Last week, “Devil’s Deal” engaged in a bold story shift by spotlighting a different set of characters. By relegating the Bad Batch (Dee Bradley Baker) in a reduced role akin to a cameo, it emphasized them as adjacent players in other people’s stories and thus gave space to sit on the Empire’s impact on a world outside their orbit. Its second parter “Rescue on Ryloth” is its graceful payoff, penned by head writer Jennifer Corbett. It dares to challenge our perception with our main Batchers, other than Omega (Michelle Ang), who are reintroduced on a slightly unsympathetic note and once again reluctant to involve themselves in the matter of Empire oppression.
This second part could exclude the main Clone Force 99 and proceed to be only Hera Syndulla’s (Vanessa Marshall) story, so I was skeptical when the Batchers were pulled back into the narrative. But it’s a bare minimum compliment that the Batch’s return does not hijack the central story away from the Syndulla family (Robin Atkin Downes, Ferelith Young) just as the episode still raises the stakes for the Batchers’ themselves. Turns out Omega, ever so trusting, gave young Hera Syndulla the Batcher’s contact in their last conversation. Omega is into the call to save Hera, her childish idealism clashing with the Batch’s idea of pragmatism. The Batchers arrive at Hera’s base on Ryloth to assess their capacity in the situation but delay their involvement. With Crosshair clocking in his old brothers’ appearances, a botched scouting at the capitol nearly gets them to abandon the mission. But Omega, putting her strategy lessons to the test, does one crucial thing that gets the Batchers back in the game: She has Hera, a Rylothian, take charge of the situation based on her homeworld knowledge — letting the young Syndulla remain in charge of her own story. Hera’s knowledge of the Imperial refinery proves useful in diverting capitol clone trooper forces there and give the Batch a chance to break out the Syndullas.
Hera’s frustration with the Batch’s initial reluctance to save her parents mirrors a brewing conflict between Clone Captain Howzer (Baker) and the Syndullas. I said before that there’s fertile ground for a clone soldier to confront being an oppressor. The jailed Syndullas are naturally angry and skeptical at Clone Captain Howzer, who previously tried to be a decent ally to the family but is still in an oppressor position. He futilely proposes he could rescue Hera but the Syndullas rightfully deny him trust. So Howzer has to earn it. He never verbally defends his own character and instead atones by acting, no longer playing by the Empire’s rules but defying them. When he stays back for his clone soldiers and lets loose a speech about not getting involved in the Twi’lek oppression, this instigates a satisfying outcome and huge reveal: Many of the reg clones have the mental capacity and conscience to disobey and throw down their blaster.
The Spark of Dissent
It’s not enough to overpower the Empire or the loyalist clone soldiers, but the spark of dissent is sure to ripple throughout the series. If Clone Captain Howzer and other clones can exercise the agency to disobey their Empire superiors now, what does that mean for our knowledge of the brain chip? Do some clones have immunity? Have the chip’s effects expired after Order 66? What to make of the individuality of clones that arrested Howzer and the dissenters or simply stood by and allowed it to happen? What now to make of Crosshair’s previous and current atrocities? If the clones are now displaying agency, this makes Crosshair’s actions more chilling even as we know he was impacted by an augmented brainchip.
The direction by Nathaniel Villanueva, if Corbett’s script didn’t instruct those gestures, makes the tension stand out with the intense glances among conflicted and clashing clone soldiers. Crosshair and Howzer exchange fatal glances when their Imperial admiral questions Crosshair’s capacity, and the two men are on different spectrums: Crosshair stays dogmatically loyal as Howzer grows into a role of a resister. More powerfully, there is a close-up of a helmeted Hunter staring at Howzer about to risk his life to turn his soldiers. Having spent the majority of the series caring little about regs other than Rex and Cut, Hunter is absorbing this crucial shift and possibly the guilt of being unable to save and turn Crosshair. The editing finally punctuates these embroiled dynamics with a three-way close-ups of Howzer, Crosshair, and Hunter appearing to gaze at each other from the distance.
If there is a misgiving, The Bad Batch falls on its habit of using the leader Hunter as shorthand for how the entire Batch may feel about a mission, as if Hunter’s decision to get involved reflects upon the entire group rather than letting each brother voice their feelings. Certainly, Echo remarks that Ryloth is not a Separatist-occupied planet, as if his war-forged brain doubts the former Republic would oppress a “non-rival” planet. Tech nearly dismisses Hera’s call as a possible overreaction. But when Omega piques the idea of saving the Syndullas, it’s only a close-up on Hunter’s face, not a group shot or individual cuts of the entire Batch, that illustrate Omega’s idealism reaching Hunter’s conscience.
So many elements are well forged together into a classic episode, from the seething head-butting between soldiers, the working chemistry between child idealists Omega and Hera (hooray, Omega persuading Hera to fly!), and the psychological questions about agency in clone soldiers. For those who viewed Rebels, the episode has it both ways to operate as a solid stand-alone story and a prequel to another series (and it does not grab the low-hanging fruit of killing off Eleni Syndulla now when Rebels viewers know the fate of Hera’s mother). That Crosshair is finally permitted to actively hunt his former brothers is somehow not the most momentous event of “Rescue on Ryloth,” although it’s a profound plot progression we’re all waiting for.
- For those aware that Hera Syndulla was mentioned (abruptly) to have lost a brother in Rebels, this adds some depth to Hera’s reaction to Omega describing the Batcher as “brothers.”
- So it was Tech who taught Hera how to code scramble.
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