So much of the Empire’s structure has been altered that it has elevated into a more unpredictable opponent. For former Clone Force 99, the deviant Bad Batch (Dee Bradley Baker), this is overwhelming. Powered by a versatile The Bad Batch writing debut by Damani Johnson paired with rapid-fire action under Steward Lee’s direction, “War-Mantle” is a thrilling action-packed dive that escalates into major consequences with one more episode toward the season conclusion.
The episode opens with the capture of reg clone CC-5576, Gregor (Baker), who was introduced back in The Clone Wars (more below). When Captain Rex (Baker) relays a quick and urgent plea for the Batchers to rescue Gregor, vague enough that their intel is limited since he appears to be on the run, they all dissect the dilemma in ways they know best.
Sometimes the Bad Batch neglects to tap into its ensemble potential and overplays Hunter’s prominence while the other Batchers are deferential supporting players with little say. But this is one of the stronger episodes for avoiding that weakness. Here, deferentiality remains part of the dynamic, in diverse shades, rather than the generic given. In the pragmatic Tech’s words, deviating from Cid’s mission means no creds and no food. In Echo’s point-of-view, Rex’s mission must have urgent importance, and his point gains a dimension when he eventually reveals he’s personally motivated at the prospect of rescuing a clone in a similar situation he was in. Omega (Michelle Ang) implores to unconditionally help a person, which is more morally important than getting paid. Wrecker comments, they all have a point. Whereas Omega’s ideals often reel him in, Hunter goes with Echo’s reasoning this time. But unlike “Rescue on Ryloth” where the day was saved, this is not a rescue mission that can adhere to Omega’s optimism.
Omega has much to learn. After they follow Rex’s sent coordinates on the terrestrial Daro, Hunter orders Wrecker and Omega to stay with the ship as the others head to the secret facility on the planet, much to the little clone’s chagrin. When Wrecker lounges cheerfully, she’s astonished Wrecker can just be laid back if their brothers could be in trouble, while Wrecker tells her — teaches her — that recharging is essential, something Omega literally does later for the ship.
When rescuing Gregor, Hunter learns more about the Empire’s radical transition from clones to stormtroopers. Clones like Gregor were repurposed to serve commandos to train stormtroopers, all sourced from around the galaxy. The ratio of “50 clone commands and 1,000 TK troopers” from acquired intel on the facility becomes key information. “They [stormtroopers] aren’t as skilled, but there’s an endless supply of them,” Gregor remarks.
Gregor is an absolute highlight with his dedication to his moral compass and a conversational quirkiness in his steady-paced manner of speech. Few of his lines aren’t just funny; they dab insight into how he comprehends personhood. “[You] Defective clones… it’s the ones who want to stay here who are really defective.” When Echo verifies his clone number, he responds with, “That depends. Who’s asking?” he’s really asking, “Are you treating me as a number or a person with a name?” It’s Baker in one of his memorably charming clone performances.
Other details stand out, such as Nala Se (Gwendoline Yeo) escorting a flank of pint-sized — Daniel Logan-based designs — cadet clones on Kamino. “We’ll still be soldiers won’t we?” one inquires. These adolescent clones were only background detail in the “Aftermath” premiere. Their emergence in the Bad Batch narrative invokes a reality of other souls processing the possibility of being left behind, or having their normalcy altered, in the Empire transition. Not to mention, having no use for a politician, Vice Admiral Rampart (Noshir Dalal) executes Lama Su (Bob Bergen) and decides to keep Nala Se for her scientific skills.
And such a grand price is paid for the Batch’s decision to deviate. In a series of heart-pounding clusterfraked (kid-friendly show) complications, the getaway goes awry. Through an endless barrage of ships and armored bodies firing and closing in, the Batch’s ship has to swerve to avoid fire while collecting its occupants. Ship power drains to the point where Omega’s cleverly reroutes power from their droid, poor Gonky, to the ships’ system. Her smart thinking is enough for the ship to route back and rescue Echo, but Hunter fails to make the leap. This culminates in the climatic heartbreaker: Hunter orders them to abandon them. Omega screams through the comm, “Order them to come back!” But the survival of the rest outweighs the possibility of saving him.
Hunter is now at Crosshair’s mercy. A soldier left behind confronting a brother he left behind.
- “I thought you said you trained these guys?” To which Gregor replies, “I didn’t teach them everything. That wouldn’t be very smart, would it?” It’s treated as more gag than a galactic-shattering reveal, but I suppose this explains why many stormtroopers are such bad shots by the original trilogy. Resistant clone instructors like Gregor stopped short of molding them into marksmen. If you were a stormtrooper, your instructor could either be a Crosshair or a Gregor.
- Gregor went through one of the most senseless clone sacrifices in Clone Wars, mainly because his Republic allies blithely consider it best to leave him behind to do his job more than they consider his welfare right after they rescued from an unwilling servitude, and there’s zero moral grappling over it. Gregor’s presumed first sacrifice had the least sense of agency out of all the Clone Wars clone sacrifices. Then he was confirmed to have survived in Rebels. Even if the Rebels finale gives the older Gregor Rebels actual agency in his armorless sacrifice, did the poor guy really lose that crucial clone armor that protected him in this Bad Batch episode?
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