There’s a substantial detour in this episode of The Mandalorian during which we see the Ugnaught Kuiil (Nick Nolte) rebuild IG-11 (Taika Waititi) and teach it to stack crates and serve tea. Director Deborah Chow, far and away the best of the season’s otherwise lackluster hands at the helm, shoots the whole thing like a kung fu training montage as Nolte growls about helping the droid relearn how to walk. It’s surreally long, and while not laugh-out-loud funny it’s probably the best joke on The Mandalorian to date. Nolte’s character is the closest the episode really gets to genuine emotion. He prickles at being questioned over his indentured servitude to the now-fallen Empire, panics as the speeders close in on him and the kid, and otherwise displays a range of recognizable feelings which make it painfully obvious how little else there is to care about.
Chow does good work with the episode’s brief action scenes, shooting Stormtrooper boots hitting sand with propulsive, nervous excitement and hovering patiently, vulture-like, around the edges of the kill squad closing in on Mando and company. Her long close shot on the nameless ex-Imperial official (Werner Herzog) as he monologues about the peace and security of life under the Empire drills in on Herzog’s cold, beady eyes until it feels like you’re watching Big Brother deliver a lecture on loyalty to the state.
Still, aside from intermittent pleasures there’s not much going on here. Some rote double-crossing, some truly awful expository dialog delivered by Carl Weathers giving it the old college try, and then it’s over.
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Moff to the Races
The episode revolves around the Mandalorian’s attempt to rid himself and Baby Yoda of the Empire-paid hunters dogging them across the galaxy, but he hardly interacts with the kid outside of shaking it when it tries to Force choke Cara Dune (Gina Carano) during an arm wrestling bout between the ex-Rebel and Mando.
It feels like a major misstep not to give Mando and the kid he’s risked his life for some kind of quiet moment together, something to at least try to inject a little gravity into their connection. Pedro Pascal does his best to make his feelings clear, but when the emotions finally hit they’re behind a mask and over a comlink, the show passing up its best excuse yet to get Pascal out of his armor without so much as a nod to the possibility. Why bother?
Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) is the episode’s main event, I guess, but in the wake of the official’s monologue and death his introduction feels less fearsome or intriguing than like a shabby carbon copy of a more interesting character we’d already gotten to know. With so little connective tissue binding this season together it feels wrongheaded to swap villains without a damn good reason for doing so.
At this point The Mandalorian, its paper-thin story stretched out across five hours of disconnected episodic airtime, feels like it could have been an hour-and-a-half-long TV movie without missing a single beat. It is to television as “processed cheese-food product” is to actual cheddar, a lazy imitation with only the liquid ease with which one can choke it down to recommend it.