The Clone Wars Season 2 Episode 15: Senate Murders
After a long hiatus, The Clone Wars returned to TV on Friday with a decidedly different type of episode. Building on the theme established by Senate Spy, this week's episode, Senate Murders, focused on the political intrigue at the Senate and featured a murder mystery with some interesting twists. Some fans have complained about the episode, saying that it was a weak way for TCW to return after a hiatus, but I for one enjoyed the episode for many reasons.
From the opening scene, this episode set a politically-charged tone. I really like seeing more Senate proceedings on this show. The scene at the beginning with Padmé and Mon Mothma reminded me a lot of the deleted Delegation of 2,000 scenes from the ROTS DVD. Also, the relationship between Senators Amidala and Farr is a welcome one in a Senate that is known for its corruption and backstabbing. I felt that their camaraderie really helped build up Farr as a gentle father figure. It made his subsequent death all the more distressing. Farr was actually one of a few characters who was introduced in a previous episode, built up since, and killed off dramatically. I hope we see more of that in TCW's future. Another thing I liked about this episode politically-speaking was hearing from Mon Mothma (her first speaking role in TCW?) and Bail Organa. They lent a huge degree of authenticity to this episode. This episode felt a lot like a sliver of a Prequel-era movie.
Also in the political realm, I enjoyed the introduction of Kaminoan Senator Burtoni. I like that she accused Padmé and her allies of being Separatist sympathizers. Of course the Kaminoans would want more troop spending -- it all goes right into their coffers. Burtoni is one of those villains that you'd love to catch in the act, and indeed the TCW team built her up to be complicit in Farr's murder. She was just devious enough to seem malicious. Her suspicious behavior only furthered the notion that the Senate is a gray area of politics; she seemed to truly believe that she was doing what was best for the galaxy, despite being opposed to the goals of our heroes. I really enjoyed seeing Burtoni and her fellow Senator Deechi, because they proved that not all "bad guys" are evil, some of them are just opponents.
This episode didn't just focus on politics; it focused on real-world, modern-day implications. Deechi calling Padmé unpatriotic reminded me a lot of today's political debates. In this episode, we saw those who attack their opponents with allegations of treason portrayed as spineless trigger-happy detractors. The whole concept of being a traitor to the Republic, which we saw in this episode in the surprising form of Senator Lolo, is a central component of the Prequel Trilogy, and I'm glad to see that Lucasfilm is tying things together nicely vis-a-vis politics. This episode may not have focused on the front lines of battle, but in some ways it's less straight-forward and more intriguing to see the front lines of policy.
The brief landing platform memorial for Senator Farr was excellent. I really liked the music composed for this scene; it was one of the few times I can actually say that I noticed the score. The shots of the different onlookers lent a lot to the gravity of the scene. I especially liked seeing Yoda present, as it enhanced the concept of the Jedi being staunch supporters of the Loyalist Senators. This is the kind of brief scene that contains so much weight. In a show filled with face-paced battles and quick-witted Jedi, it's a rare treat to see this type of scene.
The introduction of Lieutenant Tan Divo was the most memorable element of this episode to me. Witty and self-important, Divo was an instant hit with me. His voice, his words, and his attitude were a nice comedic complement to the darkness of the opening scenes. Perhaps my favorite line of the entire episode was, "Politicians always have something to hide, it always comes back to haunt them." The lieutenant said that to a room full of politicians! Perfect scripting. The exchange at the end of the episode between Senator Burtoni and Lieutenant Divo was also great, because it showed that, despite being a bit eccentric, Divo is a somewhat capable lieutenant. The dialog in that scene as Divo revealed his forensic evidence was very reminiscent of an episode of Scooby Doo.
