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TFN Review: Brain Invaders

Posted By Eric on December 5, 2009

The Clone Wars Season 2 Episode 8: Brain Invaders

Act One

Following capture by Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Luminara Unduli, Geonosian Archduke Poggle the Lesser is escorted up the boarding ramp of a Republic shuttle. Passing them in the opposing direction is Ki-Adi-Mundi, who tells his fellow Jedi that Master Windu's forces on Dantooine desperately need medical supplies to aid their defense of the planet. A space station near Ord Cestus can provide the supplies, but because Anakin and Luminara see bringing Poggle to Coruscant as a priority, Anakin assigns the supply run duty to the two Padawans.

Meanwhile, outside the Progate Temple ruins, the battle-weary clones are sleeping. Nearby, a yellow egg cracks open to reveal a Geonosian brain worm. It crawls into one clone's nostril just before the group's commanding officer arrives to tell them of their new assignment. The clones are being dispatched to aid Padawans Barriss Offee and Ahsoka Tano in their supply mission to the space station. The worm-infested clone, whom we learn is named Scythe, wakes up as the rest of the group departs, looking a bit unusual in his movements.

As the clone troopers board the medical frigate bound for the space station, Scythe drops back from his brothers, carrying a backpack full of brain worms. The frigate leaves Geonosis, headed for the space station, where Kit Fisto is waiting. Elsewhere on the frigate, Ahsoka wakes up, restless and unable to sleep any longer. She wakes Barriss, and the two head to the mess hall for a snack. They discuss the Jedi and their new role as combatants in a galactic defense. Ahsoka wonders aloud how the Jedi will continue their role as peacekeepers after they beat the Separatists.

In the frigate's barracks, Scythe releases the brain worms from the backpack; they quickly slither away and infest other clones. Scythe takes two clones to the bridge, where the group kills the two pilots and takes control of the ship.

I have to say, I really liked this first act. I like how Anakin essentially gave the two Padawans the lame, boring job. Little did he know how exciting it would be. Also, the bug angle has always fascinated and creeped me out. We haven't really seen much "possession" in Star Wars. Joe Schreiber's Death Troopers was a great read, and as I predicted in a forum post, this episode seems to mirror many aspects of Schreiber's book. Star Wars rarely goes down the creepy path, but Dave Filoni and his writers certainly know how to do it. They possess (get it?!) a sense of respect for how to treat Star Wars characters in unconventional settings.

The sounds used in this episode for the worm movement were also unbelievably disgusting, as were the cracking noises when they entered the clones. Positively eery, and definitely helpful in setting the scene. Bravo to Skywalker Sound.

I like the discussions between Ahsoka and Barriss. We rarely see downtime anymore on The Clone Wars, and it's good to see even a little bit to remind us that these are humans after all. (Well, in Barriss's case, mostly human.) The fact that they can interact as regular beings goes a long way towards portraying them as conflicted, fallible individuals with great responsibility. This also ties into the Padawans' talk of Jedi tactics. As a big Mace Windu fan, I was impressed with Ahsoka's recitation of the famous Mace Windu line, "We are keepers of the peace, not soldiers." The conversation about post-war strategy and galactic protection highlights the problems all Jedi are having in dealing with their new roles. It is also important to realize that these are teenagers having this discussion. They don't have the benefit of decades of experience, yet they are thinking ahead to the eventual resolution of the war and its consequences. I may really enjoy fight scenes, but I also enjoy character exposition.

The end of Act One was very unnerving -- Order 66 was famous for off-screen deaths and blasters firing out of camera range. The same image was evoked when the possessed clones killed the cruiser pilots. This act's ending set us up for a very dark episode.

Act Two

As the Padawans are discussing Jedi philosophy, two possessed clones walk into the mess hall and attack them. Ahsoka and Barriss are able to deflect the blaster fire and use their agility and Force powers to render the clones unconscious. Still in shock from what just happened, the two spring back into defensive mode when two more clones enter the room. The two clones are there to investigate sounds of blaster fire, and they seem unaffected by whatever caused their brothers to turn against the Padawans. One clone suggests contacting the bridge, but Barriss is unable to hail anyone there. One clone stays behind while the other joins Ahsoka and Barriss as they head towards the bridge.

