What made Anakin's role in the episode compelling was that I didn't simply approve or disapprove of his behavior. I understood all too well Anakin's hesitation about Padmé and Clovis spending time alone, but I also saw how he was blowing things out of proportion. His job took him away from Padmé on such a regular basis that they barely had a life together, and because he didn't get to spend much time with Padmé, he naturally worried about how Clovis' intentions would manifest themselves in his actions. Someone who has never been in that kind of situation might well wonder how a loving husband could suspect that his wife would betray him in the implied way, but these emotional anxieties are inherently illogical, and, paradoxically, this imperviousness to logic is part of what makes them so powerful. The message at the beginning of this episode was, "To love is to trust. To trust is to believe." The wisdom of this message reflects one of Anakin's fatal flaws: He loves, but he doesn't trust.
The interesting difference between Clovis and Anakin here was that, even though they were sort of fighting over Padmé, they were also disagreeing over the importance of Clovis' mission. Anakin, whose one-track mind when it comes to Padmé's safety reminds me of a dog with a chew toy, didn't care enough about the consequences of Banking Clan fraud to stop and listen to what Clovis was saying. As we have seen countless times before -- and as Episode III made painfully clear -- Anakin cares more about Padmé safety than anything else in the galaxy, even economic catastrophe. Clovis, meanwhile, was willing to let Padmé risk her own life to help him expose IGBC fraud. While he gave her more credit for being resourceful and independent, he also accepted the need to put her in danger, which in turn put him into fundamental conflict with Anakin.
Even though it touched on this fundamental conflict and the role of Anakin's emotional insecurity with regard to Padmé, "An Old Friend" shackled all of its interesting subplots to a main storyline that was not interesting enough for this series. The planet Scipio, with its snow-covered mountains, wartime neutrality, and clockwork-inspired banking facilities, established the Intergalactic Banking Clan as the Star Wars equivalent of the nation of Switzerland. This neutrality raised some interesting questions, as I thought that the Muun-led IGBC had publicly seceded from the Republic after Chairman San Hill told Count Dooku, "The Banking Clan will sign your treaty." Nonetheless, basing a story arc on the economics of war is not a recipe for a very interesting storyline.
There's certainly some internal drama to the plot that Clovis uncovers. If the five Muun bank leaders are siphoning money between accounts and robbing one side to fund another, that poses a serious threat to the financial vitality of the Republic. But as we learned after the public backlash to the "taxation of the trade routes" subplot in The Phantom Menace, economic warfare doesn't generally make for a great movie or TV storyline. It's just too esoteric to drive a powerful narrative, and it seems especially unsuited to the series in comparison to the other story arcs in The Lost Missions.
It's worth looking at the significance of "An Old Friend" from an in-universe perspective. Viewed not as an episode of television but as a series of events in the galaxy far, far away, Clovis' discovery and his escape from Scipio with the evidence are important components of a larger plot to transform the galaxy: The grand plan of Darth Sidious. If this episode accomplished anything in a big-picture sense, it did so by reminding viewers that Palpatine is orchestrating more than a collection of disparate land and space battles here. Based on the final scene of this episode, Palpatine's plan doesn't merely account for Padmé and Clovis revealing the Banking Clan's misdeeds; it relies on them doing so. This suggests an interesting new dimension to his grand plan, one that transcends the seizing of command posts and space stations and goes to the heart of the war. The lifeblood of any armed conflict -- especially one of this magnitude -- is money. Palpatine's nefarious plot, whatever it may be, reflects the fact that, for the Dark Lord of the Sith, it's not all about the battlefield; he needs control of resources in addition to control of hearts and minds.
In the final assessment, "An Old Friend" does not stand on its own very well. Sure, there are interesting moments interspersed with the discussions of bank accounts and financial fraud, but the only really enjoyable interactions occur between Anakin and Padmé, on the one hand, and Anakin and Clovis, on the other. The fact that these interactions do not occur until the end of the episode helps explain why the rest of the story verged on mundane. Padmé disappointed me when she went from being skeptical of Clovis to advocating for him. The episode's focus on banking issues added no excitement to the character conflicts. While I don't expect every episode to raise, address, or answer as many fundamental, thought-provoking questions as the episodes in the Order 66 arc did, I do expect more from The Clone Wars than this episode provided. I hope the rest of this story arc picks up the pace, because the rate of my interest in this Banking Clan controversy is decreasing rapidly.
TFN TCW Review: "The Disappeared, Part I"
TFN TCW Review: "Crisis at the Heart"
TFN TCW Review: "The Rise Of Clovis"
TFN TCW Review: "Orders"
TFN TCW Review: "Fugitive"
TFN TCW Review: "Conspiracy"
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