A review of this week’s The Mandalorian, “The Prisoner,” coming up just as soon as my shoes match my belt…
We’re at the stage of this season where the creative team (here with Rick Famuyiwa returning to direct, and co-writing with Thor: Ragnarok‘s Christopher Yost) just seems to be inserting Mando and Baby Yoda(*) into different genre favorites. Two weeks ago, it was “gunslingers defend a village from bandits.” Last week, it was “veteran reluctantly shows a rookie the ropes.” This week, it’s a jailbreak with a motley crew of criminals even seedier than the ones in the Bounty Guild — The Dirty Half-Dozen rather than The Magnificent Two.
(*) He is now being referred to in Disney press materials as “The Child,” and the best of all the Marriage Story memes neatly articulates why “Baby Yoda” is not an accurate name. Don’t care. Until someone in the show gives him an actual name, rather than just calling him “the kid,” he is Baby Yoda to me. Spoken, I have.
This allows the show to bring in a bigger roster of guest stars than normal. Sons of Anarchy‘s Mark Boone Jr. plays Mando’s old buddy Ran Malk. Comedian Bill Burr is Mayfeld, a former Imperial sniper (which allows the show to make a joke about what terrible shots the Stormtroopers are in every film) who carries so many blasters, he has a rig to shoot additional ones when his hands are full. Natalia Tena (Tonks from the Harry Potter films) is Xi’an, who appears to be an ex-lover of Mando’s — even though she’s never seen his face — and whose brother Qin (Ismael Cruz Cordova) is the prisoner this team has been assembled to free. Every crew like this needs muscle, and who better to play that than Clancy Brown, whose turn as the red-skinned, horned Burg has me wishing for a parallel reality where he got to play Hellboy when he was younger. Mando’s desperate circumstances even force him to accept a droid on the team in the form of the smug Zero (The IT Crowd‘s Richard Ayoade).
It’s a lot of characters to introduce in a single episode(*), and the script more or less limits each of them to a single trait: Mayfeld is a cocky jerk, Burg is hot-tempered, Xi’an erratic, etc. (Qin is the only one who’s not so predictable, but his poor man’s Joker impression makes him a less interesting character than the others.) Mostly, it’s an opportunity for Mando to seem (by posture, if not expression) uncomfortable around these clowns, and then for him to demonstrate his skills by taking them down one by one when they inevitably betray him. The New Republic prison ship (with decor similar to the transport Princess Leia is on at the start of A New Hope) is well-lit, and between the droids guarding it and the duplicitous thieves, we get a lot of varied, well-choreographed, and easy-to-follow fight sequences. (Though my favorite may have been the one that was deliberately dark, as Mando snuck up on Mayfeld in a corridor where the main lights were out, with only strobe effects periodically showing his position.) For pure visceral thrills, this was among the series’ most satisfying installments, down to the inversion of the climax of the second episode. Then, it was Baby Yoda’s use of the Force that saved Mando from the mud monster; here, it seems like Baby Yoda might be trying to Force his way out of a confrontation with Zero, but instead Mando shows up at the last second to shoot the pesky droid. And the fight against Burg — strong and tough enough to shrug off most of Mando’s usual weapons — was a comic treat, concluding with Mando needing to close two different sets of blast doors on the guy to stop him.
(*) And that’s even before you count the cameos by Famuyiwa and his fellow directors Dave Filoni and Deborah Chow as the three X-Wing pilots — delightfully named, respectively, Jib Jodger, Trapper Wolf, and Sash Ketter — who blow up the thieves’ base at the end, plus Matt Lanter (who voiced Anakin in the Clone Wars series) as the New Republic soldier who gets killed by Xi’an.
That said, Mando’s past affiliation with these jokers raises more questions than the episode has time for, or interest in, answering. We still don’t know a lot about how this once-noble warrior race ended up on such hard times, nor how Mandy might have gotten mixed up with such a crew, nor what — if anything — he and Xi’an might have gotten up to even as he kept his helmet on. The show is obviously much more interested in Mando’s current adventures as a fugitive and surrogate dad than it is in his backstory. But if we can’t see his face, at least we can learn a bit more about who he is and what he’s been through, and hopefully more substance is coming on that front soon. That Mando leaves several of his foes alive and locked up on the prison ship suggests they could return — and maybe Xi’an will spill more tea in the future than she did this time around.
But like most of the series to this point, “The Prisoner” isn’t so much deep as it is fun. And that continues to work well enough.