Meanwhile, on the bridge, Scythe tells his cohorts to engage the ship's autopilot and seal off areas of the vessel with security shields. Barriss and Ahsoka are cut off en route, and just as Barriss is disabling the shields, the clone they took with them opens fire on them. Barriss destroys the clone's blaster, but he grabs hold of her and she has no choice but to kill him. Ahsoka then slices in half the slithering Geonosian brain worm. Seeing the worm on the ground, the two Padawans begin to understand what they are facing.

Just then, the two hear chittering sounds -- the characteristic speech of their Geonosian enemies. In the cargo bay, possessed clones are advancing on an "unitiated" trooper with a brain worm in hand. One of these clones spots the Jedi, forcing the two Padawans to retreat into the ductwork overhead. The Jedi then decide to split up: Barriss will disable the ship's propulsion while Ahsoka contacts the space station to inform them of the danger. When Ahsoka tells Master Fisto of their plight, he orders her to bring the frigate near the space station so that Jedi teams can analyze the threat. Ahsoka simply replies by reiterating how dangerous the worms can be.

As Barriss is progressing towards the ship's propulsion systems, she is caught by the clones, electrified, and possessed by a brain worm. Ahsoka, meanwhile, is able to apprise her Masters of the situation, but shortly thereafter she turns to find a malicious-looking Barriss facing her.

This entire act positively shouted "Order 66!" The clones shooting at the Jedi and the brief battle that ensued reminded me of how some of the Jedi fought back during Order 66. There are lots of Order 66 throwbacks (throwforwards??) in this plot. The entire "Jedi vs. clones" aspect of this episode is great to see for all of us who wanted Order 66 to be shown more on-screen. I can only hope that there will be an excuse later in the series for us to see more of this worthy matchup.

This whole plot seemed very horror-movie-esque: the heroes are stuck in one place while an unknown terror haunts them. Zombie Geonosians were one thing, but zombified clones are much more frightening because they're more than just zombies: they're perverted versions of the humans we know and befriend. It's much more fascinating and creepy to fight the enemy you know than the practically faceless monsters you've been battling all along.

Also, the security shields on the cruiser were a nice throwback to the Theed power generator shields from TPM. I am continually impressed with this series's references to the six films in ways big and small.

I did have a few problems with this act, however. It wasn't really plausible that the Padawans would be clueless about the source of this "infection" right after their Masters returned from defeating it underground. Were they not fully briefed? Either way, you'd think they would have been well-versed in detecting possession at this point. Also, I think it takes away from the "isolated, secluded" plot to have communications still available. I would have preferred this episode more if the Jedi hadn't been able to call for help. Horror plots are always better when fewer people know what is happening in the "horror zone."

On a positive note, Barriss's capture was very well animated. From the very abrupt lightning shock, to the sudden appearance of the clones, to the arrival of a new worm, activation of the door shield, and Barriss's scream. This scene was perhaps the most reminscent of actual horror films.

Act Three

In the communications room, Barris uses a Force push to send broken glass flying at Ahsoka. The two begin a lightsaber duel as Ahsoka begs Barriss to overcome the possessing powers of the worm. She eventually kicks Barriss aside and jumps back up into the ductwork. She is, for the moment, safe from her friend.

Elsewhere in the galaxy, onboard the Jedi cruiser, Anakin approaches the cell where Poggle the Lesser is being kept. He sends the clone guards away, and attempts to "solicit" information from the Separatist leader through Force persuasion. Poggle tells the Jedi that Geonosians are unaffected by Jedi mind tricks. Anakin, however, has decided to try a different approach. He smacks Poggle and begins throttling him with the Force, once again demanding answers.

Later, Anakin returns to the cruiser's bridge and reports on Ahsoka's dire situation and the brief success he's had with Poggle. Significantly, Anakin does not volunteer any details about his methods. He does, however, inform Ahsoka of the solution to the brain worms. The worms, he says, can be defeated in blistering cold temperatures. Knowing this, Ahsoka heads for the reactor room, where she can rupture the cooling system and hopefully incapacitate the worms. She does so, and the frigate is soon flooded with frigid blasts of air. The possessed clones begin dropping to the floor as their worms attempt to survive.

