If you had any lingering doubt about what an increasingly mature show Star Wars: The Clone Wars has become, “Shades of Reason” likely dispelled it. In fact, you could even argue that The Clone Wars grew up with this episode. This was a nasty, brutish 22 minutes—and riveting in every frame. It culminated in an act of violence that must have had the Cartoon Network censors shrieking. Yes, Darth Maul was the Joffrey Baratheon to Pre Vizsla’s Ned Stark. Except unlike Joffrey, Maul did the beheading himself. It truly was the culmination of both characters’ arcs. Maul, triumphant, returned to power as his own master. And Vizsla, cocky and power-mad, finally realizing that he had reached too far. There’s really nothing more Vizsla could have added to this show, but still, I don’t know about you, but I’m a little sad Jon Favreau will no longer be voicing this character. Now he’s just going to go back to directing blockbuster movies. Darn.
”Shades of Reason” began with Maul and Vizsla still allies. At last they had gathered together a force powerful enough to reclaim Mandalore. But brute force would not deliver Vizsla’s planet to him. He would need the people of Mandalore to rally to Death Watch’s cause. And to do that, he’d need to undermine the rule of Duchess Satine. Of course, while Vizsla had thought that he was using Maul to take back Mandalore, Maul was really using him to establish a power base. To properly disenchant the people about Satine, they would have their new gangster allies in Black Sun and the Pyke Syndicate target and attack critical locations all around the planet: the banks, the spaceports, the power grid. (I guess the Hutts were simply too fat to be involved in this plan.) They’d make it seem like the gangsters wanted to move in and take over Mandalore, and Satine would be too weak to stop them. Then Death Watch would swoop in and round up the “bad guys” and look like heroes. The people would surely support those who can keep them safe to lead their government as opposed to a Duchess who cowers in fear.
The sad thing is, it worked. All too well. Now, mind you, you’d think some of Mandalore’s political elite might question why suddenly Falleen gangsters from Black Sun would attack their populace and shout things to passerby like “You’re now our slaves!” Well, Satine did, but based on her actions—or lack of them—I can’t really blame the Mandalorians that no one listened to her when she said Death Watch was really behind the attacks. It’s one thing to be a pacifist. In fact, it’s a noble idea. But when gangsters are mowing down your own citizens in the streets with tommy-gun blasters just for the fun of it, noble rhetoric isn’t what’s called for. It’s not a betrayal of pacifism to use force to prevent people from being killed. Yet Satine did nothing. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s old girlfriend was finally rendered impotent. With the people of Mandalore amassed around her palace calling for her overthrow and the installation of Vizsla as their new leader, she had no choice but to step aside.
NEXT: Vizsla turns against his new allies. But Maul doesn’t take kindly to a prison cell.Vizsla’s dream had come true, and as leader of Mandalore he promptly had Satine locked away. Locked away where it so happens her old prime minister, Almec, had also been incarcerated. The chisel-faced nobleman definitely displayed a bit of smug satisfaction seeing the woman who imprisoned him facing his own fate. He maintained that he only called upon the black market to help Mandalore’s economy—way back in Season 3 when there was that odd episode about a corrupt Mandalorian school superintendent who’d been stocking his students’ school lunches with poisoned food just to save a few credits. She said that, though Almec’s actions may have stabilized their economy, it resulted in harm coming to innocents. In short, the ends never justify the means. And yet here they both sit, with a power-drunk terrorist now ruling heir planet.
Of course, not only did Vizsla find it expedient to lock up Satine. He also found that it was time to dispense with his allies, Darth Maul and Savage Opress. Savage had actually raided several targets on Mandalore along with the Pykes, so it was easy to justify locking him up. He proved surprisingly easy to quell too—given what we would see later. Vizsla even trotted out Maul to make a public example of him as one of the criminals who had ransacked the planet. But I guess Maul wanted to be thrown in the same prison block as Savage, so he let himself be captured, meaning that he and his apprentice could then be easily reunited. Maul simply had Savage do his Hulk Smash thing with the Force and they broke out easily. (Yes, an Avengers reference! Fitting because I maintain that Lucasfilm Animation put together the Avengers of voice actors for this arc. I mean, we got Sam Witwer as Maul, Jon Favreau as Vizsla, The Highlander’s Clancy Brown as Savage, and Katee Sackhoff as Bo-Katan. Throw in the ever-amazing Corey Burton as several of the aliens, and that is totally the Avengers of voice actors.)
