Let’s be honest: so far, this hasn’t been the best season of The Clone Wars. So when an episode exceeds my expectations, as this one did, I’m stuck wondering if it’s because the bar had been lowered in the first place. In retrospect, ‘The Academy’ is the best mystery that this show has ever done, but because the previous episode was so riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies, I wasn’t even sure that I was watching a mystery until the third act. Still, that third act was a doozy.
Let me explain. At first, just about everything in the episode made no sense. Ahsoka is sent to Mandasnore to teach some kids about corruption – which begs the question: whaaaa? Since when does being a Jedi (padawan, no less) mean you’re qualified to teach a civics class? And why is lecturing a bunch of Hitler Youth kids such a priority for the Jedi OR the Duchess? And is it me, or is one of the kids named Anus? (Oh, it’s me – according to the OS episode guide, the name is actually Amis. Whoops.) And why do these kids have access to the highest levels of government? Well, that part they tried to answer, but it just rang hollow and false.
But in the third act – and I’ll try to lay low on the spoilers here – we learn the real motives behind Ahsoka’s assignment, and everything begins to make a lot more sense. It’s a nice trick, and the episode pulls it off really well. Throughout the third act, I kept wondering who was conning who, and I was kept guessing right until the final scene, when all the pieces fell into place. It helped that Ahsoka was also kept in the dark, and I enjoyed seeing her being used as a patsy by, well, just about everyone on screen. It made her much more vulnerable, even if she could, when necessary, still kick lots of butt.
So Ahsoka was used well, and the mystery was smartly done. What’s not to like? In my case, it was the setting. Maybe other folks enjoy these Mandalore stories, but I find them remarkably dull. Granted, it’s hard to make pacifism exciting, but even Season 1’s Lurmen has more personality than these Mando mannequins. The four main kid characters were as bland as the Brady Bunch, and because they’re kids, we know they’re never really in any danger. So much for suspense! Meanwhile, Duchess Satine continues to be a pale (pardon the pun) imitation of Padme (who herself was just an echo of Princess Leia). At least the villain, who I won’t reveal by name, wasn’t quite so boring, and I appreciated that his/her motivations were relatively novel. And I liked the overall theme of war bringing out the worst in people. But this villain was, in the final analysis, just another disposable baddie – not scary, not cool, not sophisticated, and definitely not memorable.
I do have one other quibble, and it’s with the episode’s final message. (Um, spoiler alert.) Ahsoka pledges her allegiance to Duchess Satine, saying – and I quote – “I never doubted you, Duchess.” “Neither did we,” chimes in the kids. Which is all nice and fine except it’s the exact opposite of what Ahsoka was preaching earlier in the episode, about how corruption can come from anywhere, and that we should always challenge politicians to keep them honest. Not only that, but the scene ends with a hug. There could have been real emotion in the scene – after all, Satine had just been betrayed and tortured (!) – but instead, the show contradicted its own principles for the sake of a schmaltzy reconciliation.
Aside from that, though, ‘The Academy’ managed to tie up its loose ends with intelligence and panache. For once, it seems, all those nagging inconsistencies were just part of the plan. Well played, Clone Wars. Well played.