Monday, November 16, 2020

The Mandalorian Season 2, Chapter Ten: The Passenger

This week on The Mandalorian, my fears and reservations about the show appear to be coming true.

In last week's review I said that after a near-perfect first season, I worried that Disney would find a way to screw up the series like they always do— just as they did with the dismal Sequel Trilogy. 

Unfortunately that's exactly what seems to be happening. The Passenger is forty minutes of pure, Grade A inconsequential filler. 

Seriously. Nothing happens in this episode! At all. The plot doesn't advance an inch as the characters start out at Point A, there're some shenanigans on a planet and everyone returns to Point A at the end— literally! Then to top it all off the episode doesn't end so much as it just... stops. 

Jesus Christ! Last week we got the exact same storyline we've already seen twice before, and now we're only ten chapters in and we're already getting filler episodes? This does not bode well for the future of the series.

As if all that wasn't enough, The Passenger didn't exactly portray our main characters in the best light either. Manny was a colossal screwup the entire episode, nearly getting everyone killed on numerous occasions. Plus he literally had to be shamed into doing the right thing and honoring an agreement!

Baby Yoda didn't fare much better, as this episode took the cutesy corporate mascot and turned him into a right bastard. To paraphrase the always amazing Rich Evans, Baby Yoda is an asshole! We'll delve more into his ill-advised antics below.

There's also an odd, three-pronged motherhood theme running through this episode. You've got Manny dealing with raising Baby Yoda, Frog Lady desperately trying to get home with her precious cargo of eggs and the Spider Queen protecting her young.

Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a point to any of this. The episode drops it in the audience's lap, points at it and says, "Eh? EH?" and then immediately moves on as none of it amounts to anything.

The lone bright spot this week was the introduction of Frog Lady, who turned out to be the episode's MVP. As much as I liked her character though, I'm not quite sure why she was present. Unless she's going to become a major player later in the season, she was nothing but pointless filler as well. 

Eh, enough whining. Let's get on with the review.


The Plot:
Picking up where the previous episode ended, Manny & Baby Yoda are speeding across Tatooine's Dune Sea, on their way back to Mos Eisley and the Razor Crest. Unfortunately for Manny, a trio of raiders somehow know he's coming and set a trap for him.

They string a rope across a narrow gully, and pull it taught as Manny passes through on his speeder bike. He's yanked off the bike, which tumbles end over end and explodes (of course). Manny uses his jetpack to safely touch down as the raiders attack. He easily dispatches two of them, but the third grabs Baby Yoda, who was clearly their objective. Despite this, the raider then holds a knife to the Child's neck (?).

Manny tries to calm the raider, warning him that if he kills Baby Yoda there'll be no place he can hide. The raider points at Manny's jetpack, indicating he wants to trade. So I guess they weren't after the Child after all? Manny takes the pack off, sets it on the ground and backs away. The raider sets Baby Yoda on the ground, then snatches the pack and scampers away. 

Manny calmly pushes a button on his gauntlet, which activates the jetpack. The raider's lifted high into the air before dropping to his death. The jetpack returns and settles gently back to the ground.

With the speeder bike destroyed, Manny grabs Baby Yoda and Boba Fett's armor and hoofs it across the desert back to Mos Eisley.

Manny enters Chalmun's Cantina (sigh...) where he finds his friend Peli Motto playing sabacc with the insectoid Dr. Mandible. Peli sees Fett's armor and asks why Manny sought out another Mandalorian only to kill him. He explains that the Marshal wasn't a true Mandalorian, and says he's still trying to find the rest of his people. Dr. Mandible says he knows someone who might be able to help.

The next morning Peli says she met with Mandible's contact, and infodumps the episode's plot to Manny. She says the contact claims there's a Mandalorian covert on the moon of Trask, just one system over. 

Peli then introduces the informant— the amphibian Frog Lady (which is apparently her name, as it's how she's listed in the credits). She's carrying a large cannister of her eggs, and needs to get to Trask so her husband can fertilize them before the equinox in order to continue her family line. 

Peli adds that there's one additional problem Frog Lady's eggs can't handle the "stress" of hyperspace, so they'll have to travel at sub-light speeds (more on THAT later!). Manny says at that speed they'll be in danger from raiders and pirates, but reluctantly agrees to the deal.

