As Andor faces the suspicions of the rebel team he’s been sent to join, there are others who are counting the hours until the raid. On Coruscant, both Luthen Rael and Mon Mothma are nervous about what could go wrong and on an Empire base, Commander Dedra Meero tries to put together the pieces to identify their next target. And in a unimpressive apartment in an unimpressive city, banished Empire officer Syril Karn may be thrown a lifeline…
“The axe forgets, but the tree remembers…”
While I’m liking Andor a lot – largely because there’s more people and causes to genuinely invest in that all the other recent Star Wars merchandising shows put together – there’s no denying the glacial pace that we’re settling into and which is taking some getting used to. Character-building and slow-burn tension are one thing (okay, two), but frankly, there really wasn’t enough momentum in this episode to justify the running-time and the events of this and last week’s episode could easily have been mashed together, made the same interesting points and still fall well below ‘kinetic’. Both dealt with dissatisfaction – the dichotomy and similarities mounting within the gleaming spires of power and the backwater planets under the Empire thumb and have done it well, but really there’s only so much you can spotlight before something else needs to be added.
There are three main character story-threads running through The Axe Forgets.
Andor is still in the rebel enclave on Aldhani (actually filmed in Scotland), going through the plan they have to attack the nearby base and relieve it of its payload. He has various insights to offer, but he’s stuck in the scenario where everyone has a better reason to be there than him and they’re all eyeing him with suspicion as to his motives. Having a valuable crystal necklace in his possession does raise some understandable red flags with his new crew, especially Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s Arvel Skeen who is adorned by tattoos that Andor recognises as labour camps and who has a story of losing his brother that makes him a covert to the cause. The whole concept of the episode’s title suggests the longevity and reasons of why people strike back. However, I’d bet some serious credits that one of the other members of the group is actually a spy and that it’s probably supposed true believer Karis Nemik (Alex Lawther) because wholesale misdirection is sometimes obvious. (If, alternatively, the manifesto-statement spewing youngster proves an early casualty, then Varada Sethu’s Cinta Kaz would be my next guess). For the most part the group wander around production-department-level maquettes of their target and handle hand-held devices that look so like upcycled Polaroid cameras that they’re fooling no-one. It all looks earthy and grounded, but the barren scenery helps.
On the metropolitan central hub of Coruscant, we do learn that Genevieve O’Reilly’s Senator Mon Mothma is a mom and that her daughter is the kind of entitled rich kid who likely plays both parents off against each other to get what she wants – but the fact that husband Perrin Fertha (Alastair Mackenzie) clearly feels no need to jump to his wife’s defense in the matter indicates that this family unit, revolution or not, is unlikely to present a united front on anything, any time soon. There’s no sign of that problematic dinner-party mentioned last week, though one suspects some uncomfortable social gatherings in the run up the more dramatic moments yet to come. Stellan Skarsgård’s Luthen Rael makes a brief appearance, fretting about the pace of his rebels’ plans and wondering if anything will go wrong. (Hint: it probably will).
Middle-management menace Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) and his dishonourable return home, though taking place in a cosmic housing-estate, feels like a cross between dour, Loachian kitchen-sink drama (complete with tea and biscuits) and some painfully stereotypical parody. If people felt Jar-Jar Binks was an uncomfortable racial stereotype, then Syril’s mother might as well have been lamenting her son’s lack of ‘Ologies’ as she looked disapprovingly over her glasses and clearly wonders why he couldn’t have been a doctor, a lawyer or something socially-worthy. She makes a passive-aggressive deal to call in favours/markers from a well-connected uncle and then spends the rest of the time explaining how ungrateful Syril has always been for her efforts. The scenes seem designed to show how oppressed and psyche-deprived Syril really is – and perhaps offer clues to why he left home to begin with… but with the exception of lingering on the naming of ‘Uncle Harlo’ (indicating we may see more of him soon), it does feel like a throwaway scene that could have been thrown into last week’s entry).
There’s also brief call-ins with Commander Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) as she tries to piece together the rebel plans that seem too random to be random and Lieutenant Supervisor Blevin (Ben Bailey Smith) lords it over his subordinates back on Fennex. Clearly their roles will come clearer into play later.
There are twelve episodes in the current run of Andor (with a second, final run confirmed) and I’m welcoming the time to get to know, care and invest in the characters, something you’d never get to the same extent in a standard-length film (though Rogue One did well) never mind many other shows. But with another seven chapters to go this season, there does need to be fresh momentum. No-one’s asking for flashy galactic space-battles just yet (and, indeed, it would be disappointing if the show pivoted to that too sharply or soon), but we do need demonstrable progress along the river of the story, not becalmed waters. What we have here is considered, character examination but not foreboding nor foreplay just overt forbearance.
Still, it’s all far, far better than a lot of sf out there…
- Production Design / VFX8