Don’t play the long game with Thrawn.
That’s an honest admonishment to the cast of Rebels, and a tongue-in-cheek note to the show’s producers. Throughout Season 3, “long game” has been a running commentary on the character of Thrawn among Rebels fans and critics alike, and it’s reached the point where those words are actually used in tonight’s episode. (Not in reference to Thrawn himself, but still.) Rebels has been keeping true to Thrawn’s original characterization by Timothy Zahn: cold, calculating, but also someone who plans things far more long-term than the short, quick wins of the Rebels. It makes Thrawn scary, but it’s also been a very slow burn this season where the Imperials keep having failure after failure, and Thrawn just nods his head and notes that it’s part of his larger plan. It’s satisfying, but it’s not.
Anyway, “Through Imperial Eyes” brings Thrawn’s character a lot closer to fruition. We’re still not there, and this episode continues the pattern of “Thrawn fails, but he’s OK with that,” but it’s still a lot more satisfying that it has been.
“Through Imperial Eyes” is really a Kallus-centric episode, which is great, because we haven’t seen much of him lately, and certainly not with as much depth as last season’s “The Honorable Ones.” Not that we get much depth-probing with Kallus here, although an odd, first-person segment at the beginning of the episode at least suggests that he’s getting very tired of his double-life as a Rebel spy embedded deep in the Empire.
Kallus gets caught up in a routine spy mission gone very wrong when Ezra, disguised as a bounty hunter, gets captured by Lieutenant List. Ezra had plans to extract Kallus, but whatever he’d planned goes very wrong when Thrawn chooses that exact moment to show up with some very high-ranking Imperials, including Governor Pryce and Colonel Yularen. At this point, Thrawn is much closer to sniffing out the Rebels’ base (he’s narrowed it down to 19 worlds) and he’s highly suspicious that there’s a spy in his ranks.
Meanwhile, Rex and Kanan are on their way to rescue Ezra, but they don’t have the codes to get on Thrawn’s Star Destroyer. “Through Imperial Eyes” ends up being one of Rebels‘ more nailbiting episodes, as Kallus needs to play a rapid chess game of 1) rescuing Ezra, 2) getting the codes to the ship, 3) deleting the Rebels’ world from Thrawn’s database, 4) throwing Thrawn off his trail, and 5) getting Ezra and himself the hell off the ship. It’s very well-done, with Kallus very subtly setting List and Pryce at odds, laying clues to convince them that the other is Thrawn’s traitor. A number of close calls–to include Ezra and Kallus very awkwardly getting stuck in Thrawn’s office–keep this episode very tight, and very good.
Of course, things go very badly at the episode’s end. Kanan and Rex show up in time to rescue everyone, although even that’s almost blown–for a show with very artificial tension, there’s a very tight moment where it looks like Pryce is about to kill either Kanan, Rex, or both. The team makes it aboard the shuttle, but Kallus makes the honorable decision to stay in deep cover with a noble “I can do more good here,” and leaving clues that List was Thrawn’s traitor. Poor List.
Too bad it’s all for nothing. Thanks to a poor move by Ezra–this kid screws up even when he’s not nearly trying to–Thrawn figures out that List was being impersonated and that Kallus is the traitor. At this point, anything Kallus does to help the Rebels is going to be at Thrawn’s design, and it’s only a matter of time before he springs his trap. Finally, we’re getting to see Thrawn do something more than just say “I meant to do that” after a failure.
We’re still a few weeks off from seeing the trap sprung. Next week is the Mon Mothma gratuitous appearance, some droid episode, and finally, the Maul-Kenobi showdown. The season finale appears to be the big Thrawn showdown, but we’ll have to wait a month for that.
Rating: Five imperials out of five.