After the past couple episodes that featured Death Watch and scores of fan favorite bounty hunters, Friends And Enemies had a lot to live up to. In my opinion, this was the best episode since Umbara, not only because it contained great characters, dialog, and sequences, but was actually the first post Carnage Of Krell episode that was relevant to the overall story of the Clone Wars, in the form of the dynamics between Anakin, Obi-Wan, the Jedi Council, and Chancellor Palpatine. It contained the right mix of humor, plot, action, and suspense for me, and really exemplified a quintessential bounty hunter espionage story in the Star Wars universe.
I am going to start with the plot here. A lot of Clone Wars episodes are weakly written in my opinion. Sometimes the story is too black and white, and only heavy action and breathtaking animation can pull the show above water. There are heroes and villains, but rarely character conflict to any extent. The shining episodes of Season 4 from a character standpoint are the Umbara episodes, because they forced the heroes to break the mold and act independently. This arc and episode also follows that path to compelling story telling. The heroes Obi-Wan and Anakin are put in a position by the writers, where they are in conflict with each other, despite both characters doing the right thing in the audiences eyes. This setup creates tension and suspense, and even though we know that neither of them will perish, there is still suspense concerning how their conflict will affect their relationship with each other, as well as other characters whose fates are yet to be sealed, like Cad Bane and Ahsoka.
Plotwise, the impetus behind the story of Palpatine's imminent kidnapping is irrelevant, since we know how it happens in the events leading up to Episode III. However this circumstance creates two very interesting situations from the characters' perspective. On one side, you have a grieving and unstable Anakin with a more level headed Ahsoka being put on the trail of the convicts by a crafty Palpatine, and on the other side, you have Obi-Wan interacting undercover with two notorious and interesting bounty hunters in Eval and Bane. Both of these plotlines are enjoyable to watch in themselves, but then their climactic convergence at the end of the episode proved to bring things to a whole other level.
Starting with Anakin's path, it was great seeing Palpatine get involved in the story. It's very possible that he has inside knowledge about the plot against him, especially since Dooku seems to be the one who is funding Eval. One has to wonder if Palpatine is just putting on a ruse to purposely pit Anakin and the other Jedi against each other. By letting Anakin in to the mission, distrust and stepping on toes was very likely to occur, and Anakin nearly killed his undercover master. Chaos has long been a sharpened tool of the Sith, and Palpatine is employing it masterfully, just like when he replaced Anakin with Krell in the Umbara arc.
Moving on to Obi-Wan and the bounty hunters, I found their storyline to be very enjoyable to watch. The rivalry between Hardeen and Bane added a lot to the episode and provided some great dialog and plot twists. It's always interesting to see three equally wise yet ambitious characters thrust into a situation where they need to work together. Each one is treating each other wisely in their own way. Hardeen is doing a good job of going far out of his way to wedge himself into the other's twosome, Bane is being wisely skeptical of Hardeen and has nearly been successful in ditching him, and Eval is wisely staying out of the quarrel, in a possible attempt to allow Bane and Hardeen to kill each other off, so he has nobody to pay in the end for his rescue.
From plot to animation and design, Friends And Enemies contained a lot of cool things in these departments. The animation of the swampy Nal Hutta and its seedy spaceports was superb, building off of what we had seen in Season 3's Hunt For Ziro. The fuel station at the end of the episode was also well designed. I enjoyed seeing Indiana Jones' fedora in the pawnshop, and also liked the reference to an early Boba Fett concept design in Hardeen's helmet. The variety of alien species in this episode was also a nice touch, as we saw a cool Ithorian bartender, a Bith salesman and fuel station owner with a nice side story about them scamming buyers, extra obese Gamorrean guards, a Nikto torturer, and even a cameo from Sy Snootles. It was also great to see a little of Rex and the 501st in the Coruscant scenes.
The final element that added to the greatness of this episode was the action sequences. The opening scene of Hardeed making a crash landing on Nal Hutta was well edited and animated, and carried a bit of irony with it, considering that Obi-Wan who usually hates rough flying took a page out of his former Padawan's book. The implied violence between Cad Bane and the Rodian pawnshop owner as well as the altercations between Bane and Hardeen were well executed. It's also interesting to note that Anakin seems to have zero qualms about openly and agressively interrogating innocent by-standers in front of Ahsoka. Between this and the slavers arc, Ahsoka must be getting a really good idea of what depths her master will sink to when he's desperate.
The final sequence of the confrontation outside the fuel station was the cap on a brilliant episode. I loved how it contained three stages, an initial dogfight between the ships, a very well choreographed fight between characters outside the moving ships, and a great scene after the ships crashed. Cad Bane showed off his skills by employing his jet boots and projectile rope, Hardeen continued to display his gritty fighting style, and Ahsoka exhibited a good deal of dexterity as well as flying skills. The fact that no one was killed in this showdown hints that there might be an even bigger one in store in subsequent episodes, and I can't wait to see it.
In conclusion this was one of my favorite episodes this season; it included all the elements that I look for in the Clone Wars, action, suspense, humor, good design, plot relevance, and cool references. In my opinion this is the Clone Wars at its best, and I can't wait to find out if the future episodes in this arc can top this one. Perhaps a little more Boba? At least we know a certain other epic-hatted bounty hunter will show up.