I Am Fulcrum
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“An Inside Man” is one of the best episodes Star Wars Rebels has produced so far in its run. It is not an episode that may reach the emotional highs of “The Honorable Ones”, but it nevertheless gives the narrative a propulsion along with a sense of real stakes, both of which the show has lacked in quite a while. The premiere of season three promised the show’s best villain yet in Grand Admiral Thrawn and regardless of how well-versed one is with what is now Star Wars Legends lore, the show did well enough at promising an individual who was not to be trifled, a villain who was going to prove his mettle far more convincingly than either of the show’s previous villains were able to. Perhaps facing the daunting task of filling twenty-two episodes worth of material with substance, Rebels went on a run of episodes that felt like filler. It was terribly obvious that the series was going for something more substantive, but the structural weaknesses in the scripts kept on giving episodes that felt like they were aiming for “greatness” but settling in for a passing grade instead. The setups they were missing, like visiting Hera’s homestead and exploring more of Sabine’s Mandalorian connection felt even more grating because of the sheer potential that existed there being squandered in stories that shied away from asking the questions they were capable of raising and answering.
The crux of “An Inside Man” does rely upon a Rebels trope of our protagonists being disguised as Stormtroopers, so there is that bit of narrative device using that could use some improvement. That crux does work well enough because for once, there is something resembling a tactical equivalence between the rebels and the Imperials from an intelligence point of view. There are strategies being blocked by counterstrategies and those being blocked once more by an unforeseen development being shrewdly employed to achieve the element of surprise. Outside of the opening, “An Inside Man” gives the audience the most intricate, well-rounded work on its primary villain this season and it works wonders beyond the ones provided due to Lars Mikkelsen’s smooth, silky voice. There’s something that is inherently intriguing about a character whose villainy arises from his ability to use his brain and think strategically towards achieving a goal, instead of just espousing bombastic force and or the Force itself. Thrawn is bordering on the line of simply being too good at actually calculating, however, and it would be good to see Rebels spending some time in order for the audience to actually see how Thrawn arrives at his calculations instead of just seeing him go through with them. Moments like him seeing the Rebels not using their usual strategy can quickly come to sound like narrative shortcuts and not pieces of knowledge that have been earned.
The opening of the episode upon Ezra hearing the voices of his parents was awkward, considering it didn’t lead to any sense of palpable payoff within the episode but more importantly wasn’t structured into the plot, either. The return of Samar was the closest such link and even he didn’t feel as connected as he should have for his death to have any emotional weight. That being said, his death sequence was the first truly strong note in an episode that got quite a lot right. The rebels on Lothal had infiltrated an Imperial weapons and machine factory and while that infiltration was successful in manufacturing subpar machinery and weaponry, at a certain point the malfunctioning rate was simply too high, causing too many casualties for Governor Pryce to not take some note. Thrawn, keenly aware that the workers simply don’t care to do good work as a good chunk of them were forced into the Empire’s service, has Samar test out the latest bike he manufactured. His explosive death served as a keen warning and more than a bit of a shocking image from a show marketed at kids. The stakes are firmly established, even if the emotional wounding the episode is aiming for in that moment is only captured in the gruesomeness of the moment.
The episode’s biggest reveal is the reveal of Kallus as the new Fulcrum. It’s a shocker not because of the actual reveal, which makes quite a bit of sense, but it feels shocking because it happened in the middle of an episode that wasn’t posited as a season finale or a mid-season finale even (that moniker falls to the episode next week). It happens in an elevator moments after where the feeling is raised that perhaps Kallus is somewhat of a traitor to the empire, but it nevertheless isn’t something that is thoroughly expected. It’s a brilliant twist, imbued with an inevitability the show has earned with Kallus’s character but also because of the misdirection earlier in the season where it seemed that Kallus had paid his debt to the Rebels by saving Sabine and crew. That seemed to be a reasonable payoff to the events between Kallus and Zeb, but it turns out that stranding altered Kallus in ways that he couldn’t have imagined. That sinking feeling that he was working for something wasn’t worth it, that isolation he felt when he was abandoned by people who were supposed to be his comrades, that got to the core of who he was and perhaps more importantly, who he thought he was. It’s a considerably dangerous game he’s embarked upon, but that journey is providing us with arguably one of the richest, most complex Star Wars characters and it is without a doubt the series’s greatest achievement to date.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“What? That was convincing.”
“Well, I wanted to do it.”
+Does Thrawn know?
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