‘The Mandalorian’ Season Three Gets Off to a Disappointing Start
THIS POST CONTAINS spoilers for this week’s episode of The Mandalorian, “The Apostate.”
A strange thing happens at the start of The Mandalorian Season Three. We open, of course, with a montage of events from previous seasons that will be relevant to what’s about to happen. So we are reminded of IG-11’s sacrifice in the Season One finale, Greef Karga discussing the gentrification of Nevarro, and the purge of Mandalore. We also get a brief snippet of “The Return of the Mandalorian,” an episode of Book of Boba Fett that began that show’s bizarre transformation from a spin-off into something of a Mandalorian Season Two and a Half. In that scene, we see that the Armorer has excommunicated our hero from the Watch for the sin of removing his helmet, and told him about how to redeem himself by bathing in the waters of Mandalore itself.
The choice of clips is notable less for what is featured than for what isn’t. We do not see a single frame of footage featuring Luke Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano, or Grogu, even though Mandalorian Season Two ended with Mando and the little guy saying goodbye, seemingly forever, and even though their reunion played out over the final stretch of Book of Boba Fett.
This is the peril of enjoying stories set in a shared universe, whether on screen or on the page: if you don’t consume all of it, you may miss something important about the corner of that universe you care about. There are ways for franchises to reward audience members who watch or read it all, but they should never punish the ones who don’t. And I imagine any Mandalorian-only viewers were baffled by a lot of “The Apostate.” Mando and Grogu are reunited and Mando has a sleek new ship, neither of which are explained. Meanwhile, hilariously, the one Book of Boba element that does get re-explained is the part about Mando’s banishment and path to atonement, which is already in the opening montage. It’s almost as if Jon Favreau and company are going out of their way to tell viewers, “You had better watch every one of our shows(*), or else we will ensure that you are completely lost!”
(*) By which I mean the Favreau/Filoni corner of this universe, since Andor and Obi-Wan are from other creative teams and don’t interact with the Mando-adjacent characters and stories at all.
It’s an annoying note on which to begin a pretty underwhelming episode. Premieres can be tough, because they often have to devote more time and energy to setting up season-long conflicts rather than trying to be satisfying in their own right. “The Apostate” opens with a big action sequence and then gives us another toward the end: the former with Din Djarin and Grogu saving the Armorer and the other members of the Watch(*) from a giant alligator-esque beast, the latter with our heroes outdueling a squadron of pirate ships in the asteroid belt outside of Nevarro. Most of it, though, involves Mando laying out the many steps of his redemption tour. First he needs to get IG-11 fixed, because he needs a droid to help him go to Mandalore, and this is somehow the only one he trusts, even as we saw in both Season Two and especially in “The Return of the Mandalorian” that he has largely gotten over his fear of droids. So he has to travel the galaxy to find a replacement memory circuit, and only then can he go back to Mandalore to see if it’s even safe to visit. And he has to get permission from Bo-Katan, who was leading a quest to retake Mandalore when last we saw her.
(*) In “The Return of the Mandalorian,” the Watch was basically down to the Armorer and Paz Vizsla. Now they have a large group again, presumably as a result of the two of them roaming the Outer Rim to find others of their kind, and to rescue new Foundlings. But that would take some time, and this show is not great at conveying the passage of time. A clip went around yesterday of Favreau saying that Grogu was training with Luke for two years before leaving to rejoin Mando, which makes no sense within the shared timeline of the two series.
Some of this set-up is entertaining. There is, for instance, a creepy Terminator-ish scene (or, if you prefer, Breaking Bad-ish scene) where the malfunctioning, legless IG-11 crawls around the floor with his one remaining arm to try to kill Grogu. And there’s an amusing sequence featuring a group of Anzellans — aka the same race as Babu Frikk, the only universally-liked part of Rise of Skywalker — where Grogu keeps trying to hug the adorable aliens, while Greef finds himself repeating everything the Anzellans say like he’s Sigourney Weaver in Galaxy Quest. Mostly, though, it’s functional and little more, and illustrates yet another reason the whole Book of Boba thing was silly. By offloading the emotional reunion onto another show, The Mandalorian found itself with a much less exciting way to begin its own new season. Imagine if the last three Boba episodes were compressed — minus most/all of the Boba/Fennec material — into a pair of episodes to start this season, before Mando set out to get back into the Watch’s good graces. That would have been a much more satisfying and resonant beginning, no?
Or perhaps I’m just less enthused about Mando’s interlocking quests because of what they signal about the larger direction of the series. The later episodes of Season Two implied that Din realized that following the Creed(*) was ultimately less important than caring for his adoptive son. “The Return of the Mandalorian” and everything that’s happened since has walked all of that back. The season opens with the Armorer preparing for an elaborate ceremony to give a new Foundling his own helmet. And the show is now placing both of Pedro Pascal’s body doubles (Brendan Wayne and Lateef Crowder) into the main cast credits, as an acknowledgment that they are playing this role as much as he is. Favreau seems to be signaling that he values the cool visual of the helmet more than he does the value of letting one of the most expressive actors working in television today use his greatest weapon.
(*) Not to be confused with Carl Weather’s most famous role.
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Or is he? It’s worth noting that the giant monster interrupts the ceremony right before the kid can repeat the part of the Creed about never removing his helmet. Perhaps the arc of this season will be Din recognizing that some of the Watch’s rules are bad, in the same way that Ahsoka eventually recognized the dangers of the Jedi rules against emotional attachments. If it means we eventually get a lot more of Pascal’s face, that would be a good thing. But we did already go down this path to a degree in Season Two.
On a micro level, this remains an extremely well-crafted show, and I imagine my enthusiasm will increase once we get back into the weekly adventures. (I also expect the pirates to return, if only because it’s a waste of Nonso Anozie to only use him for one brief scene as the Pirate King Gorian Shard.) But the macro vibes this week were less than ideal, especially for a show returning after what’s technically a three-year break.