On the way back from Mandalore, Djarin and Bo-Katan are attacked by a group of TIE fighters and barely make it back to Kalevala intact. But even if they’ve achieved everything they set out to do, their restoration to full membership status of the surviving clan may come at a heavy price.
Elsewhere, several star systems away on Coruscant, the disgraced geneticist Dr. Pershing is having a hard time, despitestaying out of the Republic’s prisons. He’s torn between keeping a low profile at a dead-end job or surreptitiously finding a way to continue his cloning experiments for a better cause. When he’s offered the chance to do the latter by a fellow ex-Imperial officer and still fly under the official radar, it seems to be the opportunity he desires. But is the offer too good to be true?
In some ways, The Convert, attempts to showcase all the various styles and tones of the Star Wars dramas, starting with the traditional and ending up with the most recent. But there are so oblique and stark differences that it feel as if they are radically compartmentalised, scenes from entirely different shows, though both aspects are done well in their own singular right.
Quickly rounding-off the rather unexpectedly anti-climactic ‘magic redeeming waters’ quest (with a conversational sequence that feels as if it should have been the last scene in the previous episode rather than the opener for this), we’re quickly flung into a cosmic space battle between Bo Katan’s ship and incoming TIE fighters (ultimately joined by Din Djarin’s own fighter once they get back to Kalevala). It’s all fast-paced and slick, full of great pew-pew-pew moments and starships destined to be on next Christmas’ toy/model-release schedule. In a sequence that feels like a cowboy jumping on a horse and riding out in one swift, unlikely western sequence, Din leaps from Katan’s ship, lands on a platform, gets into his ship and takes off all in a matter of seconds and all the while under fire from one enemy ship, which he then leads on a merry chase before it goes all ‘splodey. It’s a reminder of one aspect of the Star Wars universe that has become less of a mainstay in the weekly dramas, the cosmic dog-fighting that was such an important part of the original appeal…
It’s telling that I have no idea whether Pedro Pascal or Katie Sackhoff were actually in the camera frame at any moment during proceedings as we’re back to the formula of fully-helmeted heroes who are saying ‘This is the way… of selling action-figures…‘ (ditto on the marketing time-frame) and it’s likely both talented performers are probably only there for ADR work.
But the main thrust of the episode looks and feels every inch like The Mandalorian‘s oh-so-different Lucasfilm stablemate, albeit slightly faster moving. Not knowing the filming schedule, it’s impossible to know if Jon Favreau saw the tone and/or the critical response to Andor – a series far more concerned with ground-level subterfuge than battles beyond the stars – and thought ‘Yes, we need some of that subtlety in our action show too!’ Either way, The Convert applies a hand-brake to the frame-rate and comes screeching into ‘park’ as Bo and Din are left behind and we jump the bridge to a more sedate story of how the Rebellion are handling war criminals. Short version: passive aggressively.
All in all, there’s plenty of different elements to like and applaud in The Mandalorian, a consistent high-profile entry and ratings winner for the Disney+ platform. But there’s also a lack of core identity about it all, as if every episode is cautiously looking around for approval. Given that we don’t know whether it’s Pedro Pascal, Lateef Crowder or Brendan Wayne under the helmet any given time, it would be nice to think that the show creators themselves could decide what they want under the bonnet of the show…
Poor war criminal and dubious cloning scientist Dr. Penn Pershing (played by Omid Abtahi and last seen chasing Baby Yoda and in the service of Moff Gideon) has not been imprisoned by the Rebellion in the wake of the rebel victory but has been reduced to low-level office work on Coruscant. He’s housed in a basic-looking apartment block with enough amenities to suffice but to generally keep him out of trouble. He has to check in with an amnesty droid every few days and solemnly pinky-swear he’s up to no good. Essentially Penn Pershing has become a mere pen-pusher. He gradually finds some common ground with other ex-Empire employees who wave the flag of wonderful democracy by day yet quietly bemoan their drop in status by night – at best having to rub shoulders with the glitterati who don’t really care who won the war as long as their lifestyle can still include nice parties… and at worst reduced to menial mediocrity. Fellow ex-Imperial Elia Kane (played by Quantumania‘s Katy M. O’Brian and also seen on Gideon’s ship as a communications officer last season) seems to encourage Pershing’s feelings of frustration and suggests that if his research is that groundbreaking he should find a way to secretly continue and then present it to the Rebellion to be used as a force for good. Reluctantly at first, Pershing is persuaded to get out of his designated sector-house and go with her to scavenge for parts in the abandoned docking areas where ships including actual Star Destroyer lay silent, waiting for the Rebellion to eventually destroy or strip them down for parts. The duo ride the monorail, jump off avoiding conductor droids and end up finding plenty of items they can haul back.
Sadly, it turns out that O’Brian is actually a plant (not the Gorian Shard or Groot variety, but a double-agent). Though she is an ex-Imperial it appears that her role is test other recruits for the Republic. Pershing tries to claim he’s a victim of entrapment but no-one’s listening. At the end O’Brian turns up the power to 11 on a mental rehabilitation machine, likely frying the scientist’s brain-cells completely. It’s not clear whether we’ll see more of either of them or whether this is an interlude.
Along with the pixel-friendly cityscapes, there’s other nice moments – any scene where a member of the Mon Calamari race is in a conversation involving ‘traps’ raises a smile. But really, the moments of humour are few and far between. Like Andor, the main thrust of the episode remains consistently questioning about the Republic/Rebellions failings and their own questionable moral center. Dinner parties with the elite and the low-concern, high-brow continue with little regard to who is hosting them; low-level ex-Imperials are not locked up but reduced to YTS scheme employees on job-seeker allowances and torture-machines called mind-flayers (hello, Stranger Things?) are reduced in power and rebranded as benevolent behaviour re-enhancers or similar. Plus ça change etc etc.
We finish off by book-ending back into the higher-gear Din and Bo show, where everyone back-slaps the dup for their magic-water adventure, giving Bo and +1 pass back into the fold. Things don’t end up as well as hoped when Bo Katan returns home to find her base wiped out… so there’s going to be retribution.
All in all, there’s plenty of different elements to like and applaud in The Mandalorian, a consistent high-profile entry and ratings winner for the Disney+ platform. But there’s a lack of core identity about it all, as if every episode is cautiously looking around for approval. Some of those elements are superficial, some have more depth, but so far it seems to be a show that doesn’t know quite what it wants to be beyond a feather in the cap/helmet of the FX-team. Given that we don’t know whether it’s Pedro Pascal, Lateef Crowder or Brendan Wayne under the helmet any given time, it would be nice to think that the show creators could decide what they want under the bonnet of the show themselves.
- Production Design / VFX10