The Clone Wars Season 5 Episode 12: Missing in Action
The four-part D-Squad story arc resumed on a high note with its third installment, "Missing in Action", due to the introduction of new characters and a more concrete threat. In the amnesiac clone commando Gregor, the series found a vehicle for one of Star Wars' most treasured themes: the hero's journey. Although it had less than twenty minutes to unfold, Gregor's story covered a lot of ground and set the stage for a broader consideration of the role of the clone troopers in the galaxy. Missing in Action touched on one of the most interesting aspects of the Republic's purpose-built military: the prospects for clones who manage to escape a cause that was literally their life's work.
The planet Abafar itself went from a deserted landscape with strange properties and even stranger birds to a modestly inhabited backwater world. This change manifested itself in two ways, one that improved the episode and another that seemed forced. The first change was that Abafar's inhabited region came into view and significantly expanded the number of, well, moving objects and dynamic sights on the previously barren and boring planet. We saw a city, which according to StarWars.com is called Pons Ora; we heard the sounds of people walking by and ships passing overhead; and we even glimpsed a mugging on the sidewalk. Abafar now had a sense of life, albeit a sort that was remote and bleak. R2 appropriately likened Pons Ora to Tatooine, and it did have shades of Mos Espa. The planet's new tone definitely made this a better episode than the previous one.
The other change that I did not particularly like was the introduction of a Separatist mining operation on the planet. I disliked this aspect of the episode solely because of how contrived it felt. The Separatist presence on Abafar simply confused me. The planet just happened to have a special mineral that made a potent explosive and there just happened to be a Jedi cruiser in orbit? It felt like 50% shoehorned obstacle for the newly re-commissioned clone to overcome and 50% convenient getaway vessel for the stranded Republic squad. And were we supposed to believe that, despite the presence of a Separatist operation on the surface, there were no ships in orbit to notice D-Squad's crash landing? Considering that the Republic team arrived in Pons Ora on foot, they couldn't have crashed too far from it and the Separatist forces it contained. A ship orbiting overhead would surely have spotted their downed craft. The Separatist element felt forced. It was the one outlier in an otherwise enjoyable episode.
Colonel Gascon and his droids largely took a backseat to Gregor in this episode, but I did make a few observations about them that I think are worth noting. First of all, it's clear to me that Brent Friedman, the writer of this story arc, either didn't know or didn't want us to know what to make of Gascon. At first, he seemed to treat the droids better, referring to WAC by his new brevetted rank of corporal and inviting him inside Borkus' diner to refuel alongside his superior officer. However, Gascon later resumed insulting his droid soldiers, saying that droids aren't known for their flexibility and improvisation skills. (WAC smartly contended that this is because droids are usually "right the first time.") Finally, at the end of the episode, after he was encouraged by Gregor's assistance, Gascon called his droids "soldiers" and asked them to voice their readiness for the escape.
In giving the droids the confidence to say that they were ready, Gascon was once again treating them with respect. He was interacting with them like the flesh-and-blood soldiers with whom he was used to serving. However, it was impossible to tell how Gascon really viewed the droids, because he vacillated between kindness and rudeness. Perhaps he was intentionally depicted as a temperamental sort with regard to his opinion of droids. I found this slightly unsatisfying, because it denied Gascon the ability to exhibit a genuine (and welcome) change of attitude toward them.
Gascon's inflexibility regarding his opinion of his droid subordinates was even more puzzling when you consider the mountain of evidence that appeared in this episode to link him with them. When he said he was hungry, WAC expressed a desire for a recharge and an oil bath. The recharge was reminder to Gascon that, while droids didn't experience true fatigue or wear down as easily during the day as organic beings, they too needed to resupply their form of nutrients every so often.
The comparison between Gascon and the droids was strengthened when Borkus denied WAC service and kicked him out of his diner, an act that recalled Wuher's similar treatment of C-3PO and R2-D2 in A New Hope. Gascon might have assumed that he, as a living being, could expect service in the diner, but he suffered from Borkus' prejudice too. The hefty Sullustan derogatorily referred to him as a conduit worm -- a lower form of life. This linked his plight to that of the droids, and his reaction showed that he was unaccustomed to that kind of rejection. He evidently expected short jokes, but not outright discrimination. It was another lesson that Gascon should have taken to heart, but evidently did not.
While Gascon may have considered himself a brave warrior and the droids a bunch of hapless rust buckets, D-Squad's actions signaled that the opposite was true. When Gascon took the lead in bringing Gregor up to speed and convincing him that Borkus had him under his thumb, I thought that maybe the tiny colonel was growing bolder and earning his command role. After all, he might not have been polite, but he was certainly effective in his speech and in his blunt assessment of Gregor's situation. However, Gascon's later behavior indicated that his persuasive and commanding argument to Gregor had been the exception, not the rule. While Gregor exhibited true heroism in rescuing BZ and Gascon from the battle droids, Gascon himself gave up hope as soon as BZ was shot. He didn't try to take any initiative; he just sat there, paralyzed by fear. In re-watching this episode, I discovered that the droids had put themselves in danger more than their commanding officer, such as when they went out on patrol and were almost discovered by a group of battle droids. (On a side note, the way they clung to the wall to avoid detection added evidence to the claim that they possessed personalities like organic beings.)
