After a pair of controversial episodes in Shadow Warrior and Mercy Mission, the Clone Wars really needed to step it up for me in Nomad Droids. Once again, I wasn't jumping up and down after watching this episode, but found it to be more entertaining than the past two. As a second part to a droids duology, Nomad Droids felt very distant storywise to Mercy Mission, and was only connected with it through the common characters of R2, C-3PO, and the Wolfpack clones. Yet that's probably for the best, considering the meaningless plot of Mercy Mission.
Right away Nomad Droids felt very familiar to me. Granted it wasn't the epic "Dual of the Fates" Star Wars that I love, but the flow and situations in the episode seemed organic. It reminded me of the beginning scenes of both A New Hope and Return of the Jedi that brought the viewers into the story from the perspective of the droids. R2 and C-3PO interacted with beings similar to the scavenging Jawas, bloated Jabba the Hutt, and unforgiving imperials. This included a great reference to A New Hope when Threepio threw his hands in the air, imploring his captors, "Don't shoot!"
When the episode started I wasn't sure what was in store. When Padme mentioned a "banquet", I started to worry we might have another overly domestic episode on our hands like Evil Plans. But thankfully the droids' cruiser was timely attacked by Grievous. Even though it would have been interesting to see more character development between the bitter rivals, Grievous and Adi Gallia, it was refreshing to see the dual unfold from the droids' perspective. Some of the shots in sequences like this were similar to Darth Vader's attack on the Tantive IV, with the plot itself foreshadowing the beginning of A New Hope, as R2 coerced Threepio to escape with him. If only a droid operating a gun turret had monotonously uttered something like, "Hold your fire; the scanners indicate that no lifeforms are aboard".
The following sequence with the astromech-commandeered Y-Wing engaging a Vulture droid through the atmosphere was well done from an animation standpoint. With pilots like Anakin and R2, it's quite obvious why Threepio isn't fond of flying. The animation of the surface below was interesting. I liked how the initial shots of the Palitites used perspective to exaggerate their diminutive size. As Qui-Gon said, "There is always a bigger fish", I'm starting to think, "There is always a smaller species" after seeing the Aleenas and Palitites in succession. But Lucas clearly has a soft spot for little people, considering classic species like the Ewoks, Jawas, and Ugnaughts, to name a few.
After an obvious Gulliver's Travels reference with the droids being tied up by tiny people, R2 and Threepio began their streak of inciting political turnover when R2 shockingly fell over the fat Palitite leader reducing him to goo. And they say Riff Tamson's death was graphic? I could have done without this whole sequence, but I guess bizarre is better than predictable. I must admit that it was a little entertaining to watch the Palitites squabble over who should become the next leader, as the droids slipped away.
As the Y-Wing's power started to drain, the droids found themselves wandering onto the equally bizarre planet of Balnab. If you think midichlorians are too scientific, try "Primordial Soup". At that point, I half-assumed they were referring to the plot of the post-Mon Cala episodes with that statement. The first lifeforms that the droids encountered trapped them with a yellow electro-net and carried them off to their leader. Personally I found the voicing of the Balnabians to be painfully slow and annoying, but thankfully they were only one of many pit-stops. What transpired next was straight out of the Wizard of Oz, as a maniacally ambitious pit droid was using a hologram and electro-shock to intimidate the Balnabians into submission. Yet to continue in his vigilante ways, R2 quickly ousted the impostor and nonchalantly meandered away from the huge explosion that ensued in Heath Ledger fashion.
The moments that followed with R2 and Threepio running out of power were quite touching and resonated emotionally with me. I'm glad that the writers put a slow moment in what would otherwise be a frantic episode like this to pace the story and add depth to the characters. The camaraderie between the droids was front and center in the episode and seemed more organic than that of the rushed Mercy Mission.
But just as things started to slow down, the story picked right up again as Weequay pirates found the powerless droids and brought them to their ship, Jawa-style. Even though I was very disappointed that the infamous Hondo Ohnaka didn't show up here, I found these other pirates' ship to be a very cool design. It's definitely too bad it got blown into oblivion. The sequence with the droids fighting each other was very entertaining, it reminded me a bit of the gladiatorial match on Rattatak in the Clone Wars micro-series. Additionally, Threepio's fondness for statistics yielded an interesting tidbit in this scene, R2 has 47 fighting styles.
Things finally came full circle as Grievous, with the defeated Gallia standing behind him in binders, opens fire on the pirates. I liked the scene with the droids landing inside the Separatist hanger bay as one of the droids referenced The Phantom Menace with the line "You're under arrest!". The episode concluded with some awesome action sequences as Wolfpack and Plo-Koon came to Adi Gallia's rescue, slightly from the droid's perspective once again.
In conclusion, I enjoyed Nomad Droids. It wasn't my favorite episode, but it still contained enough action and references to keep me entertained. If we had only seen this episode between the epic battle arcs on Mon Cala and Umbara, rather than three offbeat stories, I would be that more satisfied with the beginning of Season 4. But for now, it seems the slow part is finally over and the roller coaster ride is about to begin, one that promises fantastic Clone-centric storylines and the intrigue of Darth Maul.