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TV Review: The Mandalorian S2E8 “Chapter 16: The Rescue”

After last week’s trash talk ending, the long-awaited showdown between Mando and Moff Gideon has come in The Mandalorian Season 2 finale “Chapter 16: The Rescue“. Director Peyton Reed and writer Jon Favreau conclude Mando and Grogu’s quest and father/son arc nicely while setting up some tensions for upcoming seasons thanks to the return of the Mandalorians Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) and Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks) and the general slipperiness of Moff Gideon. Honestly, Giancarlo Esposito’s performance is so damn entertaining as he projects menace and power while having multiple guns to his head and being in shackles. You can’t kill off a character like that yet, and The Mandalorian writers know that and show that he is even better as a master manipulator who knows everything about everyone than as a duelist.

“Chapter 16: The Rescue” opens with Slave I chasing an Imperial shuttle in flight. These ships both appeared in Return of the Jedi, and Reed and Favreau make multiple visual, verbal, and plot references to this film. This isn’t a bad thing though and comes across more as a leit-motif than fanservice with “side character” Mando (Even though Mandalorians have their own lore.) suddenly finding himself in the middle of an operatic adventure. The pursuit quickly ends in boarding with Cara Dune shooting an Imperial in the head when he taunts her about the destruction of Alderaan, and they find out the whereabouts of Grogu and Moff Gideon from Dr. Pershing, who has run experiments on the little guy to potentially clone him.

With the shuttle in hand, Boba Fett and Mando go to a bar on an refinery planet to recruit Bo-Katan and Koska to help them out. Like the previous episode in which “restore the glory of Mandalore” folks appeared, things are a bit tense between them with Bo-Katan not liking that a clone wears the armor of her people. However, they agree to join the team with the promise of getting Moff Gideon’s light cruiser after they rescue Grogu. Then, Bo-Katan goes into command mode (and Sackhoff channels a little bit of Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica) and sets up a plan where they will a fly the cruiser in the TIE fighter tube with Slave I giving chase. Then, the rest of the team will create a diversion and take the bridge of the ship while Mando stealthily recaptures Grogu. The one spanner in the works is the Dark Troopers, who kidnapped Grogu two episodes ago and are revealed by Dr. Pershing to be droids. Battle droids have definitely come a long way since the Trade Federation’s “Roger, roger” types in The Phantom Menace.

To start out, the plan goes off without a hitch, and Reed’s experience doing clever action sequences on the two Ant-Man really comes in handy as he homages the small ships take on the cruiser sequence in Return of the Jedi with Slave I taking out TIE fighters with the greatest of ease, and the best getaway driver/pilot Boba Fett taking his bow. Then, Fennec Shand, Cara, Bo-Katan, and Koska demonstrate their competence by running a gauntlet through the ship while Moff Gideon immediately calls on the Dark Troopers. Peyton Reed shoots a variety of action sequences from Ming-Na Wen demonstrating her chops and doing unarmed takedowns plus headshots as Fennec to Bo-Katan and Koska using their jetpacks to flank some hapless stormtroopers. While this is going on, Mando runs into the Dark Troopers’ cryo cells and gets physically knocked around by the one that escape his enclosure. However, his cleverness comes in handy, and he ends up besting the Dark Trooper by mixing a flamethrower with an oxygen tube and then a spear to the head while letting the rest

Mando makes it to the brig, and of course, runs into Moff Gideon holding the Darksaber over Grogu. They chat for a bit, and Gideon explains the Darksaber’s significance. (It’s basically the Excalibur of Mandalore.) Mando doesn’t care about the Darksaber and just wants Grogu so they decide to go their separate ways until, of course, Moff Gideon stabs in the back. What ensues is an epic Darksaber on Beskar spear duel with Pedro Pascal demonstrating the spear fighting moves he picked up while playing Oberyn Martell (RIP) in Game of Thrones. Because he’s a good guy, Mando disarms Gideon, puts him in chains, rescues Grogu, and hauls him up to the bridge where Moff Gideon is super-manipulative about the Darksaber. He basically says that Bo-Katan has to defeat Mando in combat to get the weapon and be a true candidate to the throne of Mandalore. While this is going on, the Dark Troopers come back from space, and Moff Gideon tries to escape and shoots at Bo-Katan, but is physically incapacitated by Cara Dune before he can put a bullet in his brain for the glory of the empire.

The Mandalorian Chapter 16: The Rescue

Even after this failure, Moff Gideon is still gloating about how he and Grogu will be the only ones to survive the Dark Trooper assault when a single X-Wing flies into the ship. Grogu’s little ears perk up, and he turns to the monster and watches a hooded figure with a lightsaber take out the Dark Troopers showing that his meditation on Tython paid off. Peyton Reed does an homage to the Darth Vader hallway scene in Rogue One by shooting a tight, close-up of the Jedi skillfully taking out the Dark Troopers. When the Jedi reaches the bridge, everyone except Mando is wary as he removes his hood and reveals himself to be none other, but Luke Skywalker (A CGI de-aged Mark Hamill). Luke, Grogu, and Mando have a chat with Grogu asking for Mando’s permission to go with him. In a touching moment, Mando removes his helmet and lets Grogu touch his face before he goes off to get training with Luke and R2-D2 in a reversal of his scenes with Yoda in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. This is the end of the episode, but there’s a cool post-credits scene where Boba Fett and Fennec raid Jabba the Hutt’s palace with Fett shooting Bib Fortuna in the head and then sitting on Jabba’s throne setting up a new show in December 2021 called the Book of Boba Fett.

“Chapter 16: The Rescue” is a really exciting ensemble action episode with Jon Favreau giving each member of Mando’s “impressive fire team” a different motivation for being on the mission while still having them be utter badasses except when Cara’s big gun jams. They end up rescuing Grogu and taking over Moff Gideon’s light cruiser, but Favreau makes it clear that they’re not all BFFs as evidenced by their different responses to Luke coming in at the end. (The Jedi are the ancient enemies of the Mandalorians.) Also, Boba Fett gets treated really badly by Bo-Katan and Koska at the bar, who are still doing the sales pitch about re-taking Mandalore, and thankfully, their self-interest and Mando’s intersect for this episode. In the bridge scene, Katee Sackhoff plays off Giancarlo Esposito really well when he talks about her actually having to defeat Mando in combat, and her usually confident, quippy self is quiet for once. There are whole plotlines waiting to happen in that silence.

Even though Luke Freaking Skywalker shows up, and for the first time in live action Star Wars, we get to see him in his prime and not as a learner or old man, it’s Giancarlo Esposito’s performance as Moff Gideon that will stick with me the most. From the get-go, there is a calmness to his line delivery as he overrides his flailing subordinates and sends out TIE fighters to fight Slave I. There’s a glimpse where you can tell that he knows the ship is pulling its punches, and that the Imperial shuttle isn’t a friendly so he immediately gives the order for the Dark Troopers. Even imprisoned, Moff Gideon is a matter of sowing discord between allies as evidenced by his earlier remarks about the Darksaber. Also, Esposito does a good job of making everything seem like it’s all part of the plan with Grogo being of no use to him because Gideon and his scientists already extracted a blood sample. He is best for now, but Jon Favreau and Peyton Reed understand they have an interesting villain on their hands: part fascist fanatic (“glory of the empire”/the almost suicide) and part cool chess player so they keep him alive for now.

I guess that it’s time to talk about the Luke Skywalker reveal. It definitely seems like a Deus Ex Machina because the episode has shown that without his Beskar that Mando would have been killed by one Dark Trooper (Who get a catchy dubstep theme from Ludwig Goransson), and he and his team would have been annihilated by a platoon. However, the scene is payoff for Grogu’s actions on Tython as well as his and Mando’s interactions with Ahsoka Tano with there needing to be some kind of Jedi or Jedi-adjacent character showing up for Grogu to choose to either train with the Force or just hang out with Mando some more. Plus there’s this season’s overarching plot of Mando returning Grogo to his people (While also kind of having a reunion with his too via Boba Fett, Koska, and Bo-Katan.) so there needed to be a reveal like this to have a satisfying end to his journey.

