“It’s okay. We’re here to help.”
Oh, buddy—but you’re not.
That’s what I thought, at least, watching poor Commander Cody try to assuage the fears of the citizens of Desix in the third episode of the second season of The Bad Batch: “The Solitary Clone.”
Cody—previously seen trying to gun down Obi-Wan Kenobi—is now in the company of decidedly dark side adjacent clone and Bad Batch dropout, Crosshair. The two, along with several other clone troopers, are trying to free the Imperial governor who has been kidnapped by the less-than-governable leader of Desix.
The people of Desix are feeling pretty vindicated in their Separatist leanings these days, and not at all enthusiastic about the Republic-turned-Empire.
Regardless, it’s this moment about midway through the episode that really struck me: when Cody and Crosshair are slowly making their way through the citadel and two innocents stumble upon their path. The door that had been concealing the two citizens whips open, and the clones train their weapons on this would-be threat.
There’s a moment of surprise, panic, and Cody tries his line: “We’re here to help.”
The older citizen—the mother, maybe—scowls, clutches her younger companion and steps back into safety. Before there’s much time for introspection, Droidekas rolls onto the scene; Cody’s attention is needed elsewhere.
If you’ve seen the episode, you know how it ends: Upon reaching the Imperial hostage, Cody tries to negotiate for peace, really believes it’s possible. But the now-rescued Imperial governor Grotton has little time for peace, Crosshair still believes good soldiers follow orders and the result is another “Separatist” corpse at Cody’s feet.
“Are we making the galaxy better?” Cody asks Crosshair after the mission is over.
I’m struck by Cody’s ongoing insistence that his mission—the very purpose of the clones and their wars—is to make the galaxy better, to help. They’re supposed to be the good guys. And Cody seems to believe that—even after having attempted to kill Kenobi and who knows how many other Jedi in cold blood.
It’s hard to imagine this was Commander Cody’s first mission for the Empire. We’ve already seen what the clones have been ordered to do in this new regime—nothing short of war crimes!
But rather than berate Commander Cody and others like him for their ponderously slow awakening to the changing galaxy, it’s better to ask what prevents them from seeing the truth. Sure, Order 66 did a number on their minds, but it seems to be fading—and Crosshair has already admitted he is no longer under its spell.
I think Cody’s words, his attempted reassurance of the citizens of Desix, are really meant as reassurance to himself: “We’re here to help.” I’m still here to help. He needs to maintain the fantasy, some structural justification for his ongoing association with the Empire.
If the Empire helps and Cody serves the Empire, then carrying out the Empire’s wishes is…helpful.
Just as Crosshair echoes his own mantra—“Good soldiers follow orders”—so, too, does Cody and likely every other clone who once served the Republic hold fast in their minds some justification for the Imperial evil they now perpetuate.
And herein, I think, we hold the key to this whole series: How far will good people go to justify their own evil actions? And what structural powers are at play in the background to prevent good people from seeing the truth? Because Cody went pretty far as far as evil actions go; Crosshair, even farther.
How could Cody really believe he was there to help when he was dismantling Desix’s defense and killing its people? What does Crosshair really believe is good about a good soldier?
And that’s where this show turns the question on us, the viewers. Because we’re all part of systems and structures that are far bigger than we are, that are constantly shifting under our feet. Perhaps not as suddenly as the Republic became the Empire, but certainly each day brings with it new opportunities to reflect on our past choices.
Are we following blindly, or making intentional decisions? How do we know?
Did we make the best choices possible? Or, have we inadvertently gotten caught up in a system that is making choices for us, that is hurting people, even without our knowing?
Cody, at the episode’s end, realizes clones are different than battle droids in an important way: “We make our own choices—and we have to live with them, too.”
So, too, with us.