Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Mandalorian Season 1, Chapter 6: The Prisoner

Another week, another very good episode of The Mandalorian. So far they're six for six! That's quite the rarity these days! Of course that might have a little to do with the fact that they season's only eight episodes long, but still...

So far each episode of the series has been influenced by a particular genre of film— samurai movies, Westerns, etc. This one is no exception, as it's a definite nod to heist films. Think Oceans 11, The Bank Job and even Inception

It also contains elements of "motley crew" movies such as The Dirty Dozen, Kelly's Heroes and many others. Maybe they should have titled it Saving Private Twi'lek!

With its cast of bizarre and crazed alien characters, this episode also reminded me a bit of Farscape!

I've notice online chatter from viewers who are frustrated by the recent spate of standalone episodes in this series. Comments such as "The show's going nowhere!" and "I thought they were leading up to something, but Mando's just wandering around aimlessly!"

Jesus wept! It's like they have no idea how to mentally process a show that isn't serialized.

Welcome to how TV used to be, guys! It wasn't all that long ago that ALL TV shows featured standalone stories, with little or no connection between episodes. Serialization is a relatively recent phenomenon, which only started up ten or twelve years ago.

There's nothing wrong with standalone episodes! Every show doesn't need to be a sweeping, Game Of Thrones-style epic. It's perfectly fine for a series to consist of low-stakes, unconnected stories.

To be fair, I can kind of see the detractor's point. The first three episodes of The Mandalorian formed on long and consistent narrative, as they told the saga of Manny finding Baby Yoda, refusing to give him up and fighting against the Guild to rescue him.

Then halfway through the season the series suddenly switched to one and done episodes. I will admit it was a little jarring, and probably could have been handled more smoothly.

I wouldn't get too awfully worked up about it though. Despite the fact that these standalone episodes seemingly have no purpose, there's no doubt in my mind that they're simply planting seeds here. They're definitely building up to a big finish.


The Plot:
Looking for a place to hide out till the heat's off him, Manny arrives at a small, run-down space station owned by Ranzar Malk. Ranzar's an old acquaintance of Manny's, and tells him he heard about the trouble between him and the Bounty Hunter's Guild on Navarro.

Ranzar tells Manny one of his "associates" ran afoul of the law, so he's putting together a crew to spring him. He says it's a five person job, and offers Manny a spot on the team. Manny says he's not interested. Ranzar's mood instantly changes. He says he needs Manny's ship for the job, and it's the only reason he didn't blow him out of the sky when he approached the station. Realizing he's stuck, Manny agrees to the job.

Manny's introduced to the team: Mayfield (played by Bill Burr), a human and former Imperial sharpshooter, Burg, a massive Devaronian, Xi'an, a Twi'lek female assassin and Zero, an insectoid droid. Ranzar tells Manny that Mayfield's in charge of the mission.

The others are less than impressed with Manny. Mayfield disparages the Razor Crest, while Burg dismissively calls the Mandalorian "tiny." Xi'an apparently had a prior relationship with Manny, and asks why she shouldn't kill him where he stands. Fun group! Manny doesn't care much for the others either, especially Zero, as he doesn't trust droids.

Ranzar and the others go over the mission. The target is being held on a heavily fortified New Republic prison transport ship. Manny immediately wants to drop out of the mission, saying he doesn't want any trouble with the New Republic. Xi'an points out that the ship's manned entirely by droids, so there shouldn't be any trouble. He reluctantly agrees to go along with the mission.

Zero says they'll have a limited window to infiltrate the prison ship and grab the target before it jumps to hyperspace. He assures them he can pilot the Razor Crest through a blind spot in the ship's sensors and get them in. Manny doesn't think it's possible, and Mayfield says that's why Zero will be piloting the ship instead of him.

Zero sits in the Razor Crest cockpit, familiarizing himself with the instruments. He activates the comm system, and discovers a garbled holo-message from Greef Karga. He tries to clean up the audio, but is unsuccessful. He then pilots the Razor Crest out of the station and blasts off into hyperspace.

In the cargo hold, the team members bicker with one another. Burg snoops around and opens Manny's gun closet, causing the two to almost come to blows. Xi'an asks Manny to tell them about the job on Alzoc III, which apparently went bad. Manny cryptically says he only did what he had to do.

