'Star Wars: The Bad Batch' Fails To Deliver On Big Promises In "Common Ground"

When "Common Ground" opens, it flaunts the scale and flavor of a Clone Wars episode sans Tom Kane's narrated montage. It begins not on the Bad Batch (Dee Bradley Baker) pondering an issue, but on a planet in peril and a worried senator, Avi Singh (Alexander Siddig), looking over his civilians in an Imperial gunpoint situation. This time, we're witnessing the post-Republic era where the Republic-turned-Empire is the antagonist with the clone army unambiguously serving the oppressors in a tyrannical occupation. And this is the first Bad Batch episode where a Separatist plays an active supporting role.

Back in the Clone Wars days from 2008, much of the classic episodes involved circumstances that challenged the clones' perspective and views — often Rex's — especially since injecting the clones' appearance since Attack of the Clones cast a veil of moral grayness in the prequel-era. In the script written by Gursimran Sandhu, "Common Ground" invokes a material-rich scenario where Cid (Rhea Perlman) assigns the ex-Republic clones to extract the Separatist senator from the Imperial-occupied Raxus, a Separatist planet which debuted in "Heroes on Both Sides" on Clone Wars, at the request of her client: the senator's droid (Sian Clifford, channeling droid humor). Recall that "Heroes on Both Sides" further developed Ahsoka's — and the viewers' — perspective on the war outside of the "Republic are the good side [on a spectrum]" scope. Naturally, living with the physical and psychological consequences of the Separatist army altering and violating his will, Echo voices dissent and grits his teeth to go along with the mission. But for all the material to mine here, something's missing.

Under Saul Ruiz's direction, the thick-with-action operates at Clone Wars tier with a stunning use of scope and scenery, complete with the hijacking of an Imperial walker. The Bad Batch are a four-man army (we'll get to Omega's absence) facing a barrage of enemies — that aren't droids. It's nothing new that the Batch shoot back at their reg clone brothers, but distinctively and conspicuously here, the Bad Batch's blasters are set to stun, not to kill, in contrast to their past approach when regs cornered them. But the cut-to-the-chase pacing doesn't allow a breather to verbally acknowledge what motivated this crucial shift.

Interesting character aspects dissolve as well. Sure, the Batch brothers help and eventually trust someone who is considered their enemy and Echo warms up to drop advice for the downcast Separatist senator to "live to fight for his people." But illustrating their change because a senator was simply being a trustworthy individual on the battlefield rather than realizing he's a soul fighting for his civilians against a tyrannical rule — essentially the Batch's common enemy — is dissatisfactory. And this is coupled with a dismissive "Forget politics. We're here to do a job" to Echo without unpacking his trauma-fueled sentiment. By the end, the Batchers do little to weigh out the incidental moral benefits of their mercenary assignment to save a particular planet and group of people from the Empire's rule. "Common Ground" also forgoes its potential for the Batch to gaze intensely at complexities about the Republic's role in the war that ultimately were the makings of Darth Sidious's Empire. Internal analyses may as well be evoked later, but The Bad Batch has a bad habit of exploring idiosyncrasies in hindsight, like how even superb episodes "Replacements" and "Reunion" picked up slack on compelling points, rather than working on solid groundwork. (I think about the shot in the "Siege of Mandalore" arc when Bo-Katan and Ahsoka stare disapprovingly at Republic clone soldiers occupying Mandalore.)

As the boys are out, a much more defined arc is found in the smaller story of Omega (Michelle Ang) unlocking a life lesson that there are ways to function outside of the field, even if the tool to demonstrate such is oblique. Hunter leaves Omega behind with Cid and the two develop their own business dynamic. Cid begins as Omega's callous babysitter until Omega helps Cid make money by being a good dejarik player and worth betting on. This is the first mission where Omega is booted to the sidelines, shut out from an opportunity to heroically save the day in action as she did in "Rampage", though she does (too) conveniently resolve the Batch's debt situation with Cid. However, Omega's talents at chess-esque dejarik are vague, passed off as her having a knack for strategy when most of Omega's onscreen competency chalked down to sharp instincts. The script and direction don't telegraph the specific strategies and rules of dejarik so we have to take Omega and Cid at their word that the former knows where pieces should go.

The rest of "Common Ground" could have been a classic like "Replacement" and "Reunion." But when you spy the summary on Disney+ "The Batch has their ideology challenged" and finish the episode, you'll wonder, did that actually happen to begin with?

Other Thoughts:

  • Fun fact: Raxus was also a setting in Christie Golden's novel Dark Disciple, which adapted eight unproduced Clone Wars episodes, incidentally where Dooku received the Raxian Humanitarian Award and made a speech about the inhumanities of the Republic breeding clones for war.
  • If you watch the Disney+ Clone Wars line-up in order as they aired, you'll have the weird experience with the last installment of the three-episode arc, "Senate Murders," slotted in the second season, while the beginning and middle of said arc was placed in the third season. While "Senate Murders" was watchable as a standalone episode, as an ender to the arc it ended it on a whimper.