For the last three episodes it felt like the series had taken a sidestep and wasn’t progressing its own story. With episode 14 ‘The Bad Batch’ makes a statement by delivering its, in my opinion, most exciting episode to date and drives all aspects of the story forward.
Straight away the title ‘War-Mantle’ tells you this episode is important. This name is lifted directly from ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’, it is one of the Imperial projects that Jyn Erso lists when she is going through the files in the vault on Scarif. War-Mantle was revealed by the Lucasfilm story group to be the final solution to the clone army and introduction of Stormtroopers but up until now the story had been told. This is something that has ramifications for all the main players in ‘The Bad Batch’.
The episode gets off to a cracking horror film-esque start with a clone being hunted by armoured troopers with dog like creatures at night on a forest planet with the creators again pushing what you can get away with in what essentially is a kids cartoon. The clone in stunned and captured but not before he can get off a distress signal. That signal reaches Clone Force 99 in the form of a hologram message from Rex, he wants to mount a rescue but is too busy on another mission to do it himself. This leads to another debate among the Bad Batch about their place in the galaxy. Should they carry on with the job that they are currently on for Cid or should they help someone in need? Of course Omega is all for helping and she swings the others to her way of thinking. Again what is morally right is put above making money. The squad are now clearly freedom fighter trajectory rather than following a mercenary path.
They head to Daro, the supposedly unoccupied planet that is the source of the distress signal, and Hunter soon find a trail to follow. This leads them to a mountain and they realise that the problem is bigger than they thought. Hunter sends Wrecker and Omega back to the ship while he, Tech and Echo climb the mountain to investigate. When they get to the top of the mountain they discover that it has been hollowed out and turned into an Imperial base.
Hunter thinks this job has become to much for the squad and wants to pull them out but Echo sees this as an echo of his own situation. The squad had rescued him when he was been held captive and he can’t bare the thought of them leaving another clone behind. He talks Hunter round to his way of thinking and they press on with the mission but it quickly becomes apparent that they are out of their depth. Codes that they have been using have changed and there are new call-signs being used. Fifty clone commandos are training a thousand troopers with TK designations. They have stumble upon a turning point in the Star Wars universe.
They locate the captive clone in his cell and it turns out to be Gregor. Gregor was an amnesiac clone who made a brief but important appearance in ‘The Clone Wars’ before being blown up (which might explain why his chip appears not to have activated) and went on to play a more prominent role in ‘Rebels’. He explains that he and the other clone commandos had been tasked with training the Empire’s new army.
During the escape Tech trips an alarm that sets in motion a great action sequence. The squad and Gregor can easily handle the new troopers, who are wearing prototype stormtrooper armour inspired by Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art from ‘A New Hope’, and they discover that these aren’t clones but conscripts from all over the galaxy. This new army may not have the clones skills but it has an endless supply of people to put through the meat grinder.
Where the squad do have a problem is with a clone commando. The particular one they face is Scorch from the ‘Republic Commando’ game and he isan equal match for them in skill and seemingly better armoured. He comes after them like the Terminator and shoots Gregor multiple times before the squad manages to stun him enough to put him down for the count.
Hunter and the team continue there escape and find a way out through the base’s exhaust port but find themselves on a ledge half way up the mountain. They call Omega and Wrecker to fly the Havok Marauder up to their rescue. Under fire it takes two attempts to get the squad off the base and as Hunter attempts his jump onto the ship he falls and tumbles down the mountain into the forest below. He orders the others to leave and is captured by the Empire.
While all of this is happening on Daro and we learn of the Empire’s plan to replace the clones army the episode also has several scenes to update us on what is happening on Kamino. Admiral Rampart is closing down the cloning operation. All viable clones have been ordered to be relocated to elsewhere along with all resources. Things aren’t looking good for the young and still to be born clones or the Kaminoans. Nala Se gets caught trying to escape and Lama Su trys to talk their way out of it but Rampart says while he still has need of scientists he does not have any uses for politicians. Two troopers escort Lama Su into a room and shut the door and you get the feeling that is the last we will see of him.
The episode finishes with Hunter in a cell. Crosshair steps into frame and the former allies finally meet face to face again. This all sets us up nicely for the last two episodes of the season although it is following a familiar pattern. An Imperial facility will need to be infiltrated to carry out a rescue, something that happened in the first season finale of ‘Rebels’ and season two of ‘The Mandalorian’. Similar to ‘The Mandalorian’ you feel the the squad will recruit everyone that they have met over the season to assist with the rescue.
There have been complaints that ‘The Bad Batch’ has been making the Star Wars universe feel smaller by bringing recognisable characters to gueststar in nearly every episode and this could also be leveled at the use of Gregor. Could they have created a new clone to be rescued? Yes, but although Gregor has appeared in two other series he is not exactly a household name and there is still plenty of storytelling that can be done with him as in ‘Rebels’ he wasn’t the same character that we met in ‘The Clone Wars’.
Although there are familiar elements in play, this episode does deliver what people have been asking for. We get big developments in the narrative that impact the entire Star Wars story. The origin of the Stormtroopers (and learn why aren’t the best) is revealed and we see the beginning of the end of the clones. While some of the onscreen events don’t get as dark as they have before, the episode maintains an ominous tone throughout.
With top notch action and storytelling you feel that this will be a bench mark episode for years to come.