The darkness drops again; but now I knowWilliam Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
I am taking the extraordinary step of awarding The Mandolorian’s seventh episode a perfect score. I do not do so lightly. While ultimately no work of art is flawless, The Mandalorian’s first non-self contained episode is masterful and marks the point at which one can fully say they’re watching prestige television. It is fitting that the show chose this episode to reveal its official “Big Bad” in Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon. All the more so that the episode’s director, Deborah Chow, introduces his malevolent and ruthless presence in a ferocious (but still TV-14) blaster-riddled bloodbath that can only be an homage to the end of Breaking Bad.
In that show, which ended in 2013, Walter White avenges himself upon his Neo Nazi enemies by rigging a machine gun to fire remotely from his car. Captured and poised on the brink of execution, White tackles his frenemy and enslaved former partner to the ground before an M60 on a swivel turret pops the trunk of his El Camino and blows his former White Supremacist allies away, emptying hundreds of rounds into their headquarters long after all of them lie dead or dying. Let me say in sum, without too many spoilers, that this episode ends in a quite similar manner, with specific shots mirroring Walter’s last vengeance.
Yet in Breaking Bad, the ferocious gunplay was a coda; the full-stop to the downfall of a tragic “hero” whose quest to leave his family an inheritance had morphed into a depraved bid for a place in the sun. This place, lost almost as swiftly as it was earned, was impossible to attain without a change in management, a turning of the wheel from employee to kingpen paid for in the blood of Gustavo Fring, Chilean immigrant, small business owner, pillar of his community, and, hiding in plain sight, consummate druglord. Fring was of course played by Esposito; and, for the vast majority of its seminal run, the show prospered on the duel of ‘Gus” and Walter, the calculating emperor and the rebellious prince, the consummate professional and the megalomaniacal prodigy. Now Esposito is back and, one hopes, about to bring life an equally iconic role in Moff Gideon. When all is said in done though, for now he is an enigma, albeit one introduced in a fusillade of hellfire. But enough of this melodrama. The episode as a whole is a command performance, superior in every aspect to all its antecedents.
We open with a transmission to Mando from Greef Carga which gives Carl Weathers an excuse to do what he does best: monologue. In short, The Client and his imperial goons have reduced Nevarro to a police state under lockdown, ruling by terror and crippling the Guild. In its opening episodes The Mandalorian often struggled with unimpressive dialogue. Now that is firmly a thing of the past. With customarily theatrical delivery, Weathers’s Carga condemns the rule of The Client and elaborates a cunning plan. In exchange for forgiveness from the Guild, Carga will broker a meeting between Mando and the Client in which Mando will assassinate the Client and, having deprived the local stormtroopers of their paymaster, liberate Nevarro.
“If you succeed, you keep the child and I will have your name cleared with the Guild, for a man of honor should not be forced to live in exile.”
The poet in me grins. Of course this olive branch is probably a trap, so certain precautions must be taken. First, Mando returns to Sorgum, where Cara Dune has basically returned to doing her typical Lady Badass shit full time. Catching the tail end of a Fight Club-style bar fight, Mando approaches his one time ally and requests her help in killing the Client. While the ex-Rebel shock trooper balks at the prospect of doing a job in New Republic space, she changes tune when Mando reveals that the target is a former Imperial. Now bolstered by a second gun, Mando heads to Tatooine to place the Child in the care of Kuiil the Ugnaught, but iis surprised and enraged to discover the IG unit he fought beside and later destroyed in the pilot. IG-11 has been reprogrammed by Kuil to be a “nurse droid” and guardian, and in an at once comical and heartfelt montage, we see how Kuiil had reclaimed the fallen droid after Mando’s bloodbath and slowly repaired and reprogrammed it to defend rather than kill. Mando and Kuiil engage in a bit of philosophical and social commentary, debating whether IG-11 was evil by nature or merely a reflection of the evil intent of his programmers, and we get more insight into Kuiil’s fierce pride when, after Cara demeans him as an ex-imperial, Kuiil defines himself as both a victim of and triumphant survivor over imperial slavery, who freed himself by the skill of his hands1I.e. bought himself out of servitude, Star Wars universe slavery is typically akin to that of the Old World or Greco-Roman institution, not the American one predicated on racism.. Meanwhile, in an ominous turn, the Child acts like a dick and nearly force chokes Cara to death, bringing whole new questions about its power to the table. As always, there is a charming dramatic irony in the fact that while we the audience know the child is of Yoda’s species and clearly Force-sensitive, our heroes know fuck-all about the Force and the Jedi, giving us the rare Star Wars perspective of characters who exist on the periphery of the Joseph Cambel-esque rmythology at the heart of the Franchise, who will nonetheless be inevitably drawn into it.