Meanwhile, the frigate has arrived at the Ord Cestus space station. Kit Fisto sends out small ships equipped with powerful tractor beams. These ships immediately go to work attempting to bring the speeding frigate under control.

A shivering Ahsoka heads for the bridge in an attempt to take back the ship, but when she arrives, Barriss, who has not yet succumbed to the cold, finds her. The two continue their duel, but Ahsoka is able to use a slashed cooling duct to send freezing air directly at Barriss's face. Bewildered and beginning to recover, Barriss begs her friend to kill her. Ahsoka ignores her plea, and the worm inside Barriss renews its attempts at victory. The worm even reaches out of Barriss's mouth, trying to gain control of Ahsoka as well. As her possessed friend draws nearer, Ahsoka draws back her lightsaber and slashes at the enemy.

When the tractor-equipped ships succeed in slowing down the frigate and bringing it to a safe docking position with the station, Kit Fisto leads a group of wary clones aboard the vessel. On the bridge, Fisto finds the unconscious forms of Ahsoka and Barriss. When Ahsoka wakes up in the medical center on the station, Anakin tells her that she saved Barriss's life. Ahsoka asks if she should have acquiesced to her fellow Padawan's request for death, and Anakin answers with a moving lesson on combat ethics and priorities.

Wow. If there was one thing I've been waiting a long time for, it was lightsaber combat. It was brief, to be sure, but it was hardly unexciting. The fight between Ahsoka and Barriss brings to mind the question of who would actually win in a normal fight. Would Ahsoka's fairly-ruthless technique overwhelm Barriss's more reserved and balanced tactics? I also really liked seeing Ahsoka's pleas at the beginning of their fight. It is clear from the way she begged Barriss to essentially snap out of it that she is always looking for redeeming qualities in friends-turned-foes. Much like Luke Skywalker in ROTJ: "I feel the conflict within you, let go of your hate."

There was a metric ton of foreshadowing in this episode, but perhaps no scene was more frightening than the Poggle interrogation scene. Astute viewers will catch the fact that Anakin says "Leave us" as he enters the interrogation with Poggle. Could they foreshadow Darth Vader more blatantly? Also, when Anakin says that "there wasn't time to get the rest of you" and "all that matters is that he told me how to stop the worms", it reminded me a lot of another "ends-means" interrogator: 24's Jack Bauer. The more I think about it, both of these characters are so concerned with accomplishing the mission and saving their country/galaxy that neither cares much for treatment of enemy combatants. To these TV heroes, it is all about the lives they could save on their side.

Two quick issues with this act. One, why did Kit Fisto have to do some "careful analysis" to determine what every single viewer could figure out from the first shot of the worms (that they were the same as those from Geonosis)? I will forgive him for being cautious -- he wasn't on Geonosis fighting with the worms himself -- but the sequence where he says the "careful analysis" line still struck me as a bit useless. Another issue: the defeat of the possession worms seemed fairly simple. I mean really, body-snatching slime-slitherers couldn't stand the cold? In some ways, it seems logical -- they are just worms after all. But they're also worms in Star Wars, where things should be different for creatures with that degree of menace. I do, of course, have to put this in perspective: they didn't have that much time to do this plot.

Ahsoka's question to Anakin at the end -- about killing Barriss -- underscores a fundamental point of contention in Jedi theology: attachment versus the mission. I am a huge fan of times when this series explores those questions, even if in passing as was the case here. This episode shined because of what we saw and heard, but also because of what we learned about Ahsoka at the very end: she is becoming too much like Anakin for her own good. (Indeed, Obi-Wan even says something to this effect at one point in the episode.) Obviously killing Barriss would have been the worst of many bad decisions, but if it had come to that, I doubt she would have done it. She's learning about attachment in a way that could take her down dark paths. And I'm glad that we as Clone Wars viewers get to see this character development in someone whose personal story is still open to changes.

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