This STAR WARS: THE MANDALORIAN review contains spoilers.
The Mandalorian Season 2 Episode 4
The Mandalorian goes dark in an episode that has range but lacks heart.
In the first episode directed by actor Carl Weathers, Mando and his team infiltrate an Imperial facility, find a glimpse of the cloning project Baby Yoda used to be a part of, and have to fight their way out. In theory, the stakes are established well. The town on planet Nevarro where much of last season took place) is gradually turning from a hive of scum and villainy to a peaceful place thanks to bounty hunter guild leader Greef Karga and ex-Rebellion soldier Cara Dune, who is now serving as a marshal. But there are some Imperials left over at a cliffside base. (This is where Moff Gideon got all of his reinforcements in last season’s finale.) It’s time for the trio to clear them out while Mando’s ship gets some much needed repairs.
There has been a lot of talk about tone this season. The last few episodes have confused some fans as to what the show is trying to do with its humor. How serious is the prospect of Baby Yoda getting into trouble? This episode muddled the tone even further, cutting from a stressful but cartoonish gag (?) about Baby Yoda getting electrified to the gory prospect of some toughs having a live ferret (an amusingly stiff and dingy puppet) for dinner. I found both scenes more upsetting than funny or entertaining.
Overall, the episode goes back to the tone of the first episode of the series. Here’s the Mythrol, the blue accountant Mando froze in carbonite. Here are our anti-heroes, who are fighting against the villainous Empire but aren’t always particularly good people themselves. Greef, in particular, reminds us he’s a tough guy by pushing the Mythrol around.
The heart of the episode does come from these characters. Their initial reunion is stirring and heartfelt, with the music and genuine-looking smiles emphasizing that Mando, Cara, and Greef have all missed each other. But the rest of the episode didn’t quite follow through with convincing me these people like one another. The long action set pieces lack the meaningful gestures or brief but memorable dialogue Star Wars often uses to glue its archetypal characters together. By the time they were half-way inside the Imperial facility, I wasn’t sure whether I really wanted to be rooting for this grim squad who had now put a baby and a bumbling accountant in danger with seeming disregard.
On the other hand, I acknowledge that’s what The Mandalorian is. These folks have always been underworld killers, not saints. But the episode still lacked a center. Mando didn’t have a convincing enough reason to be there, and the stakes weren’t high enough. Mando also disappears toward the end to set up a daring rescue. This means one of the major action scenes isn’t from the Mandalorian’s POV, and his friends’ dull banter can’t quite carry the show.
The action itself is lifted largely from previous Star Wars starfighter battles (a noble tradition, as George Lucas himself ripped them from World War II movies and other sources). The gang captures an Imperial troop transport to escape, forced into what is essentially a car chase against TIE fighters in the canyon. I wish the shots of the transport tipping over into a long drop were more nausea-inducing; just when I was ready to get on a roller coaster, the camera cut away to a wide shot that took me out of the pilot’s seat and back to the toy box.
One of my favorite parts of the episode was the discovery of the bodies in vats, and the return of the doctor from season one. This isn’t just a military base, our heroes discover; it’s a secret lab. And it seems to have something to do with the soldiers Moff Gideon is overseeing at the end of the episode. At first, I thought this thread was meant to explain how Emperor Palpatine made the cloned Snoke in the Sequel Trilogy. But The Mandalorian doesn’t seem particularly interested in diving in to the weirder parts of the movie saga, as evidenced by the script hilariously and rightfully dodging around the word “midi-chlorians” by referencing an “M-count.” However, that teaser at the end of the episode shows what look an awful lot likedark troopers, Force-sensitive commandos introduced in Legends continuity. Maybe these dark troopers are the end result of the experiments on Nevarro, or that lab was something else entirely.
The music adds an underlying sadness to the discovery of what Baby Yoda was used for, and that the experiments are still going on. Mando’s enemies look even bigger than ever. If the experiments were going on even after Mando had taken Baby Yoda away, did he really make that much dent in the Imperial remnant’s power? And he seems truly surprised to learn that Moff Gideon is alive and well.
Another favorite part: the brief but exquisitely paced starfighter battle at the end. The engine stalling so the Razor Crest could strategically drop out of the sky was thrilling.
The lack of character in this episode doesn’t all come from the directing. The script also swerves at some key moments, taking Mando out of the story when his point of view could have been helpful. A conversation between Cara and a New Republic officer (Captain Carson Teva, played in this episode and “The Passenger” by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) could have illustrated more of what’s going on in Cara’s head. But it’s mostly full of tense stares that don’t convey enough about whether Cara is feeling longing, torn, or just insulted when the officer evokes Alderaan to try to convince her to join the galactic police the Rebellion has become.
We never see the victory, really; not from Mando’s point of view. Despite the moving reunion, this episode never quite nailed the group dynamics that made the trio so much fun in the first season. Maybe it’s because they aren’t in such dire straits. Or maybe it’s because the previous episode introduced a direct line to the Jedi, but Mando hasn’t found them yet here. This is the first episode in the entire season that left me cold.