‘The Mandalorian’ Goes Full ‘Andor’ With Dr. Pershing’s Dilemma
THIS POST CONTAINS spoilers for this week’s episode of The Mandalorian, “The Convert.”
Among the more exciting aspects of Andor was the way it proved that Star Wars could go in a very different tonal and thematic direction and still find success. It was Star Wars aiming for something more morally complex and adult, rather than trying first and foremost to appeal to kids and sell toys. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter approach if it’s done as well as The Mandalorian has been for most of its run. Each show is doing just fine in its own lane.
“The Convert,” though, feels like as close as we can come to The Mandalorian stepping onto Andor-esque turf. Though the episode is bookended by sequences with Mando and Bo-Katan, the majority of it takes place on Coruscant, focusing on Dr. Pershing, the Imperial scientist who in the first two seasons attempted to clone Grogu and/or his Midichlorians. It’s part of a shift back to the Moff Gideon plot, including the return of his hardened communications officer Elia Kane. But it’s also asking the sort of thorny cultural question that much of Star Wars tends to ignore in favor of action-adventure: What do you do with the Imperial soldiers after the Empire has fallen?
For Dr. Pershing, life in the New Republic is less guilt-inducing but also less fulfilling. He is one of a growing number of ex-Imperials who have been given amnesty, and the spartan lifestyle that goes with it. He lives in a small apartment in a housing project, does mindless — and, to his mind, counterproductive — clerical work about the decommissioning and destruction of Imperial equipment. (His workplace is the most Andor-esque part of the show, very much evoking Syril Karn’s brief tenure with the Fuel Purity department.) For the most part, Pershing is treated as an entertaining curiosity to the New Republic establishment, akin to when immigrants here get patronizingly referred to as “a credit to your race.” One of those aristocrats admits he sees little distinction between the old Republic, the new one, or the Empire, which is the position a privileged person can enjoy even in a dictatorship. But there are ways in which he’s not wrong about the similarities. All the amnesty program graduates, for instance, are referred to not by their names, but by coded designations, in the same dehumanizing fashion applied to Stormtroopers in the past and future. And all the while, he feels as if he is being kept from his true calling as a scientist who hopes to use cloning as a medical cure-all. He is essentially a convict out on parole, invited to take in the sites of this beautiful place without ever truly feeling like a part of it.
This is interesting material, if not always gracefully handled. We’re reintroduced to Pershing giving a speech before a large and enthusiastic audience of Coruscant’s cultural elite. Part of it is showing him off as an example of the amnesty program’s success, but he also discusses his cloning work at length. The plot of the episode, though, revolves around his frustration that the New Republic has banned cloning research. The speech feels designed mainly to remind the audience about a relatively minor character who hasn’t appeared on screen since late 2020, and internal logic is secondary to that.
But Omid Abtahi is very good and sympathetic as Pershing. Ditto Katy M. O’Brian as Kane. It’s obvious pretty much the whole time that she’s hustling him(*), if only because even a digression like this eventually has to have a plot function. But you can see completely how Pershing would allow himself to be philosophically seduced by this smiley, friendly woman he barely knew on Gideon’s ship. He falls into her trap(**), and seems likely to be back in Gideon’s service soon. But he now feels like more than a plot functionary, while we’ve gotten one of our better looks to date at the transition from the Empire to the New Republic.
(*) As a result, the episode felt padded in spots, which is always the danger when the audience gets ahead of the characters in a story like this. Many scenes went on longer than necessary, and the sequence where the two have to escape the droid train conductors seemed to be there only because there hadn’t been any action since we cut away from Mando and Bo. The series has done good episodes that run around an hour, but tends to do its best work somewhere in the range of 30-40 minutes.
(**) Of course Pershing would use the word “trap” in front of a Mon Calamari, even if the one in question is not Admiral Ackbar. Also, even if Kane’s boss trusts her enough to leave her alone in the control room, why would New Republic scientists have even left the Mind Flayer’s torture settings as an option? Like Pershing’s speech, that bit needed some more quality control, even if it was just showing Kane finding a way to hack any new safety protocols that had been installed onto the machine.
When Season Two episodes went a little lighter on Mando, they felt like backdoor pilots for potential spinoffs. (Though this didn’t always work due to extenuating circumstances, like the aborted plan to do a Cara Dune show.) “The Convert,” though, played more as part of the larger plot of Season Three, which reached another inflection point in the concluding scene with Mando, Grogu, and Bo-Katan arriving at the covert.
Though Paz Vizsla is skeptical that Din actually went to Mandalore and bathed in the Living Waters, the sample our hero brought back proves his story, and he’s heartily welcomed back into the Watch. So, for now, is Bo-Katan, who inadvertently went through the same ritual as Mando, and also has yet to remove her helmet since diving in to save him from drowning. With her castle blown up by Imperial remnants, she has no place to live. And her glimpse of the Mythosaur seems to have changed her thinking about the viability of reclaiming Mandalore, and/or about the worth of the Watch’s stricter old-school ways. Suddenly, she’s surrounded by a few dozen Mandalorians, which is a start if she wants to assemble a new army to take back their homeworld. And perhaps we’re set up for a spiritual tug of war with her and Din. Will she truly buy into the Creed of the Watch, or will her presence in the group convince Din or some of the others to realize that the Way is too rigid, and that modern Mandalorian-ism has its appeals. No matter which approach wins out, though, our heroes seem set on a collision course with what’s left of the Empire.
We know from the Rey trilogy that the First Order will eventually rise up from the ashes of the Empire. Here, we get a good reminder of why those ex-Imperials might be eager to go back to the bad old days, even if poor Dr. Pershing is being drafted against his will.