Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Clone Wars 4.21-"Brothers" Review


This episode is exactly why you should not promote the finale after only a few episodes into the season. The original teaser for the Darth Maul arc hit the internet in October, and after 5 months, it finally airs, building up tension and suspense for the entire season. Perhaps it was my high expectations, but this was the biggest let down the Clone Wars has given in a long time. This may not be the worst episode ever, but it is by far the most disappointing. I honestly feel that if they hadn’t hyped up this story for the entire season, it would not be receiving the overall negative reactions it seems to be getting from a good number of people. Granted, there are parts that would cause a negative reaction regardless, but if this story had not been hyped up, the expectations of this episode would be that of a regular episode-and not of a story that is a complete game-changer by bringing back a major character “from the dead”, and therefore, the expectations would not have been held so high, to a point where only excellence will suffice. Unfortunately, this episode did not live up to the hype. The overall problem with this episode is that nothing happened. This is the episode that promised us “The Return of Darth Maul”, when in reality; he showed up for the last 5 minutes after 13 minutes of simply trying to get to that point. It spent the majority of the episode as dragged out build-up, and as soon as any momentum began, the episode ended abruptly.

Let’s start from the beginning scene with Savage in a diner on a random planet. We see him choking a random women (for no explained reason), he runs outside to some crates, sees some dust that has some “connection” to Darth Maul, he hijacks a ship that just arrived with the crates, and heads to it’s origin: Lotho Minor. This is the most convoluted and most pointless plot point I’ve seen in this series in a very long time. The episode should have started with Savage already on a ship, flying through space, with only the medallion guiding him to Lotho Minor. This not only would have saved a good amount of time, but would have instantly put the audience in the right mood right from the start. The entire scene with him on that planet had no meaning, no purpose, and did nothing but kill time, and give an excuse for Anakin and Ahsoka to make a cameo-with which they did nothing. They showed up (for no other reason than the fact that Anakin was hungry), and Anakin says, “I sense a disturbance... something sinister…something familiar”. Why would Anakin sense Darth Maul as familiar? He saw him once-ten years ago, and even still, that was from a distance. As soon as Darth Maul appeared in the hangar on Naboo, Anakin took off in the Naboo fighter into space, never to see Darth Maul again. For Obi-Wan to sense something made sense. For Ventress to sense something made sense. For Anakin to sense something made no sense whatsoever. Also, the animation in this scene seemed very choppy and poorly done. Character movements did not seem natural and were clearly not up to the animation standards that Season 4 has set.

We eventually end up on the junk planet of Lotho Minor, and Savage runs into a snake-like creature named Morley who then pulls a “Gollum” and states that he can lead Savage to where he needs to go. I understand that this character was supposed to be slimy and conniving, but there is a line that needs to be drawn, and this character crossed that line way too early. Upon first viewing, I found this character almost unbearably annoying, however, the more I watch the episode, the less I dislike this character. There were several character moments that made me smile and moments that worked well, but the majority of it didn’t. If they had cut this character’s time in half, it would have worked perfectly, however, this character overstayed his welcome, and I was happy to see his demise at the hands of Savage Opress.

Savage and Morley eventually run into a group of aliens/droids called “Junkers” who seem to be scavengers and use whatever they can find around them as homes, decoration, tools, etc. They proceed to attack the duo, and after a few minutes of Savage wiping them out, the few survivors back away and run off. A major problem with this scene is that it peaked way too early. The emotion and suspense would have been far better if as Savage and Morely were walking by, the Junkers peered from around the corner and in the shadows, and did not attack right away. Then when they do attack, do not have them all rush in and be slaughtered right away. The perfect example of this would be the introduction of the Jawas in “A New Hope”. They watch R2 in the canyon for quite some time before finally attacking, building up the right level of fear and tension. I love the Junkers, but I feel they were heavily misused.

