The writing’s still weak, the score’s still hit or miss, and the show still doesn’t trust its audience, but The Mandalorian’s third episode is where space rubber finally meets space pavement. Violence with teeth and the show’s first real traces of recognizable acting along with director Deborah Chow’s welcome flare behind the camera finally pull things into the realm of entertaining pulp, though that improvement surviving another rotation through Dave Filoni and Rick Famuyia seems a dubious proposition at best. For now at least, it’s pretty enjoyable.
Chow does the kind of no-nonsense genre work the series’ first two episodes so sorely lacked. She uses the lines of the episode’s sets to cut her shots into interesting configurations, plays with dark and light and the reflective sheen of the Mandalorian’s armor, and shoots action with a great sense of traversing distance and the weight of bodies. When the Mandalorian hooks a stormtrooper with his grappling line and reels the guy in to stab him in the back you can practically feel the vibroknife shredding armor, flesh, and bone. His infiltration and slow, deliberate clearing out of the Imperial holdout base is largely without the kind of stop-and-start monologuing that plagued the first two episode’s action scenes and returns to haunt this one’s climactic gunfight.
The Mandalorian seems incapable of letting a moment land. Early in the episode the Yoda baby plays with a component of one of the titular bounty hunter’s control levers, drawn to it presumably by its universal baby-luring properties of roundness and high reflectivity. Later, after the Mandalorian turns the baby in to the Imperial holdout client and gets a fancy new suit of armor and some Bond-esque gadgets for his trouble, he returns to his ship and prepares to jet off after another mark when he catches sight of the component lying on his dashboard. Pedro Pascal does some heavy lifting communicating stress under all that armor, but then the score swells into a sentimental gurgle and the camera starts slowly zooming in, laying it on thick after it’s already been established. It shows a basic distrust of the audience’s ability to parse even the most marginally ambiguous events.
Again in the climactic gunfight the action repeatedly grinds to a standstill so the Mandalorian and Carl Weathers’ Greef Carga can rehash the same points, re-explaining their dirt-simple relationship to one another and the tenets of bounty law. Ditto the Mandalorian’s repeated childhood flashbacks as he sits by while his new armor is forged. We’re not seeing anything new, and while Chow manages the intercutting of childhood traumatization in war with the creation of the tools of an adult life as a killer far better than Filoni did there’s really no need to retrace our steps here. It’s sloppy storytelling and it hampers both pacing and character development.
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Thank You For Your Service
The deployment of the entire Mandalorian cell’s cool guy military might in service to the most preposterously adorable baby of all time is the episode’s weakest link, sentimentalizing what before had been some fairly ruthless violence. Instead of screaming stormtroopers cooked to death in their armor we get triumphant music blaring as a rival Mandalorian who tough-talked our hero earlier in the episode flies past his departing ship’s cockpit via jetpack to deliver an unironic salute as the music crescendos. It’s a show about a warrior culture, sure, but just minutes before we’d heard the Mandalorians discussing their absolute need for secrecy.
If one of their number risks exposing every last one of them by going back on a contract, why are they running to this dude’s aid and then thanking him for the chance to get their blasters wet? Why did the Mandalorian try to just walk back to his ship down a main street when we know he knew literally every bounty hunter in town had a tracking device keyed to the kid he’s trying to rescue? If the show doesn’t have any answers to these questions, at least the results this week are serviceable.