Mando returns with what is far and away his best episode yet.
We open on a race of aliens raiders (Klatoonians) ransacking a small village of fish-famers on the verdant planet of Sorgan. Shortly afterwards, Mando and The Child arrive on Sorgan to lay low while Carga’s guildsmen scour the Outer Rim for them. Arriving at a local tavern, Mando spots a woman a few tables away whom he suspects is a bounty hunter, and shortly afterwards becomes embroiled in an impromptu Krav Maga match when she attacks him. When the fight ends in a draw, the two have a drink. The woman is Cara Dune, an ex-Rebel commando who defected from the alliance sometime after the fall of the Galactic Empire. As they are both wanted persons, the two prepare to go their separate ways before desperate farmers accost Mando to defend them from the Klatoonians. Mando agrees despite the dirt cheap pay and persuades Cara to join him, reasoning that the village’s isolation will offer them both an easier way to fly under the radar.
Upon arriving in the village, Mando and Cara are given quarters by the widow Omera, who quickly becomes infatuated with him. Meanwhile, Omera’s young daughter essentially adopts The Child as her pet and The Child becomes the coolest kid in town, even when he unceremoniously eats frogs in public. Mando and Cara investigate Klatoonian activity in the neighborhood and quickly discover the raiders are packing an AT-ST, a bipedal tank walker of the defunct Empire first seen in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, but used more extensively in 1983’s Return of the Jedi during the Battle of Endor. Perturbed, Cara and Mando confront the villagers and tell them they have no choice but to flee. The villagers refuse to leave their ancestral lands, and Mando and Cara reluctantly decide to prepare them for combat. A training scene ensues, in which we learn Omera is in fact a highly competent rifle woman.
It is now nightfall, presumably some days later. Mando and Cara infiltrate and sabotage the Klatoonian camp, but are chased back to the village by the AT-ST. When the walker fails to fall into their trap, the Klatoonians rally and assault the village. Cara gets in close and baits the walker into immobilizing itself in a fish paddy before Mando finishes off the armor with a grenade. The Klatoonians break and route. Weeks later, Cara encourages Mando to remove his helmet and renounce life as a Mandolorian in order to take Omera as his lover and give The Child a life in the village. Mando refuses but decides to leave The Child with Omera and her daughter. As he bids her goodbye, a guildsman nearly assassinates both Mando and The Child before Cara kills the sniper. When a tracking fob is recovered on the body, Mando realizes relinquishing The Child will put the village at risk, and he and The Child depart soon after in a heartfelt send off from the villagers.
Everything about this episode works, much of it very well. At this point, the cuteness factor of The Child has been totally embraced, and much joy can be found in The Child’s wide-eyed exploration of his universe. He annoys Mando by messing with the ship controls. He gets spooked by a cat-like alien in the tavern that seems interested in eating him. He entertains the children of the village, reaffirms his innocent penchant for devouring live frogs (this time the frog is spared under peer pressure), and just generally makes an adorable meme of herself.
As I want to dwell on other aspects of the episode in detail, I’ll keep my action commentary to the minimum. Suffice to say, the Mandalorian has hit its stride with fight sequences. This episode showed us the first proper military engagement to appear in the series so far, and while plot contrivance remains a minor problem here and there, there was an epic scope to this episodes battle sequence that even the Nevarro posse shootout didn’t match. Moving on.
Mando himself is much more vocal. This is largely a facet of his partnership with Gina Carano’s swaggering Cara, who is the closet thing Mando has had to a friend at this point, and whom Mando obviously respects on a professional level. The term “respect” is very much appropriate here, not simply because the relationship is totally platonic, but because respect itself is demonstrated several times in this episode to be one of Mando’s key values. Much like The Witcher’s Geralt of Rivia, Mando could be described as a stoic, cynical, but fundamentally principled man whose characteristic disdain for most things is the product of career choices that surround him with violence and bullshit. Except the key difference is that while for Geralt, monster-slaying is a lifestyle, a job, and a curse, for Mando it carries clear spiritual overtones. To be a Mandalorian is to fight. To fight is a commandment.
Since prepubescence, when, we are told, he was adopted into the Mandalorian religion, Mando has never removed his helmet in the presence of another lifeform. A Mandolorian’s vocation is war. Now that they are in a state of diaspora and politically marginalized, bounty-hunting and other mercenary work is not glamorous, but it constitutes a sufficient if minimally honorable way for the Mandalorians to preserve their culture and traditions. As the descendant of Ashkenazi Jews, another people who constitute the remnant culture of a tribe once subjected to displacement and genocide, I find this deeply moving. Notwithstanding the rebirth of the state of Israel during the 1948 War, since the destruction of the Second Temple by the Roman Emperor Titus in 70 A.D., many hundreds of religious commandments recorded in the Torah remain impossible to fulfill in a Third Temple’s absence. As the status of the Temple Mount and the mosques that now occupy it are a third rail even by the incredibly violent standards of modern Arab/Jewish relations, this is unlikely to change any time soon, or ever, in all honesty.
Yet since the dispersion, mass murder, and enslavement of that 1st century genocide, on through millenia of exclusion and persecution that neither began nor ended with the Holocaust, Jews have carried on, survived, and endured, preserving and adapting their culture as much as they could. Ethnoreligious death was the alternative, and therefore no alternative at all. This is the Way. In this context, Mando’s earlier quip regarding weapons and religion from episode 2 retroactively appears as deadly serious as it was funny.
And it is this devotion, ultimately before the element of the assassination attempt is introduced, that prohibits Mando from laying down his helmet to live as a krill farmer, despite his evident though understated attraction to the widow Omera. From the ashes of his childhood community’s extermination, Mando rose a warrior, a Mandalorian by choice, and he perpetuates that choice with a firm, if not especially euphoric, conviction. To those who have earned it he gives respect freely, and it is from this same notion of respect that he persists in his religion. To do otherwise is to forsake his entire identity, his faith, his “race”, even his manhood so to speak. He neither removes his helmet in another’s presence nor allows it to be removed. In that simple act is summarized the alpha and omega of all it means to be Mandalorian. This is the Way.