Mayfield wonders what Manny looks like under his helmet, and dares him to remove it. Burg grabs Manny and tries to pry off his helmet, but Manny fights back, throwing the hulking Devaronian against the wall. This causes Baby Yoda's compartment to open, revealing the child inside. The others are surprised by him, and Mayfield asks if it's a pet. Manny's about to murder them all, but luckily Zero announces they're coming out of hyperspace.

Zero flies toward the prison ship, executing several hard turns that toss the crew around the interior of the Razor Crest. Mayfield drops Baby Yoda, and Manny scoops him up and puts him back in his compartment. They dock with the prison ship, and Zero says he's scrambling their signal.

Manny opens a hatch in the floor and activates the prison ship's airlock. Mayfield enters first, and the others follow. Zero disables the security system and plots a course for them through the maze-like corridors. They pass several cells containing both human and alien prisoners.

A mouse droid approaches, and Burg destroys it with his blaster. Mayfield yells at him, saying he'll alert the whole ship to their presence. Sure enough, four New Republic Security Droids round a corner and attack. As the crew's pinned down, Mayfield notices Manny's gone. He curses him, thinking he left them for dead.

Suddenly Manny appears behind the droids, and destroys them all with his various weaponry. Mayfield stares at the shattered droids and tells Manny to "clean up his mess."

Zero directs the group to a control room. They burst in, surprising a young, inexperienced New Republic soldier. He points his blaster at them, but Mayfield ignores him and accesses the computer, saying their target's in Cell 221. Manny puts down his blaster and tries to reason with the soldier. Suddenly the man pulls out a tracking beacon, threatening to activate it and bring New Republic forces down on them.

Mayfield points his gun at the soldier, and Manny tells him to stop. We then get a good old fashioned Mexican 
standoff as Manny, Mayfield and Burg all point their weapons at one another. Finally Xi'an says she's had enough and kills the soldier with a dagger. Unfortunately for them, he activated the beacon before he died. Zero announces they have twenty minutes before New Republic forces arrive. 

The crew makes their way to Cell 221, as Zero unlocks the door. Inside they find Qin, a Twi'lek male and the brother of Xi'an. Qin recognizes Manny (or I guess his helmet), and "thanks" him for leaving him behind on Alzoc III.

As they free Qin, Burg grabs Manny and hurls him into the cell. Xi'an locks the door, telling Manny he deserves it. Manny fires at them, but his blaster bolt ricochets harmlessly off the cell walls. The crew then scampers off.

Back on the ship, Zero fiddles with the hologram, and eventually cleans up the audio. He hears Karga's message asking Manny "to bring back the child and all will be forgiven." He hears a sound and begins searching the ship. Baby Yoda sees the droid, and is smart enough to hide from him. For some reason Zero grabs a stray blaster and hunts for the child.

Meanwhile, Manny sees a security droid walk by and uses his grappling cable to snare it and yank it over to his cell. He disables the droid and rips off one of its arms, using it to unlock his cell door. Manny then returns to the control room, where he begins sealing off the corridors, trapping the crew inside. He also disables communication with the ship. Xi'an curses Manny, saying they should have killed him when they had the chance.

Manny closes more security doors, separating Mayfield and Qin from Burg and Xi'an. Qin demands Mayfield get him off the ship. Burg and Xi'an split up for some reason, as do Mayfield and Qin. Manny attacks Burg in the control room, causing the heavy blast door to land on top of him. Unfortunately Burg uses his strength to lift up the door. He's stopped when Manny closes a second set of blast doors on him (!).

Manny then confronts Xi'an, who hurls a series of knives at him. He manages to take her out as well. He then cuts the lights, plunging the corridors into darkness lit by emergency strobes. Cut to Mayfield feeling his way along a hallway. Suddenly Manny looms ominously behind him. Mayfield turns and screams.

Qin finds the airlock and is about to enter the Razor Crest. Manny appears, and Qin assumes he killed the others. Manny replies that they "got what they deserved." Qin appeals to Manny's Mandalorian sense of honor, hoping he'll complete the job and won't kill him.