However, I have a slight criticism of Luke’s appearance in “Chapter 16: The Rescue” other than the wonkiness of the de-aging CGI. (It’s less creepy that bringing back the deceased Peter Cushing for Rogue One.) One of the great parts of The Mandalorian, especially in Season One, was that it was finally a Star Wars story not about the Skywalker line with Mando and Grogu going on Lone Wolf and Cub-style adventures around the galaxy and commenting on the post-Second Death Star destruction turmoil. However, Jon Favreau couldn’t help himself and connected Mando to this larger story and legacy, which is honestly par for the course with familiar Clone Wars and Original Trilogy characters like Bo-Katan, Ahsoka Tano, and Boba Fett popping up this season.

The Mandalorian Chapter 16: The Rescue

It definitely makes some of the fans happy, and it’s interesting to see the different flavors of Mandalorian when Mando, Fett, Bo-Katan, and Koska interact, but it also shows that Star Wars still isn’t 100% interested in getting out of this Skywalker shadow as shown by J.J. Abrams undoing all of Rian Johnson’s work to break the cycle of Hero’s Journey and just retell old stories in Rise of Skywalker. Thankfully, Favreau and his writing room are better storytellers than Abrams and set up the Luke reveal via Grogu’s actions and interactions in previous episodes instead of announcing Palpatine’s return via Fortnite. There is also a real sweetness to Grogu and Luke’s interactions with Peyton Reed shooting from Gogu’s POV as he meets and hits it off with R2-D2 as the astromech droid helps calm him and begin to heal his Purge-induced trauma. Of course, they have to be friends.

Speaking of friendship, Jon Favreau and Peyton Reed do make the cathartic move of having the last moments of the season finale be interactions between Mando and Grogu. There’s a minimal dialogue (“I’ll see you again” is nice.), and Reed squarely places the camera on Pedro Pascal’s helmetless face as he lets Grogu be one of the first people in years to touch his face because they’re really just a couple of foundlings out in a great, big galaxy. There’s a real sadness/your kid going off to college or some educational institution vibe to this scene, and it also shows that Mando has grown with a character as he has forsaken the apparently fanatical (According to Bo-Katan earlier this season.) ways of his Mandalorian offshoot to have a real connection with Grogu. He takes the helmet of his own free will instead of doing it for pragmatic reasons like in the previous episode, and it demonstrates real growth. I’m definitely going to miss Mando and Grogu’s interactions and hope they truly do get to meet again down the road.

“Chapter 16: The Rescue” has multiple fun setpieces from Mandalorian jetpack on stormtrooper action to Mando dueling both Moff Gideon and a Dark Trooper and finally, Luke Skywalker mowing down battle droids like his father before him in a similarly shot manner. However, its use of the Skywalker saga as a safety valve aside, it features an eye-catching and unsettling performance by Giancarlo Esposito as Moff Gideon, nails those emotional beats between Mando and Grogu even if they don’t share a lot of screen time, and wraps up his quest storyline in a satisfying way. Finally, it also sets up future tension between Mando and the other Mandalorians, and the episode’s stinger shows a tantalizing glimpse at Boba Fett and Fennec Shand starring in their own show.

Overall Verdict: 8.8

TV Review: The Mandalorian S2E7 “Chapter 15: The Believer”

The penultimate episode of The Mandalorian Season 2 does do its job and sets up the final confrontation between Mando and Moff Gideon. However, “Chapter 15: The Believer” is also a damn good anti-imperialist, anti-fascist heist story from writer/director Rick Famuyiwa. Famuyiwa is most well known for his 2015 indie dramedy Dope, but he also directed “Chapter 6: The Prisoner” from the previous season of The Mandalorian that was about a heist go wrong and introduced the ex-Imperial sharpshooter and general smartass/asshole Mayfeld (Bill Burr). This episode acts as a companion to that episode and continues/wraps up Mayfeld’s arc while also kind of being a heist gone right story. It definitely seems more like a Mandalorian Season 1 episode with more of a focus on what life is like after the fall of the Empire and during the rise of the New Republic instead of adding Jedi/animated series lore even though Boba Fett is one hell of a getaway driver.

Famuyiwa kicks off “The Believer” with some grim, handheld shots of prisoners doing the equivalent of turning big rocks into smaller rocks, which is making TIE fighter wrecks into smaller wrecks. Without a word of explanation, Cara Dune uses her powers as a Marshal of the New Republic to recruit Mayfeld to help find Moff Gideon’s ship where Grogu is being held because he still has Imperial credentials. Not much can be worse than Mayfeld’s current situation, but it gets worse when he sees he’ll be on this mission with Mando, who left him to be arrested by the New Republic in the previous season. The crew of Dune, Mando, Mayfeld, Boba Fett, and Fennec Shand go to the mining planet of Morak, which has an Imperial base and more importantly an Imperial terminal where Mayfeld can find the location of Gideon’s cruiser.

What follows is a typical heist setup with Mando and Mayfeld hijacking a mining vehicle carrying rhydonium, an explosive mineral used to make weapons of mass destruction while Cara Dune and Fennec provide sniper support and Boba Fett and Slave I stand by for extraction. Even though they hate each other, Mando ends up riding in the vehicle with Mayfeld because he’s the only crew member not wanted by the Imperial Security Bureau. (Or the template for Clone troopers in a wryly delivered line from Temuera Morrison.) What follows is a study in microaggressions as Burr (Honestly playing himself.) gives Mando crap for taking off his Beskar armor and replacing it with Shoretrooper armor, talking about how the New Republic and Empire are basically the same for most folks in the galaxy. Famuyiwa drives this point home by having a long, lingering shot of the indigenous inhabitants of Morak and reminding viewers that despite all the corporatization and IP strip mining, Star Wars is a really a story about imperialism and interventionism with five of the six George Lucas films coming out during the Cold War and War on Terror.

The Mandalorian Chapter 15: The Believer

But Rick Famuyiwa also knows when to make Mayfeld shut the hell up as he does Speed with a Star Wars spin. If Mayfeld drives too fast (He’s definitely one of those guys who always goes 20 over on the highway.), the rhydonium goes boom. Plus there are pirates with thermal detonators, and Mando’s Imperial-made blaster runs out of bolts pretty quickly so he has to use his spear fighting and close combat skills to ward them off. Thankfully (?), some Imperial TIE fighters and stormtroopers finish off the remaining pirates, and Mando and Mayfeld are greeted with cheers by the garrison. All they have to do is go to the terminal in the officer Easy, peasy, pumpkin pie.

But, of course, it’s not that easy as Mayfeld recognizes his old commanding officer, Valin Hess (A frightening Richard Brake) in the mess hall. So, Mando ends up sacrificing his personal beliefs for the greater good of rescuing Grogu and removes his helmet so the terminal will work and get the information on Gideon’s ship. This is followed by a really gross interaction with Hess, who doesn’t recognize Mayfeld, and tries to make Mando say his Stormtrooper callsign. However, they end up getting drinks thanks to their transport being the only one to get through that day. There is more discomfort as Mayfeld basically grows a spine and confronts Hess for his actions that got 10,000 Imperial soldiers killed. Hess brushes this off and goes into a fascist diatribe about how people want “order”, not freedom.

This leads to Mayfeld shooting Hess in the head and a really intense fire fight as stealth goes out the window, and there’s a mad scramble to the roof and the extraction point. But this situation allows Fennec, Cara Dune, and especially Boba Fett to demonstrate what cool customers they are as they skillfully take out cannons, troopers, and even a couple TIE fighters in the end. Mayfeld also demonstrates his redemption as he goes from saluting Imperial officers and thinking that “Oh, the Empire wasn’t so bad.” to shooting the rhydonium stores so that the Empire can’t terrorize other planets. This shot leads Dune letting him go free on Morak while everyone else gets ready to confront Moff Gideon.