Once Maul and Savage broke out of prison, they had to get their plan back on track. You see, Vizsla and Death Watch had always planned on betraying them. But the two wannabe Sith Lords had planned on betraying Death Watch right back at them. To achieve his goal of turning Mandalore into a base of operations for his larger objective of establishing the largest criminal organization in the galaxy, Maul would need to challenge Vizsla to a duel. If he won, by the Mandalorian warrior code, he would now be Death Watch's leader. Without question. Even though he himself wasn’t Mandalorian. So Maul stormed into Vizsla’s throne room, and did just that. The Death Watch leader certainly couldn’t back down from this fight. Not in front of his men. He accepted. Luckily for him, he had a lightsaber as well—excuse me, a darksaber—so he was more than a match for Maul. Where the Sith Lord had the Force to hurl objects at him, choke him, or leap high into the air, Vizsla had his jet pack, flamethrower, mini-missiles, and fibercord whips. So actually this was a fight that was very evenly matched. It was also, the best single fight sequence The Clone Wars has ever given us.
NEXT: Vizsla gets Mauled.After five seasons of television, how this show still manages to top itself with its fight choreography is a small miracle. But the Maul vs. Vizsla showdown was something else. This was a knock-down drag-out brawl, full of punishing detail. Vizsla flicked his darksaber into the throne room floor to shoot up specks of marble into Maul’s eyes. He shot his mini-missiles at him to make him somersault for cover. He added a couple new scars to Maul’s tattooed face with the Mandalorian equivalent of Chinese stars. He even destroyed the Sith Lord’s lightsaber. And it still didn’t prove to be enough. Finally, it came down to clenched fists: a bare-knuckle brawl. That finished Vizsla. Mano a Sith, he didn’t have what it takes. So Maul picked up Vizsla’s darksaber. Crouched on the floor, the Death Watch leader reiterated his mantra, “Only the strongest shall rule,” effectively saying that Maul in fact does deserve to lead Death Watch and Mandalore more than him, because he bested him. Then Maul lowered his blade to Vizsla’s waiting neck, and it was over.
Darth Maul would be the new leader of Death Watch. Several of the armored soldiers who had been loyal to Vizsla immediately bowed before their new ruler. But not Bo-Katan. She said that an outsider would never rule Mandalore if she had anything to say about it. She and the likeminded Death Watch blasted off on their jetpacks to parts unknown.
Now, admittedly, the fact that a horned, red-and-black tattooed Zabrak, who’s a Sith Lord, now rules them, could present a PR challenge for Death Watch. Even Maul knew as much. So he hauled Prime Minister Almec out of prison to be his puppet and rule in his stead. Almec, corrupt bureaucrat that he is, was only too happy to oblige. He immediately gave a public address blaming the death of Vizsla on Duchess Satine, then afterward reported to his new Master. He even called Maul “Master” so I guess he’s really into this.
There are so many different currents to unpack here: the idea of there being a discrepancy between official history and actual history; the conspiratorial idea of a would-be governing power curtailing violence that they themselves have unleashed; projecting one’s own actions onto a political rival; that pacifism may only work when there’s brute force ready to back it up. A pretty remarkable blend of political, psychological, and philosophical ideas, loaded into a powderkeg of an action narrative, culminating in the best fight the show has ever given us. If J.J. Abrams can direct a brawl as viscerally as Dave Filoni and episode director Bosco Ng, we’ll have a heckuva Episode VII on our hands.
What did you think of “Shades of Reason”? Are you also sad to see Favreau leave the show? And just how do you think this arc is going to end next week?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Lucasfilm]