TFN Review: Brothers
Posted By Eric on March 10, 2012
The Clone Wars Season 4 Episode 21: Brothers
We've been waiting for this episode -- or some version of it -- ever since Witches of the Mist in the middle of Season 3: Darth Maul's return, his reunion with his newly-introduced brother, the carnage that they will unleash, et cetera, et cetera. Except that Maul only factored into a small portion of this episode, and there was very little actual combat. The bulk of the episode involved Savage Opress wandering across the dead landscape of the junkyard planet where his brother lived, dealing with a variety of obstacles that complicated his frantic search. All of this is simply to say that Brothers was not the episode that fans have been awaiting with either glee or dread -- that will be the season finale, Revenge. This penultimate episode of Season 4 did re-introduce Darth Maul, but it offered neither the brotherly tag-team ferocity nor the Maul-vs.-Kenobi-rematch excitement that fans have been dying to see ever since we learned that the horned Sith warrior would be returning. That said, I still found a lot to enjoy in this episode's symbolism and thought-provoking dialog.
Important miscellanea were peppered throughout this episode. The opening conversation between Count Dooku and General Grievous showed us that Dooku was worried about Savage Opress. Grievous' arrogance led him to underestimate Savage, a mistake that Dooku corrected immediately. As the Count explained, the Nightsisters were Savage's leash, but now Dooku's own handiwork had eliminated that tether. I found it interesting that the latter part of this season had really led up to the unleashing of Savage on his quest. "Something is rising," Dooku ominously noted, and that something was partially his fault.
Knowing that Mother Talzin is still alive added another dimension to this complicated plot. For one thing, it opens the door to further interaction between her and Asajj Ventress. Additionally, her line about "necessary preparations" piqued my curiosity: What more can she do? How will her planning manifest itself in the Season 4 finale and beyond? I enjoyed seeing Mother Talzin continue to mastermind events on a galactic scale. Now more than ever, she's a force to be reckoned with -- one that even Count Dooku cannot predict.
Savage's quest to find his brother affected two other people in similar ways: Asajj Ventress and Anakin Skywalker. Ventress, still vulnerable, appeared jumpy due to the sensations she was experiencing in the Force. Not entirely purged of her old life, she was clearly afraid of being pulled back into it. Judging from her anxiety, she might have felt like her old life was following her everywhere. Interestingly, it was, in a manner of speaking. Asajj's cantina, Savage's loading dock, and the restaurant where he caused so much mayhem were all in the same area on that Coruscanti sublevel.
It became an even smaller world, as the saying goes, when Anakin and Ahsoka showed up. Getting a bite to eat and then jumping into a crime scene is evidently a Jedi's favorite pastime on Coruscant, and since Anakin is always eager to be the hero, it made sense that he would immerse himself in the aftermath of Savage's rampage. The most interesting thing about the next scene with the two Jedi was that Ahsoka resorted to calling her Master by his name. She noticed that he wasn't keeping his concentration "on the here-and-now," as Qui-Gon Jinn would say, and in an otherwise innocuous environment, that worried her. Meanwhile, Anakin's moment of sensing the obligatory disturbance in the Force was complemented by a welcome dose of John Williams' Binary Sunset music.
Having said all of that, this episode's real star was Savage Opress. We learned a lot about him and his current state of mind from the moment we first saw him in the Coruscanti restaurant. That scene was important because it showed that the Zabrak was more confused than focused, more curious than bloodthirsty. He was angry, but he wasn't clear-headed. Case in point: He didn't want to kill the female patron he was choking. Instead, he seemed simply to be following his immature intuition and the Force signature of Mother Talzin's locket. This is not to excuse Savage's actions in the restaurant. I just think it's important to cast his violence in the proper light if we want to understand what he was thinking.
