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No, "Paths Unknown" Is Not A Filler Episode

So The Bad Batch Season 3 premiered this past week, and personally- I loved it! I can't wait to share my thoughts in detail in a podcast episode coming up, but before that I wanted to express my frustrations with a conversation that seems to frequently happen with this show online. I know I'm far from the first person to express this, but I think I need to write it out so I can stop ranting to myself in the car.

Spoilers ahead for The Bad Batch Season 3!

For the blissfully unaware, the "filler episode" complaint about The Bad Batch popped up again this week (because we can't just enjoy the fantastic premiere, I suppose). And while I disagree with that assessment and will certainly get into why, I always like to get into what a filler episode even is. I mean- I know what it originally meant. I personally couldn't find a solid source for the origin of the term, but people seem to usually credit it as coming from anime fandoms, though it isn't exclusively used there.

In anime fandoms, it generally means episodes made for an anime adaptation of a manga to bide some time while they wait for the next chapter of the manga to come out. This gives the term a very specific meaning- it's episodes with stories that don't happen in the original version, and that can't shake up the status quo so that the rest of the manga adaptation flows smoothly. It's not an inherently negative term about the quality of the episode- the episode is, factually, filler while they wait for more manga- just a statement on what it is.

By that definition, no episode of The Bad Batch fits that- unless there's a secret manga that no one has told me about. Though in the ever-rewarding age of fandom social media, the term has taken on a new meaning. A filler episode is usually what people call any episode that they don't feel like advances the story. Whether that's because it focuses on side characters, doesn't directly push forward "the main plot," or to be totally honest- they just don't like it.

Even with this new definition that doesn't really sit right with me... I don't think "Paths Unknown" fits that description at all. Hypothetically, you could watch episodes 1 and 3 without 2 and get a smooth story, sure. But why is Crosshair and Omega's story "the main plot" of this season? Who decided that? Hunter and Wrecker are just as much main characters as those two. Why is their story not included in the "main plot" everyone is so focused on? The story is clearly gearing up to intertwine these two plotlines, with Crosshair and Omega escaping while Hunter and Wrecker are looking for them. Learning about what Hunter and Wrecker are up to is just as important as seeing what Crosshair and Omega are doing.

The character work in this episode is key. I think it's really important that we see how desperate Hunter and Wrecker are getting in their search, willing to rush in against logic and take a chance on any small lead they can find. It's also really interesting to see how as they're reeling from the Season 2 finale's tragic events, an odd role-reversal has happened in their relationship- Hunter isn't thinking clearly and is throwing everything he has at the board hoping something sticks, while Wrecker is the one slowing down and trying to reel Hunter in, urging him to wait until Rex and Echo are available. And sure, to a lot of the filler episode critics character development is not considered "advancing the main plot" but it's still important. Learning about where these characters are at this point is significant to our understanding of what actions they're going to take for the rest of the season.

Sure, Hunter and Wrecker both start and end this episode still not having found Omega and Crosshair. But by the end they have gotten another lead that gets them slightly closer, and that is important. Is it frustrating how behind they are? Of course! But it's frustrating for them too. We're supposed to feel that way. Not to mention, through the course of this episode we get some important information that helps us understand more of how Hemlock operates and what happened to many younger clones. We also met three new characters who will likely be relevant later. But even if they aren't, what these characters do for Hunter and Wrecker's journey and for just Star Wars worldbuilding in general makes them important enough to include.

The Bad Batch is definitely not new to "filler episode" accusations. I think people have been throwing that claim at the show since Season 1. Any episode people don't feel advances the main plot of the show enough to their liking gets this accusation- whether it's the Hera episode of Season 1 or the racing episode of Season 2. But... why? Even if an episode doesn't directly contribute to uncovering the mystery of Omega's purpose to the Kaminoans or furthering the underground cause for clone liberation, all of them are important to exploring the characters and their relationships with each other. Even when the Batch themselves aren't in it prominently- like the Hera episode, for example- the episode still provides important worldbuilding for what the galaxy is like at this time, and that is going to impact the Batch's story. That first episode may have minimal Batch in it, but it laid the necessary foundation for an episode that was key to Omega's development.

Not to mention that The Bad Batch has shown time and time again that it will pay off on a lot of those minor characters and moments, even if it's much later. Everything pays off in the end, you just have to be patient. I mean, didn't we learn from Rebels? Almost everyone from Ketsu Onyo to Mart Mattin had a role to play in the final season. Purrgils played a key role in Ahsoka almost a decade later!

Even if it's not a direct connection through characters or storylines, these "filler episodes" always have an important role to play in the future. We haven't (yet) revisited the track that Tech raced on, but that episode was really important into delving into his character (making Plan 99 more tragic) and planting seeds for Cid's betrayal in the finale. Everything is always important in the end in some way- just because you don't see after one episode what that payoff is going to be, doesn't mean you should just dismiss the episode outright.

To zoom back out from just The Bad Batch, because it's far from the only modern show to face these accusations, I do think there is an important question for us to ask every time this term is brought up- do we even have filler episodes in the age of streaming? I mean, when you call an episode "filler," you aren't really saying anything about its quality, are you? You're accusing it of being pointless, and only existing to fill in something that they otherwise wouldn't have. But... what are we filling in?

It's one thing in the age of broadcast television. There were a few major networks, that had a few major time slots that they had to keep filled. Sometimes you need filler in some way to keep things going- whether that's a re-run, a clip show, or some other form to keep the broadcast interesting enough to get views. Even back to the original anime example, while they want to keep the show going so they don't lose viewership momentum, they also have to wait for future manga chapters, so they need something to fill time.

But what exactly is a streamer show filling? There are no broadcast time slots, it's not like there are only a few currently running television shows meaning we need lots and lots of episodes of any particular one. Sure, studio contracts can be messy and can lead to writers maybe having to come up with more episodes than they may have originally planned, but generally we as viewers don't know that, and certainly can't discern it with accuracy.

As streaming shows are notoriously making less and less episodes than traditional television, it feels silly to accuse them of making extra just to fill some imaginary blank for no real reason. The Bad Batch's 15 episodes seem like an outlier in 2024, but in 2008 The Clone Wars ran 22 episodes. Even Resistance ran a 21 episode season just 6 years ago! Even if The Bad Batch was making filler episodes (which they're not), why would they be doing that? What are they trying to fill? The season comes out this year either way, why not cut the fat? What would be the point of spending time and resources they don't need to on an episode that doesn't matter?

There would be no point! So why did they make this episode then? Because it matters. Even if it's not immediately obvious to everyone, there is a reason they chose to tell us this story over the million other possibilities. There's more to these stories than just reading a simple plot summary- if there wasn't, we'd all just cancel our Disney+ subscriptions and read Wookieepedia all day instead. Whether elements of this story ends up being "plot relevant" enough by the end of the season or not (which for the record, they probably will), engaging with these stories on the levels of emotion, character growth and visuals is just as important as the idea of a plotline moving forward.

We fall in love with Star Wars in movie theaters, on televisions, in books and in comic pages after all. Not on Wikipedia pages. It's important to remember that.

(No shade to Wookieepedia or Wikipedia by the way- both are valuable resources!)

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