“Good soldiers follow orders.”
That line, long a fateful refrain for certain imperiled clone troopers on Star Wars: The Bad Batch, typically precedes an act of violence or betrayal. When those Kaminoan inhibitor chips begin to fire up, if a member of Clone Force 99 begins to utter those words, it’s time to hit the deck. Or, as Omega wound up doing this week, run like hell.
Wrecker, the glory-hogging, rancor-slugging goof in Hunter’s Bad Batch, has been raging against his inhibitor chip’s programming almost from the very beginning of the series. Initiated by Emperor Palpatine’s Order 66 in the last hours of the Clone Wars, those chips had a mixed effect on this deviant clone batch—its imperatives tore Crosshair away from his brothers while Hunter and Tech seemed to carry on okay in spite of them. (And let’s not forget the former “reg” Echo, whose torture at the hands of the Techno Union ultimately rendered his chip useless.) For the formidable Wrecker, the chip’s side effects have taken the form of screaming headaches and have long provided a dire (and prolonged) sense of doom for the Batch. It’s not even a matter for debate: so long as the chips remain inside the heads of these clone mercenaries, no member of Clone Force 99 is safe.
Yet the Batch themselves have largely avoided the implications of Wrecker’s headaches, like a troubled family who willfully refuses to address the 400-pound bantha in the room. “If you’re concerned about the so-called inhibitor chips, don’t be,” Tech says early on in this week’s episode. “Our deviant nature appears to have impeded their functionality—except for Crosshair.” That explanation was an agonizing example of the Batch’s naïveté and hardly a convincing one, especially when you consider which clone Tech was trying to assure in the moment: CT-7567, also known as Captain Rex.
Rex, who was first spotted nursing a drink and mean-mugging Hunter’s batch from under a hood in Cid’s bar like some kind of bleach-blonde Strider, finally made his long-anticipated appearance on the show in his reliably understated fashion. (It was he who was on the other end of Rafa Martez’s transmission in last week’s episode.) Perhaps unsurprisingly it wasn’t an overtly emotional reunion for Rex and the Batch—not even for Echo, who seemed generally pleased to see his former commander and even shared a pint with him, but hardly blinked at the mention of his fallen brother-in-arms, Fives. (Fives perished attempting to reveal the inhibitor chip conspiracy during the Season Six episode of The Clone Wars, ominously titled “Orders”.) This series’ sentimentality still seems largely reserved for the bright-eyed Omega and her oddball bench of father figures than it does for the memory of fallen clone troopers. Besides, these troopers ain’t got time for tears. Or regret. (Anybody want to talk about Crosshair? What’s he up to these days?)
“Battle Scars”, directed by Saul Ruiz with a script by head writer Jennifer Corbett, turned out to be a refreshingly vital and largely all-business episode of The Bad Batch. With a burst of much-needed energy it tossed the viewer directly in the middle of the Batch’s latest dirty job, done on behalf of shady Trandoshan bar owner Cid in the hopes that the gig would net Hunter a healthy amount of credits and nudge him closer to his ultimate goal: securing his family’s safety from the Empire. Yes, it would appear the working relationship between Hunter and Cid has been a successful one, enough that the Batch have carved out a vague semblance of home on Ord Mantell: we’re developing a visual familiarity with Cid’s bar and her regulars (who were seen this week hard at work on their endless game of dejarik); Omega and Wrecker have developed a post-mission tradition of scarfing down bowls of Mantell Mix, a tasty popcorn/Crunch Berries-lookin’ thing; and Wrecker has grown comfortable putting treats on Cid’s tab—to Hunter’s financial peril.
That’s right, Hunter’s mercenary life has turned out to be more purgatory than paradise. This week Cid chiseled the Batch out of a substantial pay raise from their latest lizard-laden adventure due to what Cid called a debt. (“Docking fees, port charges, gear, fuel, rations, and 20 cartons of Mantell Mix?!”) Cid, who knows she has Hunter over a barrel in more ways than one, made it clear that they need a really big score to get out of hock—“like retrieving that tactical droid, but you bungled that op,” she grumbled. Figure something out, Cid said, before you see my ugly side.
As last week’s episode pointed out, keeping these pesky inhibitor chips installed inside the noggins of the Batch is bad for business. Rex’s appearance provided an opportunity to fix that, which meant that the latest jaunt for the Bad Batch briefly relieved them from Cid’s machinations and landed them in the Bracca system, home to an endless starship graveyard and, crucially, a Jedi cruiser where Rex might operate on Hunter’s Batch in secret. (“He wants to cut open my head!” Wrecker protested, wonderfully.) It was brain surgery all around, done in the quick, clean Star Wars manner, and Hunter, Tech, and Wrecker even got adorable matching bandages for their trouble.
