December 13, 2020

Streamin' Meemies: The Mandalorian Season 2 Ep 7, "The Believer"


(Yes, I know on the Disney Plus website it's called "Chapter 15." I'm going by seasons, and the episode number thereof.)

This episode does a couple of interesting things. The broader plot movement is, of course, Mando's setting things in motion and the pieces on the board to rescue Grogu. But there's also some interesting conversations about personal ethics, and the lines one is willing to cross and why, and how the Empire and the New Republic, from some points of view, don't look that much different. In the past, we've seen what Din Djarin's lines are, based on his being raised by a fundamentalist Mandalorian sect. But ever since his meeting with Bo-Katan Kryze, he knows his "way" of the Mandalorian is not the only way. Now, those previous hard lines of his may turn out to be fuzzier than he thought, especially if he has sufficient motivation to cross them. 

Now that Mando has teamed up with Fennec Shand and Boba Fett (who is shown in this episode to have applied a nifty new coat of paint to his recovered armor), they use Cara Dune's newly acquired status as a Marshal of the New Republic to rescue one Migs Mayfield, who made his appearance in episode 5 of the first season, from hard labor. Mayfield is a former Imperial soldier, and Mando wants to use him to locate "coordinates" for Moff Gideon's ship, where Grogu is being held. (Although I don't know what good coordinates alone would do for a ship moving through space, so one presumes this also includes some way of tracking the ship.) Mayfield says he can do so, if he can access an Imperial terminal. He says one can be found at a "secret Imperial mining hub" on Morak, so Boba Fett takes them there (in his funky funny-looking ship).  

On Morak, our ragtag team immediately hits a snag: the terminal is inside the mining compound, which will scan and flag anyone with an Imperial warrant. This lets out everyone but Mayfield and Mando, so the two of them sneak into the compound by way of hijacking one of the mining transports and donning their drivers' armor. It's on the way to the compound that the interesting conversation I spoke of earlier takes place. Mayfield is apparently a nervous blabbermouth, as he keeps talking even in the face of a grunting, taciturn Mando. He first notes that he can't understand how "your people," meaning the Mandalorians, wear their helmets at all times--"is it just not taking the helmet off, or not letting your face be seen?" After they pass a village with the impoverished-looking residents glaring at them (and the camera lingers for a moment on a young boy, making it clear Mando sees himself sitting there), Mayfield continues on: "Empire, New's all the same to these people. Invaders on their land is all we are." He tells Mando "if you were born on Mandalore, you believe one way, and if you were born on Alderaan, you believe another," and notes that neither of those places are there anymore. After Mando retorts that he's nothing like Mayfield, the latter points out "seems to me your rules start to change when you get desperate." 

I wish this could have continued for a bit longer, as it provides some reflection and examination of the Star Wars universe we don't get very often. Alas, it's interrupted by the first two transports in the convoy, some distance ahead of the one Mando and Mayfield are driving, getting blown up, and their own juggernaut attacked by pirates (although whoever these aliens are, they don't seem very intent on taking the cargo, a volatile ore called rhydonium, but rather destroying it). This leads to an extended action piece with Mando fighting off pirates from the roof of the transport, with Mayfield unable to speed up for fear of detonating the unstable ore. Finally, just as their juggernaut is about to be overwhelmed, a couple of TIE fighters from the main compound take out the pirates' ships and Mando/Mayfield cross the bridge into the fortified compound (to cheers and hails of "Glory to the Empire!" from the assembled stormtroopers). 

Inside, the Imperial terminal is located in the officers' mess. Mayfield is about to enter the room when he spots a familiar face: his old commanding officer, Valin Hess. He refuses to go any further. Mando, stating this is his only chance of getting "the kid" back (what is it with him not wanting to call Grogu by his name?) takes the data stick and marches up to the terminal, even after Mayfield says access to it will demand a full face scan. (Which makes no objective sense and is obviously a plot coupon, but hey, given the results and character development it brings, I'm willing to forgive it.) And there we see what Din Djarin's love for Baby Yoda has wrought--because he takes his helmet off, baring his naked face to the world, so he can get the required coordinates. 

(Also, it's nice to see Pedro Pascal's face, as he's extremely easy to look at.)

Mando downloads the information, but is interrupted by Hess, who demands to know his designation. Pedro Pascal plays this very well here, as it's obvious that Mando is so uncomfortable and overwhelmed, both by the overall situation and the fact of his having removed his helmet, that he can hardly talk. Mayfield, seeing this, changes his mind and distracts Hess (who doesn't recognize him after all). The two are about to leave when Hess asks if they are the troopers who brought in the only surviving transport today, and insists on buying them drinks.

(And truthfully, this Hess is either a little soused himself, or definitely not the brightest Ewok in the jungle. Probably both, as he doesn't catch on how nervous and suspicious Mando is acting, and Mayfield's "scrambled brains/ears after an explosion" story is hoary at best. Also, as shown in the rest of the scene, Hess apparently only wants to boast and brag about the Empire's atrocities.)

Mayfield keeps talking to distract Hess, and it's during this conversation that we get the second really interesting part of the episode. He mentions "Operation Cinder" and the planet Burnin Konn, where he was evidently stationed when the former went down. I had no idea what this was, but other reviews have indicated it was Emperor Palpatine's burn-down-the-galaxy final order, to be carried out after his death (or "death," I suppose, seeing what happened in The Rise of Skywalker). This has been eating at Mayfield for some time, and he unloads about all the people who died, the people he served with and the people fighting for freedom. Hess listens to all of this and opines, with a lovely fascist snarl, that "people don't want freedom--they want order," a tipoff to the future rise of the First Order from the ashes of the Empire. This is more than Mayfield can take, and he pulls his blaster and shoots Hess right across the table.  

This, of course, leads to a firefight, and Mayfield and Mando scrambling out the window and climbing up the side of the building. Cara Dune and Fennec Shand, waiting on a hill outside, begin to pick off the pursuing stormtroopers one by one, and Boba Fett swoops his funky ugly little ship down and picks Mando and Mayfield up. As they climb up and away, Mayfield asks for Boba's "cycler rifle," aims at the transport sitting there filled with rhydonium, and blows it to kingdom come along with the rest of the complex. Mando looks at him, and he says, "We all need to sleep at night." There is also a brief pursuit from the compound's two TIE fighters, which Boba Fett takes care of by deploying a sonic charge to wipe them both out.

When all the dust has settled, Mayfield's actions convince Cara Dune to let him go, as she says to Mando: "It's too bad the prisoner died in the destruction of Morak." Migs Mayfield was not a likable guy, and he wasn't really redeemed per se, but I'm glad he was used by the writers to state some interesting and perhaps long overdue truths.

The final scene is a thing of beauty. We see Moff Gideon's ship, and the Moff himself receiving a transmission (which is why Mando's information had to contain more than just "coordinates"). Din Djarin himself, re-helmeted, appears, repeating the same words Moff Gideon uttered to him when he came for Baby Yoda at the end of Season One.

"You have something I want. You may think you have some idea what you are in possession of, but you do not. Soon he will be back with me. He means more to me than you will ever know."

Moff Gideon looks a wee bit nervous, and rightly so, because the Father Avenger is coming. 

This episode had a nice balance of action, character work, and commentary on the state of this universe that definitely elevated it above the norm. Now: on to the season finale (maybe, given the use of two-word titles, to be called "The Reunion"? We shall see). 

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