‘The Mandalorian’ Gets a Special ‘SNL’ Guest Star and Veers Off-Course
THIS POST CONTAINS spoilers for this week’s episode of The Mandalorian, “The Pirate.”
The Mandalorian is a show that likes to keep things simple whenever possible. And it’s hard to imagine a more fundamentally simple story than “heroes rescue community under siege by pirates.” It’s a framework the show has used very successfully in the past, going all the way back to Mando and Cara Dune’s initial team-up early in Season One. In many ways, “The Pirate” leans hard into this kind of straightforward, classical adventure structure. Gorian Shard’s men look even more like olde-timey Earth pirates than when we saw them in the season premiere, Shard’s ship has a variation on the classic captain’s wheel, etc. The action on Nevarro is crisp and well-presented, highlighted by the Armorer taking out the sniper’s nest singlehandedly with only her hammer and tongs as weapons. This is the stuff the series can pretty much do whenever it wants, even if certain aspects — notably Gorian Shard continuing to look like a cross between Pizza the Hutt from Spaceballs, Swamp Thing, and Davy Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies — are fairly silly.
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But “The Pirate” also has some more ambitious ideas on its mind, in both plot and theme. And it’s there that the results get a bit murkier.
Paul Sun-Hyung Lee returns as Carson Teva, veteran pilot from the Adelphi Rangers, who crossed our heroes’ paths a few times last season. When the pirates attack Nevarro, Greef sends a distress signal to Teva(*), and Teva in turn heads to Coruscant to get approval to help an independent planet in distress.
(*) The scene where Teva watches the message features the first live-action appearance of Zeb Orrelios, the hulking Lasat soldier who was a core part of the Star Wars: Rebels ensemble. (Here he is in action.) Zeb has not only survived the rebellion, but found a home fighting on behalf of the New Republic. Will he get more to do down the road — perhaps on the Ahsoka spinoff, which will involve her looking for one of Zeb’s old crewmates — or was this just a brief cameo to please fans of the animated shows?
It’s the second time this season we’ve checked in on how the New Republic is operating, and between this and “The Convert,” the early returns aren’t great. The government is represented here by Captain Tuttle, an overwhelmed bureaucrat — played by former SNLer Tim Meadows, in case we weren’t already sure he was meant to be a clown — who can’t approve Teva’s request, and who’s yet another official blind to the treachery of Elia Kane. The idea that the Empire didn’t entirely go away is baked into the franchise, both with Moff Gideon’s escapades here and the way the sequels presented the First Order as the inevitable 2Evil2Empire. But there should be ways to present that idea without making the New Republic seem hopelessly inept. Kane’s ability to always be in the right spot to cause trouble makes the alleged good guys seem particularly dumb, even if Katy M. O’Brian remains a welcome screen presence. Teva is clever enough to sense that all of these problems are connected, but nobody else in the Republic is getting it at all.
The Teva scenes also continue a trend of episodes this season repeating the same information again and again in a manner that feels like padding. He gets Greef’s message, then replays part of it for Tuttle and has a long conversation on the subject, then has a similar conversation when he goes to the Mandalorian covert seeking their help with the matter. This happened a few weeks ago, for instance, with the business about Mando presenting evidence of the Living Waters to Paz and then the Armorer. Some exposition is necessary, but the repetition of it is antithetical to the show’s strengths as something relatively lean and mean.
The closing scene does at least advance one of the season’s larger plots, with Teva finding proof that Moff Gideon escaped custody, and concerning traces of Beskar left in the shuttle’s wreckage. Is this misdirection on behalf of Gideon, who may want to turn various potential opponents against one another? Or are there Mandalorian factions who would for some reason want to help out a representative of the group who ruined their homeworld?
The climax of the Nevarro portion of the episode is a reminder that the Mandalorians remain a scattered and fractured people. Fresh off a second triumph in a row where Bo-Katan has played a key role, the Armorer orders her to remove her helmet and act as an emissary between the Watch and the rest of the Mandalorian disaspora. The Armorer is a religious fundamentalist, but she’s also savvy enough to recognize that others will require adjusting before they can accept the Way. With a secure home on Nevarro, and a day-to-day role beyond sparring with one another, it’s time for a more ambitious plan to rebuild their society and, eventually, their planet.
This is big stuff, and a recognizable goal for either the rest of this season or for the series as a whole. But we’re also edging toward the point where the more we learn about the culture of the Mandalorians — or, at least, the culture of the Watch — the less interesting they become, in much the way that Boba Fett lost a lot of his appeal once given his own show. Or maybe it’s just that there’s been relatively little of our title character and/or his adorable son, as the focus has expanded to include Bo, the Covert, matters on Coruscant, etc. There’s perhaps a limit to how many stories Favreau and company can tell that are just about Mando and Grogu saving each other, but the narrative pendulum may be swinging too far in the other direction.
But, hey, battles with space pirates are fun.
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