November 5, 2020

Streamin' Meemies: The Mandalorian Season 2 Ep 1, "The Marshal"


It's nice that Star Trek: Discovery streams on Thursday nights and The Mandalorian streams on Friday nights, because you get quite the contrast. Discovery is more ambitious and more flawed; because it sets its sights so high, it has greater opportunities to fall on its face (which Discovery has done, more than once). The Mandalorian, on the other hand, is even-keeled and lower-key. It knows what it wants to be: bright, cheerful and fun, and working on making the audience fall in love with a certain precious baby (not that it had to work too hard). This season takes up where Season 1 leaves off, with Din Djarin accepting his role as guardian and foster parent to the Child (the official name; of course everyone knows it's really Baby Yoda, and hopefully in this season the characters will come to realize that as well), and his quest to find the Child's people. 

It's also an interesting contrast that this iteration of the Star Wars universe, five years after the fall of the Empire, is unapologetically a space Western, something we see right off the bat in this episode. Now that Star Trek: Discovery has leapfrogged nine hundred years into the future, after the still mysterious incident known as the Burn and the dissolution of the Federation, it has taken on something of a Wild West sheen as well, albeit with a darker edge. In "The Marshal," The Mandalorian returns to Tatooine on the hunt for others of his kind (after his own secret covert was destroyed in the last episode of season 1), to connect him to another covert and possibly find clues to the location of Baby Yoda's home planet.

(As an aside, there are a lot of Easter eggs in this episode. As I have not watched the entire prequel trilogy--I've only seen Revenge of the Sith--a great many of them sailed right over my head, to be discovered only on reading other reviews. These did not affect the story or my enjoyment thereof, so they were Easter eggs done right. Second aside: If you have Disney Plus, you should really watch Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, an eight-part documentary showing how the series was made. Cast members, the directors, and showrunners Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni are interviewed, and especially in the episode showing how the groundbreaking special effects are done, it's fascinating.) 

The show opens with the Mandalorian walking down a seedy alley covered with graffiti, surrounded by creatures with glowing red eyes (who apparently know enough to leave him alone) followed by Baby Yoda in his little floating crib. They're going to see Gor Koresh, who runs a fighting ring, and Mando's come to ask if Koresh has heard where another Mandalorian might be. Gor Koresh and his henchpeople pull down on Mando and try to take the Beskar armor, and Mando kicks all their asses. (With a delightful intercut where Baby Yoda, knowing what is going down, hits the button on the front of his crib and the hatch closes over him.) Gor Koresh runs outside; Mando follows, throwing out a futuristic lasso--which, I suppose, is another indication that this show is a Western at heart--and strings him upside down on a light pole. After promising the thrashing Koresh that he will "not die by my hand," Mando worms out the information that there is a Mandalorian on Tatooine. Then he stalks off and leaves the alien hanging there, easy prey for the creatures with red eyes. (Always inquire about the fine print.)

Cut to the Razor Crest coming in over Tatooine (and flying over some gorgeous stark desert scenery, which is bountiful in this episode), and meeting up with the same repair person he visited previously, played by Amy Sedaris. (Mando's also a lot more relaxed around her three little repair droids, showing a change from the previous season.) He tells her about his predicament and she gives him a tip to go looking in an isolated mining town called Mos Pelgo. He asks to borrow her landspeeder and takes off, with Baby Yoda riding shotgun in his little satchel. (It apparently takes them two days to get there, as we see a quick scene of that night, where Mando has stopped to chat with a small group of Tusken Raiders. This will be important later.)

After some more shots of beautiful scenery, Mando and Baby Yoda arrive at the mining town, which is little more than two rows of fab-constructed buildings sitting in the middle of an endless stretch of sand. (Cue the suspicious glances of the townspeople as the Mandalorian With No Name slowly rides through.) Mando, as would be expected, goes into the saloon to ask questions, and when asked by the bartender who he is looking for, delivers the wonderfully deadpan line, "Someone who looks like me." The bartender says there is indeed such a someone in Mos Pelgo, and said someone is standing in the door as Mando turns around.

This is guest star Timothy Olyphaunt, the titular "Marshal," and he is wearing ill-fitting, battered armor, obviously neither new nor made for him. The fact that the Marshal is not a Mandalorian is immediately revealed by the fact that he not only orders a drink, he takes the helmet off. (Huge Mandalorian no-no.) Mando demands the armor back, and this leads to a near shootout (with an anxious Baby Yoda watching from the corner of the room). They are interrupted by a deep bass rumble, and the two go outside to see alarms at the borders of the town going off, and something coming towards the town under the sand. Something impossibly huge, swimming through the sand like a megalodon shark through water. It moves right through the town's one street, to where a hapless bantha is tethered at the end, and an enormous scaled, toothed head rears out of the sand and swallows the beast in one gulp. This monster is called a Krayt Dragon, and it has been terrorizing the town. The Marshal, also known as Cobb Vanth, says that if Mando helps him kill it, he'll give him the armor. (And when they go back in, we see a wise Baby Yoda has once again hidden, this time crawling into a [hopefully clean] metal spittoon sitting on the floor, out of which the top of his head slowly appears.)

