By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – November 30, 2019)
We’ve reached peak Baby Yoda, as Fortune magazine counted around 60 different GIF moments from the child in the fourth episode, which also happened to be the longest installment of the season thus far. It made more sense for this one to have the extra few minutes tacked on, because it matches up with people having a little more time on their hands due to the holidays.
This ep felt a bit more standalone than any thus far, with almost a throwaway side story feel, but not quite. Every television show does stuff like this, where you meet a few new people and have fun in a new corner of the show’s universal map, but the setting itself doesn’t seem relevant to the future. There were enough breadcrumbs left behind that would indicate the area could return to the show in some way, most notably because of both Winta and Omera (Julia Jones), the latter of whom is the closest thing we’ve seen to a love interest for Mando.
However, this show doesn’t appear concerned with that side of its lead character; instead it’s more focused on letting us in on what makes him tick, or maybe why he chooses what he chooses. Without question, the most fascinating piece of info that we received was in regards to the helmet. He gives up his right to be a Mandalorian if he takes it off in front of another human being, but that’s the extent of the shunning. There’s no retaliation. He feels a deep affinity for his fellow Mandalorians because they took him in after his parents were killed. They treated him with respect and showed him “the way.”
Every time I hear, “This is the way,” I immediately think “So say we all” from Battlestar Galactica. Am I alone? Jon Favreau has weaved a few easily memorable one liners into the series, from “I have spoken” to this one, and of course we’ve got what the English subtitles describe as Baby Yoda’s “coo.” Incidentally, I watch The Mandalorian with the subtitles on, not because it’s hard to hear the words (as it can often be these days), but because it’s the one place you see the name of the characters and can begin to memorize who they are as more than just a face.
This one had more of a Firefly or Doctor Who feel than any so far, because it very much felt like Mando accepted a job, one that was more dangerous than he anticipated based on limited information, but one that was wrapped up neatly in one episode and left the villagers in a state of security that had eluded them. We know that had he turned Caben and Stoke’s request down, the AT-ST and the Klatooinian raiders would have burned the entire place to the ground, with the likelihood of survivors remote at best.
I’ve described the series as easily digestible and easy to follow, and let me show you just how audience-friendly Jon Favreau has laid this out. We meet Mando, aren’t sure exactly what to make of him, learn of his job, and he goes and succeeds in it. So, we learn quickly he’s good at his gig, but we then discover WHAT his client wants, which is effectively the show’s engine cranking up for the first time.
Episode 2, we spend learning more about the child and watching Mando operate, also a little more insight into his background. We see Mando receive help from a servant-minded Ugnaught, plus Baby Yoda uses the Force to stop the Mudhorn. The third episode, Mando chooses the child over what’s traditionally his role, to do a job, get paid, and not ask questions.
It puts a target on his back that may carry us for years on the show, as in this week’s installment, Mando believes he’s found a safe spot to lay low for a bit and reassess plans, but the whole universe of bounty hunters and lowlifes is out to take him down. He meets another ally and a family that allows us into a bit of his humanity and challenges his stoicism, and as much as he wants to survive, he seems more intent on protecting the child, even if it means leaving it behind to live a quiet life in the village.
There are intricacies and details surrounding these points of course, some humor and some loud, fun action sequences, but I just laid out for you exactly what’s happened over the first month of The Mandalorian. Folks, in 2019, when so many shows seem not just content, but almost driven to screw with the audience, Jon Favreau is telling a straightforward quest story, a space western, and is doing so among one of the most famous pop cultural entertainment ecosystems in history.
If you’ve been waiting for me to nitpick the show, your delay continues. I’m certain I could find some things not to like, but I’m just enjoying it and having so much fun watching it. The contrast in attitude and pacing from so much of TV is immensely refreshing. I’m not going to be critical merely because I’m “supposed to” in my job. There’s no reason to be artificial for the sake of it. Gina Carano didn’t blow me away, but she was certainly passable, and her character was a bit stilted, as she also had the loner reputation and was more a one-woman band. She and Mando were similar in that way, and we were able to see in HER some of the human characteristics we expect he holds in his expressions behind that mask.
Favreau has done a great job of putting people in his title character’s path that are teases to helping him grow his own heart on screen. We did see that the helmet comes off in private, but we also saw, if you can believe it, CHEMISTRY between Omera and Mando… even with the helmet on. Jones did such a nice job of being accommodating and loving, not to mention being a crack shot with a blaster rifle, that because we’re relating so well to Mando as a character, we felt as he did without even having to see it. There are a lot of shows that can’t even make us feel emotion when every character is unmasked and sobbing right in front of our eyes.
AT-STs are still in the world, and here, the big baddies were the equivalent of the puzzle you have to figure out in a video game or a good fantasy novel. Think of a tabletop narrative game for example, and you can see the discussions between you and your friends as to, “Okay, there’s a giant mech monster in front of you that threatens the lives of dozens of villagers, not to mention you and your child. How do you deal with it?” And then comes the answer, even with it taking longer and the “dungeon master” throwing the idea of the mech not stepping into the water without Cara using herself as bait.
We’re four episodes in, and we’re 4-4 in my book. Baby Yoda slurping the bone broth is my favorite shot of the series thus far as it was basically a little green Bill Lumbergh asking Mando and Cara for a TPS report. Plus, it looks enough like a coffee mug to be a representation of me, but without the adorability. I also love that Mando tells the child what to do and every time it’s “stay here,” Baby Yoda is standing right next to him when the ship door opens. You can accomplish so much more with subtle humor than in your face stuff. Favreau has enough snark and cleverness in his writing and his style that this fits like a glove.
We end the episode with Mando and the child leaving, Winta crying, and Omera a little disappointed she couldn’t talk him into sticking around. She had everything to offer, but here’s the thing, we know HE KNOWS this, but he has a mission in his own mind and also, probably thinks they couldn’t be safe with him around. It’s not a lack of feeling. It’s the exact opposite. We also had a second straight secondary character that doesn’t end up traveling and questing with our protagonist. Both could have easily done so, but this show has to paint Mando as someone conflicted between his lone wolf nature and all those that come to his aid when he needs it. And, sometimes, you just don’t need a faction. It doesn’t always have to be Guardians of the Galaxy, although eventually you wonder if somebody becomes a regular crew member.
So, Mando and Baby Yoda are off to the Razor Crest, and we’ll jump back into playing Mass Effect next week. Yeah, that’s another property this show reminds me of from time to time.
I’m @JMartZone. If you’ll excuse me, I have a bowl of bone broth to slurp down.