Helmet on or off, “The Believer” features some of Pedro Pascal‘s best acting of the season as he truly shows the discomfort he feels when he has to take off his Mandalorian armor and helmet. In most situations, he’s quick with a dry one-liner or a blaster, but he is almost speechless in the presence of Hess. Pascal plays against type and is almost anti-charismatic even though he is still quite pretty. He just wants to complete the task and get out of there and has no grasp of Imperial hierarchies and protocols. Thankfully, Mayfeld is there to do what he and Bill Burr do best: talk bullshit. There is a loose, almost improvised manner to the way that Burr delivers his lines about past campaigns and concocts a backstory for Mando being hard of hearing, and it shows that he might just be a little appreciative that Mando stuck his neck out for him to go to the terminal. They’re definitely not buddies, but at the end of the episode, Mayfeld has respect for Mando and his beliefs and practices and even turns his body away from Mando when he puts the Shoretrooper helmet back on.

The scene where the TIE fighters and legions of stormtroopers come in and mow down the pirates is one of the most thought provoking in recent Star Wars memory with Rick Famuyiwa adding to the derangement with a slow tracking shots of salutes, clapping, and back pats as Mando and Mayfeld successfully deliver their cargo of civilian casualty batter. This combined with the Imperial officers basically hanging out in the break room humanizes them and creates a kind of “banality of evil” effect that is quickly ripped to shreds when Hess reminds us that Imperials are truly monsters, who don’t care about things like civilian casualties, only power, order, and control like they have over Morak with their big base and TIE fighters and battalions.

Famuyiwa makes a good parallel between American imperialism and foreign policy and the Empire in “The Believer”. As Slave I descends into Morak, there’s a wide shot that shows it’s a nice little forest planet not unlike our previous indigenous resistance metaphor planet, Endor. However, Morak also has rhydonium (I.e. oil in the Middle East), which makes it valuable to the Empire’s efforts at re-establishing itself so it gets ruled with an iron fist. And it’s also the reason that those shipments keep getting hit. Rick Famuyiwa keeps the personalities of the pirates pretty ambiguous and doesn’t pass judgment on if they’re terrorists or freedom fighters.

This storytelling decision makes sense because ambiguity and grey areas seem to be the status quo of The Mandalorian where devout bounty hunters become father figures who are willing to compromise, mercenaries become cops that are okay with bending the rules occasionally, and Imperial snipers join whatever Morak’s version of #resistance is. It shows humans aren’t fixed in their ways, and that change is truly possible while shedding the Manichaean dualism of the Star Wars original trilogy. “The Believer” explores these dichotomies and contradictions in a suspenseful manner as Famuyiwa creates tension through both dialogue and action. Honestly, I was more stressed (and proud) when Mayfeld was confronting Hess for his actions as a commander during the Galactic Civil War than during the ensuing shoot out, which is basically a style plate for how competent and badass Mando’s crew/found family is, and why Moff Gideon is screwed next episode.

Even though there are no lightsabers, flashy namedroppers, and Boba Fett is just the getaway driver (Which is still pretty damn awesome), Rick Famuyiwa turns in the most thought-provoking and tense episode of The Mandalorian Season 2 yet with “The Believer”. He uses the canvas of the Star Wars universe to comment on fascism and imperialism. He gives Mayfeld a three-dimensional story arc and lands some huge moments for Mando’s journey thanks to a heart-rending and vulnerable performance from Pedro Pascal. Plus he pulls off one hell of a chase scene!

Overall Verdict: 9.2

TV Review: “Euphoria Special Episode Part 1: Rue”

Euphoria Rue

Because of restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, writer/director/creator Sam Levinson gets creative and crafts an episode of Emmy-Award winning show Euphoria that is stripped down of its usual visual, costuming/makeup, and musical flair. “Rue” begins with a dream sequence of Rue (Zendaya) living her ideal life with Jules (Hunter Schafer) complete with lots of kissing, cute conversations, and not having to sneak out of the window because Jules is in art college, and they share an apartment. However, reality floods in as Rue snorts pills and relapses. This leads to her meeting with her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) at a diner on Christmas Eve. They talk for the remaining 50 minutes of the episode about life, addiction, loss, their families, faith, and “real shit” until he gives her a ride home in the rain while Euphoria composer Labrinth sings a gorgeous cover of “Ave Maria” that is definitely going on the holiday playlist.

“Rue” reveals that Euphoria has a hell of a lot of substance underneath. Domingo is a veteran theatre actor, and he and Zendaya embody the old adage that “acting is reacting” in this episode. Because she is high, Zendaya plays Rue in a heightened way at the beginning of the dinner as she slurs her way through talking about how she’s a functioning addict. However, Ali is a great listener, asks good questions, and finds out that when Rue does drugs, she doesn’t want to kill herself. He responds to this with empathy about addiction is a disease, and that while some people want to keep folks like them out of sight and mind, that he knows what she’s been through. Ali even reveals to Rue that he has been clean for seven years, not 20 telling her that he had a relapse after being clean for 13 years.

Sam Levinson doesn’t really play any of the dinner between them for melodrama, but Zendaya’s delivery becomes a little less flat as they launch into a fascinating conversation about the role of faith and a higher power in Narcotics Anonymous. Levinson does a great job connecting both Ali and Rue’s current life situations to the larger world around them in a more organic way than, say, Euphoria’s pilot, which strung together Rue’s birth, the beginning of the universe, and 9/11 in a frenetic opening sequence. Ali is a devout Muslim, which Rue finds out when she wonders why he said his name used to be Martin in a quick bit of comic relief before she sarcastically defines “higher power” as something in nature or an Otis Redding. But the real reason that she doesn’t want to believe in God or a higher power is because of her father’s death because she’s tired of hearing survivors of tragic events say that God “saved them for a reason” when her dad had the purpose of raising her and her younger sister.

This scene hits a real emotional vein and also exhibits Ali’s emotional intelligence as he kiboshes the religious angle and gives a stirring, almost in character monologue about the life of Malcolm X and the Civil Rights movement. He wraps it up with a personal anecdote about Nike’s “Our Lives Matter”, and how they co-opted the Black Lives Matter movement and the work of activists like Colin Kaepernick to sell expensive shoes made by Chinese Muslim slaves. Domingo’s passion comes out in this dialogue, and Levinson crafts a study in contrasts between him and Rue, who is too busy dealing with the shit in her own life and how she can’t forgive herself, to pursue activism or revolution, which he says is “spiritual”.

Euphoria Rue

And this “busyness” flows nicely into their side conversation with Miss Marsha (Marsha Gambles), who shares Gambles’ own story of recovering from addiction and being clean from 17 years while telling Rue (Who got a “Miss you” text from Jules while Ali smoked and called his daughter, Imani) that she needs to focus on her sobriety before getting into a relationship. And speaking of relationships, the chat that Ali and Rue have about her relationship with Jules shows a tiny bit of a generation/communication gap as Rue thought she was exclusively dating Jules because they kissed a lot, said they loved each other, and wanted to get matching inside lip tattoos. However, they didn’t have an actual conversation about their relationship status and instead reveled in the messiness, which can be fun, but usually ends in heartbreak and drama like Jules getting on a train and leaving Rue behind at 1 AM. Storywise, it’s really satisfying to have Rue open up about how she feels about Jules and the connection to her addiction to a third party that is unaware of the utterly fucked up reality of her high school. (See everything about the whole Nate Jacobs situation.)

One of my favorite parts of “Rue” is the “interlude” I mentioned earlier where Rue listens to the thematically relevant “Me in 20 Years” by Moses Sumney and sees a text from Jules while Ali goes outside and tries to reconnect with his daughters (Who Rue asked about earlier) while taking a smoke break. This short scene does a good job of fleshing their characters as Rue retreats to the sanctuary of her music, and Ali tries to show his daughters that he’s a good person even though they witnessed him assaulting their mother when he was high in the past. Rue is at the stage of her life and addiction where she just wants to retreat and try to feel good for her last few years while Ali is trying to make amends. Colman Domingo really nails both sadness and emotional honesty in this scene, and this grief is why they have a strong connection and “like talking to each other” like they both say towards the end of the episode.

