When Star Wars: The Bad Batch Episode 4 “Faster” aired, the description “filler episode” seemed imminent. Compared to the previous episode “The Solitary Clone,” in which Crosshair teams up with Commander Cody to liberate a captive Imperial governor on the planet Desix, “Faster” certainly isn’t as meaty, but is it really filler?
The term “filler” comes from anime, specifically in the context of animated series that need to stall for time to enable their corresponding manga to publish new source material. TV Tropes describes filler episodes as “entries in a generally continuous serial that are unrelated to the main plot, don’t significantly alter the relations between the characters, and generally serve only to take up space.” These filler episodes also have some distinct attributes according to TV Tropes: “the biggest is lack of series momentum, meaning the episode can be safely ignored without the audience missing out on any important information to the series.” Any new information “tends to be a single plot point that can be adequately summed up in a short sentence with zero elaboration (e.g., “Alice got a new power” or “Bob got a new costume” or “Charlie’s first appearance”) because the details are inconsequential.” When filler episodes are “at their most extreme” the consequences is “absolutely nothing that happens … will affect things going forward, even if it seems like a character developed or grew in some manner.”
Let’s take a look at these criteria for a filler episode for the “Faster” episode of The Bad Batch. Is “Faster” unrelated to the main plot and did it alter the relations between the characters? Season 2 continues the idea that Clone Force 99 needs to find new ways to make a living. While Hunter and Echo are making a delivery of 50 cases of Nerf nuggets to an unknown recipient, Cyd tells the other members she needs some muscle for her next outing. Wrecker, Tech, and Omega accepting the assignment continues the cycle of the Bad Batch taking missions from Cyd (that rarely seem to go as planned). By the end of the episode, the relationship between the Batch and Cyd has changed. For one, the power dynamic had shifted to them saving her. And second, they were warned by Millegi that Cyd wasn’t the type to be trusted.
It’s ironic that an episode titled “Faster” felt to some like a downshift or lack of momentum. Can you ignore this episode going forward knowing that Omega, Wrecker, and Tech have seen a reckless, impulsive, and self-destructive side in Cyd’s gambling? Is Tech’s turn as a riot racer something that can be summed up in one sentence: “Tech learned to race”? Consider what Crosshair experienced in “The Solitary Clone.” He is sent on a mission by Rampart. He effectively uses his experience as a clone trooper to defeat a Separatist droid army (something he was trained to do), and learns that more clones than his Bad Batch brothers are having second thoughts since Order 66.
Now let’s compare Tech’s arc in this episode. In “Faster,” Tech accepts a mission from Cyd. He effectively uses his capabilities as a genius to analyze a highly technical racing format and then learns and adapts after his team decides to bail Cyd out of bodily harm after losing a reckless bet. Where Crosshair used his already established skills, he didn’t gain any new skills or strategies from his experience. Perhaps he will revisit Cody’s actions and choices later, but Crosshair is still a “good soldier following orders.” For Tech, by contrast, a few things are accomplished: he steps into a leadership role, he did something selfless, and he expanded his strategic thinking. TAY-0 clearly wasn’t right about a great offense being the best defense. Tech literally had to lay down all his weapons and rely solely on his own smarts. Symbolically, he is learning Obi-Wan’s lesson that there are alternatives to fighting, which is a first step into evolving from Clone Force 99.
It’s not arguable that Tech as a character grew in this episode. Omega and Wrecker also took in new information that they will impart to the others. Their relationship with Cyd has evolved. It was as good as time as any to remind the audience that their alliance with Cyd contains a similar power imbalance as they had as clone troopers of the Republic Army. At any point, she could uproot their lives by giving information to the wrong people. This is absolutely information the audience needs going forward in Season 2.
Those who described “Faster” as filler are wrong. Perhaps it wasn’t as enjoyable as “The Solitary Clone.” It’s perfectly acceptable to have that reaction. But let’s not use “filler” as a substitute for “that wasn’t my cup of tea” or “I wasn’t feeling it.” In a 16-episode season, not every episode will hit the same for everybody and that’s okay.
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