Sometimes you just want a bowl of sugary cereal, and this week Star Wars: The Bad Batch obliges. Just don’t go rooting around the box for any surprises.
Following an abrupt insurgency story arc on the planet Ryloth, which worked wonders for other Star Wars shows but only managed some minor place setting for The Bad Batch, “Infested” ventures back into the series’ patently familiar mission-of-the-week rhythm. Rife with a horde of gnarly flying bugs and little else, this week offers up a modestly amusing heist episode that tosses Hunter, Tech, Echo, Wrecker, and Omega into the center of black market maven Cid’s criminal enterprise. Seems that when the Bad Batch were off wrestling with gundarks, Cid’s tavern was overrun by crime impresario Isa Durand’s favorite son, Roland, who shows up with a squad of flunkies and gives Cid the ol’ heave-ho. Once Cid is reunited with Hunter & co., however, a plot is hatched to turn the tables on the wanna-be Devaronian despot.
Cid’s plan? It’s a stealth mission for the Batch this time around, which breaks down like so: they wheel through the abandoned caverns underneath Old Ord Mantell City and enter her office through a hidden passageway; Cid creates a diversion using her only two regulars to kidnap Roland’s prized pet, “Ruby” (more on Ruby in a minute); then they snatch Roland’s spice shipment meant as payment to the Pyke syndicate, that imposing spice cartel from The Clone Wars (they’re the type who don’t take complications lightly, as Roland later finds out). Sounds easy until Cid happens to mention that the caverns are home to “The Hive,” a nigh-endless swarm of flying man-eating bugs. (I presume they’re man-eating bugs?) In, out, a small hiccup here, some blaster fire there. And once half the episode is spent and the Batch have lost the spice to the swarm, the Pykes send Clone Force 99 back into the caverns to retrieve their ill-gotten gains. Plus, scummy gangsters that they are, they use Omega as their bargaining chip.
Simple stuff. But it’s hard to complain when “Infested” at least goes to the trouble of installing Rhea Perlman’s gravelly Cid as the episode’s center of gravity. (It’s no bad thing to perpetuate this series’ cheeky Cheers joke. Maybe Woody Harrelson’s Beckett can swing by for a cameo as Cid’s new bartender?) In a way, “Infested” is Cid’s episode; we don’t learn much more about her as a character (a recurring malady for this series), but we at least grok that Hunter and the Batch have developed a vague sense of loyalty to the scaly hustler—despite the fact that she constantly omits crucial details to their missions that put their lives at risk. And while she does extort Hunter to score the Batch’s cooperation (“Don’t forget,” she says, pointing her walking stick at the bandana-ed renegade, “I’ve been good at… keeping secrets.”) she later displays a semblance of responsibility for Omega’s safety. (“I got the kid into this mess, I’ll get her out.”) Hey, family’s family, right?
“Infested”, which was directed by Saul Ruiz and written by Amanda Rose Muñoz, does have some interesting things to offer, even if it is just spinning its wheels. For one, Old Ord Mantell City looks better than ever; its Blade Runner influences are more pronounced here, with choice uses of neon signage and alleyways stuffed to the gills with all sorts of scum and villainy. Also, it should be mentioned, the sound in this episode rules. The thin echoes, the low rumbling, the stale silence of the cavern, it all works to compound a deep atmosphere of dread. (Even if the inevitable payoff is slight.) And once Wrecker naturally pulls a Peregrin Took and clumsily drops his flashlight down a hole the Hive spills onto the screen in a rush of senseless horror which periodically explodes in a mess of green goo, a nice (and rare) visceral touch for The Bad Batch.
As for Omega, she gets to pull out her Zygerrian crossbow for a bit of bug blasting, but largely she’s kept quiet next to Roland as an imprisoned guest of the Pykes. And, like anybody who has ever been stuck sitting next to someone they have absolutely nothing in common with, she uses a nearby pet to relate to him. Ruby, the wee lizard the Batch “intercepted” from the Rhokai gang back in episode seven, comes up for a belly scritch and instead of nuzzling up to Roland, she sits on Omega’s lap. “She likes you,” the criminal prince notes, impressed. Later, Omega uses this fleeting moment of connection to plead for her fellow captive’s life to the Pykes. Somehow, despite the Pykes’ overwrought reputation for being unreasonable, they go for it. Roland lives to glower another day.
It’s about as undercooked as this kind of character moment gets, but at least the episode sticks to its guns in its final moments: “Why did you help him?” Hunter asks, and Omega, a class-A optimist if there ever was one, gives Hunter a big shrug: “I dunno! Ruby liked him. Maybe he’s not all bad.”
And that’s your show. “Infested” is a perfectly adequate filler episode for The Bad Batch, a thematically empty yarn that looks like a couple million bucks and works around the show’s faults even if it does in some respects perpetuate them. About as far away from the character-rich entry port that was the series’ premiere, we enter the final leg of this Star Wars story knowing almost as much about these characters as we did from the jump, major-league character nudges notwithstanding. That’s okay. “Infested” is loud and boisterous Saturday morning fodder, and as such it’s not supposed to mean anything. Not really. Sometimes, bugs are just bugs.
- I tried looking up Isa Durand, but it seems the shadowy criminal queen is a new addition to the Star Wars lore? (Unless I’m missing something.) In my investigations I did end up learning a lot more than I ever wanted to know about Rio Durant, that four-armed monkey guy from Solo: A Star Wars Story. So there’s that.
- Cid’s two tavern regulars play cards on top of poor ol’ Gonky. Nice touch, poor Gonky.
- Cid Nicknames Checklist: Wrecker is “Muscles”; Tech is “Goggles”; Omega is “Tiny”. She didn’t call Hunter “Bandana” this week, but you could tell she wanted to.
- It’s like poetry, it rhymes: Big stretch this week, but the Batch’s chase through the Ord Mantell caverns via rickety trolley vaguely recalls the mine cart chase in Lucasfilm’s Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom.
- It’s honestly strange how much The Bad Batch just glosses over Echo, the one Batcher who arguably has the most character backstory out of all of these characters. Did Echo even get a speaking line this week? The heck is going on?
- The Pykes mean to kill Roland but Cid ends up arguing for his life: “If you kill him, you’ll be starting a war with Isa Durand.” It works: The Pykes simply maim him. And while Roland loses a horn he gets to keep his life, and better, he gets to keep Ruby. It seems Roland’s momma has some serious juice in the galaxy, something to keep an eye open for.
- So, what did you think, group? Is Cid primed for a heel turn, or what? Will Isa Durand pop up somewhere down the line? Is Ruby some kind of scaly lizard cat? Let’s break out some cereal in the comments below.