Quick note: this is not a full review, but rather a closer look at several aspects of each episode (with the presumption that you’ve also seen it). As always, SPOILERS from here on out.
On this episode of Rebels, entitled The Honorable Ones, Agent Kallus – he of the mutton chops and the cool helmet – gains some much needed attention and deepening of character. Or put another way: he’s trying really really hard at this evilling business but is really just a doe-eyed softie and also can I hug him yet?
As much as I loved the episode, it was mostly one I’ve seen before-in countless other TV shows (I won’t list them, I’m sure you can provide your own list): plopping the antagonist into a locked room with (one of) our heroes, where they must set aside their differences in order to escape, during which time our hero learns that the bad guy isn’t all that bad. That he is, say, an actual human being with thoughts and feelings of his own. Almost like, I don’t know, an actual person?
It’s all very rote, but I don’t mean that as a negative. Sure, it’d be nice to have more variety on the telly, but I’ll happily accept the same thing done very well (why hello, The Force Awakens). So today I’d like to highlight several scenes that I’ve seen pop up in other shows.
‘You’ll Get A Fair Trial’
Crashed on an icy moon, Zeb and Kallus must quickly hitch a ride off of that rock before they freeze. Unfortunately, the only device they have to call for a space taxi is an Imperial transponder. Use that and the Empire will come knocking very quickly. Zeb, naturally, isn’t willing to do so, but Kallus tries to persuade him to do so by assuring him that he’ll ‘get a trial’. Zeb doesn’t think much of this – and the implication being that we, the viewers wouldn’t either, probably collectively uttering ‘oh you sweet summer child’ at Kallus’ naivete. But listen closely to what he says. Or rather, what he doesn’t.
I started this segment with the phrase ‘you’ll get a fair trial’ not because I misremembered the line* but because this is typically what is uttered in similar situations. It’s something said by both heroes and villains alike, depending on who’s in authority, and is usually all that needs to be said in the given situation. But there are some things missing in this instance: the fair bit. Why? This may be reading too much into it (have we met?), but I couldn’t help but notice that Kallus over-pronounced the last word-as if, say, he had been intending to add that little but important word but caught himself at the last moment and overcompensated.
*Well, not entirely.
There could be a number of things to explain this. Maybe David Oyelowo himself intended to say that but remembered just in time. Perhaps Oyelowo was injecting a twinge of pain into Kallus’ voice, or perhaps it was the cold. Maybe it’s just something entirely unintended. Or maybe Oyelowo realised, too, that Kallus, as blind as he was to the injustices perpetrated by his own Empire, knew just enough to know that Zeb’s trial would be anything but fair. Given the glimpses into his character later in the episode, I think this could be reasonably assumed.
But to move on, notice how he also doesn’t list Zeb’s crimes. In other shows, as here, this would be easily understood simply because we’d know from seeing the crimes leading up to that moment (what with Zeb spending the last year or two blowing up Imps for our viewing pleasure). And true enough this is what Kallus meant; but it’s clear that these two characters are not on the same page. Notice how Zeb quickly changes the focus onto his species. Of course it wouldn’t go well, it never does for Lasat, he says, because he’s guilty simply of being a Lasat. It’s a not very subtle stab at Kallus, admittedly, but it perfectly sets up, as a very gentle reminder, the later argument and revelation of Kallus’ boasting-to put it delicately.
Now look at the scene on a broader level: in other shows, heroes say it because it’s the right thing to do. Villains say it to get the hero in prison. For Kallus it’s a mixture of both – on top of pure self-preservation. He wants to survive, and the quickest way of doing that is to get Zeb to cooperate. But more than that, despite later alluding to having some misgivings about the Empire, he’s still loyal and still believes that they are what’s best for the galaxy. He honestly believes he’s the hero of this story! And that’s despite being a genocidal maniac – or rather, pretending to be. How messed up do you have to be, how much doublethink is going on in your head, to hold both those beliefs as true?
Our hero and villain part ways amiably, sometimes even warmly (which this show had to take literally) and the episode ends with a long parting shot of one or the other in a place of isolation, with the person most likely striking a pose of thoughtfulness or melancholy. Again I’m not describing the scene shown above, but rather painting, in broad strokes, similar scenes in TV shows the world over. How does this one stack up?
Well, yes, it does fit strikingly well into that mold, but it does it beyond the standard sad music/relying on us to have the sympathetic gut reaction at seeing a lonely person. We do of course have the moment of personal despondency, but it’s notable because it adds an extra layer to it. It shows, in a way that thankfully doesn’t make his pain about something or someone else*, just how uncaring the Empire is. Not necessarily in an evil way – but in an everyday way that leads to evil.
*Which is both problematic in and of itself as well as on a purely technical storytelling level.
It shows one of the key differences between the Empire and the rebels. Whereas the rebels are all warm a fluffy, the Empire barely notices that you’re gone. When Kallus, who appears to be fairly high ranking-enough to talk to an admiral seemingly on equal footing-is barely acknowledged, that offers us a glimpse as to how large that Empire is, and how small a cog* Agent Kallus truly is.
*Yes, I did mean cog, get your mind out of the gutters.
And though it does again demonstrate the evilness (evility?) of the Empire, that scale is the more important thing. Kallus’ time in the cave (smart, Rebels) had the potential to be life-altering. I don’t mean that in terms of occupation or what side of the war he’s on, but on the smaller, yet still important, scale of Kallus’ mind. This could severely alter his outlook on the Empire and how he acts from this moment forth. And this slight changing of his mindset would naturally be a Big Thing to him – and yet for the rest of the Empire his sojourn barely amounts to an ‘oh, were you gone?’. How is he going to take that?
It was fantastic to get a large fleshing out of his character with this episode, and the personal implications make me excited for what’s to come. Again, I don’t mean the possibility of Kallus becoming a rebel. I mean something much better, because looking back, Kallus’ actions have by and large been above board and this change will hopefully mean that our Spectres will get to face a worthy foe: a truly honourable Imperial.