Of course Rex’s surgeries didn’t come easily, as Wrecker’s chip finally (finally) kicked into gear and The Bad Batch spent a little of its running time indulging in the claustrophobic terrors of James Cameron’s Aliens, with Omega stepping up as a smaller Ripley-in-training.
Bracca’s impressive and expansive landscape, littered with ripped-up Star Destroyers and other equally titanic starships, was a gorgeous and sobering visual reminder of the great and terrible cost of the Clone Wars. Thrillingly, the scale of Bracca’s establishing shots were sharply contrasted by the dark, twisted confines of the barely-functional cruiser where Omega found herself running for her life from a reprogrammed Wrecker, whose usually chipper demeanor had given way to homicidal menace. (Omega: “But I’m your friend!” Wrecker, taking aim: “Good soldiers… follow orders.”)
Once the Batch’s inhibitor chip woes were finally at an end, Rex took his leave of The Bad Batch, but not before teasing the exciting things to come should Hunter finally decide to side with the growing rebellion against the Empire. “The Republic’s gone, Rex,” Hunter protested, weakly, and Rex had his soft pitch ready to roll: “Not all of it. We’re here. Others are out there, too. Your squad’s skills would be a tremendous asset… Let me know where you land.”
As Star Wars: The Bad Batch has patiently reiterated over the course of seven episodes, nothing is more important than family. The security of Hunter’s crew has been the propulsive force behind the series so far, each eventful pit-stop along the way being a necessary step towards bringing this rogue squad a little closer to a relatively happy life where a good day is any day they’re just out of reach of the dreaded Empire. From their encounter with a deadly bounty hunter on Pantora to a dust-up with a teenage rancor on Ord Mantell, Hunter, Tech, Echo, Wrecker, and Omega have thrown themselves at danger, the sweet promise of freedom and happiness their ultimate objective. There’s a cost to that new life; Hunter knows this, and he also knows in the back of his now-unfettered mind that merc work won’t get him there. Not without risking further loss.
“If you’re ever in a bind, you know how to reach us,” Hunter said, as Rex disappeared into the mist.
- The Batch snatched a valuable lizard (Omega named her “Ruby”!) for Cid, who will be passing it along to the presumably sinister types who hired her to snag it in the first place. What will happen to Ruby? “Maybe it’s a pet, maybe it’ll be turned into a stew. Don’t know, don’t care,” Cid says. (I’m watching you, Cid.)
- “You mean you haven’t removed your chips?” Rex asked the Batch incredulously as he slowly (and rather dramatically) reached for his holster. The question as to whether Rex would actually pull his blaster on his clone brothers, especially Echo, isn’t explored in this episode, but the moment was enough to remind us what Rex has likely had to do as a high-ranking clone soldier on the run from the new Imperial galactic order. “I don’t want to bury any more of our brothers,” he said, a line clearly meant to evoke that dynamite final shot of The Clone Wars, where helmets marked the graves of those who gave all in service to the Republic, a grim reminder of what’s at stake when it sure feels like the bad guys have already won.
- Anyone else find it weird that Rex mentions Fives and Echo… says nothing? Not a word of regret or reverence for his fallen Domino Squad brother?
- Omega gets close and studies Rex’s face. “You’re a generation one,” Omega says. How can she tell that? “From the lines on your face.” Cute.
- “The last time I was on board one of these, it didn’t end so well,” says Rex, glumly referring to the many Jedi cruiser calamities featured in the final episodes of The Clone Wars’ seventh season.
- I’m pretty sure the squid beast that snagged Wrecker was a dianoga, the same breed of tentacled trash monster that almost made a snack out of Dash Rendar in Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. (A smaller version of it also popped up in A New Hope.)
- The Jedi cruiser in this episode might be a Venator-class ship, but it’s not to be confused with the Venator-class ship Albedo Brave, which once served as a command post for Cal Kestis’ Jedi master Jaro Tapal in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (which is also currently a ruin spilled across the Braccan wastes).
- “What if something goes wrong? I’ll be left here, with no one,” Omega said, putting on a puppy dog pout. Hunter reassured her: “You’re stuck with us for the long run.” Oh, this finale is going to hurt, isn’t it?
- What did you think of this episode, group? Was Rex’s return a satisfying one? Will Cid flip on the Batch? Does that scrapper’s call to the Empire signal Crosshair’s inevitable return? Let’s enjoy a pocketful of Mantell Mix together in the comments below.