The Clone Wars Season 4 Episode 9: Plan of Dissent
The penultimate episode of the Umbaran story arc represents one of the crowning achievements in The Clone Wars. In Plan of Dissent, the writers gave the clones of the 501st such personality, humanity, and individuality that it almost seems hard to think of them as clones anymore. From Rex taking a stand against Krell to Hardcase's sacrifice to Dogma dissenting from the dissenters, this episode was full of great moments that underscored the changes taking place in the Grand Army of the Republic and highlighted the philosophical underpinnings of these changes. To top it all off, this episode contained perhaps the single most important clone-related scene in the series so far.
We rejoined General Krell and the 501st at the recently-captured Umbaran airbase. Right away it became clear that, with the mission dragging on, Krell was determined to be as obstinate and ignorant as always. Even Obi-Wan Kenobi, speaking to Krell through the Umbarans' cube-tacular hologram projector, seemed to sympathize with Captain Rex when he heard Krell's proposal. The abrupt collapse of the hologram connection left General Kenobi's true feelings unexplored for now, but I believe he would have sided with Rex on this issue. As expected, Krell didn't allow Rex to reestablish contact with Kenobi. He probably feared that Kenobi's support for clone welfare would undermine his (Krell's) authority.
Krell's obstinacy led to yet another frustrated conversation between several clones. This hangar bay discussion set the stage for the unfolding dissent among the ranks. I enjoyed seeing more of Dogma in his role as the by-the-book, loyal-to-a-fault trooper. His refusal to think critically about the issues facing the battalion deepened the divisions between him and Fives, Hardcase, and Jesse. This division later produced an interesting conflict in the clone barracks as Dogma argued with Tup about the right course of action. Taken together, the clones' differing perspectives emphasize that they can think and react individually, that they're not carbon-copies of one man with identical outlooks on such issues as battlefield morality.
It's also important to note that Dogma appeared to have convinced Tup to see things his way. It was important that the series expand the stubborn-loyalist faction beyond Dogma, who was previously the lone "snitch clone." Because Dogma's perspective took root in Tup's mind, his stubborn obedience to Krell gained some measure of credibility. He wasn't just the obligatory blocking character in Fives' escapade. Rather, his respect for the chain of command represented a legitimate opposing perspective, one that harkened back to Rex and Fives' argument earlier in the episode.
The scene where Hardcase struggled with the Umbaran ship was an important one for clone character development. His struggle showed more of his humanity, as he was both excited about trying something new and worried that he wouldn't be able to do it. These aren't the feelings one would expect from a clone who was supposedly "bred" for universal proficiency and competence. Because his Kamino training hadn't prepared him for this bizarre Umbaran ship, Hardcase faced the challenge of having to actually learn a skill. His imperfections made him more authentic.
As plans go, Fives, Jesse, and Hardcase's secret side mission was fairly well thought-out. I really enjoyed hearing Fives say that "General Skywalker blew up a droid control ship when he was just a kid." The reference to The Phantom Menace was much appreciated, and indeed, the scene where the clones actually blew up the ship reminded me a whole lot of that triumphant moment from Episode I. Part of the thrill of this scene was that, unlike in TPM, we heard a lot of banter between the clones as they conducted the attack. I think Jesse's quip -- that he was only participating because he hated Krell -- represented the feelings of a lot of viewers.
Once the clones' stolen ships cleared the atmosphere, viewers were treated to a simply stunning space battle. In all honesty, this sequence was breath-taking. It definitely looked like something out of Revenge of the Sith. The dramatic music perfectly complemented the camera work and sound design. I wished briefly that the entire episode had been more like this scene, but for the moment, the clones had a job to do for their battalion, just as the Umbaran story arc had a job to do in humanizing and emotionally developing the clones.
As Fives, Hardcase, and Jesse entered the droid control ship, the episode turned momentarily whimsy. One battle droid, presumably a supervisor, ordered two other droids to get back to work, saying that their break was over. I had to stop and think about this, because it raised a question: since when do droids take breaks? And for that matter, what do they even do with their free time? This is the sort of question that I would ordinarily ponder in lengthy, comedic detail, but for now, be content with the knowledge that battle droid leisure has become "a thing" on The Clone Wars. With any luck, it will pop up again in a future episode.
So, now we get to the heaviest part of the episode: Hardcase's sacrifice. A self-professed bad-batcher of sorts (in The General, he hypothesized that his cloning tank had been defective), Hardcase had always demonstrated a penchant for deviance and stubbornness. In his final moments, he stubbornly disobeyed even his fellow dissenters' orders to return to his ship, doing what felt right without really processing what he was getting into. There was a great moment where Hardcase watched his friends escape right before the missile impacted and destroyed the main reactor, taking him with it. The spectacular explosion that followed, and the shot of the droid control ship blasting apart, seemed an apt tribute to Hardcase's brazen heroism. Speaking of tributes, I really liked the music that played as Fives and Jesse landed their ships back at the airbase. It previously appeared in such episodes as Clone Cadets and ARC Troopers, making it a theme of sorts to accompany clone bravery, accomplishment, and ingenuity.