The Razor Crest takes off, and Manny tries to tell Frog Lady to strap herself in. Unfortunately neither speaks the other's language. Too bad there aren't Universal Translators in the Star Wars Universe. Meanwhile in the ship's hold, Baby Yoda hungrily eyes the egg canister. Manny enters and sees he's unlocked the cannister and is eating one of Frog Lady's eggs! Jesus Christ! Manny scolds him and locks him in the bunk.

Sometime later an alarm sounds and Manny sprints to the cockpit. He sees two New Republic X-Wing fighters flanking his ship. The pilots ask why the Razor Crest isn't broadcasting a transponder signal. Manny says his ship is pre-Empire and isn't required to broadcast a beacon (?). X-Wing Captain Teva says that's no longer true, as the sector's now under New Republic jurisdiction. Wow, this is almost as fascinating as the trade dispute negotiations in The Phantom Menace.

Manny tries to bluff his way out of the situation, but the pilots recognize his ship as one seen in the vicinity of the New Republic Correctional Transport Bothan-Five (referencing last season's The Prisoner). Captain Teva says they're going to have to escort Manny to the nearest outpost.

Unwilling to comply, Manny suddenly dives toward the nearby ice world of Maldo Kreis. The X-Wings pursue as Manny attempts to outrun them. He ends up crash landing, as the Razor Crest slides across an icy plain and comes to a halt under a rocky shelf. The X-Wings pass overhead, unable to see the hidden ship. Suddenly the ice gives way, and the Razor Crest falls into a deep cave, sustaining heavy damage.

Manny inspects the shattered hold, and finds Baby Yoda eating more of Frog Lady's eggs (!). He scolds the child again and breaks out some blankets for Frog Lady. She uses them to cover her eggs instead, fearing they'll freeze. Manny tells everyone to get some sleep and conks out. Frog Lady looks around the hold and spots the remains of Zero, the evil droid seen in The Prisoner.

Frog Lady tinkers with Zero's head, and is able to use his vocabulator to communicate with Manny. She tells him her eggs are the last she'll ever produce, and if they fail to get them to her husband on time it'll be the end of her family line. Manny says the deal's off, as they'll be lucky to survive the frigid night on this planet. Frog Lady says she thought honoring promises was part of the Mandalorian Code. Realizing she's right, Manny sighs and begins repairing the ship.

Sometime later Manny hears Baby Yoda making a commotion. He goes to see what's wrong, and finds that Frog Lady's wandered off. He grabs the child and follows her footprints. Eventually Manny finds her sitting in a hot spring, her eggs merrily bobbing in the heated water. Manny tells her they need to get back to the ship immediately, and they begin gathering the eggs and putting them back in the cannister.

Meanwhile, Baby Yoda notices a field of white objects and wanders off to investigate. Turns out they're a different sort of egg, and he cracks one open and finds a tiny white spider inside. He pops it in his mouth, and suddenly the other eggs begin to stir and hatch. Thousands of tiny ice spiders emerge from the eggs, as Baby Yoda runs back to his "dad."

Manny sees the spiders and tells Frog Lady to hurry it up. Suddenly the massive Queen Spider appears, and Manny scoops up the baby as he and Frog Lady hightail it out of the cave. The spiders begin catching up to the trio, as Manny blasts a path through them. The Queen follows, and Manny plants explosives on the cave walls. He detonates them, burying the Queen under tons of icy rubble.

They make it back to the ship, where Manny attempts to take off. Just as the ship begins to rise, the Queen reappears like the villain in a slasher movie and lands on top of the ship, weighing it down. It smashes its legs through the cockpit glass, dooming the trio to certain death.

Just then the Queen's hit by blaster fire and dies. Manny exits and sees the two X-Wings cleaning the spiders off the ship. Captain Teva tells Manny they ran a check on him, and discovered he apprehended three wanted felons and saved the life of New Republic Lt Davan back in The Prisoner. Teva says by all rights he should arrest Manny, but is willing to let him go free as these are "trying times."

Manny patches up the Razor Crest as best he can, telling Frog Lady they'll have to finish the trip in the cockpit, which is now the only pressurized section of the ship. They take off, and the ship limps along to Trask. Cut to Baby Yoda, as he eats another of Frog Lady's eggs. How adorable! And by adorable I mean horrifying.

