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The Mandalorian has positioned itself as a Star Wars series that’s unconcerned with the moral messaging of Dark Side and Light Side, a gritty, dingy tale set on the outskirts of the galaxy where no one’s ever even heard of the Force, let alone takes sides. But this week was the first episode that really had a sense of danger to it, due in large part to its guest stars. With apologies to Bill Burr, he does give off a certain dirtbag energy, and while I didn’t realize that Boston was part of the Star Wars universe, he’s well cast as snarky sharpshooter and loose cannon Mayfeld. He also drops Baby Yoda onto the floor of the Razor Crest for a few heart-stopping seconds—like I said, a loose cannon.

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Mayfeld is just one of the crew of mercenaries Mando’s old business contact Ran (Mark Boone Jr., who you may remember from Sons Of Anarchy) hooks him up with for a non-Guild, no-questions-asked freelance gig breaking a prisoner out of a New Republic prison ship. Also on board for the mission are hulking Devaronian Burg (The Shawshank Redemption’s Clancy Brown) and unhinged, purple-skinned Twi’lek Xi’an (Natalia Tena, a.k.a. Osha from Game Of Thrones and Tonks from the Harry Potter series), both of whom are hostile towards Mando from the get-go. Burg’s just cranky, but Xi’an and Mando have met before, and it’s implied they had a fling a while back during a more amoral period in the Mandalorian’s life.

Together with a bug-eyed droid named Zero (Richard Ayoade), this trigger-happy crew immediately zeroes in on Mando, pressing his buttons by taunting him about the things he’s most sensitive about: The genocide of his people, his helmet, and Baby Yoda, who Mayfield thinks is a “pet or somethin.’” These early scenes have an electricity that’s been otherwise missing from The Mandalorian: There’s a sense that violence could break out, and that this crew would actually hurt Mando and Baby Yoda without a convenient last-minute attack of conscience. We also get a sinking reminder that, while he’s trying to be a better person now that he’s a single dad to a mystical 50-year-old baby, we don’t really know anything about Mando’s past. He has the capacity for cruelty in him, as Xi’an reveals when she mocks Mando with the memory of war crimes he committed on the planet Alzoc III.

The bounty hunters’ taunting for Mando to take off his helmet is extra rich once you consider our Mandalorian fill-in reviewer Liz Miller’s discovery that it was actually a pair of stunt doubles—one of whom is John Wayne’s grandson!—not star Pedro Pascal, behind the Mandalorian helmet in episode five. (The credits for “The Prisoner” lists these same two men, Brendan Wayne and Lateef Crowder, as “doubles” for the character, so Pascal might not be in this one, either.) This revelation doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of the show; Baby Yoda has enough facial expressions for the both of them, and The Mandalorian is about its rotating cast of scoundrels as much as it’s about its lead character. But knowing it’s a stunt double does spoil the illusion a bit.

Anyway, as usual The Mandalorian opened its big bag of cinematic references for this week’s adventure, and pulled out a structure that evokes the original Star Wars in scenes of a surreptitious prison break in the blinding white hallways of a massive ship, blasters out as Mando and the gang take down guard droids who are about as good at their jobs as Stormtroopers. The other cinematic parallel is to a formula that we see more often in action movies: A motley crew of morally ambiguous badasses on a suicide mission. Mayfeld, Xi’an, and Burg are overtly villainous—they’re certainly duplicitous, as Mando discovers when they double-cross him midway through the episode—which makes them more of a Suicide Squad than a Guardians Of The Galaxy in my estimation. That’s particularly true for Xi’an, whose personality reminded me of Harley Quinn with its blend of coy sex appeal and manic impulsivity.

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This was also a more exciting episode than last week’s, which had some charming comedic moments but came up short in terms of action. Rick Famuyiwa, who directed second episode “The Child,” returns for “The Prisoner,” and the majority of the episode plays out like a Star Wars heist film in pseudo-real time. Once Xi’an kills the ship’s lone human crew member (played by Matt Lanter, who also voiced Anakin Skywalker on Star Wars: The Clone Wars), Zero tells them that they have “approximately 20 minutes” to collect their target—which turns out to be Xi’an’s brother Qin (Ismael Cruz Cordova), who also holds a grudge against Mando—before the New Republic shows up. And although the series cheats a bit in terms of travel time back to Ran’s ship, 16 minutes later Mon Mothma’s finest do arrive.