On the ship, Zero opens a cabinet and finds Baby Yoda inside. For no good reason, he raises his blaster and aims it at the child. Baby Yoda raises his hand, seemingly ready to unleash the Force on the droid. Suddenly a shot rings out. Zero falls "dead" to the floor, revealing Manny behind him.

The Razor Crest returns to the space station, and Manny and Qin debark. Qin embraces Ranzar, who notices the others didn't return. He asks what happened, and Manny reminds him of the bounty hunter policy of "no questions." Ranzar nods and pays Manny for the job.

Manny and Baby Yoda take off from the station. Ranzar reveals a sleek gunship, and tells Qin to use it to kill Manny. Before he can, a trio of Republic X-Wings drop out of hyperspace. Qin looks down and realizes Manny hid the tracking beacon on him. The X-Wings see the gunship and fire. The gunship's destroyed, the station severely damaged and Ranzar and Q'in possibly killed.

Cut to the prison ship, where a bruised Mayfield, Brug and Xi'an wake in a cell.

• This is the longest episode to date, clocking in at 41:03. The previous one's have all hovered around the thirty minute mark.

• As near as I can tell, this may be the first time we've ever seen a space station in the live-action Star Wars Universe

Yes, I know that Obi-Wan called the Death Star a space station, but it was clearly a ship that moved through space, so I'm not counting it. And there may have been stations in the various animated series, but I've not seen 'em all, so I'm not counting them either.

• Nick Nolte voiced Kuiil in the first two episodes of The Mandalorian. For a minute I thought he was back this week as Renzar! Nope! Turns out that was Mark Boone Junior, of Sons Of Anarchy fame.

• As usual I'm impressed with the sets and visual effects on this show. It looks as good as any of the movies, if not better.

• Burr plays Mayfield, in yet another of The Mandalorian's distracting comedian cameos. At least he doesn't embarrass himself here, as actually he does a pretty decent acting job. Which shouldn't be surprising, since he's basically playing a PG-rated version of himself.

Burg, the brutish Devaronian, is played by character actor Clancy Brown. I can kind of see Brown under all those prosthetics if I squint really, really hard.

Brown's no stranger to the sci-fi/fantasy genre, as he starred in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Highlander, Starship Troopers and many more.

He's also a very prolific voice artist, lending his talents to hundreds of animated series and videogames. He was the voice of Lex Luthor in Superman: The Animated Series and Mr. Krabs on Spongebob Squarepants, among many, many others. He also did voice work for Disney's Gargoyles series.

He's no stranger to Star Wars either. He voiced Savage Opress in The Clone Wars series, as well as Ryder Azadi in Star Wars Rebels.

We've seen Devaronians before, as one popped up way back in the Cantina scene in A New Hope

You may be wondering why there was clearly a Devil in Star Wars. Welp, supposedly George Lucas wasn't happy with the Cantina scene and wanted to beef it up with more aliens. He asked his makeup team— which included Rick Baker— to come up with some some new designs. Crunched for time and with little or no money, Baker grabbed a Devil mask he'd sculpted years earlier, plopped it on an extra and used it in the insert shots.

• Xi'an, the psychotic Twi'lek, is played by actress Natalia Tena. She's best known for playing Tonks in the Harry Potter films, as well as the wild-woman Osha in Game Of Thrones. She's completely unrecognizable under all that makeup!

• Zero's voiced by Richard Ayoade, aka Moss of The IT Crowd fame. I recognized Moss' voice coming out of that droid the minute it started talking!

• On the station, Ranzar introduces Mayfield to Manny:

Ranzar: "Yeah, well, Mayfeld, he's one of the best triggermen I've ever seen. Former Imperial sharpshooter."
Manny: "That's not saying much."
Mayfield: (angrily) "I wasn't a stormtrooper, wiseass!"

Yeah, I have a couple problems with this scene. First of all, it's a little too meta for my tastes. Yes, for decades now it's been a running joke among fandom that Stormtroopers are all terrible shots. But that's a necessary evil of storytelling, designed to give the heroes a fighting chance. Stormtroopers having bad aim shouldn't be a thing within the universe of the show! Citizens should be terrified of them, not giggling behind their backs!

