SPOILERS FOR THE MANDALORIAN AHEAD!
Waking up at three o’-clock in the morning every Friday to watch a new episode of The Mandalorian was a strangely calming experience for me until today, when I already had so much that I still needed to cover from the Disney Investors Meeting last night that I simply didn’t feel the drive to fast-track a Mandalorian review and risk missing the hype train for shows like WandaVision, Loki, and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, none of which have actually released yet – but all of which somehow feel like they’re moving quicker, and at a more consistent pace, than The Mandalorian. We’re heading into the season two finale next week, and somehow we still seem to be moving at a snail’s pace in terms of plot, spending an entire episode searching for a code to track down Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito).
Thankfully, the series is picking up speed with regards to character development – particularly for protagonist Din Djarin (voiced and, today at least, played by Pedro Pascal), who removed his helmet. Such a simple action would have no consequence on pretty much any other series, but on The Mandalorian, where Djarin’s helmet (or, to be more precise, his facelessness) is an integral part of his religion and his personality, it’s a really big deal. And in the few minutes that he’s completely unmasked and vulnerable to the world, Pedro Pascal uses every single moment of screentime he’s got to convince you of why this is such a dramatic and intense milestone in his character arc. As you may recall, I spoke very highly of the episode earlier this season wherein Bo-Katan Kryze gently pointed out that Djarin’s strict rules regarding his helmet are derived from a group of religious zealots who were technically traitors to Mandalorian tradition: the exception to the rule, not the norm. And today, when Djarin took off his helmet because he had to, because his love for Grogu outweighed his commitments to his faith, it was as if we finally got payoff…something that The Mandalorian has been all too eager to tease, and far too unwilling to actually see through to the end.
I firmly believe Pedro Pascal could have handled that entire sequence on his own, and been completely fine: every subtly fearful facial expression he was wearing was clearly telling the story of a person whose entire life had been built on a set of core values that he was now being forced to break, and the anxiety rolling off him in waves was palpable. But I must say, I welcomed the addition of Migs Mayfield (Bill Burr) as a comedic and surprisingly dramatic foil to Djarin. Mayfield started out as an enemy of Djarin’s – no surprise there: Djarin locked him in a New Republic prison cell – but over the course of this single episode built a slow but powerful bond with Djarin, becoming the only living person to have seen his face. And rather than crack a joke about it, Mayfield was startlingly sincere in the aftermath, promising Djarin he would forget he ever saw anything.
Although I suspected last week that the majority of today’s episode would revolve around trying to rescue Mayfield from prison, that portion was blissfully short: turns out, Cara Dune (Gina Carano, once again doing the smirking thing) and her recent promotion to “Marshall of the New Republic” is useful for something, as she was able to fake a New Republic order freeing Mayfield from a life of slave labor. Dune, unfortunately, tags along as Mayfield and Djarin begin staging their operation to break into an ex-Imperial fortress and steal the information about Gideon’s location…though it’s really Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to strategizing, and Boba Fett’s icy stares make it very clear who’s boss on the Slave One. As a fan of The Clone Wars, it made me pretty happy to see how far Boba Fett has come from his childhood, when he used to desperately try and hold entire crews of older, more experienced pirates together under his leadership, only to inevitably have them turn on him.
Once the small crew reaches their target destination, Djarin and Mayfield don the disguises of Imperial stormtroopers (with Djarin swapping one helmet for another offscreen, before Mayfield can catch a glimpse of his face) and unwittingly get caught up in a scuffle with pirates. There’s some great comedy in this sequence, provided by an increasingly frantic Mayfield, while Djarin – and director Rick Famuyiwa – delivers on the action, staving off the pirates in a violent race against the clock. The conclusion to the fight, with Imperial TIE-fighters swooping in to save the day, is unexpected and delightfully ironic. Best of all, it’s the first display of mutual trust between Djarin and Mayfield (who is a lot more likable than he was in season one, thanks to better writing, and a much better performance by Burr).
Inside the Imperial fortress, that bond of trust is tested again as Mayfield comes face to face with his old commanding officer, a cold-hearted elitist by the almost-purposefully-German-sounding name of Valin Hess (Richard Brake). Mayfield still suffers from PTSD due to having witnessed Hess’ intentional slaughter of his own men during Operation: Cinder, a slash-and-burn policy carried out by radical Imperials in an attempt to destabilize the galaxy in the wake of their defeat. Panicking, Mayfield tells Djarin that he has to carry out the rest of the mission – which involves a facial scan at a network terminal. And that’s when it finally happens: Djarin removes his helmet. It’s the emotional and thematic conclusion of the episode, though the story isn’t over.
After recovering the necessary data, Djarin and Mayfield are ambushed by Hess, who insists on buying them both drinks as a reward for their bravery against the pirates. A few minutes and one bone-chilling conversation about “the greater good” later, Mayfield shoots Hess point-blank in the chest and chaos erupts at the fortress. There’s an escape sequence, Fennec Shand and Cara Dune pick off stormtroopers, and the Slave One tears through TIE-fighters like butterflies. All in a day’s work for the Mandalorian.
The episode concludes with a slightly anticlimactic resolution for Mayfield (who just…walks off into the jungle, as if he’s not a wanted man on this specific planet for killing an Imperial officer), and a suspenseful interaction between Djarin and Gideon, where the Mandalorian calls up his old nemesis via hologram and proceeds to repeat back the same threatening speech that Gideon gave him in the season one finale. Gideon is stunned silent by the offensive gesture, but I doubt it’ll be long before he’s readying his defenses and preparing his elite shadow-troopers for battle. Djarin currently only has the help of Fett, Shand, and maybe Dune if she doesn’t decide to bail on him at the last moment because she’s still technically working for the New Republic. We haven’t heard anything about Bo-Katan or Ahsoka coming back, so for now…Djarin is seriously outnumbered.
Heading into the finale, I’ll admit I’ve had a fun time watching these characters grow more and more messy and complex over the past several episodes. In large part, that’s been due to the incredible performances from Pedro Pascal, Giancarlo Esposito, Temuera Morrison, and Ming-Na Wen, which have kept The Mandalorian lively and entertaining even as it’s ground to a halt in places. With many more seasons sure to come in the next few years, I’m excited to see where the series can go from here, and how it can continue to build on the characters at its core; since its actual story is fairly hit-or-miss.
Episode Rating: 8.5/10