Now I have this week’s Star Trek Discovery review out of the way, it’s time for my episode by episode reviews of season 2 of The Mandalorian again. Previous installments (well, actually just two and an aggregate review of season 1) may be found here.
Warning: Spoilers under the cut!
“The Heiress” starts off with the Razor Crest – badly beaten up after last week’s icy adventure – finally making it to Trask, which turns out to be a watery world that is home to several amphibian species. After a perilous descent and near-crash, Mando does manage to land the Razor Crest on a floating landing platform, only for the ship to promptly tumble into the sea to the sighs of several watching Mon Calamari (that’s Admiral Ackbar’s species).
Luckily, the Mon Calamari have what looks like an AT-AT Walker that has been retrofitted with a crane (and looks incredibly cool) and can fish the Razor Crest out of the water, but Mando’s poor ship is beaten up even worse now, not to mention covered in kelp. Mando pays the local harbourmaster to repair and refuel the Razor Crest. A strange hooded woman watches them and Frog Lady is finally reunited with her husband in a remarakbly sweet scene. The Frog People still look like escapees from Wind in the Willows to me, but I like them. Not to mention that they are the only aliens (or humans for that matter) on Trask who don’t try to double-cross Mando.
Can I take a moment to say how much I adore the grungy industrial look of Trask with its walking cranes (so cool) and fishing trawlers? Trask very much looks like Bremerhaven or Cuxhaven on a typically grey North German winter day and I for one love the idea that the Star Wars universe also has a planet (moon actually) that looks like the area where I grew up. Even the people match and so we get Mon Calamari wearing cable-knit sweaters and Quarren (apparently that’s the official name of the species, though I remember that the action figures were called “Squid Head” back in the day. I even had one, because it was the only Star Wars figure my Mom could find) in oil cloth jackets and southwesters. All that’s missing is someone wearing a fisherman’s shirt. Trask clearly is the Bremerhaven of the Star Wars universe and while that may not be a compliment, I still love that a place like this exists.
As promised, Mr. Frog points Mando to where he may find other Mandalorians, which turns out to be the local inn. Not that Mando really needed Mr. Frog to tell him that, since the local inn is always the logical place to find anybody in the Star Wars universe. But it means that we do get to see the Star Wars equivalent of a harbour bar, which looks very much like the typical rougher kind of harbour bar (i.e. the kind of harbour bar and restaurant where actual sailors, fisherman and dockworkers go, not the seafood restaurants that cater to tourists) you can find in harbours everywhere. The Croaking Foghorn from the Hallowind Cove series is a typical example. Though the Trask harbour bar serves seafood chowder via hoses dangling from the ceiling. Mando orders a bowl of chowder for Baby Yoda, only to find that it comes with an extra helping of live squid/facehugger, which promptly attached itself to Baby Yoda, so that Mando has to rescue the little guy. This never happens at Cap Horn in Bremerhaven.
Mando greases the palm – pardon, fin – of the Mon Calamari landlord, who points him to a Quarren fisherman who supposedly knows where to find the Mandalorians living on Trask. However, this requires taking a cruise on a Trask fishing trawler, which looks remarkably like an Earthly fishing trawler. Mando and Baby Yoda stand at the railing, looking out at the sea. It becomes very clear at this point that Mando is very much a landlubber, because anybody who knows anything at all about fishing will find the modus operandi of this fishing trawler very strange. And I’m not talking about the blatant disregard for safety regulations such as “Make sure that there’s nobody standing (or sitting or floating) under suspended loads.” No, the nets employed by the Quarren fishermen are suspiciously small, as is their catch. In commercial fishing, nets and catches are much bigger.
However, the Quarren captain then informs Mando that the fish they just caught are not the catch at all, but just fodder for a monster (according to iO9 reviewer Germain Lussier it’s called a mamacore) that they keep in the hold. Which begets the question: Why do the Quarren keep a monster in the hold, if they only just set out on their trip? If the monster is the cargo and mamacore a delicacy for the people of Trask, why wouldn’t they have unloaded it, while in port? And what sort of fishermen are these that they feed their catch to a monster that lives in their cargo hold?