• Was there any point whatsoever to the opening scene? Manny's attacked by three raiders, whose goal is ostensibly to capture Baby Yoda. 

Or is it? Once they knock Manny off his speeder bike, one of the raiders orders another to "Get the Child." A diminutive raider then grabs Baby Yoda. Oddly enough though, he actually threatens to kill the kid when Manny approaches him. Then he trades the baby for Manny's jetpack!

So... I guess they weren't after the Child after all?

This scene had absolutely zero affect on the plot, and didn't progress it in any way. The only thing it did was pad out the runtime a bit.

• This is some heavy duty nitpicking, but whatever. As Manny roars toward Mos Eisley on his speeder bike, three raiders set a trap for him by stringing a rope across a narrow canyon. Wait, what?

First of all, they barely finish the trap before he comes flying by. How'd they know just when he'd be returning?

Even more importantly, how in the name of sanity could they possibly know the path he'd take back to town? Tatooine is one vast desert— there aren't any roads to follow. As long as he headed vaguely east or whatever, he'd eventually hit Mos Eisley. 

To their slight credit, the producers added a few small hills on each side of the screen to form a canyon and "funnel" Manny into the raiders' trap. There was no reason he couldn't have veered around the hills though.

This scene is a perfect example of what I call the "Psychic Trap"— the phenomenon in which the villains somehow know exactly when and where the hero will be at a certain point in the future and set a snare for him accordingly. The Mandalorian is far from the first series to use this trope, as it's popped up in thousands of movies and TV shows over the years.

• One of the raiders snatches Baby Yoda and threatens to kill him unless Manny backs off. 

This particular raider looks to be of the same species as the one who scolded Rei for not working fast enough back in The Force Awakens. Hell, given this series' irrational penchant for fan service, it probably IS the same character!

• When the raider threatens Baby Yoda, wouldn't that have been a perfect time for the Child to use the Force to cave his head in and escape? His powers would been even more useful last week! Why, it's almost like the producers conveniently "forget" the kid can wave his hand and move things unless it's convenient to the plot.

• After being ambushed, Manny hoofs it back to Mos Eisley. Of course he heads straight toward Chalman's Cantina, the one famously seen in A New Hope and last season's The Gunslinger. Apparently it's the only watering hole in the entire town.

• Inside the Cantina, Manny meets with his friend Peli Motto, who's playing a round of sabacc with an insectoid gentleman named Dr. Mandible.

Are you fraking kidding me? At first I thought that was just Peli's nickname for the alien, but he's actually listed in the credits as "Dr. Mandible." Jesus Christ. And here I thought "Darth Maul," "Count Dooku" and "Kit Fisto" were stupid names.

By the way, this episode was directed by Peyton Reed, who also helmed Marvel's Ant-Man and Ant-Man And The Wasp. I assume the presence of a six foot tall ant-like alien here was a not-so-subtle shoutout to Reed.

• For some reason this episode fades to black several times between scenes, almost as if it's cutting to a commercial.

• Manny agrees to ferry Frog Lady and her eggs to the moon of Trask in exchange for information. Unfortunatly Frog Lady says they'll have to travel at sublight speeds, as her eggs can't handle the "stress" of hyperspace."

This is what you call your "Bullsh*t Plot Point." Never in the 40+ year history of Star Wars has there ever been any mention of hyperspace negatively affecting lifeforms. It popped up here solely for story purposes, to force Manny to travel at sublight speeds so he could be menaced by X-Wings, try to outrun them and crash on the ice planet.

• So thanks to Frog Lady, the Razor Crest has to piss along to Trask at sublight speed. Manny sets a course and tells Frog Lady she might as well get comfortable, because it's gonna take a long time to get there.

I'll say! Here in our universe, the closest solar system is four lightyears away! And that's just the nearest system. Others are literally millions of lightyears away!

Apparently the systems in the Star Wars Universe are jammed together much more closely than they are here, to the point where it only takes a couple days to travel between them at sublight speeds.

As stupid as this is, it's nothing new. Back in The Empire Strikes Back, the Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive was out, yet Han & Co. were able to fly from Hoth to Bespin (planets in two different solar systems, mind you) in just a day or two.

• Welp, we might as well deal with this now.

The Passenger contains one of the most controversial scenes of the entire series (so far)— one which may well end up tainting Disney's precious Baby Yoda brand for good.

