A review of this week’s The Mandalorian, “The Reckoning,” coming up just as soon as I offer you a libation to celebrate the closing of our shared narrative…
The Mandalorian has proudly operated as a throwback to a more episodic — and, arguably, more fun — era of television than this one. But even a lot of classic Adventure of the Week series structured themselves so that the last episode or three of a season was a bit more serialized, making the whole feel bigger than the sum of the parts(*).
(*) Two shows that I think a lot of current dramas (especially the ones made for streaming) would do well to follow structurally: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Justified, both of which began each season with a lot of standalone adventures, even as that year’s big bad developed in the background. It keeps things much livelier, and does a better job of showcasing the main characters along the way.
Mando and Baby Yoda spent the last few weeks having standalone adventures around the galactic rim. The season’s penultimate episode, appropriately titled “The Reckoning,” brings them back to Navarro, where the story began, with a whole bunch of friends and enemies in tow. Greef hires Mando to murder the Client in exchange for clearing his name with the Bounty Guild (plus a handsome reward). It is, of course, a trap. While Mando seems oddly more surprised to discover it than he should be, he did have the foresight to bring along Cara Dune and Kuiil (and a repaired and reprogrammed IG-11) to help. And Baby Yoda using the Force to heal Greef’s seemingly fatal wounds elicits a face turn from Mando’s frequent employer.
The problem is that there are way more Imperial boots on the ground than Greef promised, and that’s before the Client gets wiped out by his apparent superior, Moff Gideon (played by Gus Fring himself, Giancarlo Esposito). So we head into the finale with Mando, Greef, and Cara surrounded by Gideon’s troops, the Client and probably Kuiil dead, and Baby Yoda in the hands of one of the speeder bike stormtroopers (perhaps the one played by Adam Pally?).
It’s by far the biggest cliffhanger for a show that’s largely had little use for them, and an impressive demonstration of the power of patient world-building. The episode is as thrilling and entertaining as it is because the season unfolded so simply and carefully. We got a decent sampling of Mando working alongside the more homicidal IG-11 in the premiere, and at least one standalone episode apiece for Kuiil and Cara, along with the Client and Greef getting memorable scenes in the first and third installments. It’s effective because it wasn’t rushed, and because all the ingredients weren’t thrown into a blender from the start.
Our hero and his friends facing overwhelming odds is, like pretty much everything about this show, a familiar setup for a climax. And based on how Jon Favreau (back on scripting duties) and company (including Deborah Chow back in the director’s chair) have handled all the other clichés so far, I’m very much looking forward to seeing them tackle this Alamo situation.
A few other thoughts:
* Disney+ released the episode a couple days early to avoid having two different Star Wars productions debuting on the same day. You may have heard, but there’s a new movie coming out later this week?
* A few interesting things happen re. Baby Yoda and the Force this time. First, he tries Force-choking Cara while she’s engaged in a friendly arm-wrestling contest with Mando, incorrectly assuming that she’s trying to hurt his father figure. Even more than his pre-verbal behavior, this response helps calibrate his extremely early level of maturity, because he can’t distinguish play from fighting. Second, the others again seem largely flummoxed by his abilities, though Kuiil says he’s “heard rumors of” powers like these. In A New Hope, Han calls the Force a hokey religion while watching Obi-Wan train Luke, but in a way that implies he’s heard of the Force and just dismissed it. This show implies the Force has mostly been forgotten in the years since the Jedi were wiped out. Third, while the Force being used to heal seems like a logical extension of what Jedi have done in other films, I think it’s the first time it’s been presented on screen in this way.
* Finally, the episode oddly suggests that the standalone portion of the season (i.e., everything after Mando rescued Baby Yoda from the Client in the third episode) could have been even longer. I would argue this one’s only significant flaw is that it doesn’t feel like Mando and Baby Yoda’s circumstances have grown desperate enough for him to go back to Navarro. Especially since the previous episode didn’t involve anyone trying to kill and/or capture them on behalf of the Bounty Guild. Perhaps if the show had flipped the order of the prison break and Tatooine adventures, it would have flowed more naturally.