Secondly, I'm not thrilled with Bill Burr introducing the word "wiseass" to the Star Wars Universe. Not because I'm a prude, laws no— but because it just doesn't fit. It sounds too "real world" to me. Star Wars characters are supposed to hurl insults like "laser brain" and "scruffy-looking nerf herder!" Wiseass feels much too urban and modern, as well as completely out of place.

To be fair, I feel the same about The Empire Strikes Back when Han says, "Then I'll see you in Hell!" Wha...? Does that mean the concept of the Christian Hell really exist in the Star Wars Universe? Is there a Heaven too? Do Star Wars citizens really worship Jesus?

• Burr's also responsible for two of the cringiest lines in this episode. On the way to the prison ship, Mayfield wonders what Manny looks like under his helmet, saying, "I wonder what you look like under there. Maybe he's a Gungan?" He then goes into a bad Jar-Jar Binks impression, saying, "Is that why yousa don't wanna show your face?" 

Oy. Again, a little too meta for my tastes. Yeah, fans all hate Jar Jar. But the characters shouldn't, as the vast majority of people living in this world have no idea who he is?

Then when he first sees Manny's ship, he quips, "Razor Crest? I can't believe that thing can fly. Looks like a Canto Bight slot machine!"

Screw you, Bill Burr! I will grudgingly accept a Prequel reference, but I'll be goddamned if I'll sit still while you sully The Mandalorian with a callback to the worst movie in the entire franchise!

Nice Attention To Detail: I love this shot of the vortex of hyperspace reflecting in Zero's eyes and on Manny's shiny Beskar armor. 

• Everyone on the show seems obsessed with getting Manny's helmet off his head. It'd be funny if in one episode someone actually did manage to remove it, but there was just a second helmet underneath!

• As Manny puts Baby Yoda back in his closet, we see Xi'an whispering something to Mayfield in the background. I assumed the two were secretly plotting to kidnap the baby or something, but nothing ever comes of the conversation. Based on the way the scene's filmed though, it's obvious the director wanted us to see their little chat. So what was it about?

I'm guessing maybe Xi'an was telling Mayfield that once they get what they're after on the prison ship, they should toss Manny into a cell the first chance they get. Which is exactly what they do!

• When the Razor Crest docks with the prison ship, Manny opens a hatch in the floor to access the airlock. Note that this lock looks very similar to the one Lando opens in the Millennium Falcon when he rescues Luke from Cloud City in Empire.

• Once inside the ship, the crew walks past dozens of prison cells as they're eyed by various inmates. Is... is this particular prisoner a cameo by Keegan-Michael Key? I can't find any online confirmation, but it sure looks like him to me.

• One of the prisoners we see is a four-armed Ardennian.

We've seen this race before too, in Solo: A Star Wars Story. In that film, Rio Durant was the pilot of Tobias Beckett's ship. Not surprisingly, Rio was voiced by Jon Favreau, who created The Mandalorian.

• Get used to this corridor set, because a good 90% of the episode takes place in it, as the characters run back and forth through it dozens of times. Eh, why not? They're on a utilitarian prison ship, so it's only logical that the corridors would all look the same. It makes good budgetary sense too, since they only had to build one or two hallways and reuse them endlessly.

• In my review of The Gunslinger, I complained that the episode was overloaded with a ton of distracting and unnecessary fan service. Happily, The Prisoner tones it down quite a bit. 

There was one small instance of blatant fan service that stood out to me though— the Mouse Droid. It comes barreling down the corridor, just as it did on the Death Star in A New Hope. It even makes the exact same sound effects!

There was no reason for it to be there, other than to generate claps and cries of "I KNOW THAT!" from viewers.

• The prison ship is patrolled by a variety of droids, including these floating R1 models.

We've seen this type of droid before, way back in A New Hope. That particular model didn't appear to float though. Maybe the ones here in the prison are a more recent version.

• I liked the design of the New Republic Security Droids quite a bit! They looked cool, sleek and menacing.

That said, they seemed every bit as delicate as the fragile Trade Federation Droids from The Phantom Menace. Heck, at one point Manny knocks one of the droids into another and they both explode in a shower of sparks! Are they powered by nitroglycerin?

• Mayfield's weaponry includes a rear-mounted auxiliary blaster that he somehow controls without his hands.

I may be really reaching here, but I wonder if this is an obscure reference to the Dash Rendar action figure? 