Manny's hired to transport Frog Lady and a canister of her eggs to Trask, where her husband will fertilize them in order to continue their family line. But the episode also features a running "joke" in which Baby Yoda— the cutesy space toddler that even non-Star Wars fans all love and worship— breaks into the canister and eats half a dozen of Frog Lady's eggs while she's not looking.

Oh, Baby Yoda, you adorable genocidal scamp! Actually I guess "familicidal" would be more apt.

Many viewers were less than pleased with the Child's antics, and took to social media (natch) to broadcast their outrage. 

For the record, I wasn't disturbed or incensed by his behavior— I just thought it made him look like a dick. Disney's currently riding that Baby Yoda gravy train all the way to the bank, so turning the character into an asshole probably wasn't the best idea right now.

Phil Szostak, Lucasfilm's creative art manager, made a statement defending the scene. Said Szostak, "For the record, Chapter 10 of The Mandalorian makes it clear that the Frog Lady's eggs are unfertilized, like the chicken eggs many of us enjoy. But obviously, chickens aren't sentient beings and the Child eating the eggs is intentionally disturbing, for comedic effect."

Yes, because wiping out a poor woman's family is hiLARious!

I think that was the worst part about this whole thing— the way it was played for laughs. At one point Manny's horrified when he discovers Baby Yoda's consuming the eggs. When he asks how many he's already eaten, the Child actually lets out a tiny belch! Jesus Christ!

Still don't agree with me? Fine. Strip away all the sci-fi and alien trappings, and imagine Frog Lady was a desperate human woman who hired Manny to drive her and her eggs to a fertility clinic. Then imagine Manny's son ate several handfuls of this woman's eggs while she wasn't looking. Would it still be funny then?

I get that the eggs were unfertilized, so technically Baby Yoda wasn't committing murder when he ate them. But Frog Lady specifically stated that this was the last batch of eggs she'd ever produce (I guess she's nearing space menopause?). Meaning every egg he ate was one less chance at her having another child of her own. So thanks to Jon Favreau for bringing the goddamned abortion/right to life debate to the Star Wars Universe. Well done!

• You know, this whole "Baby Yoda Eats Frog Lady's Eggs" debacle could have been prevented if her cannister had a lock on the lid. Or are we to believe the child used the Force to, er, force it open?

• In an effort to not be so negative, I'm trying to come up with some positive things to say about this episode. Um... it had some sweet X-Wings in it, I guess?

• One of the X-Wing pilots is Trapper Wolf, played by Dave Filoni. He's one of the producers of The Mandalorian, and has written and directed a few episodes as well. He had a previous cameo as Trapper in Season 1's The Prisoner.
• Looks like Manny's a fast learner. Last season he'd never even heard of the Jedi or the Force.

Suddenly in this episode he salutes the two X-Wing pilots by telling them "May the Force be with you!"

• For reasons known only to himself, Manny runs from the New Republic X-Wings and attempts to hide on the nearby ice world of Maldo Kreis. Several things here:

First of all, Manny was heading for Trask, which orbits the gas giant Kol Iben just one system over from Tatooine. So where'd this ice planet come from? Is Maldo Kreis in the Kol Iben system, and they made it there already? Or is it in the outer edges of the Tatooine system? 

It'd better be in one of those, otherwise Peli lied about Trask being "one system over."

Secondly, although you'd never know it from the episode, we've actually seen the icy planet of Maldo Kreis before. It appeared back in Chapter One of the series, as it's where Manny captured the Mythrol and put him in carbon freeze!

• Frog Lady spots the remains of Zero, the droid last seen in The Prisoner. She then accesses the droid's vocabulator, using it as a Universal Translator so she and Manny can communicate.

Once again, Zero's voice is provided by Richard Ayoade of The IT Crowd fame.

• Frog Lady makes an impassioned plea to Manny, telling him she has to get her eggs to her husband before the equinox or her family line will die out. He tells her the deal's off, as they're hopelessly marooned on an ice planet and will be lucky if they don't freeze to death.

Well, who's fault is THAT? Manny's the one who made the series of boneheaded moves that got them into this situation in the first place. Their situation is completely his fault. Yet Frog Lady has to literally shame him into 
honoring their agreement. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!

• While Manny's attempting to repair the Razor Crest, Frog Lady wanders off by herself. Manny's able to use the infrared function on his helmet to track her down. There's a lot to unpack in this short little scene...

