Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Mandalorian Season 1, Chapter Seven: The Reckoning

This week on The Mandalorian we get another excellent episode, as the series sets up next week's big season finale. The Reckoning may be the best episode yet, as it's filled with plenty of action, lots of tension and expectation-subverting shocking twists.

Last week I noted there was lots of online chatter from viewers who were frustrated by the many standalone episodes in the series— as if they couldn't process a show that wasn't a sweeping, multi-part epic like Game Of Thrones. I countered that by saying there's absolutely nothing wrong with a non-serialized show that consists of simple, one-and-done stories.

I also urged everyone to just be patient, as it was obvious that these standalone episodes were laying the groundwork for a big finish at the end of the season.

And guess what— that's exactly what happened!

This week The Mandalorian harvests the seeds it's been planting for the past several episodes, as Manny returns to the various locations he visited and interacts with the characters he met earlier in the season. All that setup is finally paying off! See? Series creator Jon Favreau knew what he was doing all along!

The Reckoning was written by Favreau of course, who's penned most of the episodes this season. It was directed by Deborah Chow, who previously helmed The Sin. Chow definitely knows her way around a fight scene, and is an excellent director of action. No distracting shaky cam on her watch! She's welcome to direct the show any time.

Lastly, Disney chose to air this episode a day or two before the big premiere of Star Wars: Episode IX— The Rise of Gorge, er, I mean Skywalker. I gotta say, I was far more interested and excited for The Mandalorian than I was for the movie. Especially after the disaster that was The Last Jedi.

How sad is it that a Star Wars TV show is a thousand times better than the current series of theatrical movies? But such is the state of Disney Star Wars today. Thank the Maker for Jon Favreau!


The Plot:
Onboard the Razor Creest, Manny receives a recorded message from Greef Karga, head of the Bounty Hunter's Guild. He says that after Manny's actions on Nevarro, The Client has doubled down on security and become dictator of the city. This is seriously affecting the Guild's business, making The Client their enemy as well. Unfortunately they can't get close enough to assassinate him.

Karga says The Client will never stop hunting for Baby Yoda, and Manny will be on the run for the rest of his life. So he offers Manny a deal: Return to Nevarro with Baby Yoda, use him as bait to set up a meeting with The Client and then kill him. If he succeeds, Manny gets to keep the child and Karga will clear his name with the Guild. Karga says Manny's a "man of honor" and knows he'll do the right thing.

Manny shuts off the message and stares at the sleeping Baby Yoda. After a beat, he makes a decision, alters course and blasts off into hyperspace.

Cut to Sorgan (last seen in Sanctuary), where Cara Dune is fighting a hulking male Zabrak in a pub. The two seem evenly matched, but Dune eventually manages to wrap a laser tether around her opponent's neck. He taps out and she wins. The pub patrons pay her their bets.

Just then Manny enters with Baby Yoda, and tells her about Karga's proposition. The former Rebel soldier's uninterested until Manny mentions they'll be fighting an ex-Imperial warlord. Dune instantly changes her mind and says she's in.

On the Razor Crest, Dune looks through Manny's weapon closet and arms herself. She asks if he trusts Karga. Manny says no, but admits they can't keep running from the Guild forever. Suddenly the ship begins shuddering. Manny & Dune return to the cockpit, where they see Baby Yoda messing with the controls. Manny gets the ship back on course, and Dune says he needs to find someone he can trust to watch over the kid.

Cut to the Razor Crest landing on Arvala-7, home of Kuiil (who we met in Chapter One). Manny introduces Dune to Kuiil, mentioning she was a Rebel Shock Trooper. Kuiil says he served on the other side as a slave, which causes Dune to bristle. Kuiil says he bought his freedom and now serves no one.

Suddenly the IG-11 droid from Chapter One enters, and Manny & Dune instantly pull their blasters on it. Kuiil tells them to simmer down, as it's just offering them tea. He says he found the damaged droid after Manny "killed" it, and dragged it back to his farm. He rebuilt and reprogrammed it, causing the droid to have to relearn everything from scratch— even how to walk! Manny still doesn't trust it, saying IG units are made to kill. Kuiil assures him it's perfectly safe.

