Everybody loves a good villain story. Whether it’s Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese‘s Taxi Driver, or the zany cast of characters in James Gunn‘s The Suicide Squad, audiences have always flocked to plots centered around the worst of the worst. The exact draw behind these stories is up for debate, but perhaps the most common theory is that people are naturally curious about notions they don’t understand. They are obsessed with glancing into the minds of those they deem lesser, an almost demented form of escapism that allows them to say – “well, at least I’m not that.” The third episode of Star Wars: The Bad Batch‘s second season plays on this fascination, but takes an alternative, and quite frankly, more engaging route in its execution.
After a fairly routine and unmemorable set of premiere adventures, The Bad Batch finally pushes itself forward with The Solitary Clone. The first episode of the series not to feature the main group of titular characters, Clone instead focuses on their former comrade and current rival Crosshair, giving fans a look into his side of the conflict and a better understanding of Imperial clones at large. It’s a much-needed break in the formula for a show that often falls into repetition, and one of the Star Wars franchise’s best deconstructions of the early Empire and its very mortal forces. The episode works as well as it does because it refuses to treat its protagonists as villainous, despite their usual status quo within the series. This is not a story that says “look how awful our leads are”, but one that revels in convincing its viewers of their humanity.
There’s a dark triumph in balancing the ideals and reactions of Crosshair and his latest scene partner, the once-great Commander Cody. Both are stuck with the “Republic” after Order 66, but only one has grown to regret it. Cody, as fans might have hoped, has grown disillusioned with the Empire, and spends most of the episode struggling with his decisions. Crosshair, on the other hand, remains steadfast in his loyalty. Even after committing heinous acts in the name of “following orders”, however, Clone still manages to make Crosshair feel sympathetic. In classic Star Wars fashion, a sense of possible redemption endures, in large part due to a silent comprehension of Cody’s reasoning. A call-back to an old quote from The Clone Wars – “You know what makes us different from battle droids? We make our own choices, and we have to live with them too.”
It’s this back-and-forth between the one-time Republic heroes that gives the episode a thriving backbone, tapping into the soul of Star Wars and hyper-focusing on the “will they, won’t they” thematic line that runs through all clone-related projects. The episode is also unafraid to demonstrate the consequences of its leads’ aforementioned choices, giving it an added layer of brutality that acts as a wildly effective visual aid in its point-making. From Clone‘s opening moments, there’s an unexpected admission that the next twenty-odd minutes will take themselves more seriously than the previous week, and the show finds itself maturing because of it.
The Bad Batch has been in desperate need of trying something new for a long time now, and it’s refreshing to see the series embrace one of its characters and his arc so wholeheartedly in an installment that’s truly unlike the rest. One can only hope this sort of concentrated storytelling continues for the rest of the season, and that the show’s other leads receive similar treatment when they inevitably return to the forefront. Otherwise, The Solitary Clone will be forced to stand out as a diamond in the rough, a singularly delicious tale fit for consumption by any viewer.