“A job is a job.”
After four consecutive episodes of nearly constant improvements, last week’s The Mandalorian was a bit of a disappointment. Though still a fun ride, it lacked the substance previous episodes did not. “The Prisoner” more than makes up for that, raising the bar in what is The Mandalorian’s best episode yet.
Contacted by his former associate Ran (Mark Boone, Jr., Sons of Anarchy, Memento), Mando agrees to a five-person prisoner extraction job. Led by Mayfield (Bill Burr), the composite of renegades include Xi’an (Natalia Tena, Origin, The Harry Potter series), Burg (Clancy Brown, Highlander, The Punisher, Billions), and the droid Zero (Richard Ayoade, The IT Crowd, Paddington 2). They are both curious and distrustful of Mando, in part due to his prodigious reputation but also a sketchy past with Xi’an.
The mythos to the titular hero continues to be explored with snippets that allude to previous events but offer no real explanation, expanding our theories on his past and, as such, generating even more fascination to his backstory. As it goes with a team of outlaws, there are several moments of challenge where the known quantities test their unknown ally. Mando handles every situation with aplomb, never flinching, never backing down. It’s a further testament to his character, something that the story’s narrative continually enhances.
Though a hired gun by trade, we’ve seen the subtle changes in Mando’s already noble person since blasting IG-11 in front of Baby Yoda’s crib. This change spurs his hesitation when their target—a New Republic prison ship—is revealed. He’s already committed to the job though and, considering that only droids populate the vessel, no harm, no foul. If only it were that simple.
The entire jailbreak sequence is spectacularly crafted. The tension between the quartet (Zero remains on the ship) builds as they navigate the corridors, though Mando impresses by single-handedly taking down several guard droids in the series’ best-choreographed fight sequence to date. Mando uses every skill at his disposal and it reminds us that, under his reserved demeanor and affection for Baby Yoda, he is a trained killer, resourceful beyond measure.
The latter is particularly emphasized when, after rescuing their quarry, Qin (Ismael Cruz Cordova, Ray Donovan, Mary Queen of Scots), Xi’an’s brother and the person Mando left behind on a previous job. He breaks free rather quickly and commences to hunting down his former allies down one-by-one. Coupled with brilliantly designed lighting effects, Mando’s takedown of the others, at times, plays out like a horror movie with him a Jason or Michael Myers. Instead of killing his betrayers, Mando imprisons the trio, as they did him. He also gets even with Ran, the brains behind the job, but not before collecting his reward. It’s remarkable how he’s able to stick to the bounty hunter code while never breaking his own personal honor. Even better is that this amazing allotment of guest stars are still alive and with an even bigger grudge towards Mando than ever before.
From day one, The Mandalorian has been a thrilling new chapter in the Star Wars universe. Even with last week’s substandard (for this show at least) installment, it’s been a great find. “The Prisoner” is an example of the Star Wars universe at its finest. It’s not just the amazing guest stars—Burr, Brown, Tena, and Boone, Jr. are all fantastic in their own right—but the action, humor, and tone are all on point. Also, the story uses Baby Yoda perfectly, relegating him to a background character, still adorable and fun but not artificially inserted into the plot. Though the overall narrative still seems more like vignettes strung together, there’s a significant arc still at play when it comes to the Mandalorian’s own personal growth. Add in the unspoken threat of the Guild wanting their payback and it’s more than enough to propel the series through the remainder of Season One and into what is, hopefully, a very long future.
The Way of the Mandalorian
• Don’t get me wrong: Baby Yoda is life, but after last week’s “The Gunslinger”, his novelty showed its first signs of fading. The cuteness and feel-good emotions were still there, but his inclusion didn’t feel as salient to the plot as they made it. “The Prisoner” rectifies that by limiting his screen time and yet making effective use of it all the same. The hide-and-seek he plays with Zero is such a Baby Yoda thing while Mando putting a hole in another droid to save him is also par for the course.
• I never thought I’d see Bill freakin’ Burr in Star Wars! Talk about a positively unexpected and thoroughly enjoyable surprise. Better still is that he was spectacular as Mayfield. Brown and Tena were also strong in their roles and the camaraderie between them was one of the episode’s highlights. Bringing them back into the series is almost a necessity at this point, though I can wait until season.