Manny wants to hire Kuiil to watch Baby Yoda, but he says won't accept his money because he's unwilling to indenture himself to anyone again. He says he'll help to protect the child from the remnants of the Empire though. He offers to program IG-11 to take care of Baby Yoda, but Manny says he doesn't want it anywhere near the kid. Kuiil agrees, but only if he can bring his herd of blurrgs on the mission (???).

Cut to the Razor Crest, where three blurrgs are somehow penned in the cargo hold. As the group heads for Nevarro, Manny and Dune arm wrestle to pass the time. Baby Yoda watches them, and thinks Dune's hurting Manny. He raises his arm and screws up his face, and suddenly Dune grabs her throat as she begins choking. Yep, Baby Yoda just Force-choked Cara Dune! Manny grabs the baby and yells for him to stop, and Dune's released. Kuiil says he's heard whispers of such a phenomenon, but doesn't know what it's called.

Kuiil builds Baby Yoda a new floating crib, as Manny and Dune discuss the mission. Manny says The Client was a former Imperial officer, and still has extensive forces there. Dune says the Rebellion lost a lot of soldiers on Nevarro, and the city doesn't offer much in the way of cover.

The Razor Crest lands in a desolate, volcanic area of Nevarro. Karga's there to meet the ship, along with three other bounty hunters as backup. Manny introduces everyone, and Karga says Dune should stay behind to guard the ship from Jawas. Manny says she's coming with, so Karga insists she hide the Rebellion tattoo on her arm.

Karga sees the floating crib and asks to see the "asset." Manny reluctantly opens it, and Karga picks up the baby, saying it's cute.

The group traipses across the lava fields, with Karga's men in front, and Manny, Dune and Kuiil riding blurrgs behind them. That night they make camp, and Manny and Karga discuss their strategy. Karga says The Client always keeps four Stormtroopers in his office. They'll enter with the baby, Manny will show it to The Client and then kill him. Manny asks about reinforcements, and Karga says most of The Client's men are mercenaries, who'll easily change sides once their leader's gone. Manny's skeptical.

Karga assures Manny that nothing can possible go wrong. Right on cue, several flying dragon-like creatures attack. Chaos erupts, as Karga's bitten by one of the creatures and another carries off one of his men. More of the dragons swoop down and grab two of the blurrgs, as the group fires on them. One gets away, but the other creature and its blurrg prey are killed. Manny drives away the others with his flamethrower gauntlet.

Dune rushes over to the injured Karga and treats his wound. She says the creatures are venomous, and the poison's spreading fast. Dune says she needs a medpak, but no one thought to bring one. Baby Yoda sees Karga in pain and toddles over to him.

In his delirium Karga thinks the child's trying to eat him. Baby Yoda places his hand on Karga's wound and closes his eyes. The wound begins rapidly healing, and Karga fully recovers. The others are amazed at his powers.

The next day Manny asks Dune if she thinks Karga and his men are having second thoughts about turning over the baby to The Client. They decide to keep a watchful eye on the others. Later the group sees The Client's town in the distance. Suddenly Karga spins and shoots his two remaining men dead.

He tells Manny that the plan was lure him here and steal the baby, but after the healing incident he couldn't go through with it. Manny and Dune don't believe him, but Kuiil says to hear him out. Karga says if they kill him now, the child will never be safe from The Client. Manny agrees, and suggests turning himself in so he can get close to The Client and kill him. Dune thinks it's an insane idea, but Manny says it's the only way.

Manny uses the empty floating crib as a decoy, and tells Kuiil to take Baby Yoda back to the Razor Crest and activate its security defenses. Karga and Dune will pretend they've captured Manny, and march him into The Client's office. Karga cuffs Manny and takes his blaster as they head for the town.

