Savage Opress made his broadcast debut in ‘Monster,’ last week’s episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. As the middle story in the Nightsisters arc, it’s a nearly Jedi-free episode as the key players are all on the dark side. While Savage impresses both Mother Talzin and Count Dooku, ‘Monster’ impressed me with action and story.
The quick recap: Believing that Asajj Ventress is dead and the Jedi are trying to assassinate him, Count Dooku turns to the Nightsisters of Dathomir to recruit a new assassin apprentice for himself. Repaying an old favor to the Count, Mother Talzin agrees to procure a male from Darth Maul’s bloodline on Dathomir. After Dooku departs, Asajj emerges and relishes in that this new assassin will secretly be a pawn for her vengeance against Dooku’s betrayal.
She speeds through the bulbous pod forest to the far side of Dathomir, where there is a village of tattooed Zabrak males. Faced with a lineup of hunky warriors being presented by an older trainer, Asajj does a little Goldilocks – too good looking, too small, too weak, before picking out five candidates, including the brothers Feral and Savage. Onto the three challenges – the breath of God, the word of… no, it’s a bunch of fighting challenges in a clifftop arena reminiscent of “Amok Time”. In the first, Asajj soundly lays the smackdown on the five guys, killing one and criticizing Savage for tending to his injured brother over fighting her. In round two, the arena lights are turned off, and Asajj zips around with a scythe, while the Zabrak stand back to back in the cold night air. After two fall to Asajj’s blade, Savage hears her approach, and pushes his kinsman to safety.
Being the only survivors, Feral and Savage must face Asajj in an ever changing arena of rising and falling giant blocks in round three. Using teamwork at first to track the Nightsister, they leap from platform to platform, until Feral slips back down to ground level. Asajj thrashes him and begins a choke attack when Savage jumps in and saves his brother again, asking their challenger to spare Feral and fight him alone. Epic animated kung fu begins on the ground, then turns to a block leaping fight. In the end, Asajj ends up with her heel on Savage’s throat and he surrenders his life to her as she stands over him, with a blood-red starry sky in the background.
Back at the Nightsister’s cavern town, Talzin approves of Asajj’s selection for his hate and puts him to sleep. The sisters do some magic to juice Savage, bulking him up and turning him into a monster. His transformation is more than physical – his first act when he awakes is to snatch Asajj’s windpipe. Asajj regains control and is released and gives He-man his final test: killing Feral. After getting slapped by Asajj, Savage picks up his pleading brother and crushes his neck, Vader style. After giving him a shiny weapon, Mother packs up and delivers the new assassin to Dooku.
On Serenno, Dooku is suitably impressed with Savage’s muscular appearance and tests his abilities by sending him to clean out a Jedi temple on Devaron. Arriving in the midst of a droid assault on the jungle outpost, Savage Opress flings droids aside and mows through clonetroopers to reach the end zone: the Jedi spire. The small Jedi Master Halsey is no match for Opress, who takes no damage from Halsey’s opening blows, and disarms and defeats him with one swing of his ax-spear thingy. Padawan Knox (remember that squidbaby from Men In Black – he’s a youngling now) charges and is thrown back to the doors, dead. Without bothering to go inside, Savage reports that the temple has been taken and the Jedi are dead. Back at Serenno, Dooku reveals his plan to his new apprentice: to teach him the dark side, making him more powerful that Darth Maul, and then together, overthrow Darth Sidious.
What went right with this episode? With this story arc, we get to see inside the dark side a bit more and we learn that the Nightsisters are probably a more formidable threat than even Dooku is. Luckily for the galaxy, they’re not interested in joining the war. Mother Talzin is just creepy – her augmented voice, her wavy robe tentacles, her army of little evil fairy godmothers. Those familiar with the EU know that the Nightsisters use the Force in a more ritualized magic way, and seeing it with the green glowy gases was neat, and contrasted well with the lush reds of Dathomir. So what is that green stuff they siphon into Savage: A) the mutagen from “TMNT 2: The Secret of the Ooze” B) Leftover ectoplasm from Slimer, or C) the last case of Four Loko. Probably all three. (and yes I’m sparing you from a Monster Energy Drink pun) And the chanting (which reminded me of the “Kora ratama” from Duel of the Fates) – not only when the Sisters are creating their My Pet Monster, but the background music slips in more chanting as Opress walks down the gangway to meet Dooku for the first time.
This storyline exposes Dooku’s main fault: while he plots his own treachery against his master, he doesn’t suspect deception from his fellow villains. Even at the end of his life, he is surprised when his master throws him under the bantha in favor of Anakin. And so, after having a new assassin for only one mission, he tells his new hire his whole plan. Dooku, you’re not working with Jedi anymore! Savage’s evil glance as he bows to his new lord at his introduction is a nice reminder that Dooku’s not the real master here.
Visually, Dathomir with its reddish hues was a treat. As a planet that has been visited several times before in the Star Wars universe, in novels and then comics, it and its inhabitants getting a bit of a redo here, but it is not too incongruous. I am pleased that they saved Savage’s presentation to Dooku to another planet, so that we could see Savage and the Nightsisters in “normal” light.
Now my little monsters, what was off? A lot of work went into crafting the story of turning a Zabrak warrior, loyal to his kin, into a Steelers-painted murder machine. But the fortune cookie is that “Evil is not born, it is taught” – was it really taught, or was it magicked in? Talzin sees the hate in Savage, but we haven’t seen it yet, instead there’s compassion for Feral throughout the tests. Only after the transmogrification does Savage show evil as he lashes out at Asajj at first. The hate that fuels him may be hate against his creators – what will happen when Savage doesn’t want to be the Nightsisters’ pawn anymore? But back to the fortune cookie, where does the evil come from in this episode? It’s not clear whether his evil stems from something he’s learned or from the unholy antifreeze they spritzed him with.
The only other thing that bugged me about ‘Monster’ was that the Dooku’s test at the end felt a bit short, like his first mission could have been a whole episode. Of course, an entire episode of Savage Opress kicking butt and killing Jedi probably wouldn’t be a great (or wholesome) story, but just one long action sequence. So eventually I reconciled with the fact that having his first mission be done brutally fast works well too. He wants the job done so quickly that he won’t let his own battle droids get in the way of his assault. Maybe I just desired seeing more of Opress in action, and leaving me wanting more is a good thing.
Overall: What a way to introduce a new character! ‘Monster’ delivered on making Savage Opress into a formidable member of the circle of scum and villainy. Let’s hope that he can develop his own character, distinct from his masters or the other villains we’ve seen. Going deeper into the magic world of the Nightsisters was also a treat – where exactly did Talzin whip up that cup of blackroot from? If someone conjured that up in front of me, I wouldn’t drink it – yet Dooku does, showing his trust for the leader of the Dathomiri witches. The action was good – in a show where we see a lot of duels, we don’t see a lot of unarmed combat, which Asajj and Savage (say those names five times fast) delivered on. And as Halsey learned against Savage Opress, sometimes size does matter. From watching shows that have used the three-episode arc, typically the first two parts are solid as they build up the conflict, and the third is so-so as they resolve it back to the way things were, but I hope that for this arc, they don’t go that route – I hope they keep Opress and the Nightsisters in the mix for a while. As both an origin story and as the middle part of a three part series, it’s easy to give high marks to something like ‘Monster’ but in this case, the episode, written by Katie Lucas, is well deserving.