Dirty Deeds Done by Clones
Star Wars: The Bad Batch: Season 2
I want to start off this review by noting that I am a fan of Star Wars: The Bad Batch. While I wouldn't call myself a Star WarsThe modern blockbuster: it's a concept so commonplace now we don't even think about the fact that before the end of the 1970s, this kind of movie -- huge spectacles, big action, massive budgets -- wasn't really made. That all changed, though, with Star Wars, a series of films that were big on spectacle (and even bigger on profits). A hero's journey set against a sci-fi backdrop, nothing like this series had ever really been done before, and then Hollywood was never the same. fan (despite how much I've written about it for this site), I don't go out of my way to hate on everything from this franchise. There are works I like, works I don't, and I come at each new release with fresh eyes to I can evaluate them fairly. Some are just better than others, and there are parts of the Star Wars canon that I will simply never watch again. It happens.
With that out of the way, I do think that this second season of The Bad Batch is nowhere near as good as the previous season of the show. That one was motivated by a very clear storyline: we have these clones that are now free agents, on the run from the Empire, and we get to see them run around. This time around, however, it feels like a lot of the momentum of the series was sucked out of it, with our favorite characters left drifting, not quite sure where to go or what to do. That's because, quite obviously, the series is building to something, a point of no return that it has to get to before the real action can begin. But what that leaves us with is a collection of episodes that are very much "table setting". Some are good, some are only okay, but they lack momentum right up until suddenly the storyline really kicks in. And then, oops, the season is over. You'll just have to wait for the next one to find out what happens.
The second season of the show focuses, much like the first, on Clone Force 99, the "Bad Batch". Like with the first season, these soldiers -- Hunter, Wrecker, Tech, and Echo (all voiced by Dee Bradley Baker) -- along with their younger genetic sister, Omega (Michelle Ang), run various questionably legal jobs for fixer Cid (Rhea Perlman). Over time they get tired of Cid's crap and move on, with threats from her that she could spill their information to the Empire if she were motivated. These aren't guys prone to giving in to threats, though, so when they peace out they don't look back (until they finally have to).
While the main contingent of Clone Force 99 are off running their own missions, their "lost" brother, Crosshair (also voiced by Baker) continues to work for the Empire because, as he puts it, "good soldiers follow orders." Eventually, though, he gets pushed too hard by an Empire that doesn't care about him, and he snaps. This gets him sent to a detention center run by Doctor Royce Hemlock (Jimmi Simpson), who has very specific plans for the clones under his "care". Hemlock also needs Omega, and once Crosshair learns of this he tries to warn his brothers, but the message is partially blocked. Now the other clones have to decide if they want to stick their necks out and save Crosshair despite the trouble this could rain down upon them.
The are parts of this second season that really work, and parts that don't. What is more interesting, and works best, are the story developments involving Crosshair. We watch him go from one mission to another, quelling insurgents and acting as the boot placed on the galaxy's neck by the Empire. He's good at it, but each mission he runs shows him a little more of the brutality of the Empire, how its agents can't be trusted. For a soldier prepared to follow orders, it's interesting to see Crosshair being to question just what he's doing. This leads him down an interesting road that really is thrilling to watch.
Unfortunately the main batch of clones, our primary Bad Batch, don't get enough meaty storylines to really balance that out. The bulk of the season is dedicated to our Bad Batch, but most of their episodes feel rather slapdash, as if the season is just marking time until something more interesting happens (which it is). Where Crosshair is out, doing things of consequence (both to himself and the Empire), the Bad Batch do random missions that clearly will have no impact on the galaxy moving forward. That's because they pulled themselves out of the conflict, sure, but that doesn't make for thrilling television.
Of course, it's clearly all building to the finale when (without spoiling any details) the status quo of the series gets shaken up. I can appreciate the series going for broke and realizing it needs to change things up. This is a good thing to do, from time to time, in any television series. The issue is that very little that happens before the final really matters in the grand scheme. If there was a C-plot throughout the season that directly tied into the Clones each step of the way, influenced their missions indirectly, that would be one thing. That's not the case here as most episodes are just padding. Fluff. Filler.
Going through the run and thinking about how the episodes are set up, the feeling of just killing time that sets over much of the season, I was reminded of another series: Agents of SHIELD. That show was criticized because its first season was almost entirely padding right up until a big twist changed the whole of the show going forward. That twist was, of course, that HYDRA had taken over SHIELD (as also shown in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and it changed everything. SHIELD couldn't really move forward until that twist happened in the film, so it spent nearly an entire season just killing time. That's what this season of The Bad Batch feels like.
I get it, this twist is going to change the relationship the clone force has with the Empire, and that in turn could have long-reaching impacts for clones everywhere within the Imperial society. We could be building to a great civil war between clones and troopers, all from the machinations in this finale. The actions set in place here spell a lot of grand adventure and key action for the series going forward. I applaud that. I just wish it hadn't taken 16 episodes of a largely fluff season to get there. This season needed to be tightened up, and maybe the twist needed to come halfway in, just to keep the audience engaged.
That, I think, was the biggest failing of the way this season was setup: engagement. There were decent episodes throughout, but most storylines this season didn't really keep me interested. More than a few times I turned to my wife (who is a giant Star Wars fan) and said, "well, that was a nothing episode," and she agreed every time. The series could do great episodes this season (with anything featuring Crosshair being a real highlight) but those were few and far between. More time was spent on random mythical kaiju, dirty orphan thieves, and wookies than we got actually focusing on the main story. The balance was just way off.
The season wasn't bad enough to make me stop watching. I wouldn't even say i was truly bad, just... mediocre. It needed work. It needed massaging. It needed more to do for most of its runtime. It was popcorn entertainment, decent but empty, and we just have to expect more from this franchise. Something light and empty would any real direction isn't good enough. It won't keep us hooked, paying money week after week, for Disney+Disney's answer in the streaming service game, Disney+ features the studio's (nearly) full back catalog, plus new movies and shows from the likes of the MCU and Star Wars.. This is the kind of season you wait and binge just to get through it quickly. The first season was good enough to discuss over the water cooler while this latest effort is just decent enough to get through and then forget about it until the next run of episodes comes out. The Bad Batch can, and should, be more than that.