Savage may be a "savage" in terms of his maturity and emotions, but he's clearly growing more suited to the civilized galaxy in which he lives. At the very least, he was able to mostly restrain himself while dealing with the cargo ship pilot, even if the man could tell from his new passenger's grim demeanor that he was not to be messed with. Later, on the junkyard planet, Savage's focus on finding his brother belied the initial sense we got from him -- that he was ferocious, untamed, and unthinking. While he was clearly less composed than a Jedi Knight, he had a sense of his mission and purpose. He operated with a goal, and even though he was willing to be brutal to accomplish it, his behavior in this episode suggested more discipline than he once had.
The junkyard planet, Lotho Minor, was the perfect metaphor for the present state of Darth Maul. Between its murkiness, its heaps of refuse, and the mountaintop fires, it looked awesome, but underlying all of those visuals was a sense that the atmosphere suited the inhabitants. The forgotten trash of the galaxy served as a metaphor for what Maul had become. The trash fires symbolized Maul's fury. Their embers superheated the junk just as Maul's frustration, pain, and anger engulfed his feeling of having been left behind. The planet, like its most important resident, was discounted by the galaxy, but fires still burn there. The planet's acid rain was also metaphorically like Maul. Just as years of waiting wore away at Maul's psyche (his "psychological skin," one might call it), the acid rain wore away at the physical skin of its victims after prolonged exposure. The symbolism was grimly beautiful.
The residents of Lotho Minor likewise played important roles in this episode. The "junkers" gave Savage an outlet for his frustration, in addition to giving us a chance to see some actual combat in an episode filled with characters who were primed for action but didn't experience it (Anakin, Ahsoka, and Asajj). When Savage announced his intention to fight the junkers, you could tell that he relished the opportunity to draw his lightsaber again. His fluidity and mercilessness in combat made him more than a match for the junkers, and he was obviously displeased at the lack of a real challenge.
The snake-creature Morley was interesting, if initially off-putting, because his whimsical tone and bouncy nature put Savage on edge and forced him to be conversational. In warning Savage of the bizarre fire-breathers, he quipped, "They'll get ya." When Savage dispatched the junkers with ease, he made an approving but surprised little noise. Even though Morley turned out to be a backstabbing little serpent, he temporarily brought a hint of levity to an episode that otherwise would have been entirely grim.
While Morley reminded me a bit of Jar Jar Binks, I was more struck by how perfectly he played the role of an evil Yoda. He pretended not to know a lot about the being Savage was looking for, but in reality he led Savage right to his destination. Along the way, he tested the Zabrak's patience (although not for the same reasons as Yoda did), and his appearance made Savage underestimate him and his purpose.
At last, we get to the tattooed dark warrior himself. If I hadn't seen Maul's arachnid-like lower half in preview imagery, I would have believed what I think the TCW team wanted me to believe about the shadowy spider-creature we briefly glimpsed as Savage approached Maul's lair. It seemed like we were supposed to think that the creature was another denizen of this dead realm -- another twisted monster, perhaps from a species upon which Maul preyed. The fact that the being actually turned out to be Maul emphasized how broken and ravaged he was. His sentience had slowly eroded under the acidic sting of loneliness, pain, and betrayal. "What have you done with my brother?" Savage shouted na´vely at the thing. "Answer me, you monster!" He failed to realize, of course, that the monster was his brother.
Voice actor Sam Witwer's combination of croaky dialog, laughter, crying, and half-strangled noises made for a perfect vocal performance. It was such a contrast to the character that we saw in The Phantom Menace. The fact that Savage couldn't get a straight answer out of him suggested that his mind had been damaged beyond repair by his experience in the interceding decade. We're used to seeing Maul in a formidable state -- he always had a commanding presence in Episode I -- so to see him battered and more than slightly crazy was off-putting. The scene in Maul's cave made us think: what must those ten years have been like for them to lower a once-menacing figure to such inhuman depths?
The snake Morley's role wasn't done yet. In his final moments of life, as Savage crushed the life from his body, the Zabrak spat accusations at him that paralleled what viewers might have been thinking about Maul's former master. "You can't be trusted, you're a slithering liar. You should have been helping him!" These were all words directed at Morley, but the same could have been said of Darth Sidious at one point.