Mando, Cara, The Child, Kuiil, and IG-11 land on Nevarro, where they engage in a tense reunion with Carga and three of his hired guns. After this mutually frosty reception, the eight of them (IG not included) make their way on foot and by Blurg across the lava flats of Nevarro towards the town itself. Enroute, Carga gets off another excellent line about the Client’s willingness to pay “a King’s ransom” for the Child, presumably to place the Child in some “hifalutin menagerie”, a lovely phrase. As Carga, the consummate huckster, pitches the assured success of their mission, the smallness of the Client’s escort, and the unwillingness of stormtroopers to die for no pay, some punk-ass pterodactyl-looking reptiles swoop in, gore him, kill one of his gunslingers, and are driven off only after a deluge of blaster fire. Carga, mortally wounded and infected, is miraculously saved by the Child, who uses the force to heal him. The next day, as the reach the outskirts of the town, Carga abruptly murders his two surviving hunters and switches up the pla
After confessing he had originally intended to kill Mando and his party, he talks his way out of execution by explaining that the Child’s actions the night before stirred a pang of conscience. Offering to take the Child to the Client himself, Mando instead proposes they both go, with Carga feigning to the Client that he has captured Mando. At length, after some arguing, Cara, Mando, and Carga all agree to meet the client and bring the Child’s empty cradle as a ruse, while Kuiil returns with the Child to the Razor Crest. This agreed upon, they set out. Although in some respects this scene felt a tad circular and forced, I am not willing to drop the score of the review on that account. The writing of Carga’s character has matured over the course of season one, from a one-note blowhard to a wily manipulator, and if Weathers’ acting is not always subtle, he nonetheless brings a brash charisma to the role.
Unsurprisingly, Carga’s rosy assessment of the Nevarro situation was bound to be bullshit. The town is crawling with stormtroopers and scouttroopers (the difference is minute and not worth explaining). After cuffing Mando and lying their way into the Cantina for a rendezvous with the Client, the Client dismisses Mando as a fool, pontificating that the Mandolorians’ resistance to Imperial rule was a suicidal exercise that ran against the “enlightened” authoritarianism of the Empire. Are the people of the Galaxy better off now under the creaking disorder of the New Republic, riddled as it is with corruption and violence? Sophistry for any despot to live by, be they actual (like V.V. Putin) or merely petulant, irascible, populist, and aspiring (a certain man named Erdogan comes to mind…well, him and a soon-to-be former U.S. President). But before this one-sided discussion of autocracy versus democracy and order versus freedom is allowed to develop, events prove the lie to the Client’s musings, when immediately upon informing his superior that he has recovered the Child, a battery of hellfire rips through the wall, blowing the Client and his entourage of stormtroopers deep into the depths of some Force Ghost astral plane.
Silence. And then, through the window of the Cantina, a steel grey armored death squad comew into view, every bit as menacing as the Nazi bastards from which George Lucas took their name and inspiration. Immediately a legion of grunts arrives to reinforce the killers and surround the Cantina. In the ruined, body-strewn rubble of the interior, Mado and company realize they are fucked. Mando tells Kuiil to flee the planet, and a desperate, hopeless race begins as Kuiil, mounted on his Blurg, races for the Razor Crest as scouttroopers close in. Out of the sky, an Imperial Tie Fighter descends as the legion of murderers awaits further orders. From the outside we see the facade of the Cantina, bolt-riddled, over the shoulders of the enemy. Clad in black armor and a Sithlike cape, Moff Gideon emerges from his ship, walking to the front of the ranks unhurriedly. His voice is cold, his speech succinct, his stony face radiating brutal efficiency.
“You have something I want. You may think you have some idea of what you are in possession of, but you do not. In a few moments, it will be mine.”
Across the lava flats the speeders race. Kuiil spurs his mount on to the whistle of their engines.
“It means more to me than you will ever know.”
The scout troopers retrieve the helpless Child from the ground.
“Kuiil, are you there? Do you copy?!” barks Mando.
The camera pans up to Kuiil’s lifeless body, fresh-smouldering from the heat of blaster fire.
“Kuiil!” Mando all but groans. “Kuiil, do you copy?”
Cut to darkness. Cut to silence.
How in the hell will they come out alive? For the first time, The Mandalorian has ended on a cliffhanger, and an absolutely catastrophic one at that. The razor’s edge grows bloody and thin. In summation, from dialogue, to humor, to action, to suspense, the penultimate episode of Season 1 is a show-stopper. I can’t wait to see the season finale!