Subversive. That is one way to summarise the seventh episode of the seventh season of The Clone Wars in one word.
It defied expectations on multiple levels, in the story’s overall structure and outcome as well as in presenting some facts that presented our traditional perception of the Jedi upside-down.
Straight From A Platonic Dialogue
Previously, in “Deal no Deal”, Ahsoka and the Martez sisters found themselves imprisoned by the Pykes. Both sisters share part of the blame: Rafa for making a deal with the criminals, Trace for dumping the spice cargo, therefore landing them in this trouble.
The episode opens up with a discussion about ethics. Rafa claims that had they simply delivered the spice, they would have stayed out of trouble. At that point, Ahsoka reminds her of the bigger picture: the delivered spice would have likely ruined the lives of multiple other beings.
I was very happy to see this discussion, and how it was presented. It had a good basis for a philosophical debate, showing first Rafa’s point as technically right for the protagonists, then adding broader perspective. We might ask: even if dumping the cargo meant that Ahsoka and the sisters died here, would it be a price worth paying for saving many more potential victims of the Pykes’ spice trade?
Common People As Collateral Damage
The same theme of the good of the few vs. the good of many came up in Rafa’s story that was prompted by this argument. We finally learned the sisters’ past, who their parents were, and why the sisters do not particularly like the Jedi. The parents died during the chase for Ziro the Hutt, when they became “collateral damage” of more other civilians being saved.
The crucial part of this story was that a Jedi came to see the sisters afterwards, apologised, but offered no other help than a promise that “the Force will be with you”.
That is something that kind of goes in line with the way the prequel-era Jedi have been portrayed. Meaning: heroic, but more concerned with the “bigger picture” and not always very, let’s say, empathetic in one-on-one contact.
There are, of course, many of examples of the Jedi bonding with someone, helping or saving some individual, but throughout the Clone Wars, we have witnessed plenty instances of the Jedi wreaking havoc and causing collateral damage in the name of good.
A Jedi Failure?
And that is the most subversive thing. Most viewers have learned to take the Clone Wars stories as “war adventures”. We have followed many battles of good Jedi and good clones against evil droids to protect innocent native aliens on some planet, but we weren’t invited to think about “what happens after”. TCW were never particularly happy, they were full of grim dark stories, but we viewed the grimness and darkness mostly through the eyes of the protagonists. The mood was kind of “the war is ugly, we suffered losses, but we soldier on”.
The story of Martez sisters tells something else. Especially since it is tied to an actual aftermath of a story we have watched – the Ziro escape. It shows the story of people who had to deal with “what happens after” and it marked their lives forever. What more, it showed a moment where a Jedi failed to live up to their ideals. And that is the second subversive moment.
I shall save discussing this for another time. For now, let’s just say that of course the Jedi cannot be expected to care for every single orphan in the Galaxy. But there was likely something more the Jedi could have done to help the sisters, either on personal level, or on the systemic level. It seems clear that the Jedi at this time focussed much more on the objective of defeating the Separatists than, say, providing for war orphans. Making sure that street kids don’t starve and aren’t forced to run jobs for criminals is, essentially, as much a way of protecting innocents and keeping the justice in the Galaxy as flashing a lightsaber in the front lines.
No Heroic Escape
The third subversive moment came in the end – when even after numerous amazing feats from Ahsoka, the heroes ended up captured again. The plot of your average TCW episode would go as follows: the heroes are in prison, then, after overcoming multiple obstacles, they manage to get themselves out.
But “Dangerous Debt” ends the same way it started. The heroes accomplished nothing – apart from having a deep talk among themselves. All right, and alerting Bo-Katan and Ursa Wren (Rebels fans cheer), who happen to be on an undercover mission on Oba Diah, to their presence.
I liked this episode. I liked it a lot. “Dangerous Debt” showed that TCW can not only be profound, but that it can be actually profound in ways you would not necessarily expect from it. To go from the shallow, casual remarks and cheesy taglines into a very realistic perspective of what it means when there’s a galactic war.