The three approach the entrance to the town, which is guarded by two Scout Troopers on speeder bikes. One demands to see Karga's chain code, and after a quick scan lets him pass. Dune notes that the town is crawling with far more than four Stormtroopers. Karga explains that the Imperials increased their presence after Manny destroyed their safe house.

They enter a Cantina, which now serves as The Client's HQ. Karga tells The Client that he and Dune captured Manny and the child, and brought them to him. The Client admires Manny's shiny new Beskar armor. He then says Mandalore was foolish to resist Imperial expansion, as the Empire "improved everything it touched."

The Client sees the floating crib and asks to see the child. Karga nervously explains that it's sleeping, and he doesn't want to disturb it. Just then a Stormtrooper tells The Client he has an urgent call. He excuses himself and goes to the bar, where he receives a holotransmission from Moff Gideon. In the background, Manny undoes his cuffs and tells Karga to slip him his blaster.

Gideon demands to know if the Client has the child. He says they have it, but it's sleeping. Suddenly blaster fire tears through the Cantina window, killing The Client and his guards. Manny, Dune and Karga dive for the floor.

Manny risks a peek out the window, and sees a row of Death Troopers line up outside the Cantina. An Imperial Troop Transport pulls up, and dozens of regular Stormtroopers pour out. Dune again points out to Karga that she counts way more than four Stormtroopers. A TIE Fighter lands outside the Cantina, and Moff Gideon exits.

Manny calls Kuiil and tells him to get the baby to the ship as soon as possible. Kuiil spurs his blurrg on and races for the ship. The two Scout Troopers pick up the transmission, and head out for Kuiil.

Gideon addresses Manny, telling him he has something he wants. Manny plays dumb, saying he has no idea what he's talking about. Kuiil hears the speeder bikes behind him as he approaches the ship.

Gideon tells Manny that the child will be his in a few minutes. Dune points out the obvious, saying there's no way out and they're all doomed. Manny yells into his commlink for Kuiil.

Cut to Kuiil, lying dead in the desert just outside the ship. Baby Yoda lies on the ground beside him. One of the Scout Troopers scoops up the child and roars off with it.

Needless to say, To Be Continued!

• Might as well get this out of the way first. 
Back in The Gunslinger, I praised actor Pedro Pascal for his acting ability:

"I continue to be impressed with actor Pedro Pascal, who plays the titular character. He's basically acting with a bucket on his head, so it's amazing how much emotion he can convey with his body language. A simple tilt of his armored head conveys a surprising amount of info!"
Wellllllll... it looks like I might have been in error there.

According to this article, it appears that Pascal's not the one under the mask most of the time. In fact, Bryce Dallas Howard, who directed Sanctuary, never got to work with Pascal at all, as was never present on set and was off rehearsing King Lear on Broadway!

Turns out that in most episodes we're actually watching his stand-in Brendan Wayne (grandson of Western legend John Wayne). Wayne said he worked briefly with Pascal and studied his movements and mannerisms, in an effort to replicate his performance as much as possible.

I gotta say, I'm very disappointed by this news. I guess I shouldn't be though— it's not like it's never happened before in Star Wars. For decades I've known that James Earl Jones didn't stuff himself into the Darth Vader costume, but simply voiced him after the fact. And I know that Peter Mayhew didn't make Chewie's inhuman Wookiee growls. And I'm aware that Kenny Baker wasn't inside the R2-D2 suit in every single scene. 

That said, I can't help but feel a little... deceived to find out I'm not watching who I thought I was here. Disney certainly does its best to make it seem like it's Pedro Pascal under that helmet at all times. Their marketing department proudly trumpets his name every chance they get. And his name is number one on every cast list. Brendan Wayne's name is never anywhere in sight!

I'll get over it eventually, but for now my enjoyment of the show has definitely been lessened somewhat.

• Manny gets a message on his viewscreen, which as usual is spelled out in Aurebesh, the official alien alphabet of the Star Wars Universe. Translated, the message reads, "INCOMING CALL." 

Based on all the Aurebesh charts I found online, it looks like someone on the crew made a mistake and spelled "call" as "COLL!" Whoops! 