With clear shots of both Rue and Ali’s faces, Sam Levinson shows that this isn’t just a polite truism, but they actually like having someone that they can basically empty all their darkest thoughts, saddest feelings, and sometimes, brightest hopes around. They are both characters that are not into bullshit (Unless Rue is skirting a talk about her addiction.) and small talk, and this episode reveals this in a beautiful way with some lived-in performances from Domingo and Zendaya. Levinson also shows detractors that Euphoria isn’t just a flashbang show meant to scare mommy blogs and pearl clutchers, but is deeply invested in the emotional lives of its characters.

In “Rue”, Sam Levinson doesn’t lump Rue’s relapse with a dozen other plots, but he puts it into full, bloody focus. This allows viewers to understand the nature of her addiction, and how it personally affects her and her relationships with her family, Jules, and yes, Ali. Zendaya’s delivery and scrunched up facial expressions enhance this intense character study (Give her a second Emmy already!), and I’m intrigued to see how Euphoria Season 2 explores her addiction, depression, emotions, and relationships.

Overall Verdict: 8.9

TV Review: The Mandalorian S2E6 “Chapter 14: The Tragedy”

THE MANDALORIAN S2E6 "CHAPTER 14: THE TRAGEDY"

After staging a cold open that is entirely Mando and Grogu being adorable and exuding father/son vibes as they descend upon the mysterious planet of Tython, you know that director Robert Rodriguez and writer Jon Favreau are ready to tear viewers apart in “Chapter 14: The Tragedy“. But, before getting to the super emotional bits, they tug on a plot thread from “The Marshal” with our old buddy, Slave I, careening through space as Grogu starts to commune with the force. Emerging from the Lego set I never got as a child is Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), the assassin from last season, who is back from the dead with the help of some cybernetics. In true Rodriguez style, this leads to a Mexican standoff with Fett wanting his Beskar armor back in return for helping Mando protect The Child from the other folks in the galaxy, who are out to get them.

And speaking of these folks, two shiploads of stormtroopers land on Tython, and the episode turns into a shoot ’em up. Mando is incapacitated for most of the fight as he keeps trying to run into the capital-F force field to nab Grogu so Fennec and Boba Fett do the lion’s share of the fighting. Robert Rodriguez digs into the oldest of action/Western tropes with two outlaws firing away against a neverending legion of feds as the stormtroopers bring in space-Gatling guns and rocket launchers to take them out so they can get to Grogu. Boba Fett wields a Fijian totokia in a series of brutal close combat sequences where he takes out all the pain that the Republic, Empire, Rebellion, and basically, the world has brought him on some hapless stormtroopers. Morrison plays the anguish-filled badass really well and his big return with his father’s Mandalorian armor is a true stand up and clap moment and guaranteed that Boba Fett will be venerated by yet another generation of Star Wars fans. I mean, his knee pads are a lethal weapon.

However, in this moment of triumph, Rodriguez and Jon Favreau pull an Empire Strikes Back and bring back Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) and his Darktroopers to snatch up Grogu, who is passed out after communing with the Force. They destroy the Razor Crest so Mando ends up hitching a ride with Fennec and Boba Fett, who have promised to keep Grogu safe, to Nevaro where he gets information from Cara Dune about the whereabouts of Season 1 character, Mayfeld, a former Imperial sharpshooter, who can help them find Moff Gideon and Grogu. A prison break could be on its way. (Or not because of the truncated, killer, no filler length of some of these episodes.)

I geeked out on Robert Rodriguez’s action filmmaking as his fights are more brutal and violent than anything seen in The Mandalorian this season thanks to Fennec’s dead eye accuracy and Boba Fett taking things real personal. However, he builds a real connection between Mando and Fett as family men, who adhere to a code of honor and make every word count. In another brilliant moment of intertextuality, Fett nearly quotes his father Jango’s famous line from Attack of the Clones, “I’m just a simple man trying to make my way in the universe.” There’s a little more weariness in his delivery than in the 2002 film, and when Mando and Boba Fett drop the weapons and actually communicate, they find common ground as a foundling and son/clone of a foundling. Mando immediately allows Fett to keep the Beskar and reminisces about Jango’s service during the Mandalorian Civil War. They have a lot of similarities, and Pedro Pascal and Temuera Morrison imbue their characters with a dry sense of humor that will fit nicely as they continue to travel together. I’m glad that Boba Fett’s appearance won’t just be a cameo and a one-off because Morrison explores different sides of the character like his utter look of fear when he flies the Slave I close to Gideon’s ship and realizes that his old employers, the Empire, are very much still in play years after the destruction of the second Death Star.

THE MANDALORIAN S2E6 "CHAPTER 14: THE TRAGEDY"

Visually, The Mandalorian is always a show that looks good and seamlessly feels like a part of the Star Wars universe even as Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni follow the rhythms of Golden Age of Television genre storytelling (Big Bad, monster/planet of the week) while paying homage and adding to a memorable piece of 20th and 21st century American mythmaking. Robert Rodriguez takes thing up a notch by blending his Mariachi-style filmmaking with Star Wars iconography like ships in flight, stormtroopers being bad shots, and even the Force. He sets most of the action on a rocky stretch of land perfect for big time heroics like Fennec shooting her cover so that it can wreak havoc on the legion of stormtroopers Raiders of the Lost Ark style, and then having Mando use his Beskar armor to take blaster bolts that would be the end of her. Obviously, the shoot outs look cool, especially when Boba Fett finally gets to do his thing, but it also creates a brothers and sister in arm kind of bond between Mando, Fennec, and Fett that makes their decision to travel together more organic.

Even though he still doesn’t get a lot of screen time, Giancarlo Esposito gets to show a little more range as Gideon in this episode as he plays a darker version of the doting dad and shows Grogu the Darksaber after he observes him Force-choking his stormtrooper guards. However, they have no real relationship even in master/apprentice way, and Grogu is instantly clapped into irons so he can be used in Dr. Pershing’s experiments. Favreau and Rodriguez aren’t afraid to tap into the darker side of Grogu and show that the trauma that Ahsoka Tano mentioned in the previous episode and lack of proper training has him using the Force in ways that no Jedi would. Through expressive puppetry and the physical acting and dialogue timing of Pedro Pascal as Mando plus those snatches of backstory last episode, Grogu has transformed from a MacGuffin into a fully fleshed out character. It’s a wise move for Jon Favreau to make him the emotional crux of The Mandalorian’s ongoing plot as goes into its final two episodes because Grogu’s relationship with Mando, not Favreau and Dave Filoni’s lore-welding and building is this show’s biggest strength and hook.

Full disclosure: I decided to do weekly reviews of The Mandalorian once it was announced that Robert Rodriguez would be directing an episode because I have a soft spot for auteur directors going into big shared universes/mythologies and putting their own visual stamp on it. He, Jon Favreau, and Temuera Morrison show once and for all that Boba Fett is an incredibly cool and compelling character while also nailing a big moment in the relationship between Mando and Grogu. Throw in some menacing baddies and gun battles with bite, and “Chapter 14: The Tragedy” continues The Mandalorian’s momentum as it reaches the conclusion of its second season.

Overall Verdict: 9.0

TV Review: The Mandalorian S2E5 “Chapter 13: The Jedi”

Writer/director Dave Filoni begins “The Jedi,” the fifth episode of the second season of The Mandalorian on a dark, bare landscape with trees and walled city. Dystopia is in the air, for sure. And, then, instead of holding her back for a teaser at the end of the episode, Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) emerges from the darkness dual-wielding lightsabers and takes down the goons of the magistrate Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto). It’s one of many beautifully choreographed action sequences in “The Jedi” and a worthy live-action introduction for this popular character from Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The scene also sets the episode’s stakes: either Ahsoka Tano leaves Corvus, or Elsbeth will start executing her own people that she tortures in front of her own bonsai tree/koi pond sanctuary.

