It seems that for the past couple episodes, The Clone Wars really hasn’t lived up to the words in its name – mostly a lack of clones, and instead of wars, we’ve been focusing more on trade disputes and politicians. Last week’s episode, ‘Corruption’ continued this streak as Senator Amidala visits Duchess Satine on Mandalore and helps stamp out some black marketeers after a tainted product scandal. If this season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is called “Secrets Revealed”, the only revelation here is that some Padmé-focused episodes work (like last season’s ‘Senate Spy’) and some don’t.
The story: The setup: In having declared itself neutral in the Clone Wars, Mandalore finds itself cut off from the trade networks of the Republic, and now has to rely on the black market for basic goods. Apparently, Satine and her government didn’t think of the economic repercussions of opting out of the Republic’s war effort.
Padmé arrives to tell her friend that while the Republic can’t re-open trade, the senator will work hard to get the Mandalorians the goods they need. After meeting with Satine on the landing pad, the two zip into the domed city, where they are greeted by the throngs of Mandalorian citizens in jubilant entourage. The Mandos may have a collapsing economy, but they still have lots of ticker tape for a parade. Back at the docks, some toothy aliens in ancient Egyptian garb show up and bribe a surly customs official to look the other way as they offload cases of bottled soft drinks. Slurm, anyone?
In Satine’s throne room, Prime Minister Almec and several politicians bicker and point fingers about being forced to resort to the black market, when Satine lets Padmé wade in, and immediately get jumped on as a hypocrite for representing the Republic, which is as easily corrupt as the government on Mandalore. Upset that their arguing isn’t alleviating the suffering of the people, Satine sends everyone home to cool off.
Amunhotep and his band of Gotal henchmen have converted a warehouse into a base of operations where they plan to dilute their Soylent Green with slabin, or maybe high fructose corn syrup, to increase their profits. Oddly enough, all the soft drink came in bottled, so they’re going to have to unbottle it all, dilute it, and then rebottle it – and they didn’t seem to bring any extra bottles. Problem is, slabin can be toxic if added in the wrong proportions.
Over a quiet regal dinner of drumsticks and tofu cubes, Padmé and Satine share their frustrations as well as compete for having weirdest hairstyles: Satine’s rocks 80’s sweatband, while Padmé shows what happens when she lets her hair out when it’s short. The next day, they go to visit a hospital to be officially opened, but as they arrive, they find that it’s already admitting a swarm of patients: sick children. Shocked, Satine learns from the one doctor that they all seem to have been poisoned. More shocking is that a planetary leader doesn’t have someone to brief her about important developments like a citywide poisoning. Back at the capital, Prime Minister Almec suspects Death Watch is behind it, but Satine isn’t so certain, and when Almec appears to want to appoint a committee to look into the matter, Satine decides to move quicker by assembling her personal guard to investigate the dying children. Going to a school, Padmé and Satine learn that the cafeteria food wasn’t tainted, but the bottled tea drink came from an outside vendor. After the one doctor does lab tests on the Mountain Dewback and finds it poisonous, the school administrator tries to escape but is caught by the guard who force him into a car crash. It turns out that the school administrator got a kickback for purchasing the bad butter beer from a middleman. The two gals visit the importer who doesn’t really care that the head of state is visiting him, until she gets a little angry, and finally points out that a new shipment is arriving that night.
At the dock, Padmé and Satine joke about getting to sneak around in an “informal setting” away from their generally more stuffy official duties, and then witness the customs official taking a bribe from funky pharaoh and his soda smugglers. Interested in seeing how far up the corruption goes, the two friends don’t force an arrest on the spot. The next day, the captain of the customs team is hauled into Satine’s office and grilled about the smugglers but appears innocent, though offended that someone would imply that corruption is happening on his watch. They all go down to the warehouse, which is guarded by some government guards, who turn on the captain, but are hauled off by Satine’s men.
Angered at finding criminal elements on his docks, the captain opens up the warehouse to find the Snapple smugglers at work, who promptly open fire on the G-men, killing a few guards. Recovering, the Duchess and Senator are moved aside to safety, while the captain fires back, but is shot in the shoulder. Not one to miss out on a firefight, Padmé and two guards push a crate forward into the warehouse like a shield, and shoot up the baddies, and force the survivors to surrender. After the perps are hauled off, Satine furiously decides to have the warehouse torched, and her men bust out the flamethrowers, despite a plea from the customs captain that this is all evidence. With the tainted beverage supply chain broken, the Mandalorians can now import the antidote and save the sick kids.
Disgusted at how intolerable corruption had seeped into government, Satine expresses that she cannot count on her own administration but Padmé tells her to have hope. As the senator sets to depart, they agree to call on the Jedi to infiltrate the academy to help continue rooting out corruption.