Also, note that unlike Tolkien's invented tongues, Aurebesh seems to be a just an alphabet and not an actual language. They're just taking a word and substituting alien letters for English ones, as the message still spells out "Incoming Coll." If Aurebesh was a real invented language, the letters would spell out something like 
"Glorgabush Frel."

• Manny receives a prerecorded holomessage from his old boss Greef Karga. I wonder... is this the same transmission Zero the droid was futzing with back in The Prisoner? Looks pretty similar to me!

• Manny returns to Sorgan, home of his pal Cara Dune. Apparently there's no TV or movie theaters on Sorgan, so the inhabitants entertain themselves by beating the crap out of one another in bar fights.

Note that Dune and her opponent are connected by some sort of laser or energy cord. This "laser tether" is a sci-fi version of a common trope in Westerns and action movies, where two combatants engage in a knife fight while tied together, usually at the wrist.

By the way, Dune's bar-fight opponent is a hulking, horn-headed Zabrak— the same species as Darth Maul.

• Now's a good a time as any to give a shoutout to Cara Dune. She's my new favorite character, and I hope she survives the season finale and sticks around for a while.

I think the best thing about her is that the show doesn't make a big deal about her gender. She's simply a badass mercenary who just happens to be a woman. That's awesome!

I'm also amazed that she wasn't added to the show as a potential love interest for Manny. The two of them are equal partners, and nothing more. That's incredibly rare in any genre these days.

Best of all, Dune actually looks like a strong and powerful mercenary. Compare that to Batwoman over on her eponymous series. Kate Kane has the stature of a twelve year old girl, yet we're supposed to believe she can toss three hundred pound men across the room with ease! Dune on the other hand looks like she could kick your ass ten ways to Sunday, while still retaining her femininity. It's a refreshing change, and one I'd like to see happen more often.

Hats off as well to actress Gina Carano, who plays Dune. Carano began training as a Muay Thai boxer, before becoming an MMA fighter. In 2008 she began appearing as "Crush" in the revamped American Gladiators series.

After that she retired from competition and began her acting career. She made her film debut in the direct-to-DVD movie Blood And Bone, starring Michael Jai White. She also made an appearance in 2013's Fast And Furious 6.

In 2016 she starred in Deadpool, where she played the villainous Angel Dust. I vaguely remember her from that film, and had no idea it was her. She's barely recognizable there!

As often happens with fighters and wrestlers (think Dave Bautista), it turns out she's a reasonably decent actress. OK, so she's no Meryl Streep, but she manages to play a convincing mercenary in The Mandalorian without embarrassing herself. Maybe her confidence has grown over the years, or maybe she's learned to choose the right roles for herself.

• Dune orders a glowing blue drink at the pub. We first saw this particular type of hooch back in Sanctuary. It's made out of the phosphorescent krill farmed by the villagers of Sorgan. Mmmmm, seafood-based hooch! I bet that tastes lovely!

• Manny talks Dune into going with him and sets a course for Nevarro. We get another sample of Aurebesh here, that reads "AUTOPILOT." Thankfully it's spelled correctly this time!

• While Manny and Dune are distracted, Baby Yoda grabs the ship's controls. The first time I watched the episode I thought he was just being mischievous and playing around in the cockpit. 

After watching a second time though, I'm not so sure. I think he overheard them talking about returning to Nevarro and was trying to steer the ship away from the planet
— and certain danger!

Are we sure this thing is just a baby? Because it seems like he understands everything that's said to him and comprehends the situation perfectly.

• Realizing he needs to leave the baby with someone he trusts, Manny calls on his friend Kuiil on Not-Tatooine.

When the series began, great confusion surrounded the question of just where Kuiil lived. His planet looked for all the world like Tatooine, especially from space. Kuill even owned a moisture farm, just like Luke's Uncle Owen. Plus there were Jawas there, and they were riding around in a Sandcrawler. It was just about the Tatooiniest-looking planet possible.