Of course, Mando and The Child are utterly unaware of the situation on Corvus when they land in the middle of the aforementioned woods with giant creatures idly grazing around them. They get some tense questions at the city gate (Mando smartly conceals The Child/treats him like a pet.), don’t get any answers or conversation at all from the inhabitants of Corvus, and are finally brought before Elsbeth, who offers Mando a staff of pure Beskar to kill Ahsoka Tano and gives him her coordinates. Mando and Ahsoka Tano have a short fight, but she immediately knows that The Child is Force-sensitive and communicates with him telepathically in a touching silent sequence. She also learns his real name, Grogu, and a bit of backstory, including that he was trained on the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, escaped after the Great Purge, and has been wandering the galaxy and suppressing his true origins ever since.

The next day, Ahsoka Tano tests Grogu in his Force abilities, but he is held back by his anger, pain, and attachment to Mando, who uses a part of his ship to coax him to use his telekinesis. Because of all these factors, Ahsoka Tano refuses to train Grogu, but ever the deal-maker, Mando gets her to change her mind if he helps her liberate Corvus from Morgan Elsbeth and her hired gun, Lang (Michael Biehn). This leads to some great stealth action, a heavy dose of anti-fascism, and a thrilling duel between a Beskar staff-wielding Elsbeth and Ahsoka Tano. Inosanto is a highly-skilled martial artist and Bruce Lee’s granddaughter so her stances and moves are fluid and realistic.

"The Jedi"

Because she is his own co-creation and also integral to the overarching plot of The Mandalorian, Dave Filoni spends a lot of time with Ahsoka Tano, and she even gets her own mini-storyline apart from Mando and The Child that features yet another a nerdy Easter Egg and makes it seem like “The Jedi” is a backdoor pilot for a show with her as protagonist. Dawson plays Ahsoka Tano with a fierceness and also a sense of sad nobility as she is one of the last Jedi in the universe and had to watch her mentor, Anakin Skywalker, go to the Dark Side. Anakin’s name is never mentioned in the episode, but every time she mentions “anger” and “attachment” in the context of Grogu, you can tell that it’s not the usual Jedi line. She wants Grogu to have a good, long life and not follow the road down to the Dark Side. Maybe, he just wants to be a cute kid and not the next hope of the Jedi as one of only three members of Yoda’s (He finally gets a name drop.) species that have appeared in Star Wars canon.

Even though Ahsoka Tano (and honestly Morgan Elsbeth) steal the show, I love the character work that Filoni does with Mando in “The Jedi”. Every named character thinks that he will act according to traditional ways/factions, but he surprises them. Morgan Elsbeth gives him a little speech about the traditional rivalry between Mandalore and the Jedi and thinks that will sway him to work for her, but in actuality, he’s smuggling a little Jedi under his cloak. Later, in the episode, Lang sees him as a fellow gunslinger, appeals to his pragmatism to abandon a lost cause, and go home. However, this doesn’t work on Mando, who as we’ve seen throughout The Mandalorian, is an altruistic person, especially in regards to his relationship with Grogu. Filoni takes time to show Mando free the prisoners with the help of the old magistrate and make sure that they’re safe inside before he begins his fight with Lang while Ahsoka Tano duels with Elsbeth.

Mando isn’t a traditional hero, but he helps those who he feels are exploited by the very complicated post-fall of the Second Death Star society. However, with the torture and executions, Elsbeth is a pretty obvious baddie and a total fascist and war profiteer, who was able to afford her pure Beskar staff thanks to exploiting planets to make ships for the Imperial fleet. Seeing Ahsoka Tano kick her ass is quite satisfying, and there is real tension in the fight scene as Elsbeth disarms her and even gets a staff to her throat. Tano and Mando really have to use tactics to retake the city like the old faking his death so he sneak in and occupy the assassin droids and other goons while she quickly infiltrates Elsbeth’s sanctuary.

“The Jedi” really feels a lot like classic Star Wars with a plot about resistance against an authoritarian government with a side dish of fate, destiny, free will, and all that other stuff. But, maybe, Grogu has (silently) experienced so much trauma in his life that he doesn’t want to follow the traditional, Joseph Campbell monomythic path. Thankfully, Ahsoka Tano has experienced similar trauma over the years, and because of this and the bond she can see between Grogu and Mando, she reneges on her promise while giving them intel on a planet where Grogu can choose his fate once and for all. On the surface, it seems like a cop out to have Ahsoka Tano show up, be cool, and not end up training Grogu, but it’s grounded in her character and her experiences even if it continues The Mandalorian‘s RPG plot structure.

Finally, it would be a big omission to not praise the visuals and shot choices of director Dave Filoni and cinematographer Baz Idoine (He did second unit work on Rogue One.), who make Corvus an utterly hopeless and closed off place with its light brown, smoky color palette. Whenever Ahsoka Tano’s lightsabers ignite, it’s like just a glimpse of hope, and Filoni and Idoine linger on the post-liberation celebration like it’s a mini-version of the big one at the end of The Return of Jedi. The mist combined with the training that Ahsoka Tano does with Grogu also create shades of Dagobah and Empire Strikes Back where Luke Skywalker faced his own doubts and didn’t respond to Yoda’s teaching very well. These little visual and sound cues have been a fun part of The Mandalorian Season 2 as the different writers and directors have used them to comment on Mando and Grogu’s journey, not just as fanboy Easter Eggs.

With its insights into Grogu’s emotions and backstory, a fierce, yet vulnerable performance from Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano, and operatic storytelling from writer/director Dave Filoni, “The Jedi” is the strongest hour of The Mandalorian Season 2 yet even with an ending that’s a little rocky. It puts the to-this-point self-contained relationship between Mando and Grogu in the context of the larger Star Wars mythos as well as being a crowd-pleasing good versus evil story with unlikely heroes, who traditionally would hate each other’s guts.

Overall Verdict: 8.8

TV Review: The Mandalorian S2E4 “Chapter 12: The Siege”

 THE MANDALORIAN S2E4 "CHAPTER 12: THE SIEGE"

Mando checks in with some old friends, The Child heads to (pre) school, there’s a couple twists on some old Star Wars set pieces, and honestly, everyone ends up in worse trouble in The Mandalorian Season 2, Episode 4 ” Chapter 12: The Siege“, written by Jon Favreau and directed by Carl Weathers. With its planet/adventure of the week plot structure, The Mandalorian doesn’t have an ensemble cast, but it does have a couple of interesting recurring guest actors. Weathers and Favreau use them nicely in this episode and also provide more commentary on the post-fall of the Empire universe as the New Republic struggles to connect with the Outer Rim (Even though its greatest hero is from there!) and the remnants of the Empire engage in a very Star Wars form of eugenics to try to get back in power.

In this episode, Mando goes to the planet Navaro (Where the pilot and a bit of the previous season took place.) to finally get the Razor Crest repaired and travel to Corvus to meet the last scion of the Jedi, Ahsoka Tano. These days, Navaro is pretty law abiding thanks to Marshal Cara Dune (Notable transphobe, anti-masker and general conspiracy theorist Gina Carano) and Magistrate Greef Karga (Weathers). There’s a school, commerce, and Karga has even employed former Mando bounty, Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) as his accountant to work of his debts. (Think Suicide Squad, but number crunching.) However, on the other side of the planet, there’s an Imperial base with a lot of heavy weaponry, and while Mando is waiting for his ship to be fixed, Dune and Karga rope him into blowing its reactor and bringing peace to the planet with Mythrol acting as hacker, lockpick, and getaway driver.

Mythrol’s getaway driver status is short lived when the team discovers that the base isn’t your run of a mill, but a lab where Imperial scientists are running very unethical tests and experiments on subjects using The Child’s blood. However, they’ve run out and need to recapture him again so this episode becomes a lot more complicated than blowing up a base over a lava pit and going home. As soon as Mando hears The Child is in danger, he jets off to protect him while Dune, Karga, and Mythrol end up in a speeder chase in the Star Wars equivalent of a Ford F-150. You can feel Weathers and cinematographer Matthew Jensen‘s glee in this sequence, which goes full Grand Theft Auto and escalates to TIE fighters and wraps up in a very A New Hope way.