Morley eventually betrays Savage, and tricks him down into a dark hole, leading him to an underground cave. Savage then proceeds to sense/chase Maul throughout the cave, before finally engaging in a physical struggle with him. Maul eventually realizes that the spider-shaped figure he has been chasing is actually his brother, resulting in Savage saying “Brother…” in probably the most unnatural conveyance of sympathy I’ve ever heard in this series. This leads to one of the very few good things I can say about this episode. I am quite pleased with Witwer’s portrayal of Darth Maul. What I really enjoy the most is that they didn’t bring him back as a bad-ass, but as a completely broken individual. Maul has completely lost his mind, and is almost animalistic. He begins to talk to himself quite rapidly and nonsensically, as Savage watches in horror as the man who he has just found out is his brother is both physically and mentally in shambles. I only wish that he had spoken a bit clearer. I found it very hard to understand what he was saying. I understand that that was the point, but Witwer has said several times that he threw in certain things and little nods into his ramblings, and trying to listen for those things was very difficult, but regarding Maul’s actual portrayal, I highly enjoyed this version of Maul. I will admit, the crying took me by surprise a bit, but given the environment, the fact that he is exiled and alone, and the fact that he is both physically and mentally broken, it makes sense, and I highly enjoyed it. Perhaps they could have toned it down just a notch, though. It did get a bit over-dramatic at one or two parts. But overall, Maul is really the one thing I can say mostly positive things about in this episode.

After finally getting to Maul, the episode cuts to Yoda and Obi-Wan discussing how they sense that Darth Maul is alive, and then the episode just ends abruptly, prompting me to actually yell “Are you kidding me?!” as soon as the end credits came on. This was incredibly disappointing. There was a severe lack of momentum in this episode, and as soon as things started to pick up, it ends.

Just so I don’t end completely on a negative note, I will speak about some of the positive things I liked about this episode. First of all, I loved the red title card. I thought it was a great change of pace, and I honestly did not realize it at first. Secondly, I loved the music in the episode. Usually they sneak in hints of the original John Williams score, but this time around they flat-out use it directly. As much as I dislike the diner scenes, I must admit, a smile did come over my face when the music began playing when Anakin and Ahsoka sat down in the booth. Thirdly, I loved the entire scene of Savage chasing Maul through the underground caves. That finally added some much needed suspense and action to an overly dragged out episode. Lastly, I love Witwer’s version of Maul. I know there are going to be some Maul “fan-boys” who will whine that he did not return as the awesome bad-ass that he is portrayed in the comics. I personally like that Maul’s return into the saga has him as a fragile-minded and almost pathetic character. We know Maul is going to rise up again, so having him start from such a low point really brings that out. In musician terms, the best way effectively portray a forte is to bring out the emphasis on the piano. In other words, make the big bigger by making the small smaller.

This was half of an episode. That was the main problem with this episode. They had 12 minutes of worthy material, and had to thrown in an extra ten to drag it out to full length. The entire opening diner scene had zero purpose, the “fire-breathers” (although cool) were just an excuse to show something cool, the inclusion of the snake went on for just a bit too long, the entire scene with the junkers was unnecessary, and overall, the animation was all over the place. The environmental animation such as the fires, fog and dust worked perfectly, but the character animation was suffering tremendously-particularly in the beginning scene. Characters were needlessly thrown in, and honestly, with the exception of Witwer, it sounded like nobody was invested in what they were doing, which was incredibly disappointing when coming from Clancy Brown (Savage Opress). He did an amazing job in the Nightsisters trilogy, but he seemed almost amateur in this episode. As someone who has been a major fan of the acting in this series from the beginning, it was heartbreaking to watch such a poor performance.

I have heard from people who have seen the final episode, and they tell me that it is all worth it and that the final episode makes up for this episode. We have gotten several episodes throughout the series that fall into that category. As a whole, this episode was a flop. However, as part of a bigger story, I’m sure it is just the first step to something great. Unfortunately, the problem with reviewing an episode like this is the fact that we have not seen the second half, and are forced to analyze something that is literally one half of a “double-episode”.

Season 4 as a whole has been up and down, but the past 2 episodes of this 4-part arc have been incredible, and it would be such a shame if they end the season on such a disappointment, particularly since they finally seem to have regained their footing. I have also heard that this season will be the first to end on a “cliff-hanger”, and that worries me tremendously. This season has been completely unstable, and desperately needs a solid ending. Ending on a cliffhanger is an incredible gamble, and in the words of Qui-Gon Jinn; “Whenever you gamble, eventually you lose”. I’m really wishing the best, but the previous track record is not looking good. All we can do is hope for the best. Now we simply play the waiting game…


Chris Seekell said...

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