The answer is: The Quarren are not fishermen at all, they’re pirates. And the true catch they’re after is Mando’s shiny beskar armour. So the Quarren inform Mando that they’re about to feed the mamacore and ask him if he and Baby Yoda want to watch. And when Mando and Baby Yoda in his float cradle step close to the water-filled cargo hold, the Quarren captain throws Baby Yoda’s float cradle into the hold. The monster promptly gobbles him up and Mando just as promptly jumps in after him. This is what the Quarren were waiting for. All of a sudden, steel bars close over the cargo hold, trapping Mando and Baby Yoda. Mando managed to hold on to the steel bars, but the Quarren stab at him with pikes and harpoons.
Things look very dire for our favourite duo. But lucky for Mando and Baby Yoda, a trio of Mandalorians in blue armour – two women and a man – show up and make fish food out of the Quarren. They also rescue Mando and Baby Yoda, though the float cradle gets damaged again. It turns out that Mando didn’t need to look for his fellow Mandalorians – they found him.
It’s interesting that this is the second time in as many episode that Mando and Baby Yoda were rescued from a very likely fatal trap by a third party, namely the X-Wing pilots last week and the mystery Mandalorians this week. What makes this even more interesting is the American storytelling convention (which I violate a lot) that the protagonist must always save themselves and not rely on others to save them, otherwise they are passive characters. So for the protagonist of an American TV series not to save himself (and this is not the first time either – there were several instances in season 1 where Mando needed the help of someone else to save him) is extremely unusual. But then, the show consistently stresses that Mando may be a mighty warrior, but he’s not invincible or invulnerable. He needs help and he needs it quite often. Personally, I like this, especially since I’m not a huge fan of protagonists who always save themselves, because it has become a cliché by now.
However, nearly getting drowned and eaten by a monster is not the last shock in store for Mando, for no sooner have they dispatched of the treacherous Quarren that Mando’s three rescuers take their helmets off. And as we’ve seen in season 1, Mandalorians never take their helmets off. And indeed, Mando promptly accuses his three rescuers of not being real Mandalorians and demands to know where they get the armour from.
The leader, a woman named Bo-Katan Kryze (played by Katee Sackhoff, who is best known for playing Starbuck in the new Battlestar Galactica, but we will not hold that against her) replies that she was born on Mandalore and that the armour has been in her family, which is one of the oldest families on Mandalore, for generations. This must feel like a sting to Mando, since we know that he was adopted and not born a Mandalorian. “Well, then why did you take your helmet off?” Mando wants to know. Bo-Katan and her comrades exchange a telling glance. “Oh dear, you’re one of them”, she says.
For it turns out that the Mandalorians who adopted and raised Din Djarin are actually a fundamentalist splinter group named “The Children of the Watch” who are determined to make Mandalore great again or some such thing. This explains why other Mandalorians we’ve seen have no problems with taking off their helmets, since Jango Fett definitely walked around helmet-less in Attack of the Clones. It also explains why Mando and his clan wear their armour in shiny natural beskar, while other Mandalorians, whether the Fetts or Bo-Katan and her group (apparently, they’re called the Nite Owls), paint theirs. Finally, it explains why Mando doesn’t know about a lot of things, e.g. what Jedi are and what the Force is, that the Mandalorians should theoretically know.
This is certainly an intriguing development and not just because it allows the writers to explain away some obvious plot holes such as why did Jango Fett take off his helmet, when it’s supposedly such a big taboo. No, the revelation that Din Djarin was taken in and raised by a group of religious zealots also upsets his whole identity. For it turns out that “the way” is actually just one of several possible ways. It also turns out that there is a lot the Mandalorians who raised Din Djarin never told him. Not to mention that Din was never even given the chance to make his own decisions – he was traumatised child indoctrinated by religious fanatics. Bo-Katan calls them terrorists, which is a bit hypocritical, because according to Guardian reviewer Paul MacInnes she used to be a member of that group herself, before she decided that she doesn’t want to wear a helmet all the time. I wonder how this will play out in future episodes. Will Din Djarin begin to question “the way” and find his own? Will he call out the Mandalorian armourer from season 1 and ask her some hard questions? Will he actually take that bloody helmet off once in a while?