My favorite part of “The Siege” was the adrenaline-filled third act where Imperial scout troopers actually behaved cleverly for once and may have actually gotten the upper hand if they weren’t so fanatical. (See last episode’s cyanide pill popping.) However, Carl Weathers and Jon Favreau spend the first bit of the episode showing the change and growth that Mando, Dune, Karga, and even Mythrol have gone through since last season. Dune has gone from a mercenary and prize fighter to a sheriff, who can keep the peace with her blaster and physical combat skills while Karga is back to his old respected government job ways instead of running numbers and bounties. However, he’s got a little bit of edge as evidenced by making Mythrol take all the big risks during the Imperial Base caper. Mythrol is still cowardly and wants to make an extra buck, but his new job keeps him in line. Dune and Karga’s goals have gone from trying to make a buck and forget about their more traditionally noble or heroic pasts to helping others and creating a safe “green zone” on where folks can live a life free from New Republic policing and bureaucracy and Imperial fascism.

And Mando has changed the most. He’s gone from treating the Child like a bundle, nuisance, or McGuffin to straight up treating him like a son. For example, in the beginning of “The Siege”, Mando tries to walk The Child through fixing something on Razor Crest because the little cutie can fit in tight spaces. However, this is a little advanced for him, and honestly, Mando should have just let him do the sci-fi western equivalent of holding the flashlight. Weathers and Favreau even riff on the dread “first day of school” when Karga tells Mando to drop him off at the classroom while they go on their mission. Weathers inserts a lingering shot of him looking away as The Child immediately gets into mischief and uses The Force to steal a classmate’s snack. Mando’s motivation is keeping The Child safe, happy, and hopefully one day, reconnected with others like him. This is a hell of a thing to build a TV show around and demonstrates why so many folks have emotionally connected with The Mandalorian.

 THE MANDALORIAN S2E4 "CHAPTER 12: THE SIEGE"

The Mandalorian Season 2 continues to be in conversation with previous iterations of Star Wars, and after last week’s detour to Clone Wars and Rebels, we’re back to the original trilogy. Carl Weathers and Jon Favreau go full fanboy (But not in a toxic way.) and insert in all kinds of goodies like the aforementioned speeder bike chase, blowing up a reactor a la Endor, the classic gunner heads up display used in Vader’s TIE fighter and the Millennium Falcon, and in a touching moment even though Carano doesn’t quite sell the emotion, Alderaan. The inclusion of these elements create a nostalgic reaction in viewers that helps some of the themes that Favreau is exploring go down easier like the Rebels transformation into New Republic beat cops. I mean, we go from Han Solo and Wedge Antilles to some protocol spouting guy in an orange jacket using the death of all of Dune’s friends and relatives on Alderaan to recruit to “join the force”. I find the politics and tension of this era of Star Wars history really fascinating, especially when Favreau gives us this boots on the ground view although the information about Mandalorians is interesting too and places Mando in a larger context beyond “lone badass with a soft spot for a cute, occasionally bratty kid.”

“Chapter 12: The Siege” has a tense chase scene, a pleasant performance from Carl Weathers as Greef Karga and continues to show the bond between Mando and The Child in a sweet, occasionally funny way as it’s interesting to see Pedro Pascal change his body language and movements from sharing some soup with him to gunning down stormtroopers and pulling off crazy maneuvers in good-as-new Razor Crest. However, Jon Favreau undercuts this fancy flying and uses the last moments of the episode to have Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon raise this season’s stakes with a slight eyebrow movement. He’s a great villain, Mando knows he’s alive now, and I can’t wait for their rematch down the road.

Overall Verdict: 8.4

TV Review: The Mandalorian S2E3 “Chapter 11: The Heiress”

 THE MANDALORIAN S2E3 "CHAPTER 11: THE HEIRESS"

Like the previous installment of The Mandalorian, “Chapter 11: The Heiress” features The Child being gluttonous, yet adorable and eating every weird alien tentacle thing in sight. However, it also further the quest for the Jedi plotline while placing Mando and The Child’s journey in the context of a much bigger world as they finally encounter some Mandalorians, but they’re not the most, shall we say, sympathetic to his quest and have designs on ruling Mandalore. Step one in their plan involves lots of piracy and stealing imperial weapons.

Bryce Dallas Howard immediately flexes her directorial chops with a gorgeous shot of Mando, Frog Lady, and The Child’s ship sputtering towards the water planet of Trask. (If you like Mon Calamari, this is the episode for you.) Everything that could go wrong goes wrong as the ship ends up covered in kelp and badly in need of repairs so it’s out of commission for the whole episode. But hope can be found even in the most bleak situations, and Howard and writer Jon Favreau give us some payoff for Frog Lady as she reunites with Frog Man and their kids while Ludwig Goransson channels his inner John Williams for a sweet, stirring score. The relationship that Mando formed with them in the previous episode ends up being important as they babysit The Child while he goes on the dangerous mission part of the story and also teach him that frogs are friends, not food.

For the rest of the episode, there aren’t really as many tender human moments except for Mando jumping into the belly of a mamacore when he gets double-crossed by some Quarren (Aka the squid looking guys) fishermen, who want his beskar armor, and have no intentions of leading him to other Mandalorians. But he ends up being found by three Mandalorians: Bo-Katan (A charismatic Katee Sackhoff), Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks), and Axe Woves (Simon Kassianides). They take out Mando’s captors with precision and ease and rescue the child too. Howard captures their dynamic, fluid sense of movement compared to their opponents, and then shows they’re a little different when they remove their helmets, which is something completely against Mando’s belief system.

Speaking of belief system, the helmet removing and initial conversation between Bo-Katan and Mando sets up “The Heiress'” main theme, which is religious fanaticism. Apparently, Bo-Katan and her crew see Mando as a “zealot” and his views and mission to reunite The Child with the Jedi as restrictive. There’s a coldness between them even though Mando does agree to have a drink with them, mostly, because they’re his only lead as he isn’t super impressed by Bo-Katan’s aspiration to re-take Mandalore. He does show a grudging respect for her when she talks about being present at The Great Purge and having an armor passed down from generations. He is cool with helping them get weapons off an imperial freighter in exchange for information about the Jedi.

Except Bo-Katan doesn’t want to just steal weapons, she wants to steal the whole damn ship. Bryce Dallas Howard and Jon Favreau create some interesting parallels between her group of Mandalorians and the freighter’s crew led by the Imperial Captain (A stone-faced, yet really fun Titus Welliver). First of all, there’s this obsession with a return to a supposed Golden Age, which is the Galactic Empire for the Imperials and Mandalore for Bo-Katan. The Captain and his crew sign off with “Long live the Empire” when Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) refuses to send them reinforcements and would rather die than give the ship up to the Mandalorians.

Their sense of self-preservation has been overridden by their fanaticism. This extends to Bo-Katan and her crew, but they are much better fighters with Bo-Katan getting a thrilling sequence where she basically stabs a bunch of stormtroopers in close quarters combat. They have a single-minded cause and the skill to back it up, not unlike Gideon with his Darksaber at the end of last season.

Howard gets some bits of dark comedy from the reaction of basically the Imperial middle management to the report that the Mandalorians are onboard. She lingers on them sweating bullets as they realize that stormtroopers who “couldn’t hit the broad side of a Bantha” are the only thing standing between them and the Galaxy’s most ferocious warriors. The Stormtroopers do have fancy repeating blasters that even the odds for a little bit, but they’re no match for Mando, who is willing to put his body and Beskar on the line for a group of people he was duped by and strongly disagrees with.

