“Look outside. Is the world more peaceful since the revolution? I see nothing but death and chaos.”
Love it or not (and I have loved it), the last few weeks of The Mandalorian, have played more like serial vignettes, not truly expanding on the narrative established in the first two episodes. Because the series has still been an exceptional thrill ride — last week’s “The Prisoner” in particular — it’s remained as a must-watch. Be that as it may, some fans (myself included) want the series to revisit that initial storyline and see how it all unfolds. As if hearing our thoughts, the season’s penultimate episode, “The Reckoning”, does just that and by giving us perhaps even more than we expected.
After viewing Greef Karga’s (Carl Weathers, Rocky, Predator) holo suggesting they work together to rid Nevarro of the Client’s (Werner Herzog, Jack Reacher, What Dreams May Come) interference, a dangerous job that will pay well but whose greatest boon is eliminating the Mando from staying on the run from the Guild. Not trusting the man who already tried to have him killed, Mando gathers his own crew, enlisting the aid of fan-favorite Cara Dune (Gina Carano, Haywire, Deadpool) and Kuiil (Nick Nolte, 48 Hours, Warrior, Graves) as backup for the mission and guardian for the child, respectively. Combined with the uneasy nature of that initial meeting with Greef and his hired guns in the desert outside the city, everything, at least on the surface, seems a bit cliché.
Again, that hasn’t hurt the series thus far so even if events had followed the usual by-the-book approach, Carano and Nolte’s return, along with the typical Star Wars adventure-time, would have been plenty to make this week another satisfactory installment. That’s not even considering the other character surprise; the return of murder-droid IG-11 (Taika Waititi in all his droid-voiced glory), now a concierge for Kuiil. The argument between Mando and the Ugnaught on the droid’s transformation is an thought-provoking examination of the whole nature versus nurture ideal. “Droids are not good or bad,” Kuiil tells the stubborn Mandalorian, “they are neutral reflections of those who imprint them”. Not only is this an apt comparison to how people themselves are shaped by the events and people that influence their lives, but it can be a warning on the dangers those with evil intentions and the effects they can have on a blank canvas. Say, something like the innocence of a (the) Child.
Despite the predictable yet fun start, the first hint of swerve was the Child’s unexpected force choke of Cara during her arm-wrestling match with Mando. In its infantile mind (a half century old or not, it’s still a bay-bay!), she’s harming him. It’s the first use of force powers in weeks and emphasizes the bond the two characters have formed. The Child’s abilities are further explored when Greef Karga is injured attacked by a pterodactyl-like bird. The Child not only heals Greef’s visible wounds but expunges his body of the creature’s poison. With a single act, the Child transforms Greef from someone bent on double-crossing Mando and taking the Child (what I had expected from the start) to showing that he may be a scoundrel but maintains his own code of honor. Even with Greef now fully ensconced with Team Mando, the idea of marching into the Client’s HQ is still a dicey prospect, but Mando doesn’t see any other way for himself and the Child to have even a semblance of peace without taking the Client off the board.
If the first half of “The Reckoning” is the Thanksgiving appetizers hanging about on some flimsy side table, the last five minutes the main table filled with turkey and all the trimmings, recklessly flipped on its side, spilling all that Thanksgiving Day goodness across the floor.
Already outnumbered by the Client’s contingent of troops, things progress from bad (but manageable) to nigh impossible. If this was a western, the end of “The Reckoning” would be Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; our protagonists hopelessly outmanned and outgunned, surrounded by Moff Gideon’s (Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad, Once Upon a Time) band of stormtroopers, led by a cadre of black-armored elite, who indiscriminately gun down the Client and his bodyguards. With the command and arrogance of all the Moffs before him, Gideon lays claim to his undertaking to retrieve the Child. It’s a frightening prospect, how a man like this could use and twist such an innocent but potentially powerful creature. “It means more to me than you will ever know” only reinforces the ‘nature vs nurture’ meaning I earlier prescribed to Kuiil’s statement on droids. If the odds weren’t bad enough, it ends even worse when, shortly after a speeder-troop snatches up the Child, the camera pans to the smoking husk of Kuiil’s apparently lifeless body.
No matter what they’ve established through the season, the best shows know how to lull viewers into a false sense of security only to subvert those expectations with an unexpected twist. There was nothing special in the “The Reckoning” to start, with most of its story beats things we’ve seen before. But when it’s combined with everything we’ve been conditioned to expect since Episode One, the masterfully executed cliffhanger was a blindside I didn’t know I needed.
While Mando may be safe from dying, both Greef and Cara are fair game to meet their maker: that prospect alone ramps up the tension and uncertainty. More to the point, I can’t help but wonder if what happens next will force Mando to remove his helmet. The latter may be a bit too early in the series to complete such a major action but that’s what’s so great about “The Reckoning”: I have no idea what to expect. That alone is worth its weight in gold.
The Way of the Mandalorian
• Now that was how you lead into a finale! For much of the season’s narrative, we thought we knew what we were getting, that the writers were playing things relatively safe, refraining from truly putting Mando into an untenable situation. That changed quickly and despite much of the episode following the tried-and-true path, the last few minutes were game-changing. It’s not just Mando, Cara, and Greef surrounded by an overwhelming force but Kuiil being gunned down so close to safety and the speeder-troop procuring the Child for Moff Gideon.
• Before his untimely (but thoroughly deserved death) the Client’s spiel on the structure the Empire provided was an interesting point of view on Imperial rule. In truth, he epitomizes what the Empire was all about: order at the expense of freedom. It’s a concept Kuiil brings home with his own tirade against Cara about his life in indentured servitude. While these are smaller beats in the story, they are powerful themes that have played throughout human history and help further expand on themes all too often glossed over in lieu of blaster fire and lightsaber duels.