Bo-Katan may have convinced more of the Mandalorian warriors to join her cause and return with her to Nevarro, but a greater mission lies before them – if only they can all settle their differences. If the Mandalorians are to regain their position and homeworld, they must return there – but even as the overcome new difficulties and young Grogu gets a new method of transport, it seems that darker, Imperial forces are conspiring against them and have already laid a trap that could finally complete their historic purge…
With one of the critiques of the current Lucasfilm landscape being that all the shows feel somewhat interchangeable – narratives bleeding into each other and a kind of uneven anthology vibe developing from week to week – it’s interesting that the latest episode of The Mandalorian is a pick’n’mix, selecting elements from all the previous episodes of the season and giving them all an airing of sorts. In some ways, that’s what a lot of fans have been waiting for – the connective tissue being the missing aspect of a season that’s been pretty, but also pretty scattershot… and now delivered in one of the longest episodes to date and one that never seems to actively drag. (The episode is directed by Rick Famuyiwa, who will also helm next week’s finale).
As usual, the VFX and cinematography are top-notch and the standout factor. Whether it’s the distinctly Blade Runner-esque opener (so obvious that it must be a homage) with Coruscant spy Elia Kane (Katy O’Brian) sneaking through damp and neon-tinged alleyways of the city’s seedier undertow to deliver bad news to Moff Gideon (via an Imperial Probe droid) through to the fast-moving, claustrophobic battle scenes between the Mandalorians and the newly-reinforced Imperial forces, there’s kudos all around for the post-production work and lighting departments. We’re whisked from Coruscant back to Nevarro where Kreeg welcomes the return of his friends, but the blending of the various Mandalorian factions goes about as roughly as you could imagine. From Nevarro we dash off to mandalore where Bo-Katan looks to find the ‘Forge’ of her people. However first they encounter a land-skiff/galleon which turns the show’s samurai/knight motif to a more ‘pirate’ theme as they are propelled like mariners across the ruined surface of the plane t and then encounter the obligatory big-beastie of the week for their troubles. Again, it’s all easy on the eyes and great to see a lot of visual flair, even if it’s sometimes just decoration.
We’ve waited a while for Moff Gideon to make his return as the ‘Big Bad’ and last week’s confirmation that he never even made it to trial after his confrontation with our heroes (and Luke Skywalker) was no real surprise. Giancarlo Esposito knows how to do ‘bad guys’ that possess a certain charm, but though it’s great to see his ‘comeback’ on the series as he elegantly glides with slightly weathered, serpentine intent throughout, it is still a distinctly comic-book-villain template complete with stilted dialogue, posturing and a shadowy rogues/shadow gallery of his counterparts conspiring to help the Empire rise again (among them Brian Gleeson and the ever-reliable Xander Berkeley). Grand Admiral Thrawn gets a name-check just days after the confirmation that the animated breakout character will play an important part in the forthcoming Ahsoka series due later this year. Gideon sneers, fakes sincerity and generally struts around, now with the kind of Beskar-laced armour that feels as if he’s asked his tailor to come up with something ‘Vader-ish but with more Mando-pizazz…‘ It’s all good derring-do fun but not quite as genuinely chilling as it could be.
Many of the casualties of the Mandalore trap are interchangeable warriors and pixelated collateral damage, though we do get Paz Vizsla (Tait Fletcher) ultimately sacrificing himself to let some of the others escape and inflicting some serious grief on his enemies. We finish the episode on his noble, poignant but also quite painful death at the hands of three Praetorian Guards. We don’t see the fate of The Armorer (Emily Swallow), who has left into orbit with casualties, but things don’t look with a squad of TIE Fighters heading her way (which likely paves the way for Bo-Katan to assume her role soon – which she’s already done in most of the important leadership ways by default).
It would be pointless at this point to note that Din continues to be an ongoing supporting act in his own series, but I’m contractually bound, it seems, to note it time and time again as long as it remains thus. At least he gets some good and sardonic scenes with Grogu in moments played mainly for laughs, but which prove somehow emotionally effective as well. Grogu gets to play with an exo-skeleton made from IG-11’s remaining parts (which should be ewwwww, but somehow isn’t) and proceeds to get a bit manic when Din wants to deprive him of his new voicebox and ‘legs’. Who knew that a Hawking-ish ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes!‘ as he dodges restraints and a ‘No, no, no, no, no!‘ when he settles some inter-clan frictions later, would resonate as such fun…) By episode’s end, Grogu can’t stop Din ending up being a prisoner of Gideon, reduced to a damsel in distress and whisked away to the ominous-sounding ‘interrogation room’ after what amounts to a near massacre of his fellow armoured warriors. Some Mandalorians escape, led by Bo-Katan, but the ‘I’ll kill you later!’ mistake by the villain seems only convenient to the plot and – with no respect to Pedro Pascal – might have been infinitely more effective if Din had suddenly and unexpectedly died mid-mission, leaving the show with a female-lead and Grogu to avenge him. (But, I mean, what are the chances of that kind of story-arc when Pascal’s the supposed star?)
There’s much to like in The Spies (though that’s a strange title for an outing that didn’t feature them in the plural) and it’s arguably the most singularly dynamic of the current run which will win it a fair amount of plaudits but despite the considerable effort and solid result, it does all feel like it’s all arriving too late to save a series that has mostly been a disappointment and merely a side-show and shop-window for what’s planned for the future…
- Production Design / VFX9