So, what went right with this episode? A lot of the visuals sparkled throughout the episode, especially with the ticker tape parade scene, and some of the background activity being filled out, such as when one of the Gotal henchmen grumbles after two others carrying a barrel of slabin push him aside. The Mandalorian civilians and politicians wear clothing with geometric styles that match the geometric patterns of the Mando armor we’ve seen on bounty hunters. The smugglers ship was rather unique (albeit small for a freight carrying consumer products) – the slim vertical profile but insect-like landing style helped to reinforce the pseudo-Egyptian motif in the Moogan smugglers.
Where ‘Corruption’ missed the mark: The episode was just not very entertaining to me – it seemed slow, and the more I thought about it, the less sense it made. Who is really in charge of Mandalore and how the heck does that planet work? Satine appears now to be more a figurehead for the state rather than an actual chief executive. Prime Minister Almec seems to handle the politicians and administration and day to day stuff, and Satine is there to be adored by the crowd, or ignored by a boots-up-on-the-table importer. While she and Padmé track down the smuggler supply chain, they are accompanied by guards, but no real investigators or aides to help them. While we have a wealth of knowledge about Mandalore and its culture in the EU, the paving over of it in The Clone Wars gives us no material to work with for trying to make sense of Satine and her role. Breaking from her previous episodes as a general pacifist interested in order, Satine orders the warehouse burned to the ground on the spot rather that having it searched for evidence or handled as a crime scene. Mama bear’s anger over sick kids trumps normal legal procedures on Mandalore. In a culture that has had to deal with the terrorism of Death Watch, one might expect a strong reaction to the outbreak of poisonings, but Almec (who suspects Death Watch) or the other Mandalorians in general, do not seem to be on high alert during this incident. While this was done to show that Satine is the only one who cares, it just doesn’t make sense to me. I can get that Satine feels like she can only trust her guards to help in this investigation, but are they really the best team to stop an outbreak of poisonings in the city. And Satine’s action headband? Eek.
Padmé, in the movies seen with her retinue of guards and handmaids, is off running around a city without them – while Satine is her friend and thus the city is supposedly friendly but on a neutral world, it just seems odd that there’s nary a handmaiden to be seen accompanying her at least during public appearances. And her senatorial cruiser at the docks, is it just hovering there the whole time – it has the landing ramp down at the edge of the platform, but there’s no real room for it to land and no landing gear are seen?
And getting back to how this whole predicament started? With episodes starting in medias res, some stories in The Clone Wars just don’t make sense on how this got the way it did, and ‘Corruption’ was one of those – if choosing neutrality would mean effectively killing commerce to Mandalore, why didn’t Satine and her government figure that out before going neutral and plan for things like self-sufficiency or finding other neutral worlds to trade with? Would the people really applaud a state parade with the Duchess and her friend from the Republic in a time when there’s insufficient food and even soft drinks have to be smuggled in? Maybe the parade is just a front to impress Padmé on how great a Mandalorian welcome is, and the folks are cheering because they are being paid to be there.
In previous episodes that were heavier on dialogue, we tended to get some actual explanations for things, but here it was mostly Satine pushing her way through to help solve the case of the sick kids, letting us see parts of Mandalorian society, but not really being clear. Part of it comes from keeping the story limited to a small number of characters – but really, there’s only one doctor in this city? Who goes from the hospital to grabbing the Sprite bottle at a school from a student to doing the research on it at a lab (with the school administrator present – doesn’t he have other things to do?). I guess in a warrior culture, you might only have one scientist. But wait – this is the new Mando society, not all warriors anymore. And apparently no economists. And the setup for the continuing story? Send a Jedi to investigate the school? Is the school the source of the corruption on Mandalore? Like Johnny Cochran mentioning that Chewbacca lives on Endor, it Does. Not. Make. Sense.
And a final note: the first time we went to Mandalore in Season 2, we commented on the rather homogenous look to the tall blonde white Mandalorians that Satine rules over, and while we saw some actual darker hair colors among them on this trip, it really contrasted with the sneaky green Moogans with their catlike fangs and their clothing stolen from ancient Egyptian scribes. Using Earth-based cultural groups for a particular look may help differentiate different species, but can also fall into a stereotype trap.
Overall: In conclusion, ‘Corruption’ has its heart in the right place, but sadly nothing else seems to be in the right place for this episode. Maybe I would be more charitable had this episode seemed like a change of pace, but after ‘Supply Lines’ and ‘Sphere of Influence’ it just felt like a more confusing and less entertaining version of what we had previously seen. Satine had been a much more interesting character when paired with Obi-wan or having to deal with Death Watch, than seen here, having to deal with her own people as a leader. Padmé, on the other hand, felt well in her element – solving problems with skill and tact, and getting shoot bad guys at the end of the day. Satine, though probably older, should really take some lessons on how to govern from her younger friend. While Senator Amidala helps save the day on Mandalore, she doesn’t save the episode from boredom and confusion.