See, back in the mid 1990s, Lucasfilm came up with Shadows Of The Empire, a story set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. The concept was designed to generate interest in the long-dormant Star Wars brand, by releasing tons of various merchandise without actually creating a movie.

Kenner produced a series of action figures based on the Shadows characters, including Dash Rendar. He was obviously meant as a substitute for Han Solo, who was frozen in carbonite at that point in the timeline. Like Solo, Rendar was also born on Corellia and was a smuggler— all of which was completely coincidental, I'm sure. Rendar's action figure came with a rear-mounted blaster— much like the one worn by Mayfield in The Mandalorian.

Coincidence? Or really, reeeeeeeeally obscure shoutout?

• The nervous New Republic guard is played by Matt Lanter, who voiced Anakin Skywalker in The Clone Wars animated series. I like his spiffy new blue uniform, complete with the style of Rebel helmet we saw in A New Hope.

• As I mentioned in the plot summary, at one point the bickering characters all engage in a good old fashioned Mexican standoff. Meh... it's a scene that came very close to crossing the border into goofy territory.

• After Manny's locked in prison cell, he dismembers a Security Droid and uses its arm to open the door and escape. Several things here:

First of all, note that the droid has the same style of hollow wrist joints that K-2SO had in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. A nice little callback.

Second, he twists the robot arm, causing an access probe to extend from the wrist— much like the one R2-D2 used to interface with various Death Star terminals. He jams the probe into a terminal and it immediately starts spinning the socket— eventually unlocking the door! Why would a dismembered droid arm unlock a door? It's no longer connected to the droid's memory, and likely wouldn't even have any power! It'd be like sticking a key in a lock and expecting it to turn itself.

Lastly, why in the name of sanity would there be a terminal on the INSIDE of the cell door? What the frak? Lucky for Manny it was there, but Jaysis... that seems like a pretty big design flaw!

• In the third act, Xi'an attacks Manny by rapidly hurling a series of electronically-charged (I guess?) throwing daggers at him.

So... where the hell are all these daggers coming from? I assume she's supposed to be grabbing them from her belt? Thing is, I've watched the scene a dozen times and I don't see anything on her belt at all. Admittedly it's a darkly lit scene, but it almost looks as if they're just materializing in her hand a second before she throws them.

It reminds me of this scene from the Crisis On Infinite Earths crossover, in which Oliver Queen repeatedly reaches into his quiver for arrows, but clearly had nothing in his hand when he nocks the bow. Only when he grabs the string do the arrows actually appear!

• Best Moment Of The Episode: When Mayfield's searching the darkened corridors for Manny. He slowly creeps along, as each strobe of the emergency lights reveals the Mandalorian coming closer and closer to him. It's very well done, and like something out of a slasher movie!

• When Zero hears Baby Yoda rustling around the ship, he grabs a blaster and begins searching for the source of the noise. When he finally finds the baby, his first instinct is to shoot it dead! Holy crap! That escalated quickly! Sure, he's a droid, but why the hell would he instantly try to kill him?

Second Best Moment Of The Episode: Zero finds Baby Yoda and aims his blaster at him. Baby Yoda raises his hand, ready to bring the Force down on the droid's ass. Manny sneaks up behind the droid and fires, causing it to fall on its face. Baby Yoda then looks at his hand with a "Did I do that?" expression on his face!

• At the end of the episode, three X-Wing fighters drop out of hyperspace in response to the Republic Guard's distress call.

A couple things here. First of all, I'd think the distress call would be keyed to the prison ship. Which is presumably on a fixed, and therefore traceable course. Shouldn't these X-Wing pilots be all, "Wait a minute... this is a space station, not the prison ship! What's going on? Where's the ship?" Instead, they don't seem the least bit surprised.

Secondly, we get even MORE cameos, as the pilots are all played by directors of The Mandalorian.

First up is Dave Filoni, co-creator of The Clone Wars series, and directed Chapter One and wrote and directed The Gunslinger. I almost didn't recognize him without his trademark cowboy hat.

The next pilot we see is played by Rick Famuyiwa, who directed The Child and this very episode.

The last pilot is played by Deborah Chow, who directed The Sin and the upcoming episode The Reckoning

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