Mando agrees, and he and Vanth and baby set off across the Tatooine desert. Along the way, a flashback scene shows the Marshal's story: after the Empire fell, the resulting power vacuum was filled by the Mining Collective, who took over and turned the town into a slave labor camp. Vanth escaped, snatching up a bucket along the way that was, unknown to him, full of valuable crystals. He didn't find this out until after trying to cross the desert and nearly dying, only to be rescued by some Jawas who were more than eager to acquire said bucket. Looking around, Vanth saw the Mandalorian armor and traded for it, and used the armor to come back to Mos Pelgo, throw out--or rather, blow up--the Mining Collective and free his town. This is a neat sequence, with some outstanding background music--The Mandalorian's music is generally quite good, but this music stood out to me.

On their way to the Krayt Dragon's den, they run across a band of Tatooine's indigenous inhabitants, the Tusken Raiders (and their fearsome-looking, toothy lizard-dogs), and we find out that Mando can speak and sign their language. (In fact, the show apparently hired a Deaf actor to construct the Tusken Raiders' sign language.) The Tuskens would also like to get rid of the Krayt Dragon, as they have been feeding it banthas for generations (evidently the monster gets torpid after it feeds). Mando, Vanth and the Tusken group continue on to the dragon's lair, an enormous cave where the beast slumbers inside. A Tusken takes a bantha, tethers it close to the entrance of the cave and summons the dragon--and instead of taking its usual dinner, the dragon comes roaring out and chows down the fleeing Tusken instead.

Cue Mando, in another wonderfully deadpan line delivered to perfection by Pedro Pascal: "They might be open to some fresh ideas."

Said ideas involve, after a great deal of negotiation and arguing both among the Tusken Raiders and Mos Pelgo's inhabitants, both groups working together to bring the monster down. The rest of the episode shows their doing just that. I've read that the budget for each episode of The Mandalorian is $15 million, and we certainly get our money's worth here. From the long string of furry, yak-shaped, wide-mouthed, curly-horned Banthas stretched across the sand dunes, to a raging battle with a Krayt Dragon who looks like a cross between a Dune sandworm and a Tremors graboid (with the additional twist of it spitting out gobs of green acid that melt the fleeing Tuskens right into the sand), we get a helluva spectacle. Finally, after the group has tried twice to shoot and/or blow the thing up, Mando hits upon a last desperate bid. He tells Vanth to shoot one of his armor's rockets at the dragon to get its attention, and takes the bantha laden with the last of the group's bombs (and the detonator for those bombs) and sprints across the sand right into the dragon's path. The dragon comes roaring down and swallows them both. 

After a tense moment when a whimpering Baby Yoda pokes his head up and cries for Dad, the monster's head whips out of the sand and its mouth opens. Mando has triggered some of his armor's electricity--his armor has all sorts of nifty gadgets built in--just enough to get the dragon to spit him out while retaining the bomb-laden bantha. Wheeling through the sky with his Mandalorian jetpack, Mando presses the detonator and blows the dragon's guts to kingdom come. (Although he is vomited out smeared with acid, so presumably he will have to have a good scrubbing-down later.) The Tusken Raiders get tons of meat to carve up, the townspeople are free from the dragon's predations, Mando gets the Marshal's armor back, and all is right with the world. Mando loads up and takes off, riding into the twin sunset back to Mos Eisley, Baby Yoda in his satchel on the landspeeder.

The last shot in the episode pulls back on a man known well to fans (except to me, because I never saw the movie where he made his appearance): a person who has generally been taken to be Boba Fett, Star Wars' original Mandalorian. This is what I mean about the Easter eggs being nice if you understand them, but it isn't necessary. I presume we will meet this mysterious person somewhere down the line, but my not comprehending the story behind this brief shot doesn't take away from my general enjoyment of the episode. Starting its second season, The Mandalorian is doing a good job of distinguishing itself from the original (and even the new) trilogies: frankly, it's good to get away from the sometimes suffocating focus on the Skywalker family and show the other stories that can take place in the wider Star Wars universe.

And of course, featuring the most adorable baby in the world doesn't hurt a bit. 

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