The only straight dialog we got from Maul encapsulated his present state and spoke volumes about what must have been bouncing around in his head as he endured years alone. He mentioned his chains being broken and how that was the easy part. He also said things like "Always remember I am hunter" and "mercy is a lie." I couldn't help but seize on the significance of these words, and when I looked up the Code of the Sith, their importance was clear. "Peace is a lie, there is only passion," the Code begins. This is similar to Maul's utterance that "mercy is a lie." Perhaps this fragment of a complete thought was a reference to Maul's initial but subsequently-discarded notion that Sidious should have shown mercy and sought him out.
The Sith Code goes on to describe how passion leads to victory, and "through victory, my chains are broken." Note the reference to broken chains, which Maul also mentioned. Thus, according to the most revered oration in Sith history, the passion that Maul feels should be the architect of his recovery. His memories of an earlier time, his current fragility, and the anger bubbling within him will all propel him to vengeance against the one man who robbed him of so much.
All of this speculation and intertexual analysis leads me to the final scene in Brothers, set at the Jedi Temple in the middle of a rainstorm. Even before a word was spoken, I noticed that the eerie music and the patter of rainfall formed a brilliant contrast to the menacing, fiery environment of Maul's junkyard planet. When Yoda did speak, it was to tell Obi-Wan that "an old enemy has awakened." If the wizened Jedi Master was surprised, it didn't register in his voice. Perhaps he expected such a radical turn of events based on his understanding of the Force and how it could sustain life out of hate.
I found it interesting that Yoda and Obi-Wan were the only participants in the conversation about Darth Maul's return. Obviously Yoda sensed the disturbance because he was so powerful, but could the Force have made Obi-Wan and Anakin the only other recipients of the sensation in order to warn them? Did Obi-Wan sense the disturbance so that he would be ready for a confrontation with Maul? Did Anakin sense it so that he would be better prepared to fight alongside Obi-Wan?
I was pleased by the decision to only utter Darth Maul's name once, at the very end of the episode. The audience, of course, knew who the tattooed man was, but it was as if saying Maul's name aloud made it real for the Jedi. Had his name been peppered throughout the episode -- spoken by Savage, or maybe during frantic Jedi Council meetings -- it would have lost its impact. Having Obi-Wan speak his name right before the credits gave viewers time to absorb the magnitude of what had happened here. The ramifications of this turn of events will be profound.
And yet this turn of events itself is extremely bizarre. Brothers leaves us with two key questions surrounding Maul: Why did The Clone Wars bring him back and how did he survive getting cut in half? I'll give this episode a pass for failing to explain how Maul survived, because I'm hopeful that we'll get that explanation in the season finale. If we never get a clear explanation (or at least one that sounds credible), I'll be very disappointed.
That said, I can separate the act of bringing Maul back from the way in which it is executed. If the mechanism of his revival is never clarified and his return strains our suspension of disbelief, I'll be mad, but I won't call his revival itself a gimmick. He may have a very important role to play, and I won't let my dissatisfaction with the explanation of his survival (or lack thereof) color my opinion of what he does in his quest for revenge. I'm ready to be impressed by what he does, even as I anticipate the possibility that The Clone Wars will dismiss my legitimate desire to know how he lived.
That's a discussion for another time, though. Brothers may have been light on conversation, combat, and plot, but its symbolism and the complex questions that it raised were enough to impress me. I don't consider it a Season 4 highlight, but I do consider it a worthy installment in Savage's long-term journey. In this episode, The Clone Wars tried out a new kind of storytelling. It was layered with mysticism, metaphor, and complexity, and it had little in the way of traditional plot development, but it nonetheless felt like Star Wars. Brothers successfully juxtaposed the unease felt by Count Dooku, Asajj Ventress, and Obi-Wan Kenobi alike with the surprising, thought-provoking, and metaphor-rich culmination to Savage Opress' search for Darth Maul.
You can find all of my TCW episode reviews on TFN's review index page.
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