This Star Wars: The Bad Batch review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch Episode 13
“Infested,” directed by Saul Ruiz and written by Amanda Rose Muñoz, explores the Bad Batch’s criminal underworld home base in an inconsequential but competent episode. Cid (Rhea Perlman) gets a well-deserved stint as a main character in an adventure that feels like a side plot, with choppy bursts of classic Star Wars action not really adding much to the story of the clones as clones. While not every story can be (or should be) as hooked in to the rest of the franchise as Hera’s was last week, “Infested” left the Bad Batch feeling more generic than when it started.
What actually happens is that the clones return “home” to discover that their benefactor/client Cid has been deposed. In her spot sits Roland Durand, the original owner of the pet lizard the gang recovered in a brief intro earlier in the season. He’s a gang member trying to live up to the criminal aspirations of his mother, starting with taking over Cid’s place. What follows is a twisting plan to get the cantina back, involving an expedition into a mine filled with deadly insects who don’t like visitors.
The characterization of the Bad Batch remains status quo. Wrecker is afraid of heights, Tech builds things, Hunter doesn’t want to get involved with other people’s problems, and Omega talks him into doing it anyway. This last one is becoming increasingly annoying. We do know Hunter’s reason for hesitating to help here, just like he did on Ryloth: he doesn’t want to put his team in more danger than necessary. Meanwhile, Echo doesn’t believe any of this criminal stuff is a soldier’s job. While Hunter may disagree with Echo on what that means, he might also still miss having the structure (albeit minimal when it came to his team) of the Republic army.
As a motivation, I don’t mind this. It certainly is an explanation for both why Hunter doesn’t go above and beyond for Cid’s jobs, and gestures at both the nature of being a Republic clone and the way that’s having to change under the Empire. But it’s just a gesture, and does more to prove Omega’s open-heartedness by contrast than it does to deepen Hunter’s character. Omega is very sweet, and the repetition of this fact endears me to her (and makes me worry about what dark turn her story might eventually take). But we’ve now seen the same argument in two consecutive episodes, followed by the situation meaning Hunter has good reason to cave pretty easily.
So, not much actually happens. The clones journey into the mine to steal Roland’s spice, therefore setting him up for failure in front of his client, the Pyke gang. At first they succeed, but then discover that the Pykes have no problem using Roland as bait to draw Cid out to deal with her once and for all. At the end, the Batch are back where they started with the bar under Cid’s control.
However, I don’t always find the discussion of whether something is filler to be useful criticism. Foundational character work can happen in an episode that doesn’t move the plot forward. Something seemingly inconsequential can end up having a big impact later (such as in the season one Rebels episode “Fighter Flight”). The larger problem with “Infested” is that the characterization isn’t particularly interesting (or even present), the action just okay, the Bad Batch mostly just the muscle for Cid’s story.
Roland Durand and Cid’s personalities help elevate the mediocre plot. They’re also the characters who change the most and have the most to lose. Rhea Perlman’s attitude elevates her character’s so-so dialogue, and Cid’s just fun to watch, her big body and bony head providing a distinct shape. She’s far from the The Clone Wars staple of the majority of women characters being some variant of ingénue. Newcomer Roland Durand changes more than one might expect, unfolding from hard-edged crime lord to ambiguously young upstart. His mix of threat and vulnerability are fun. His plight also connects to the wider story a little, as we know the Pykes once worked with Maul’s gang and seem to be thriving under the Empire.
Stories like this can work with the main characters not actually being at the center: look at The Mandalorian, which derives maybe half of its charm from the very fact that Din Djarin does not know what’s going on most of the time. But even without speaking, he tends to have more personality than the Batch do here. Nevertheless, I have reluctantly become a Wrecker fan, with every reminder of his fear of heights — and there are getting to be a lot of them — endearing him to me more.
The action is fine, with staples of cartoon exploration (imposing heights, dangerous creatures, and even a fun sci-fi take on railroad hand cars). After a beautiful few episodes, the animation wavers a bit here. In part that’s because many of the scenes take place in darkness, making it difficult to see what the bugs and people are doing (or to get a look at a minor material upgrade — Wrecker’s snazzy new climbing harness). The insect scenes in particular felt more disorienting than anything else. Even some wide shots of the city don’t feel entirely finished. The music also plays it safe, evoking (and watering down) the Imperial march a little bit for the journey into the caves. (And if the caves were under the city, why did the team have to go so far outside it to recover the spice?)
I wish I had more to say about the Batch themselves in this episode, or that the show was more interested in detailing what they really think. Cid giving the orders is fun, but means that the clones yet again take a back seat in their own show. While the two episodes with Hera pulled on other parts of the franchise to fill in the gap, this one simply maintains the status quo. We know by now that Cid’s bar is a good home base for the gang, regardless of her ambiguously amoral work, so in a way this is an episode about the clones defending their new home in a way they couldn’t for Kamino or the Republic. But I might be reading too much into something that isn’t actually there, doing the work because I want these characters to better stand on their own.
Those hand carts with LED lighting were very charming, though.