While I was not fond of Rick Famuyiwa’s first episode of The Mandalorian, The Child, I feel he has done much to redeem himself in the story’s newest entry, The Prisoner, which sees our protagonist finally become…well, the protagonist. Though the episode does absolutely nothing to course-correct a show that still has no throughline, it at least gives us great action sequences and an eerily suspenseful prison-heist storyline to distract us from that detail: at this point, it seems highly unlikely that the show’s first season will do anything beyond the established formula of having each episode begin with The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) either having to fix his spaceship or earn money (money he never seems to use), achieving his goal by means of a detour or side-quest, and then leaving for another corner of the galaxy. While it’s not exactly thrilling, it’s at least got impressive world-building.
And finally, it just might have a hero. Our lead character, the masked, emotionless, practical Mandalorian, has been set up as an enigma over the course of the last five episodes – but at the same time, he’s also been shown to be a rather clumsy fighter (in Famuyiwa’s previous episode, he was nearly killed by a rhino and humiliated by a pack of Jawas) and somebody who doesn’t tend to think ahead. But now, armored with beskar steel and armed with flamethrowers, garrotes and “whistling birds”, the Mandalorian is finally getting a chance to stand on his own two feet for once. The subplot in which he finds himself entangled today requires him to lead a small group of scoundrels and thugs into a New Republic prison-cruiser to free a dangerous hostage – and Mando actually works out a plan, executes it very well, and, when the tables turn, fights back with courage, wits, and a flair for the dramatic previously seen only in characters like Han Solo.
Baby Yoda is as cute as ever, and seeing his life constantly endangered by ruffians and ignorant idiots (one of whom even has the audacity to drop him!) is grounds for legal action against Disney. Famuyiwa appears to be the only director on this show who’s actually paying attention to the fact (that he introduced, in episode 2) that the Child is force-sensitive, giving him a cool little mission of his own in this chapter that makes him feel like his own character – one whose arc may very well be leading up to something, and at the very least is the cutest thing to come out of the Star Wars franchise since…actually, no, Baby Yoda is the cutest thing in the Star Wars franchise, period.
We need to talk about the episode’s big twist and ending, though, so let this be your warning that there are SPOILERS AHEAD!
After being commissioned by an old friend named Ranzar Malk (Mark Boone Jr.) to rescue a prisoner from the clutches of the New Republic, Mando is forced to take with him a band of strange, suspicious ruffians, all of whom seem to want him dead. Most notably, Natalia Tena portrays his former…lover? girlfriend?…a Twi’lek alien mercenary named Xi’an, whose hissing breath and throwing knives (not to mention, you know, the purple tentacles sprouting from her head) make her an instant classic, even if she is a bit grating after a while. It’s not a surprise that this crew doesn’t have Mando’s best interests at heart – it is a surprise, however, when they free the prisoner, Xi’an’s brother Qin (Ismael Cruz Cordova), who it turns out was imprisoned due to the Mandalorian’s interference. Mando gets shoved into a prison cell while his treacherous co-workers flee, trying to make off with his ship. But apparently they didn’t reckon with Mando’s newfound ability to pick locks by dismembering droids: he escapes and hunts them down one-by-one in a delightfully dark game of cat-and-mouse. All the while, assassin droid Zero (Richard Ayoade) is busy hunting Baby Yoda through Mando’s spaceship, having discovered the infant’s importance to the Bounty Hunter’s Guild. Thankfully, Mando is able to lock up his former friends and get back to his ship just in time to shoot the droid dead – but interestingly, Baby Yoda goes to use the Force just before the Mandalorian’s fatal shot, prompting questions about which character actually killed him.
But Mando doesn’t just want to get back at the traitors for trying to hurt his adorable little baby – he wants vengeance, and he gets it, big-time. Flying back to Malk’s base, Mando delivers up the promised prisoner, as well as a little parting gift: a New Republic tracking beacon that quickly alerts an entire squadron of X-Wing fighter pilots to the base’s location. Mando gets out of range just before the entire place is blown to pieces. It’s the first time we’ve gotten a glimpse of what the New Republic looks like after the Empire’s fall – and honestly, they look about the same as when we last saw them (except that these particular X-Wing pilots just so happen to be played by Mandalorian directors Dave Filoni, Rick Famuyiwa and Deborah Chow).
Possibly the best part of the episode was seeing characters trying desperately to unmask the Mandalorian – and failing miserably. Even after being taunted and mocked (and even called a Gungan, the worst possible insult in the Star Wars universe), Mando steadfastly refuses to ever remove his iconic helmet. Whether that’s because of plot purposes or because Pedro Pascal simply doesn’t want to have to actually film any scenes, we don’t know and probably won’t find out until the show’s final episode – if even.
So, The Prisoner doesn’t add much to the series’ tenuous idea of a plot, and whether or not characters like Xi’an will turn up again sometime in the future is still an open question: but it does give us an incentive to care about the Mandalorian himself – which, uh, probably isn’t a bad idea, considering that five episodes in, he was undeniably the most boring thing about the show named after him. We’re nearing the first season’s conclusion, and hopefully it’s an epic ride.
Episode Rating: 8/10