The relationship between Bail Organa and Padmé Amidala was also a high point in this episode. True to form, no political episode of TCW would be complete without Padmé running off heedlessly to save the Republic. Luckily for Padmé, she had her good friend Bail to tag along. The Bail-Padmé team-up in this episode was great; they're both intense, charismatic, strong-willed people, and their partnership reminds me a lot of the TCW tie-in novels. After reading The Clone Wars: Gambit: Stealth and other preceding books, I was hoping for that same kind of dynamic to appear on screen, and I wasn't disappointed. Their dialog was really great; some of the lines felt like they had been lifted right out of those TCW books. The depth of their relationship was also shown by the fact that Padmé saved Bail rather than chasing after the rooftop shooter. It shows how much she cares for him, and this care enhances their interactions in Episode III. This show is doing a fantastic job of building up to Episode III in a variety of ways.
The episode shined because of its politics, but there were some pretty good visuals as well. For example, Senator Deechi's office. With its shady, ominous feel and its black and red hues, it looked less like part of the Senate and more like Cad Bane's Coruscant apartment from Holocron Heist. Another great visual component was the nighttime investigation scene. The way it was framed reminded me of an old murder mystery, from the setting -- "down at the docks" -- to the quick camera angle changes and shadowy, looming cargo containers.
I honestly wasn't expecting Senator Deechi's death. He seemed like such a powerful opponent in the Senate and I would have liked to see him continuing to counter Padmé and her allies on policy issues. However, I both understood and enjoyed the need to kill him off. His death heightened the tension and threw viewers off of the most logical assumption (that Deechi, Burtoni, and their colleagues were behind Farr's death). It would have been too easy for us to assume that Deechi was complicit in the Farr's murder. His death took the episode down a unique path and threw a wrench into an episode that was shaping up to be fairly predictable.
The revelation of Lolo as Senator Farr's true killer was very well done. Padmé's too-late realization, the camera angles as the truth dawned on her, and most importantly, Palpatine's brief smirk as Lolo took her hostage were all elements of a great twist. I also enjoyed seeing Padmé take out Senator Lolo, because we rarely see her in hand-to-hand combat. She thought fast and was rewarded for her instincts. For what it's worth, I believe that the split-second shot of Palpatine as Lolo revealed herself raised significant questions. For example, did Palpatine -- as Sidious -- have direct interactions with Lolo? Did he go through an intermediary to persuade her to act? Farr's death was the catalyst for the passage of the new clone trooper production bill, and by putting more troops at Palpatine's disposal, that bill only strengthened his power base and furthered his ultimate goal of galactic domination.
Overall, I was very satisfied with Senate Murders. The episode featured one of the only really unexpected twists from a Clone Wars episode. It was a well-executed murder mystery in the Clone Wars universe. Lieutenant Divo was perfect for the episode, with his mix of humor and self-importance. The scenes at the docks and in the Senate building were well-animated and intense. The murder investigation took its requisite unexpected turn, but even that was done in such a way as to be unexpected. I liked that the bill to ramp up production of clones did eventually succeed. It makes sense, given the fear that must be permeating the Senate right now. The final scenes of this episode only furthered the notion of the Senate being corrupt and fearful for its own well-being. After all, the shock factor alone from the two Senate murders and the one Senate arrest must have really rattled the cages of other uncertain delegates. As I said in the previous paragraph, the episode fit nicely into the narrative of Palpatine's galactic puppet-mastery. We saw one small pebble dropped into the lake of galactic politics, and even on the small scale of one bill's passage, there were strong ramifications for characters like Bail and Padmé.
The Senate context of this episode was a welcome departure from the front lines of battle. It was still exciting, and there was still conflict, but it featured different characters and deeper intrigue. I am a big fan of the political episodes, so I'm happy any time we see the Senate. I think Senate Murders satisfied both political junkies and fans of fight scenes. Hearing from Mon Mothma gave the episode a real degree of authenticity, as it was a reminder of her later work in the Delegation of 2,000. Lieutenant Divo brought a traditional detective feel to the episode, which I think brightened and enhanced the plot. Palpatine's duplicity and subterfuge sat just below the surface, hinting at his future takeover of the galaxy through just such means. While Senate Murders wasn't the most combat-intensive episode, in my opinion the politics and intrigue in the plot more than made up for it.