Of course it turns out it wasn't Tatooine after all, since we actually visited that planet in The Gunslinger.

Apparently Kuiil lives on Arvala-7. You'd never know that from the episode though, as I don't think it's ever mentioned in dialogue. I got the name from Wookieepedia, so I have to assume it's legit.

• Did they deliberately make Kuiil look like the late character actor Rance Howard, or is it just a coincidence?

• When Kuiil first appeared, I assumed he was an ex-slave of the Empire. Based on the dialogue in this episode, I don't think that's the case.

Kuiil mentions that he spent "three human lifetimes" in indentured servitude before eventually buying his freedom. Unless humans in the Star Wars Universe have significantly shorter lifespans than we do, that means he was a slave for around 210 years, give or take. That's almost TWO CENTURIES before the Empire came into existence!

I guess that's not impossible, as Shmi Skywalker was also a slave before the Empire rose to power. So if the Empire wasn't around, then who owned Kuiil? The Republic? Hopefully not!

• Manny's alarmed when he sees Kuiil salvaged the IG-11 unit from Chapter One and reprogrammed it as his servant droid. 

Kuiil explains the process, saying, "Little remained of its neural harness. Reconstruction was quite difficult, but not impossible. It had to learn everything from scratch. This is something that cannot be taught with the twist of a spanner. It requires patience and repetitionI spent day after day reinforcing its development with patience and affirmation. It developed a personality as its experiences grew."

Based on Kuiil's dialogue and what we see in the episode, it appears he had to teach the IG unit EVERYTHING— even how to walk!

Ehhhh, I dunno... I have a hard time believing that every single droid in the Star Wars Universe started out as a "baby" and had to be taught its various functions!

In fact I'm pretty sure that back in The Clone Wars movie we saw a droid factory that was stampin' out hundreds of droids an hour on an assembly line. Did each and every one of those require a teacher? Somehow I doubt it.

• So Baby Yoda sees Dune arm wrestling Manny, thinks she's hurting him and straight up Force-chokes her in retaliation! Jesus Christ!

As with all things Baby Yoda-related, most people are calling this scene "cute," completely glossing over what it means. I thought it was anything but cute, as it felt downright... sinister!

Think about it! In all the movies, we never once saw a Jedi Force-choke anyone. Up to now it's always been Sith who've done it. So... is Baby Yoda evil? Is Manny traveling with a pint-sized darksider in his cockpit? 

Or is Baby Yoda just an innocent with unlimited power, who doesn't understand the consequences of his actions and needs to be taught morality? The episode never goes into this in any detail, but I can't help thinking that this scene's going to become very important somewhere down the line.

Star Wars has always been a "Western In Space." At least in the beginning. Never was that more true than in this particular scene. Just looking at this image, I can practically hear the Ennio Morricone music!

• Karga brings three hired goons to meet Manny & Co. on Nevarro. The goon appears to be a Nikto. We've seen this race before, as there was at least one Nikto Skiff Guard in Jabba's entourage in Return Of The Jedi.


I definitely wasn't expecting to see the group get attacked by full-on dragons on Nevarro! Also, they didn't look like they were big enough to carry off a full-grown blurrg. It's hard to tell though, as the scene was dark and it was hard to get a good look at their size.

• Karga tells Cara Dune to hide the Rebel tattoo on her arm before they enter The Client's town. That's all well and good, but what about the Rebel "bird" tat under her left eye? Nobody says anything about that one.

• When The Client sees Manny again, he notes that he's upgraded most of his armor with Beskar Steel. He straight up caresses Manny's helmet as he says, "What exquisite craftsmanship. It is amazing how beautiful Beskar can be when forged by its ancestral artisans."

Wait, why's he fondling his helmet? Manny's had that since the first episode! The shoulder and chest pieces are what's new. Why doesn't The Client grope those?

• With the pleasantries out of the way, The Client says, "I would like to see the baby."

That line made me laugh, because it reminded me of this.

