A review of this week’s The Mandalorian, “The Passenger,” coming up just as soon as I give you my jet pack…
On the heels of the most purely entertaining entertaining Mandalorian episode to date, “The Passenger” couldn’t help but feel like a bit of a letdown. The story is much smaller. And not only is there no hugely charismatic guest star like Timothy Olyphant, but the bulk of the episode takes place inside the Razor Crest, where the passengers are a guy who never shows his face and mostly speaks in muted tones, and two characters who can’t communicate verbally at all with him or us. Olyphant’s guest spot, while fantastic, may have done more long-term harm than good to the series, since it made it even more obvious how limited Pedro Pascal’s performance is by the omnipresent helmet. He can only do so much under these conditions, which in turn means episodes tend to rise and fall on the guest stars. And a mostly non-communicative frog lady is no Olyphant, or Werner Herzog, or Nick Nolte, etc. Once the episode left Peli behind on Tatooine, the energy level dropped.
And where Mando got to play the hero in last week’s fight with the dragon, here he and his passengers are rescued by a bit of a deus ex machina, in the form of the two X-wing pilots(*) who chased them onto the ice planet to begin with. These two space cops let Mando go because his heroics in last season’s prison break episode outweighed his crimes there, but the whole final sequence felt rushed, as if everyone was eager to just get Mando out of his predicament and back in search of his people.
(*) One played by Kim’s Convenience star Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, the other by Mandalorian producer Dave Filoni.
Even with those disappointments, though, “The Passenger” had its charms. Where Baby Yoda was mostly in the background of the premiere, the kid was on prominent display throughout, constantly trying to get his adorable little paws on the tadpole eggs in the tank. The show has definitely grown more confident in what the puppeteers can do, and great swaths of the episode were simply silent comedy beats of Baby Yoda trying to get his snack on by any means necessary. The Force(*) does not save the day, but the episode was an amusing reminder of how much the kid adds even when he’s only occasionally driving the plot.
(*) Note that when Mando is trying to get out of the New Republic’s traffic stop, he tells the pilots, “May the Force be with you.” So this is two episodes in a row where the Force is name-checked, even though Mando and the other characters don’t know what the word used to represent. The brain of Chris Traeger from Parks and Rec would be literally exploding over the way that language can evolve, even in a galaxy far, far away.
And if the spider fight ended with a bit of a whimper, until that point it was one of the best-looking and scariest action sequences the show has done. Ant-Man director Peyton Reed was in the chair for this one, and his experience with making both big and small things seem imposing blended well with what The Mandalorian technical team does weekly. The sequence felt equal parts Aliens and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, particularly when we met the giant queen spider who was not at all pleased that one of her babies has been eaten by these intruders. And as the creatures threatened to swamp the already-crippled Razor Crest, the sense of danger to our heroes was more palpable than it often is, even when Mando is being swallowed up by an enormous sand monster.
It seems likely that the frog lady’s husband is lying about knowing where a Mandalorian covert is, or at least as mistaken as the arms dealer was in the premiere. But we’ll have to wait till next week to find out just how necessary this week’s detour turned out to be. Side trips are just fine, since many of the most entertaining episodes of this and other serialized shows have been standalones largely unconnected from the main plot. But they tend to work better here when Mando has someone who can converse with him, and not just for a few minutes through the Richard Ayoade droid’s decapitated head.