First of all... man, that must be one hot Frog Lady! Terrestrial amphibians are all cold-blooded, meaning their body temperature fluctuates with the environment. It seems unlikely she'd be generating enough heat for Manny to detect.

Granted she's an alien, and as such may just outwardly resemble an Earthly frog. It's entirely possible she's warm-blooded and would leave footprints Manny could detect.

Secondly, it's probably -20° on this planet. How long could her footprints retain enough heat to show up on infrared twenty minutes later?

Thirdly, did Manny really need electronic help to follow her? Frog Lady trudged through the freakin' snow. Her footprints are clearly visible to the naked eye!

Lastly, Frog Lady runs off in order to place her precious eggs in a hot spring, to protect them from the bitter cold. How the crap did she know there was a heat source
 nearby? Based on the episode it looks like it was at least a thousand feet away from the ship. Are we to believe she somehow sensed or smelled it from that distance?

• Congratulations to The Mandalorian for bringing the fart joke back to the Star Wars Universe— something we've mercifully not seen since The Phantom Menace. Baby Yoda inadvertently wakes a nest of vicious ice spiders, who quickly surround him. Manny spots the Child, hurriedly scoops him up and runs. As he picks up Baby Yoda, he lets loose with an audible fart.

Sigh... why the hell did they include that in this scene? I guess as with everything else associated with Baby Yoda, it was supposed to be cute and funny? But adding a fart to the moment undercut what should have been a nightmarish scene and rendered it laughable. Author, author!

• Baby Yoda eats an unborn ice spider, which wakes the gigantic, terrifying Queen. This terrifying behemoth then chases Manny & Co. back to the ship and very nearly kills them. Thanks, Obama, er, I mean Baby Yoda!

I recognized the Spider Queen the instant I saw her! She was clearly based on unused preproduction art by the amazing Ralph McQuarrie, whose awesome conceptual paintings shaped the look of the Original Trilogy.

I've been intently studying McQuarrie's work since 1977, trying to figure out how he created his stunning paintings. To say he's been an inspiration to me would be an understatement.

McQuarrie painted the ice spider for a scene in The Empire Strikes Back, in which Luke encounters the creature on Dagobah. Unfortunately it was cut from the script and never filmed.

As you can see here, The Mandalorian conceptual artists are apparently big fans of McQuarrie as well, as they precisely copied his version of the creature for their own preproduction art.

This seems to be par for the course in current Star Wars properties. The Force Awakens, Rogue One and this series have all scoured McQuarrie's old sketchbooks, looking for unused concepts they can utilize.

I'm torn on this. On the one hand, it's great to see so many of McQuarrie's ideas finally reach the screen (even if it's four decades late). On the other, I can't help but feel they're strip mining his work because they can't come up with any concepts of their own.

Plus some of McQuarrie's concepts may have been unused for a reason. Maybe he felt they were subpar, and wouldn't be comfortable seeing them on the series. Unfortunately he died in 2012, so we'll never know.

• Credit Where It's Due: This scene was pretty badass, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

• So far I've been quite impressed with the animatronic Baby Yoda used in the series. It's incredibly lifelike, and moves so smoothly I initially assumed it was CGI. I was surprised to find out it was a sophisticated puppet.

That all changed this week though. For some reason, Baby Yoda looked especially Muppety in this episode. Especially when he walked or ran! If you don't believe me, take a look at his horribly fake gait in the gif above. Yikes! I've seen more realistic wind-up toys!

I think the problem is they've never had to deal with him walking or running before. Up to now someone's either been carrying him or he's just stood around. He may have taken a step or two, but he's never run across the screen before. And now that he was required to, they had no idea how to pull it off and fumbled the ball bigly.

• Nice attention to detail— as the ice spiders climb up the cockpit window, their legs leave little tracks on the frosted glass. Exactly as would happen if this was all real. Well done!

• At the end of the episode the Razor Crest manages to shakily lift off and limp the rest of the way to Trask. Manny tells Frog Lady to wake him if the door's sucked off its rails. Note that Frog Lady actually reacts fearfully at this prospect.

Wait a minute... I thought she couldn't understand Manny? Or does he just not understand her? Was the robot she used earlier translating for both of them or just for Manny? I'm confused.

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