Rebels has — in its own, piecemeal way — been dealing with the fallout from “Twilight of the Apprentice” all season long. Now, in the mid-season finale “Visions and Voices,” things between Ezra and Maul come to something of a turning point.
I wasn’t someone who hated Rebels from the word go for the crime of not being season seven of The Clone Wars. That said, I was pleased when they began to bring in elements from TCW in season two. It’s taken me until now, however, to realize that Rebels is not the same sort of show TCW was, nor is it trying to be. The Clone Wars was focused on longer, if self-contained, story arcs, and was aimed primarily at teens and older. Rebels, on the other hand, seems interested in sticking to an episodic format long since abandoned by most adult television, with its primary intended audience apparently children. This is neither a good thing or bad; it’s simply a choice. Not the one I personally would prefer, but that’s not up to me.
That’s not to say Rebels is completely episodic; each episode does build on the last, moving the story along. It’s just that stories and character arcs which might be allowed a little room to breathe on other shows feel hurried and truncated here.
Each season does have a thread, an ongoing storyline that the show continues to return to, similar to the “mythology” episodes of the mostly episodic The X-Files. In season one, this was Ezra’s growth as a Jedi and the increasing threat of the Grand Inquisitor. Season two, of course, focused at least in part on Ahsoka and Vader. Season three’s main storyline, if you want to call it that, has up until this point been fallout from the season two finale, in the form of the relationship between Ezra and Maul.
In a scene which, in any other show, might have been foreshadowed over two or three episodes, Ezra sees visions of Maul and basically flips out on one of the poor eyeless Rebel extras (seriously, what is with all the creepy eyeless extras? Are eyes really that difficult to animate?). Kanan takes Ezra to visit Bendu — for no apparent reason, since Bendu’s advice is “lol dudes the real Maul is right there.” And so he is, with an offer: the visions Ezra’s experiencing are a side-effect of the aborted joining of the holocrons from “Holocrons of Fate”; the experience has left Ezra and Maul psychically bonded. Only by performing a ritual can the link be broken, and — more to the point, at least as far as Maul is concerned — the fragments of information gleaned from the two holocrons can finally be understood by Ezra and Maul.
Ezra no longer seems tempted by Maul’s offers of knowledge and power. Which, on the one hand, is uncharacteristically smart of young Mr. Bridger. On the other hand, it’s another aborted storyline — Ezra’s flirtation with the dark side — which could have sustained much more story than it actually did.
Maul takes Ezra to Dathomir, where — judging by his collection of artifacts and his creepy shrine to the Duchess Satine — he’s been living since escaping Malachor, to perform the ritual which will let each of them see the information they’d been trying to glean from the holocrons. In Ezra’s case, the means to defeat the Sith. In Maul’s case, the means to revenge himself upon the one who bisected him and left him for dead. In a nice bit of synchronicity, it turns out they’re both after the same thing: the location of one Obi-Wan Kenobi.
What follows is fairly rote and predictable — the ritual had a cost which Maul failed to mention, and the enraged spirits of the Nightsisters appear and possess Kanan and Sabine, who had followed Ezra and Maul to Dathomir. Maul takes off, and Ezra drives the Darksisters out of his friends without too much effort. Once everyone’s safe, he reveals what he saw — Kenobi is alive, on a desert planet with twin suns. We, of course, know this is Tatooine, as does Maul, but the Rebels have no idea. At this point, it seems like there’s very little stopping Maul just heading off to Tatooine to deal with Kenobi, but presumably something will stay his hand, so that he and the Rebels can all arrive at the same moment in appropriately dramatic fashion.
It’s interesting this was where the writers chose to leave things at the mid-season break, and not with some tie-in or reference to Rogue One. Granted, I’m not certain where Rebels is exactly in the timeline — that is, how far away from Rogue One we are — but I think a lot of people are expecting some sort of Rogue One tie-in to occupy the back half of the season. I wonder now, however, if that will be woven in with the search for and — dare I say it? — the eventual discovery of Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine. The season two finale gave us the long-awaited duel between Ahsoka and Vader — will season three end with the Maul/Kenobi rematch?
Then again, I’m still thinking in the terms of season-long arcs, not the episodic format Rebels has settled into. It’s possible we’ll get an episode devoted to Rogue One, another about Kenobi, and that’s all.
Whatever the future brings, “Visions and Voices” is another serviceable, if not spectacular, episode. The prospect of a Kenobi appearance is cause for excitement, and Sabine’s recovery of Pre Vizsla’s Darksaber is likewise intriguing. As an episode itself, however, “Visions and Voices” is mostly mediocre. The animation of the Nightsister spirits is gorgeous, but the story felt flat, and even the action was unmemorable. Kenobi or no, this wasn’t the strongest note to end the first half of the season on.