But for now, Mando decides that since those are not the Mandalorians he’s looking, he doesn’t want to talk to them either. And so he grabs Baby Yoda, activates his jetpack and takes off, while Bo-Katan and her comrades blow up the fishing trawler/pirate ship. On the docks, more trouble is waiting for Mando in the form of the very pissed off brother of the Quarren pirate captain. The Quarren and his friends are itching for a fight, because they believe Mando has killed his brother. However, before a fight can erupt, Mando has his bacon saved once again by Bo-Katan and her comrades.
Once the Quarren are dealt with, the four Mandalorians retire to the harbour inn. Bo-Katan and her people take their helmets off and enjoy the seafood (though the chef really should make sure the food is dead first before selling it), while Mando sits there sullenly with his helmet.
Now we also get Bo-Katan’s story. For Bo-Katan is not only the member of a very old and prominent Mandalorian family, she’s also the heiress to the throne of Mandalore, hence the title. Though I have to admit that I’m a little disappointed that the Mandalorians have a monarchy, too. Why is almost every planet in the Star Wars universe a monarchy of some kind, unless it’s a hellhole ruled by criminal clans like Tatooine?
As AV-Club reviewer Katie Rife and Tor.com reviewer Emmet Asher-Perrin point out, the character of Bo-Katan Kryze originally appeared in the Star Wars: Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels cartoons, also voiced by Katee Sackhoff. Both reviewers also fill in some backstory about the character. Now I have to admit that I never watched the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons. I tried, but I just cannot abide CGI-animated cartoons. So I have no idea what happened in those cartoons. However, you don’t really need to be familiar with the cartoons, because “The Heiress” tells you everything you need to know about Bo-Katan.
Bo-Katan wants reconquer Mandalore and regain the throne and she wants to enlist Mando’s aid, religious zealot or not, because Mandalorian warriors are in short supply. Mando, however, wants nothing to do with Bo-Katan and her mission. First of all, his people told him that Mandalore is cursed and that they can never return there (I now wonder whether they were simply kicked out). And besides, Mando already has a mission. He has to deliver Baby Yoda to the Jedi. “What do you know about the Jedi?” Bo-Katan asks him. Mando confesses that he doesn’t know anything about the Jedi, just that he must find them. Luckily, Bo-Katan knows where to find one of the few surviving Jedi. She’ll give Mando the location, if he helps her with a little job.
For Trask is a smuggler hub (now there’s a surprise) and an Imperial freighter full of smuggled weaponry just happens to be standing on a landing field, ready to take off. Bo-Katan and her people want to raid that freighter and steal the weapons for their quest to reconquer Mandalore. After all, it’s not as if the Imperial leftovers can run to the New Republic to complain. However, Bo-Katan and her people could use an extra pair of hands and a jetpack. So Mando drops Baby Yoda off at Mr. and Mrs. Frog’s, not without admonishing Baby Yoda to behave himself and not eat his babysitters’ future children. Then he joins Bo-Katan and her Nite Owls for their heist.
The Imperial freighter has to fly at a low altitude in the harbour area, which gives our Mandalorian quartet a chance to sneak aboard. The Stormtrooper guards are no match for them, because – as one of the Mandalorians puts it – they couldn’t hit the flank of a bantha. Is it me or is The Mandalorian making a lot of fun about the Stormtroopers’ lack of marksmanship skills? Of course, I know that the bad shooting abilities of the Stormtroopers are something of a standing joke among fans, but normally it’s not a joke made in the movies/TV shows themselves. Never mind that random guards or troopers are never good shots in any books, movie or TV show. Because if they were, the protagonists would be dead and the story over.
