The Clone Wars Season 3 Episode 10: Heroes on Both Sides
Given that it contained very little combat, Heroes on Both Sides certainly managed to impress me. I've never been one to write off an episode because it wasn't dominated by battle scenes, but I feel particularly strongly that this episode, above most other "talkative" installments, was a hit. It reached a profound level of the Clone Wars conflict and challenged our assumptions about the war. It brought us behind enemy lines, and then showed us that beyond those lines of enemy battleships and cruisers, there were regular people who happened to support the Separatist cause. This episode affected the entire Clone Wars era in an unprecedented way -- it made us look at the war differently than we ever had before. Everyone remembers the opening crawl of Revenge of the Sith, with the line "There are heroes on both sides," but we haven't seen too much evidence of that comment...until now.
The "fortune cookie" at the beginning of the episode, "Fear as a motivator," was extremely appropriate for this episode. Watching the Republic Senate fall victim to its own anxieties, it was never more evident how far-reaching and intricate Palpatine's influence has become. The Senators who are pushing banking deregulation have set up the debate as "the cost of war versus the cost of losing it." This is essentially an ultimatum to their opponents: You can argue about how much more we'd have to spend, but is it really worth it if the alternative is capitulation to those evil Separatists? We even got to hear the Senate once again say, "Vote now!" This line has become something of an emblem of the frenetic, impatient atmosphere in the Senate Building, and the assembled delegates are no more reasonable or calm now than they were when they voted out Chancellor Valorum. The vitriol that prolongs the war and poisons its participants is evident when one of the Republic Senators shouts, "We can't negotiate with those animals!"
As the audience, we are exposed privately to the corrupt cabal of Republic Senators led by Lott Dod from the Trade Federation. Senator Saam represents the new inductee, the man whose greed has led him to the company of his more devious colleagues. Their plot reveals the depths to which they are willing to go to get more troops; their victory in a vote is more important than protecting the capital of their government. This treason is a pointed indicator of the entire episode's core message; as the heroes are exposed on the Separatist side, the villains are exposed on the Republic side. At the end of the second act, Saam tells Dooku that he and his colleagues "need fighting to feed the machine and our profits." This blunt assessment of the situation reminds us that, in addition to Palpatine fueling the entire war for his philosophical profit (a Sith victory), a myriad of "small fries" are exploiting the conflict to further their own ends.
Before I continue, I'd like to mention some miscellaneous things I enjoyed in this episode. First of all, Ahsoka and Anakin's new animation models look great. It is a bit surreal to see Anakin's costume and appearance begin to align with how he looks in Episode III. Like the Phase II clone trooper armor, it's another one of those We're getting closer! changes that helps bridge the gap between the series and the final prequel. I am also a big fan of Ahsoka's new outfit, which I guess is as close as she's willing to get to wearing actual Jedi robes. In both clothing and build, she looks old enough to indicate the growth of her character and young enough to fit the time frame.
There were two nice references to AOTC, one from Ahsoka and one from Lott Dod. Ahsoka brought up "aggressive negotiations," which both Anakin and Padmé mentioned in Episode II. When Senator Saam proposed having Padmé killed, Senator Dod responded by saying that such a task was more difficult than Saam believed. This is an obvious reference to the attempted execution of Padmé and her two Jedi protectors on Geonosis. On another note, it was funny to see Padmé almost slip up when Ahsoka caught her off-guard with the "You too get along well" comment. I almost forgot that Ahsoka doesn't know about Anakin and Padmé's marriage.
I also liked Grievous's dark humor as he addressed the infiltrator droids. His remark about their suicide mission wasn't comical or buffoonish, as previous Separatist humor has been. Instead, his joke was twisted and cruel, and that's what made it work for such a brutal villain.
As the senior Jedi present in this episode, you might expect Anakin Skywalker to support the fair and equitable approach toward dealing with the Confederacy of Independent Systems. If so, you'd be wrong. Much like the hard-line Loyalist Senators, Anakin also believes that the Separatists are all evil. This dogma runs the risk of ruining Ahsoka's own perspective on the war, which, as we see later, is already well on its way to matching her Master's. Padmé's response isn't just the idealistic perspective to his practical view; she's also more tolerant in light of his extreme opinion. I know we've already seen several Padmé/Ahsoka missions in this season, but I felt like it was better for Ahsoka to journey to Raxus with Padmé alone; Anakin would have only encouraged her staunch opposition to the entire Separatist philosophy. While Ahsoka did learn a lot on her trip to Raxus, Anakin's ideology remains the same when he greets them at the end of the episode. At first I was surprised that he scolded Padmé and Ahsoka. Then I remembered that, being Anakin, he would say anything to encourage the belief that all the Separatists are evil and cannot be won over by negotiation.
Whether it was with Anakin or in the Republic Senate, ideology undoubtedly took center stage in this episode. One of my favorite lines in the whole episode was Mina Bonteri's remark, "What were you expecting?" In fact, that's almost the theme of the entire episode. Ahsoka was expecting that all Separatists would be like Dooku and Grievous, and the way Mina casually throws out the line indicates that she hadn't anticipated Ahsoka's polarized views. Ahsoka has been taught so much by Anakin that she instantly associates the Separatist Senators with "Dooku's pawns" before giving Padmé's friend a chance. Part of her character's growth involves discovering the shades of gray in war. This episode was very much about Ahsoka learning to let go of her expectations and starting to see the galaxy for what it actually is. Her remark to Mina, "Didn't you create this war?", was born out of one-sided instruction from Anakin and little opportunity for a diversity of opinion. Mina's beliefs about the origin of the war are just as right as Ahsoka's -- after all, Palpatine is pulling both sets of strings and simultaneously providing enough blame for both sides to use as ammunition.
