Warning: Frequent profanity below
Um, what? Mando episode 5 is a drop-off in quality for one very palpable reason: Star Wars doesn’t do representation well. This is less true so far of The Mandolorian than other subsets of the franchise ( about that sequel trilogy…), but the amount of time wasted in this episode in a poorly-executed mirage of an attempt to be woke, along with its general paucity of characterization, is utterly annoying. In sum: Dave Filoni, who wrote the episode, consigns Mando to a tedious romp across Tatooine with a frat boy type White male character literally named “Torro”, who exists only to be trolled, in an effort to hunt down master assassin Fennec Shand. Along the way, Filoni spends so much time checking this moron’s privilege that he happens to forget it would be better spent developing the characterization of the first major Asian female villain in Star Wars, who from the sketch we get could’ve been pretty cool, and may prove to be so later, if her implied survival of the episode is confirmed. Okay, recap time.
Mando gets into a dogfight in space near Tatooine, narrowly surviving the encounter. His ship is badly damaged. After landing in that famous hive of scum and villainy known as Mos Eisley, which mysteriously retains its name despite 40+ years in which the Isley Brothers had the chance to sue Lucas for defamation, Mando looks for work. Who knows, maybe they like the Cantina music?
Anyway, upon entering the famous Cantina (or some other Cantina in town), Mando stumbles upon Jake Cannavale, Son of Bobby, who is humping around the Galaxy as some dude named Torro Calican. Calican is totally not, to adapt Issa Rae’s phrase from The Lovebirds, “Spacey Brett Kavanaugh”. No way. No resemblance. Sure. Seriously, fuck this dude. I would genuinely be annoyed at another tired Out of Touch White Man ™ stereotype were it not for the fact that, besides the reasons stated in the intro (which I’ll get to), and his brazenly ridiculous, cultural fauxppropriated name (Bull? Really? You couldn’t make up some more creative alien nonsense like “Jackmerius Tacktheritrix”1One of the joke names from Key & Peele’s famous/infamous College Football Player Names sketchetc? Yes, I know “toro” has one ‘r’ in Spanish), Torro is just insufferable and dumb. He’s not a villain you love to hate. He’s simply a telegenic asshole who peaked in high school.
In short, Calican is a Bounty Hunter wannabe who enlists Mando to help him kill master assassin and former Hutt contract killer Fennec Shand. Okay, this animal name actually makes sense, because fennecs are desert foxes and Shand is in the desert and stealthy like a fox. A bit on the nose, but whatever. Because he’s all around arrogant and incompetent but possessed of at least two brain cells to rub together, Space Bull has the self-awareness to offer Mando the whole of Shand’s bounty in exchange for his help, hoping only to ride his coat tails to get into Carga’s Guild. The two make a deal and speeder bike into the desert.
From here, instead of actually learning anything new about Fennec or building her up as a menacing presence, we get Mando lecturing Calican for cultural insensitivity to Tusken Raiders and generally waste time watching him act like a fool and talk bullshit. I don’t mean to trash Cannavale. It’s just a fact that he’s been given a worthless, one-dimensional character to play, and it shows. Soon the two walk into a trap Shand has set for them, and are pinned behind a ridge under sniper fire. They wait till night, at which point Mando devises a plan. The two speed across the dunes toward Shand’s position, firing flash bolts into the sky to blind her scope, before Mando is gunned down but saved by his Beskar armor. Meanwhile, Torro gets the drop on Shand and, too stupid to kill her outright, allows himself to become embroiled in a MMA fight and get his ass kicked. Mando saves him, then leaves him to guard Shand until he can return with a dewback for transport, as Shand destroyed his speeder earlier.
While captive, Shand engages in psychological warfare to convince Justice Calican to release her and betray Mando, but only succeeds in converting him into a swing vote in the latter aspect. Calican shoots Shand, takes the remaining speeder, and returns to Moss Eisley to take the port mechanic and The Child hostage, Shand having divulged earlier that Mando is wanted by the Guild. Mando returns and, clearly as done with this nonsense as I am, dispenses with the young Bull’s mediocrity.
This episode is totally watchable popcorn fare as far as action goes, but otherwise an utter waste. Mando is already a wanted man. Why couldn’t the show writer have simply sent Shand after Mando of her own initiative in order to make them fight? Shand is built up to mythical proportions in a few lines of exposition. Why couldn’t we have gotten a deeper look at her ruthless history? Shand is an elite assassin. Why can’t she and Mando engage in a pitched fight for the viewer’s entertainment? Why, in a show that has generally done a good job with diversity, is so much time wasted on a tedious “look how dumb this guy is” privilege check that actually says nothing new about representation or race that hasn’t been said better elsewhere? Why does making an insufferable White character look stupid take precedence over making a genuinely interesting Asian character three-dimensional? This episode is daft and its priorities all wrong. At least we get a foreshadowing of the return of Boba Fett in this episode, whose return has been confirmed in season 2 promo, and a very plausible hint that Fennec Shand is still alive and will live to kill again. Otherwise…This is not the Way.