'Star Wars: The Bad Batch' Embarks On A Dull Spice Recovery Mission In The Filler Episode "Infested"

Filler can be a word that's flung around carelessly. It can be misapplied to episodes in a series that aren't meant to propel the narrative forward, but simply breathe in the character dynamics. Sometimes filler isn't literally filler, but a method to load emotional investment and simmer the stakes. Filler can be viewed as technique rather than flaw. However, while not gratingly bad, "Infested" (directed by Saul Ruiz and written by Amanda Rose Muñoz) wears the worst elements of filler. It's a slog that misses out on a chance to illuminate much or at least provide a worthwhile sit-through. Unlike other Star Wars: The Bad Batch chapters like "Common Ground" that made promises but failed to keep them, "Infested" doesn't even make any promises. And the low bar does not nudge.

The Bad Batch (Dee Bradley Baker) and Omega (Michelle Ang) land back on Ord Mantell after an unspecified post-Ryloth mission and return to Cid's (Rhea Perlman) parlor only to find it swarmed with unrecognizable armored gang lackeys and a new crime boss, Roland (Tom Taylorson), sitting at her desk. Cid has been usurped. The clone siblings nearly ditch Ord Mantell. But at Omega's urging, they decide to help Cid. While Omega begging to help Cid is in character since their chemistry was set up, the older Batchers helping Cid, more on Omega's pleading than the threat of Cid giving up the Batch's secret location, is less characteristically plausible.

Cid hatches a scheme to sneak into a hidden underground mine to steal Roland's crates of spice meant to be shipped off to another crime group, the Pyke Syndicate (Liam O' Brien) introduced in Clone Wars, from her stolen office. That way, an angry Pyke Syndicate could eliminate Roland if they don't get their spice payment. In the first time that Cid accompanies them on the mission, the Batchers carry out her order, having to hover-cart above a nest of dangerous insects. Things go south.

Pair voice performers like Perlman and Baker and they're the kind of actors ripe for priceless banter just as Perlman and Ang had a well-toned dynamic. But the script doesn't treat them to one-liners and banter, with Cid scolding the Batchers. The direction also barely makes a move to do anything strategic with a sneaking scenario across a cobwebbed hive pit that requires utmost quiet.

The previous Ryloth arc, with the first part miraculously fleshing out the Batchers by relegating (yet not reducing) them as side characters in someone else's war story, remains a tough act to follow. It also left viewers with a queasily exciting cliffhanger — Crosshair being sent after his brothers — that's at odds with the stagnancy of "Infested," where Crosshair or the turning point regarding the clones' brain chips are never mentioned.

Filler Up

If "Infested" is the negative variety of filler, then I make a case that the Peyton Reed-directed The Mandalorian episode "Chapter 10: The Passenger" aligns with the best potential of filler with its own rewatch value. It is a Mandalorian episode with negative reputation among fans and critics as being "filler." But its focus on a side quest was an asset, not a disadvantage. "The Passenger" checked several boxes even if its elements were not ever to resurface in the larger narrative: humor, the Star Wars universe being allowed to breathe, a sense of human oversight and consequence, and submersion into mood. "The Passenger" also had more story license in its series to stand on its own without halting a momentum. Also, if "Infested" is intended as a calm-before-the-storm breather episode (precluding a long-awaited re-confrontation with Crosshair?), it is far from the emotional bravado of "The Mystery on Chopper Base" in Star Wars Rebels.

It's far from pointless. The most it does is make Omega's purity of spirit show — but not shine like it did in previous appearances and the Ryloth arc. There's a reaction shot of Wrecker, who holds the most fraternal connection to Omega, hearing Cid's words about getting Omega out of a hostage situation and he quietly realizes that she's sincere. But the episode doesn't approach a dynamic between Wrecker and Cid once they're in the insect pit together.

Nothing has to be a turning point. Nothing has to be relevant in a grander scheme. The Bad Batch could very well re-invoke those elements that could save or doom the main characters: The Pykes being a deadly villainous gang and the namedrop of another gang leader (Isa Durand), the morally ambiguous Cid showing some honor for Omega and the Batchers, Omega extending compassion even to seedy characters, and a new underground set-piece that could be a Chekhov's Gun strategy just waiting to happen. But the entertainment rule is that you have to savor the moments and build anticipation, keep things self-contained.

The only amusing moment is Omega's sincere interaction with Roland while held hostage by the Pykes. The criminal's "ugh, you make [being a criminal] sound so undignified" is the only noteworthy line. Alas, if only everything else matched up.