And so the Captain of the Imperial freighter only realises that something is off, when a Stormtrooper lands on the windshield of the freighter. The Captain is played by Titus Welliver, who plays Harry Bosch in the eponymous crime drama and who also was in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. He’s well cast here, because the actor seems to specialise in playing unlikeable officials. And yes, I know that Harry Bosch probably wasn’t supposed to be unlikable, but I stopped watching in disgust when Harry Bosch shot an unarmed suspect about ten minutes into the first episode. Coincidentally, Titus Welliver is not the only Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. veteran to appear in this episodes. Simon Kassianides, who plays the male member of the Nite Owls, also was in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a Hydra agent.
The Captain orders the pilots to pull up the freighter now and then contacts the guards in the cargo hold telling them to hold off the intruders by all means psosible. And indeed the guards manage to close the doors in time to lock the Mandalorians out of the cargo hold. Unfortunately, they also lock the Mandalorians into the cargo control room, which turns out to be a very bad idea, when the Mandalorians just open the cargo ramp and dump the Stormtroopers out of the ship. The look on Titus Welliver’s face, when he hears about this, suggests that he wishes he had the power to force-choke someone.
Mando tells Bo-Katan, “Well, you got your weapons, so let’s go.” Whereupon Bo-Katan informs him that she has no intention to take off with the weapons, but that she wants to take the entire ship, because the Empire stole something from her she desperately wants back. Mando wants nothing to do with any of this, but unfortunately he can’t leave either.
Meanwhile, the Captain now calls his superior, who turns out to be none other than Moff Gideon who very narrowly managed to kill Mando, Baby Yoda and the rest of the gang at the end of season 1. We also learn that the object that Bo-Katan so desperately wants back is the darksabre, i.e. the cool purple lightsabre Moff Gideon was wielding in violation of its intended use to free himself from a crashed TIE-fighter at the end of season 1. Apparently, the darksabre may only be wielded by the ruler of Mandalore or some such thing, so Bo-Katan really needs it back to gain the throne.
The Captain asks for reinforcements, but Moff Gideon declares that it’s too late for that and that the Captain knows what he has to do. So the Captain shoots the pilot and co-pilot (who look as if they really didn’t see that coming, even though you’d figure any Imperial soldier would know that they are expendable by now) and takes the ship into a nosedive, intending to crash it.
I have to admit that I do wonder about the motivations of those Imperial holdouts. Yes, the likes of Moff Gideon and Grand Admiral Thawn (I assume he exists somewhere in this universe) probably hope for the chance to crown themselves Emperor – a pity Palpatine isn’t actually dead. And the Stormtroopers may not actually have a choice due to their conditioning. But what do mid-level officers like the freighter captain, the loadmaster (I assume that’s what he was supposed to be, though he apparently had no idea how the controls of the cargo hold work) or the two pilots get out of remaining loyal to the Empire? They’ll never be Emperor and most likely they’ll just get to die for the cause. I also wonder whether Moff Gideon and his people are the group that will eventually become the First Order or if there are multiple Imperial holdouts.
So now our Mandalorian quartet really has to get to the cockpit to save the ship and themselves. However, a squad of Stormtroopers stands between them and the cockpit and they seem to have rediscovered their marksmanship skills in the face of impending death. Heroically braving blaster fire, Mando takes them out with a grenade and the quartet storms the cockpit. Mando and one of the others try to get the ship back under control, while Bo-Katan tries to get the location of her misplaced darksabre out of the Captain, who tells her that what Moff Gideon will do to him will be infinitely worse than anything Bo-Katan can do. Then he kills himself with an electrical suicide capsule, which really seems like overkill, considering plain old cyanide will do just as well.
Bo-Katan once more asks Mando to join her in reconquering Mandalore, but Mando insists that his mission to deliver Baby Yoda comes first. And so Bo-Katan tells him where to find one of the last remaining Jedi, a woman named Ahsoka Tano, who was an important character in the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons, where the two of them crossed paths. I have to admit that I initially assumed she was going to say Luke Skywalker, since he should be attempting to rebuild the Jedi around the time. Though considering what happened with Kylo Ren, I wouldn’t entrust any child to Luke Skywalker. That said, if there was another surviving Jedi all the time, I wonder why Obi-Wan or Yoda never sought her out (Luke probably doesn’t know about her existence). Did she not want to be found? Did she tell Obi-Wan and Yoda to take a hike? Or is that good old Jedi sexism coming to the fore again?