The Mandalorian' Season 2, Episode 3 Review: 'The Heiress' Brings Back A  Fan Favorite

However, his real motivation comes into focus at the end of the episode where he warmly looks at The Child playing with Frog Man, Frog Lady, and their new baby and has an actual destination even if his ship is still on its last legs and crawling with some weird critters. (Hey, more food for The Child.) Jon Favreau never loses sight of heart of The Mandalorian, which is the bond between The Child and Mando, and they use the connection to the bigger Star Wars lore (Clone Wars and Rebels in this instance.) to add richness and stakes to their journey and explore themes like extremism and tradition with the help of cool armor and jet packs.

Finally, I have to give kudos to Favreau for being able to succinctly introduce Bo-Katan, her motivation, and the additions to the Mandalorian lore in a way that’s easy to follow for viewers who didn’t see those episodes of Clone Wars and Rebels while keeping the episode moving and not getting bogged down in exposition. I mean, that unyielding eye contact from Katee Sackhoff works all by itself.

“The Heiress” is a welcome return to form for The Mandalorian with versatile direction from Bryce Dallas Howard, who ably handles the big wide shots of planets as well as the intimate violence of hand-to-hand combat and a magnetic and storyline deepening guest performance from Katee Sackhoff as Bo-Katan. This episode is just a good time with plenty of action, adorable moments with Mando and The Child, and reminders of the complex world outside their quest.

Overall Verdict: 8.5

TV Review: The Mandalorian S2E2 “Chapter 10: The Passenger”

THE MANDALORIAN S2E2 "CHAPTER 10: THE PASSENGER"

After “Chapter 9: The Marshal’s” cinematic scope, memorable guest performance from Timothy Olyphant, surprise reveal, and overall epicness, a sophomore slump seemed inevitable. In The Mandalorian Season 2, Episode 2 “The Passenger”, writer Jon Favreau and director Peyton Reed (Ant-Man) take a break from the space Western and instead go for a lower stakes creature feature with plenty of The Child and a new character with the very Star Wars (1977) design and name of Frog Lady (Misty Rosas). “The Passenger” is cute, occasionally funny (Pedro Pascal has dry comedic timing as Mando.) , and has charming practical effects. However, it comes across as middling “monster of the week” episode, albeit, with an effects budget that can support mid-atmosphere X-Wing chases.

With the “Mandalorian” that Peli Motto (A feisty Amy Sedaris) turning out to be Timothy Olyphant in Boba Fett’s armor, Mando is already out of leads and has all kinds of randos on his tail trying to capture The Child. However, Motto and her insectoid buddy Dr. Mandible know someone that knows a Mandalorian on the nearby Trask system. But to meet this contact, Mando must play intergalactic taxi driver to his wife, Frog Lady and her eggs, who need to reach Trask because it’s the only place the children can survive. Unfortunately, this simple transport mission is derailed by overeager New Republic X-Wing patrols, a planet with an unstable surface, a colony of giant spiders, and The Child’s appetite for frog eggs even though that is mostly played for laughs.

Even though this episode had a real “filler before the good stuff” vibe, Jon Favreau and Peyton Reed do an excellent job showing the heartwarming relationship between The Child and Mando. This starts with Mando’s willingness to give up his jetpack (But not the buttons that remotely pilot it.) in exchange for The Child in the episode’s opening action sequence and extends to his good-natured scolding when The Child starts gobbling down frog eggs and finally to the little hammock that he has for him in his sleeping quarters on the ship. It might be the sheer ridiculousness of the episode premise or his inability to communicate with Frog Lady (Except when she hacks the voice box of his deactivated killer droid Zero.), but Mando has a lot of heart and humanity this episode from his sarcastic jokes about everything falling apart to his miming and pretending his communication systems don’t work when he’s pulled over by some cops, er, New Republic X-Wing fighters.

THE MANDALORIAN S2E2 "CHAPTER 10: THE PASSENGER"
You either die a Rebel, or you live long enough to see yourself become a space cop.

Reed’s comedy background definitely comes in handy in “The Passenger” from stray shots of The Child greedily eyeing various types of eggs to Mando’s stoic exasperation at everything from losing a bet with Peli Motto to his entire ship breaking down. He and Favreau even do some bits in the episode, which are honestly its best parts, like Motto arguing with her pit droids over the way she likes her krayt dragon steak cooked and then plopping it in her mouth. Sedaris’ performance as Motto is always a delight, and I’d love to see her in every episode even if her role really boils down to plot facilitator and fetch quest giver.

Speaking of fetch quests, the bits with the spiders on the ice planet really do seem like that annoying level of grinding, hacking, and slashing (Or in this case: blasting and flambeeing) before you get to the main storyline. The designs are suitably creepy, and they really do leave a mark on Mando’s ship as the final shot of the episode is it limping and spluttering in space like something out of Firefly, not Star Wars. However, they end up being a diversion and a chance for Peyton Reed to indulge his creep insect fetish unlike the krayt dragon, which seem more baked into the episode’s storyline, Mando’s arc, and the Star Wars mythos as a whole. The New Republic-ex machina is also mishandled after a pretty fun chase sequence with the pilots basically reading off plot points from last season to left Mando off the hook. They’re just super boring cops with cool ships, which shows that revolutionaries eventually become the establishment in the end the end although Favreau and Reed aren’t interested in unpacking this.

After a spectacular season premiere, The Mandalorian takes a bit of a dip in quality in “The Passenger”, which features some toothless adversaries and a storyline that doesn’t conclude as much as spin out across the end of the episode’s finish line. However, Peyton Reed and Jon Favreau’s quirky and occasionally disgusting sense of humor, some The Child adorableness, and Misty Rosas’ warm and physicality as Frog Lady keeping it from being a total snooze, especially if you’re into Amblin creature features.

Overall Verdict: 7.6

TV Review: The Mandalorian S2E1 “Chapter 9: The Marshal”

The Mandalorian S2E1

This review contains spoilers for The Mandalorian Season 2, Episode 1 “Chapter 9: The Marshal”

It’s becoming an old adage that television in the 2010s (And now, the 2020s, I guess) has abandoned the art of the single episode and instead wants to be a 10-hour movie. (Or 13 in the case of the Marvel Netflix shows.) However, The Mandalorian bucked that trend and became a kind of Have – Gun Will Travel meets Lone Wolf and Cub wrapped up in a shiny cinematic package with talented guest stars, directors that some would consider to be auteurs, and of course, having a connection to the immersive world of Star Wars without the ol’ Skywalker. Each episode is a Western mini-movie with just enough serialization to get audiences to tune in next week. Or keep subscribing to the streaming service. And “The Marshal” is no exception.

Before getting into the episode’s main plot, writer/director/show creator Jon Favreau crafts a bit of a cold open to remind viewers that Mando (Pedro Pascal) is a laconic badass, a man of honor especially where his beskar armor is concerned, and desperately cares for The Child aka Baby Yoda. (Even though he takes him to some not very child-friendly places, a Gamorrean deathmatch isn’t Chuck E. Cheese.) The sequence also establishes Season 2’s overarching plot, which is that Mando is looking for The Child’s people, and to find them, he needs to find more of his people, the Mandalorians. This is why he’s at the aforementioned deathmatch even though Mando isn’t a gambling man.

However, his contact, the Cyclopean alien Gor Koresh (John Leguizamo) sees more value in his armor than in his paltry excuse for a fighter, and we get to see some of Mando’s new toys he picked up last season in action. Pedro Pascal brings great physicality to this sequence, and Emmy Award winning cinematographer Greig Fraser shoots the fight like a boxing match while adding some levity when The Child slowly closes his cradle when he realizes his daddy is going to cause some carnage. Ludwig Goransson’s score really helps the opening scene build starting with percussion, then guitars, and finally into the show’s iconic theme music as Koresh gets his comeuppance courtesy of some critters hinted at in an earlier dark and gritty tracking shot, and Mando is off to good ol’ Tattooine to find another Mandalorian.