• Things heat up when Moff Gideon arrives with his formidable arny and brutally kills The Client. Among Gideon's forces are a squad of highly lethal, black-clad Death Troopers. We first saw them back In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. They never do much in that movie other than stand around. Fortunately Jon Favreau is on the case, and turned them into an intimidating and terrifying presence here.

• At one point an Imperial Troop Transport pulls up, carrying even more Stormtroopers! I recognized this vehicle the second I saw it...

It's a live-action version of the Kenner Troop Transport toy from 1979! This particular vehicle never appeared in any of the live action films, but was invented out of whole cloth by Kenner.

The Stormtroopers in the show are even riding in side compartments— exactly like they do in the toy. It's even got the same gun turret dome on the top! How awesome is that?

There's no doubt in my mind that Jon Favreau had one of these as a kid, and decided to put it in the show.

• Moff Gideon then arrives in his very own TIE Fighter for some reason. You'd think someone of his rank and stature would have his own Imperial Shuttle, rather than a one man craft. Maybe they're in short supply after the fall of the Empire.

Anyway, check out the way his TIE delicately folds up its wings as it gently touches down. I've always wondered how TIE Fighters land with those oversized wings. Seemed like they'd be too fragile to support the weight of the entire ship, plus a pilot would need a pretty tall ladder to get into the cockpit. At long last we finally know they fold up their wings and extend regular landing gear. Cool!

My only complaint (and you knew I'd have one) the way the wings fold horizontally would take up a HUGE amount of space in a hangar. The ship's width is basically doubled when the wings are folded that way. It be more space efficient if the top half of the wings remained stationary, and the bottom half folded up flush against them. That's a minor nitpick though, as I still enjoyed the scene.

• When I saw Gideon's assembled platoon of Stormtroopers, I assumed most of them were probably CGI. Nope! Turns out they were all real!

The show couldn't afford to manufacture all the Stormtrooper costumes needed for the scene, so series creator Jon Favreau contacted the local 501st Legion (a group of dedicated Stormtrooper cosplayers) and asked them to bring their own armor and star in the episode! How awesome is that!

• Giancarlo Esposito (of Breaking Bad fame) plays Moff Gideon. We've actually known that's who he's playing for weeks now, but we didn't know anything about the character or exactly when he'd show up.

Note that the chest plate Gideon's wearing is similar to the one worn by General Veers in The Empire Strikes Back. It's not quite the same, but it's close.

• Jesus Christ, where the hell did Gideon get all his troops? The Client (who was probably an Imperial Regional Governor) had four Stormtrooper bodyguards in moth-eaten, filthy armor.

Gideon's got his own literal ARMY of Stormtroopers! Plus a squad of Death Troopers! And all in bright, shiny, spit & polish armor. AND he has his own personal TIE Fighter! How? Where? I thought the Empire was defeated five years ago in this world?

I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense. After all, blowing up the Death Star II in Return Of The Jedi didn't magically vaporize every Imperial officer and soldier throughout the galaxy. There'd have to be remnants of the Empire in various outer territories. I assume that's probably where Gideon got his army. He was likely a Moff assigned to some backwater world, and has been hording personnel and armaments ever since the Empire fell.

• I was definitely saddened to see the death of Kuiil at the end of this episode. Especially after he refused to take money from Manny and helped him out for the good of Baby Yoda. I get that it was necessary to kill off someone though. It gave the episode some actual stakes and showed us that Moff Gideon's not screwing around. 

And yes, unlike a lot of fans, I believe Kuiil's actually dead here. To quote a certain purple-skinned cosmic entity, "No resurrections this time."

• Now THIS is how you do a cliffhanger! Have the villains kill off one character, while kidnapping the most popular and beloved one on the show! OK, obviously Manny & Co. aren't going to be slaughtered by Gideon's troops, and will get out of their jam somehow. And Kuiil may be dead, but don't forget that IG-11's still on Manny's ship. I predict he'll end up saving the day, causing Manny to reconsider his stance on droids.

Until then though... Holy Crap! Well done, Jon Favreau!

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