The story about clone troopers killing Mina's innocent husband because of his Separatist ties provides a new take on the valiant soldiers whose heroism makes up most of this series. These troopers are just following orders, and those orders brand all members of the opposing group as traitors. (It sounds uncannily like Order 66.) I also found the disagreement over Dooku's role to be interesting. We immediately assume that Mina is deluding herself about the Separatist leader. After all, we've seen him authorize acts of unprecedented cruelty, and we know that he's a Sith. Padmé, meanwhile, has a personal grievance against the man, and her disagreement with Mina when they discuss him is a brief indication that she's still frustrated by her friend's views.
While the adults talked inside, a different form of ideological debate was playing out in the garden. From the moment they met, it was clear that Ahsoka had something to prove to Mina’s son Lux -- he saw the Republic in much the same way as she saw the Separatists, and she was determined to show the "other side" that she (and by extent, Jedi Padawans) were not weak. When Lux tells her that he thinks the Jedi are evil, Ahsoka believes she can convince him otherwise. She tries to persuade him with the "I don't look evil, do I?" argument, but Lux turns it right back around and asks her the same question. That little example of the similarity of both opposing views underscores that neither side is fully in the right.
Brief tangent: I had to laugh when Ahsoka said, "It seems boys are the same whether they're Republic or Separatist." Putting aside the clumsy flirting on Lux's part, what was Ahsoka expecting? She asked him to check her out. I understand playing hard to get, but really, that was just strange. In any event, I'm hoping for a three-episode Romeo and Juliet-style arc that focuses on the unrequited love affair between the two youngsters.
While Mina proposes they toast to "peace," Padmé is more interested in the "hope" that Ahsoka and Lux, and others like them, can see past their diversity and unite on common ground. Indeed, the first impression we get from the Separatist Parliament is that this unity is possible. (I choose to put aside the obvious fact that ROTS makes all this hope null and void.) As someone who enjoys the political intrigue and complex machinations of a war like this, I was pleased to see sympathetic Separatist Senators who want peace with the Republic. The fact that a corporate interest speaks up and is shot down, coupled with the line about how only the Republic lets business dominate politics, infused the Separatist Parliament scene with an excellent example of the heroes on both sides. The remark about the Republic being governed by corporations is very accurate, and it helps viewers understand why the Separatists are so disgusted with the government they left behind.
That being said, it's disconcerting to see Count Dooku leading peaceful diplomatic procedures. He's obviously just stringing them along, but I still find it weird that he has established a veneer of democracy in the Confederacy. To be sure, there are noble folks on the other side, but there's nothing to suggest that the Separatist Parliament is actually directing any of the war effort. Dooku's atrocities are still the public face of the CIS, and that is a large part of the Confederacy's PR problem.
In this episode, even the mission of the menacing infiltrator droids carried subtle implications about complacency and closed-mindedness. As they approach their task, the clones on guard brush them off -- these troops are too comfortable with the state of affairs on Coruscant. Granted, the infiltrators were disguised as cleaning droids, so I can see how you would write off the clones' lack of suspicion as a matter of monotonous routine. But I don't buy that. How often does a critical infrastructure element like a power generator go so woefully unprotected even from people who seem harmless? If I have to take my laptop out of its bag to get on an airplane, surely droids (whose programming can be altered by anyone with malicious intent) should submit to an inspection when they report for work.
However, I don't consider that to be a plot hole. I consider that a nice embellishment on the complacency of everyday affairs on Coruscant. Those clone guards have been lured into a state of laziness by the monotony of their jobs, much like the Senate itself -- nothing threatens them directly, so they're reluctant to act. When one clone arrogantly said, "Stupid droids," I found it to be not unlike Ahsoka immediately casting judgment on the nature of all Separatists. Despite (or perhaps because of) that laziness, I found it refreshing to see the conflict hit home on Coruscant. For some reason, I've always enjoyed reading about what happened when the Separatists attacked Coruscant at the end of the war, and this was a small slice of the panic that must have gripped the planet.
The simultaneous depiction of the ticking timer and the diplomatic negotiation vote juxtaposed peace with war and reason with violence. It was a very realistic approach to prolonging a war -- inflame the anger of the decision-makers, stroke their patriotism, and encourage them to ignore the reasons that they wanted peace in the first place. I'm sure that a lot of Senators truly believed that they were doing the right thing -- they wanted safety and security. The problem was that they didn't examine the issue for themselves. In a time of crisis, these well-intentioned Senators supported additional troop funding because of fear, hysteria, and intimidation. That is almost certainly the true corruption of the Republic.
The title of this episode fit its plot to a tee. It's hard to resolve a dispute between two warring parties when the most extreme elements on both sides are constantly antagonizing each other and damaging the reconciliation process. The attack by Grievous's droids was a test of the Senate's capacity for rational decision-making, and the Senate failed miserably. With Heroes on Both Sides, I believe that The Clone Wars has finally begun to explore the true nature of this conflict. The series has flirted with neutrality and pacifism before, but it hasn't looked at the Separatist point of view until now. I would go so far as to say that this portrayal of the "everyday Separatist" has encouraged me to see AOTC and ROTS in a whole new light.
After watching Heroes on Both Sides, I am beginning to regard the Confederacy as a substantial ideological opponent rather than a terrorist faction. The way that Palpatine is playing both sides of the war becomes even more masterful when you consider that some on the Separatist side don't even want to keep fighting. There are peace-seekers in both senates, but it is not the calm majority that prevails on either capital world. In ROTS, the peace that had lasted for so long fell victim to the very fear that we saw festering in the Republic Senate in this episode. The "true cost of the war," to use the newsreel announcer's words, will eventually be democracy itself. For now, though, the web of lies that fuels this conflict has ensnared well-meaning people in both camps, and that's a dilemma that I hope to see again on The Clone Wars.