In the interim, Famuyiwa pushes The Mandalorian into PG-13 territory with a collection of directorial tricks commonly seen in horror movies. Red light and slamming doors keep the characters moving and panicky, and at one point Mando sneaks up on Mayfeld under a flashing strobe light, a sequence straight out of a slasher movie. (Baby Yoda darting around the Razor Crest as Zero tried to hunt him down had a similar vibe.) The violence in this episode is also relatively hard-hitting for the family-friendly Disney+: No actual blood is shed except for droid blood, of course, but Burg does prove to be a worthy adversary for Mando, who gets his ass kicked pretty good before crushing Burg’s head like a grape in a blast door. We also get the requisite Western moment as Mando, Mayfeld, Burg, and the ship’s guard point their blasters at each other in a Mexican standoff. That wonderfully suspenseful scene also saw Mando invoking the conscience that fills his colleagues with such disgust, saying “we’re not killing anybody here, understand?” And he keeps his word, poor hapless New Republic flunky excepted.

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With only two episodes left in the season, it’s possible at this point that the arc set up the moment the Mandalorian set eyes on Baby Yoda will stretch out over multiple seasons. Jon Favreau has confirmed that he started working on season two of The Mandalorian as soon as season one wrapped, and so far the show’s created more new plot threads than it’s tied up. It seems difficult to have the Mandalorian settle the score with his many enemies while still introducing unseen characters like Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon within the next two episodes—unless they really lean into the Western thing and the season finale is just a series of High Noon-style shootouts as Mando’s rivals line up one by one for their quick-draw reckonings.

Personally, I don’t mind the X-Files-esque way The Mandalorian’s first season has toggled between standalone episodes and a larger story arc so much, as long as the side adventures are exciting and full of cool aliens and planets. But it was a bit frustrating to end this week’s episode with no new answers and three new bounty hunters who hate Mando’s guts, given that it’s going to be a long time before we get any answers to questions left hanging in the season finale.

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Stray Observations

  • “I wasn’t a stormtrooper, wiseass!” I do love a “Stormtroopers can’t shoot” joke. And I’m not sure what he means by saying the Razor Crest is “like a Canto Bight slot machine,” but hey—I get that reference!
  • Speaking of Mayfeld, what are the odds that he and General Hux—the other cranky ginger with Imperial ties of the Star Wars universe—are related?
  • We came this close to answering my question about whether Mandalorians have sex with the helmet on in this episode. Weird time to develop tact, Xi’an.
  • Burg the Devaronian is another example of my favorite type of Star Wars species: A mask Rick Baker created for something else, then hastily added to the Cantina scene in the original Star Wars after George Lucas said he wanted more alien extras. That character, and Devaronians in general, were retrofitted with an elaborate backstory after the fact, as is custom for Star Wars nerds.
  • Comparing Richard Ayoade’s portrayal of Zero to Taika Waititi’s IG-11 in the series premiere, I’ve got to give this one to Ayoade, if only because he had more to do—even if what he did was threaten the adorable life of the galaxy’s most powerful baby. Waititi is set to direct the season finale, however.
  • Also, how cute was it when Baby Yoda thought he had brought down Zero with his lil’ Force powers for just a split second?
  • That’s directors Dave Filoni, Rick Famuyiwa, and Deborah Chow cameoing as the trio of New Republic pilots towards the end of the episode. Adorable.
  • If you’re still looking for a holiday gift for the Star Wars fan in your life, I stumbled on this Super Yaki collection earlier today, and find it rather delightful.
  • This week’s drinking game: Take a drink every time Xi’an does that deranged hiccup-laugh.
  • Liz Miller will be filling in for me next week while I take a long winter’s nap. Next week’s episode is also airing on Wednesday instead of Friday, reportedly so a “sneak peak” at Episode IX—The Rise Of Skywalker can air at the end of the episode. I’ll see you in two weeks for the season finale, Baby Yoda fans.
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