Gascon and his droids aside, the most important person in this episode was unquestionably the amnesiac clone, Gregor. In a TV show whose very name brings to mind the job that consumes a typical clone trooper's entire existence, it is always interesting to encounter a clone living a different lifestyle. While Gregor wasn't exactly doing so voluntarily, his story, like that of Cut Lawquane in Season 2's "The Deserter", fleshes out the tension that exists beneath the surface for every clone trooper in the Republic armed forces. They are, quite simply, different from the vast majority of the galaxy's inhabitants. Where they go has been predetermined, what they eat and wear has been prearranged, and even their names are afterthoughts, tolerated but not accommodated by their creators. They are, on the surface, little more than flesh-and-blood droids. There was even a scene in this episode that made this link explicit. When R2-D2 scanned Gregor's wrist ID code, it made him seem like nothing more than a spare part going through a processing center.
Gregor's situation immediately brought to mind the idea of other clones consciously relinquishing their duty. Just the image of a man with Jango Fett's features dressed as something other than a warrior made me think of a possible fate for clones who desert at the end of the war: quiet civilian life far from the war they were bred to fight. Given what we know is coming in the conflict's final days (does the number "66" ring a bell?), it seems likely that some "conscientious objectors" will find themselves living lives not all that dissimilar from the one that Gregor left behind in this episode.
I mentioned the hero's journey in my opening paragraph. I noticed a parallel between Gregor asking Borkus what a clone is in "Missing in Action" and Luke asking Owen about his father and Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope. In both cases, there was a sense of destiny deferred, or, more accurately, denied. Gregor, like Luke, was being deprived of the truth because it would give him a glimpse of the bigger picture. Borkus telling Gregor that he never wanted to hear the word "clone" again reminded me of Owen telling Luke to "forget it" regarding Obi-Wan.
Speaking of Obi-Wan, Colonel Gascon and his droids played the role of that "crazy old man" in this episode, in the sense that they forced Gregor to confront the reality of his life. Ironically, in both cases, this was accomplished through R2-D2 and his holoprojector. I thought it was a clever idea to show Gregor an image of Captain Rex. This produced a great shot of Gregor confronting the captain's shimmering image and recognizing his own features in the projected man's face. Like the hologram of Princess Leia in Luke's garage and later in Obi-Wan's hut, this was the call to adventure.
Gregor began to recall elements of his life when Gascon mentioned that he disappeared after the Battle of Sarrish. Those memories, and the opportunity to help the Republic again, seemed to spur him into action. However, it was his final confrontation with Borkus that solidified his eagerness to assume his former life. In a few words and actions, the brief scene between employee and employer gave us a glimpse into their entire relationship. Borkus clearly felt that Gregor owed him and had no problem using him for menial labor. Once he realized that Gregor wouldn't remember his old life, he knew that the man would do whatever he said. He didn't have to break Gregor's formerly indomitable will; the man's amnesia had already drained it. But upon adopting a military haircut and seeing his commando armor, Gregor began to regain that will to resist, that ability to defy and even overcome danger that qualified him to be a Republic commando.
Gregor's voice noticeably shifted to assume a more commanding tone once he put on his armor and assessed the situation in the Separatist loading bay. He even called the battle droids "clankers" and later said, "I'm beginning to remember how much I hate these guys." As I expected, however, Gregor would not return to the Republic that he now longed to serve again. His final stand was an impressive combination of music and visuals. The fast-paced sequence leading up to his ultimate sacrifice reached almost cinematic levels of quality. Gregor kept sighting explosives containers and blasting them, while, with equal repetition, the explosions sent droid parts flying toward the camera. As the emotional music swelled, the explosions became subdued, until finally the last and biggest explosion dulled the music and gave Gascon the last words of the episode.
Those words were the most profound ones that Gascon has ever spoken. Before promising that the Republic would not forget Gregor, the colonel offered a commentary on what it meant to be a soldier. Interestingly, he framed it in a way that seemed to encompass both biological and mechanical entities. The ultimate responsibility of a soldier, Gascon told the droids, was "sacrificing himself for the lives of others." This was an apt summary of both Gregor's role in this episode and the overall message concerning droids that this story arc has attempted to convey. Droids like R2-D2 have proven that they are willing to sacrifice themselves throughout the movies and in The Clone Wars, and R2's band of astromechs did it again in this episode. If that is what defines a soldier, can it also be instrumental in defining a sentient being? If so, the droids would seem to qualify. At the end of the day, that message was what made Missing in Action such a powerful episode. It resuscitated the theme of this story arc and incorporated energy that the arc had lacked. It also reminded viewers that droids and clones have a lot in common, prompting us to consider what those similarities mean for each group.