Speaking of brave and accomplished clones, I want to pay particular attention to various aspects of this episode that specifically concerned Captain Rex. The man is clearly growing more and more dissatisfied with Krell's leadership, but what I found interesting was how calm Rex remained and how hard he tried to do things "by the book." I wondered if he honestly believed that he could suggest new plans to Krell. What made him think he would ever get the General's approval to do anything on his own initiative? At times, he seemed about ready to lash out (verbally, at least) against Krell. When describing his plan, he noted that his men were "able to learn and adapt quickly." We saw that this was the case with Hardcase (no pun intended). I enjoyed seeing Rex subtly push back against Krell.
Despite his refusal to submit quietly to Krell's stupid plan, Rex necessarily adopted a different tone when dealing with his own subordinates. I loved the conversation between Fives and him about the nature of their duty. To me, this was perhaps the most important scene in all of The Clone Wars. We've often skimmed over this topic, or delved just below the surface of the issue but never before has it been presented in such stark terms: The clones' essential conflict is about nothing less than the struggle between independence and loyalty, individuality and obedience. If I had to point to one scene that best summarized the appeal and purpose of The Clone Wars, this very well might be it.
When Fives, Jesse, and Hardcase prepared to lift off, they ran into their troubled captain and grimly confirmed that they were about to make a life-changing decision. The animators did a great job of showing the conflict on Rex's face in this scene. It was abundantly clear that that Rex agreed with their desire to try out a bold plan, but it was equally obvious that he viewed his duty as paramount. As Rex stepped aside and processed what was about to happen, the music adopted an appropriately grim tone. After all, what was about to happen would involve not just the three pilots, but eventually Rex himself. When he stepped in to stop Dogma and Tup from snitching, he aligned himself with the dissenting pilots and demonstrated that he was willing to take a stand against Krell, even if it was going to cost him his career and his life.
I'll end my review with an analysis of Krell. The one major fault I have with this story arc is that Krell doesn't seem to be changing at all. He's a static character -- an unlikable one, to be sure, and one whom the audience can comfortably oppose, but not a dynamic one in any way. In my review of Darkness on Umbara, I speculated about Krell's real purpose here, wondering whether he would become important as we (presumably) learned more about him. Yet neither of these things has happened yet -- we've learned exactly nothing new about him and his presence has only served to aggravate his troops. The name of the next episode, Carnage of Krell, certainly indicates that he will become a more central figure as the story arc concludes. In my opinion, however, it was a bad idea to wait until the last twenty-two minutes to provide important character development for him.
Krell himself continued to have bad ideas throughout Plan of Dissent. It was obviously that, contrary to whatever successes he had previously experienced, he simply didn't understand to how lead clones into battle. He never seemed to learn from his mistakes; he refused to let his clone captain, who had already demonstrated incredible skill, take any initiative. He displayed arrogance, just like Anakin, but he didn't have General Skywalker's tactical savvy to balance it out. He proved himself to be a hypocrite with the line "I can't afford to waste any clones on frivolous adventures." First of all, that reservation is statistically ridiculous based on how many clones Krell still has and the tiny difference a few troopers would make in an assault. More importantly, however, Krell has already shown that he doesn't care about wasting clone lives, so this statement reeked of abject moral bankruptcy.
The funniest scene in this episode was also laden with examples of Krell's distaste for the clones. It occurred as Hardcase was testing the Umbaran starfighter. As if to underscore how little he cared for his men, when he learned that something was amiss in the hangar bay, Krell pushed the clone technician out of the way and attended to the matter himself. When he asked what was going on, Fives engaged him in a conversation that was straight out of A New Hope. Fives used the excuse of a safety drill and promised that everything was under control, but Krell, who obviously couldn't tell his clones apart without seeing them, asked the familiar question, "What's your CT number?"
At the end of the episode, Krell reprimanded Rex, Fives, and Jesse and promised a swift punishment for disobeying him. To indicate that he was done messing around, he used the former two clones' trooper numbers instead of their names. This grim closing scene set up a number of interesting possibilities for Carnage of Krell. Popular consensus seems to be that General Krell will die in battle, possibly by being shot in the back. The more I think about it, the more reasonable this seems. The Clone Wars has a habit of killing off intriguing characters, from Argyus to Sobeck and various others in between.
Regardless of what happens to Krell, this story arc, and Plan of Dissent in particular, will forever be remembered for having some of the most important clone foreshadowing and character development in the entire series. Clones like Hardcase, Dogma, and Fives have played crucial roles while orbiting the complicated nexus of personality that is Captain Rex. It's important that we continue to see Rex's fellow clones influence his outlook on life, career, honor, and destiny. If nothing else, the Umbaran story arc has given new meaning to the central themes of clone brotherhood and individual identity that pervade the series. With its exciting mixture of plot- and character-based drama, Plan of Dissent stands as a shining example of how these themes can be brought to bear in a compelling and entertaining fashion.