Well, here we are. It seems like just yesterday that Season 4 started, and now we have reached the beginning of the final arc. I believe a lot of people feel like this final group of episodes needs to be very good in order to push Season 4 above the previous 2 seasons, but if the opener was any indication, the show has a good chance of doing that. Massacre was simply evil versus evil, power versus power, and hatred versus hatred. It was a conflict between the twisted and the corrupted, and for some, a battle to the death. The real winners were the Jedi and all followers of the "light side" philosophies though. A good deal of darkness itself was "massacred".
The first thing that excited me in this episode was the fact that it picked right up where Witches of the Mist left off last season. Lately this show has felt extremely disjointed, with many arcs having absolutely nothing to do with each other. But this episode could have easily been the fourth installment in the Nightsisters Arc. I wish they would reach a point in this show were almost every arc is a direct extension of a previous one, keeping several story lines going at once. Then they could merge all of these plot lines together at the end of the series for an epic and satisfying conclusion. In fact, if this season was called "Battle Lines", I hope the next one will be named "Plot Lines". The clones, the main Jedi, the dark Force users, the politicians, and the bounty hunters all could have their own continuous threads that the show jumps between, with arcs like the Citadel and Umbara having as close a relationship plotwise as last season's Nightsisters and this season's finale.
After I experienced the euphoria of a well developed plot, the second realization I came to was just how dark this episode was. We are used to seeing brutal and sadistic Sith like Grievous and Dooku in Star Wars, but the dark and twisted magic of sorcerers and witches has mostly been confined to the EU. This episode featured an initiation ceremony, various spells and incantations, reanimation, and even voodoo. One thing though that brings this above standard shows and movies that deal with witchcraft, is that it was pitted against the usual villains. Watching the Nightsisters take on the separatists was very interesting, because both sides were willing to use any means necessary to come on top. Room for plot creativity like this is one of several things that actually puts the Clone Wars ahead of the Star Wars films in some regards.
The plot contained so much tension and unleashed feelings. The characters exhibited palpable moments of anger, fear, lust for revenge, rage, pride, sorrow and helplessness. Everyone was exposed at one point; the seemingly untouchable Dooku was brought to the knees at the hands of Talzin, Grievous was assailed with zombies, and Ventress experienced a great deal of personal loss. It actually seemed that if there was a protagonist in this episode, it was Ventress. She returned to her kin defeated and humiliated, enjoyed a short period of "normal life" and acceptance if you could call it that, and then was stripped of her new-found support, left even more destitute than before. The ending scene with her talking to the floating Talzin came off to me as an evil version of Obi-Wan's appearance to Luke on Hoth. It will be very interesting to see how the character of Ventress continues to develop, and find out if this sympathy that the audience is being prodded to feel for her might be rewarded by her maturation and gradual return to sanity.
One character who was conspicuous by his absence was Sidious, with an all out war forming between his dark cohorts. With strong ties to both sides (as revealed in the Darth Plagueis novel), I'm sure he must have at least sensed what was going on. Perhaps this was merely Sidious watching the Dark Side cause its followers to eat each other up, consolidating yet more power for the dark lord and eventual emperor. I would be very grateful if Sidious was worked into this plot by the end of the arc, to at least put into perspective what this craziness means in the grand scheme of things.
The animation in Massacre was amazing. The Nightsisters and Dathomir looked as haunting as ever, the zombies and magical elements were very creepy, and the fluidity of motion was purely cinematic. I loved all of the shots on Dathomir that were angled upwards, surrounding the forms of characters and ships with the star spangled red sky. The foreboding temples of the Nightsisters were breathtaking architecturally, and many of the establishing shots of Serenno and Dathomir were well done. The color contrast between the dark red and brown hues of Dathomir and the glowing weapons and green visualization of the magic of the Nightsisters was perfect, and the duel between Ventress and Grievous couldn't have had a more complimenting backdrop.
Which brings me to another great element in this episode, the action. The battle between the droid army and the Nightsisters was of epic scale and very well paced and fleshed out. I was very glad that it took up the majority of the episode and wasn't rushed like so many of the battles this season. There were so many great individual shots, from the super battle droids being unloaded to the Nightsisters archers releasing their arrows. The whole invasion reminded me a lot of the invasion of Naboo in The Phantom Menace. I was pleasantly surprised to see the defoliator weapon that Lok Durd was testing way back in Season 1, one of many awesome callbacks to previous episodes. The final duel between Grievous and Ventress was very well choreographed. Seeing two blades attack four was very entertaining. I also loved the music in this episode; there were many familiar themes like Ventress' theme and the great battle theme from Jedi Crash.
In conclusion this was definitely one of the best episodes of this season, and right up there with the Nightsisters episodes from last season. What really excites me though, is the fact that even though this episode contained so much intensity, there is so much to look forward to in the remaining episodes. The combination of Boba, Bossk, Dengar, Maul, and Savage should make for an epic season finale, and I am super amped up for next week's episode!