After an adrenaline-filled, almost neo-noir opening sequence, Favreau is back in Western mode as Mando and The Child visit the nearly abandoned Tatooine mining town of Mos Pelgo, which Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris) treats as the neglected sibling of the more famous Mos Eisley and Mos Espa in an adorable guest scene. Sedaris brings a dose of comic relief and acts as Favreau’s commentary on rabid fandom surrounding The Child as she offers to buy him or his future offspring. She’s a bit of sunshine before they arrive in the bleak ghost town of Mos Pelgo, and Favreau introduces a fairly basic theme of working together despite one’s differences as a gun slinger duel between Mando and Marshal Cobb Vanth (An incredibly well-cast Timothy Olyphant) over his Jawa-bought Mandalorian armor turns into a Jaws with sand as a Krayt dragon (Whose call Obi Wan used to scare off the Tusken Raiders in A New Hope) slithers through town. This sets up the main plot of this episode of The Mandalorian, which is that Mando, Cobb, the townspeople of Mos Pelgo, and the local Tusken Raiders must join forces to kill the Krayt dragon once and for all.

The Mandalorian S2E1

Also, there’s a kicker about Cobb’s armor: it belonged to Boba Fett. He’s not a Mandalorian and obviously knows nothing about The Way as he immediately takes off his helmet upon meeting Mando as Olyphant exudes casual contempt. Jon Favreau’s script and direction of “The Marshal” is richly intertextual without being mere fanservice. He uses familiar touchstones to play with audience’s preconceptions, and where George Lucas saw stereotypes or archetypes, he does something a little more nuanced. In a flashback scene, Favreau shows that the destruction of the Second Death Star didn’t have a positive effect on every planet in the galaxy and led to the Mining Collective taking over Mos Pelgo until Marshal Cobb uses some random crystals that he finds to purchase Fett’s armor and shoot and guided homing missile his way back to a semblance of law and order. The scene of Cobb breathlessly crawling through the desert makes him a sympathetic figure that transcends his initial “gunslinger of the week” trappings, which would frankly be a waste of Olyphant’s talents.

Even better is Jon Favreau’s reclamation of the Tusken Raiders, who had been relegated to something to avoid or even slaughter in Lucas’ films. (Notice how Anakin’s actions towards them in Attack of the Clones were justified until he killed women and children.) He uses them as a (Let’s be honest: a bit on the nose) sci-fi metaphor for indigenous people in “The Marshal” with Cobb refusing to drink their “smelly” water in a scene where Mando is trying to set up an alliance and use their knowledge of the Krayt dragon to take it down. Olyphant does a good job playing the uncomfortable colonizer as Mando effortlessly communicates via low tones, hand signals, and the occasional loud utterance while Cobb and later the townspeople feel awkward and even react in anger when a Tusken raider fumbles an explosive charge. The agreement that Mos Pelgo and the Tuskens make also acts as a commentary on Western countries’ preemptive strikes as in exchange for the Krayt dragon’s blood and carcass, the Tuskens won’t attack Mos Pelgo unless they are attacked first. This has happened in the past as evidenced by a one-liner about Cobb not drinking their water even though he and his miners had stolen it in previously.

Along with using Star Wars lore to make sociopolitical commentary, “The Marshal” is also a damn fun monster movie. Favreau parcels out just enough exposition to make Mando, the Tuskens, and Cobb’s plan easy to follow and then shoots it all to hell to keep things interesting. He goes the Steven Spielberg route and saves the big money shot of the monster for the end of the episode using the effects of its actions like the sand shifting and windmills aggressively blowing as well as stories of its exploits (It ate the Sarlacc and is living in its lair!) to build tension. And it lives up to the hype with some wonderful creature design that matches its sandstorm introduction. Also, Mando and Cobb get to fly around on jetpacks to fight it, which is damn cool, and there’s another Boba Fett related Easter Egg that is integral to how they best the creature.

The Mandalorian S2E1

The way that Mando takes down the Krayt dragon also adds to his character as he’s willing to improvise and come up with non-orthodox solutions in stressful situations and is willing to take chances and sacrifice himself for those around him. Even though its the first episode of a season in a show named after him, Pedro Pascal really sells the fact that he might die and makes sure that The Child is well taken care of before he literally goes into the belly of the beast. Although, he doesn’t play an active role in the plot, The Child continues to humanize and soften Mando even in the most high-stress situations.

Some heavy-handedness aside, “The Marshal” is a fun and smart return for The Mandalorian as Jon Favreau and company use the world and mythos of Star Wars to tell a genre-bending story that comments on the role of indigenous people in both science fiction and Western stories. It’s also a hell of a shoot ’em up with cinematic action and a memorable, nuanced guest performance from Timothy Olyphant, who parts as friends with Mando, and I hope makes a return to a series as a gun-slinging lawman that learns to be a little less species-ist. And the final scene is truly a jaw dropper…

Overall Verdict: 8.6

Review/Recap: Helstrom S1E3 “The One Who Got Away”

The previous episode of Helstrom left us with a very possessed, after being bitten by the skull, Chris. He kills the brother of the serial killer that Ana made commit suicide in the pilot when he comes looking for answers to his accomplice/sibling’s death. We also found out that mom really loves Ana, and the dark force that the siblings have been hunting from both ends is their father. Those big reveals and changes leave us with a lot to look forward to in Helstrom S1E3 “The One Who Got Away” and the build up was worth it because it gets you even more invested in the episodes that are going to follow.

Helstrom S1E3 "The One Who Got Away"

The One Who Got Away: The demon inhabiting mom’s body lets the siblings know that their Dad is back and he’s going after the one who got away. Ana is convinced that the one who got away is her and she’s scared. But, Gabriella’s research leads them to a victim of her fathers who got away. Her name is Zoe and it turns out that despite the horrible things that happened to her, including being burned alive, she managed to survive and has been living in secret at her sisters until Ana, Gabriella, and Daimon come to call. Zoe’s sister pretends to be her and sees this as a way to enact revenge on the little girl who led her sister into a trap, putting Ana in danger in the same way Ana put her sister in danger.

Helstrom S1E3 "The One Who Got Away"

Daddy’s Home: Zoe’s sister gets what she wants, sort of, when she leads Ana into an abandoned building but, she also gets something she didn’t expect. The person who is supposed to get her revenge for her sister is the person who did the horrible things to her sister in the first place, and when he turns on her and kills her, she dies not knowing the whole story. Ana goes toe to toe with dear old dad solo and jumps out of the building to get away from him because, this isn’t the dad she knew, he’s a suped-up version of him with a whole lot of new tricks and powers up his sleeve.

Helstrom S1E3 "The One Who Got Away"

Episode MVP: Ana! No question. Sydney Lemmon portrays her with such conviction, talent, grace, and heart that you forget she isn’t a “real” person. It’s impossible not to want to give her a hug and tell her it wasn’t her fault and that she was just a child and should let go of all that guilt. Her character went through the wringer this episode and you felt every moment of anguish, pain, and fear right along with her. If she was to win an Emmy based on this episode alone, I wouldn’t be mad at it. The way she fought her dad off with such ferocity through her fear and how she broke down in front of her brother almost immediately afterward is the stuff that true character development and amazing acting chops make legends of and I’m here for it.

Overall: Helstrom S1E3 “The One Who Got Away” doesn’t tell us what happened to Chris but, there was so much other awesomeness going on, I didn’t mind that loose end being left hanging, in fact, I kind of forgot about it. The writers seem to be very capable and I’m sure they will double back to that string at a later episode. This episode filled in a few more blanks about the siblings’ dad, their mom, the Caretaker, and Hastings. We learn about the things that Ana was forced to do, to survive, as a child under her dad’s murderous roof and we can see how it impacts her today. The story was very Ana and her trauma centered and I liked it. I also love learning about Hastings and Caretaker’s friendship and the private very human battle that Hastings has been fighting on her own. There was a lot of heart in Helstrom S1E3 “The One Who Got Away” and it aided in me becoming bonded and fully invested in the characters and the story. I can’t wait to see what happens next and make sure that Ana is okay.

Overall Rating: 9.7

Zeismic
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