Mando picks up Baby Yoda from Mr. and Mrs. Frog who have welcomed a little tadpole into the world. Baby Yoda actually behaves himself for once and does not try to eat the tadpole, but instead plays with it. And so Mando and Baby Yoda are off to find the second-to-last Jedi. To bad that the Mon Calamari harbourmaster thought it was a great idea to decorate the interior of the Razor Crest like a cheap tourist trap seafood restaurant, much to Mando’s chagrin. One of the facehugger octopus creatures also snuck aboard and thinks that Baby Yoda looks very tasty, but luckily Mando is on the case and so it’s Baby Yoda who gets to enjoy a seafood snack.
“The Heiress” was the shortest episode of the season so far, only 36 minutes long, but it feels longer, because it’s packed with both action – and the heist was truly thrilling – and information. We learn a lot more about the Mandalorians and Din Djarin’s place in their society, which is not what he thought it was.
That said, I don’t trust Bo-Katan and I don’t think we’re meant to trust her either. According to the people who’ve watched the cartoons, she actually does have a claim to the throne of Mandalore, though I don’t think she’s the best person for the job. Because Bo-Katan not only lies to Mando, she also clearly uses her knowledge of his fraction of Mandalorians and their beliefs to manipulate him.
Also, while Bo-Katan and her people may think that the Children of the Watch are religious zealots and terrorists, they actually seem to be the most palatable fraction of Mandalorians we’ve seen so far. For Bo-Katan is a manipulative liar who is trying to gain the Mandalorian throne by violence and the Fetts are mercenaries who had no problems cozying up to the Empire, even though the Empire attacked and nigh exterminated their people. Meanwhile, the Children of the Watch may be a bit extreme about the need to never take off their helmets, but they also take in orphaned children, thus doing something about the massive orphan problem in the Star Wars universe, and actually seem to care about the welfare of those children, even if they indoctrinate them into their beliefs and turn them into child soldiers. But then, that’s no different than what the Jedi do, only that the Jedi don’t just take orphans. It’s also notable that the Children of the Watch were willing to risk their lives to help Mando and Baby Yoda, because it was the right thing to do. Besides, Din Djarin actually turned out a good person, which is more than you can say for Bo-Katan, let alone the Fetts.
Even though a lot of fans idolise the Jedi, the narrative itself actually portrays them critically from the original trilogy on. The Jedi are directly responsible for the fall of the Republic due to a series of unforgiveable blunders, then the few survivors spend twenty years doing fuck-all. Yoda and Obi-Wan manipulate Luke and everybody else for that matter and when Luke attempts to rebuild the Jedi Order, it turns into an unmitigated disaster. Luke himself realises in The Last Jedi that the Jedi just don’t work and that maybe it’s time for them to end.
But while the Star Wars narrative has always been critical of the Jedi, the case isn’t quite so clear with regard to the Mandalorians, maybe because most of what we know about them does not come from the movies, but from ancillary media like tie-in novels, cartoons, TV shows, etc… Particularly, The Mandalorian has done a great job in fleshing out what was initially just a bunch of (well, actually just two) fearsome warriors in really cool armour. And the fact that there are multiple fractions of Mandalorians isn’t really surprising, because all religions tend to develop schisms over time. In fact, it’s more surprising that the Jedi didn’t develop schisms and fractions, unless you consider the Sith or the Knights of Ren the results of a Jedi schism.
I’m not sure where the show is going with this, but what I hope to see is Din Djarin decide for himself what it means to be a Mandalorian and what the way is. I also think Baby Yoda is infinitely better off with Din Djarin than with the Jedi, because the Jedi are actually terrible at raising children.