That The Mandalorian might double as a tour of some of the seamier reaches of the Star Wars universe has been part of its appeal from the start. We’ve gotten glimpses of its more lawless pockets in the films — the cantina at Mos Eisley, the scary back alleys of Rogue One — but The Mandalorian’s premise suggests the series might be a dive into the deep end of its underworld on a weekly basis. Up until now, that hasn’t happened. Sure, the bounty hunters’ guild isn’t exactly filled with nice people, but they do live by a code, and Greef Karga keeps them on a pretty tight leash. (Even IG-11 was pretty polite — for a killer droid.) And when we landed in Mos Eisley, the scum and villainy seemed to have thinned out in Tatooine’s new post-Empire, post-Jabba reality. So where were the bad guys — the really, really bad guys?
Turns out they were hanging out on a space station presided over by Ran (Mark Boone Junior), a hirsute criminal with a “no questions asked” policy and some dirty jobs in need of doing. Specifically, Ran has an associate who needs rescuing from “some competitors,” a term that doesn’t suggest what he really needs: for the Mandalorian (and the Razor Crest) to help him break a captive out of a New Republic prisoner-transport ship.
Ran intends for the Mandalorian to complete a team he’s already assembled, and they’re a colorful bunch. Mayfeld (Bill Burr) is an Imperial sharpshooter (and not, he’ll have you know, an ex-stormtrooper); Burg (Clancy Brown) is a hulking Devaronian (meaning he looks more than a little like Satan); and Zero (Richard Ayoade) is a chilly humanoid droid. Then there’s Xi’an (Natalia Tena), with whom the Mandalorian has a history.
What kind of history? That’s a little vague, as is what the Mandalorian did when he used to run with Ran and Xi’an. It doesn’t sound pleasant, and the Mandalorian’s reaction suggests he’d rather forget this chapter in his past, particularly one encounter he files under “doing what he had to do.” Xi’an recalls “the good old days” differently, however, remembering the Mandalorian taking pleasure in whatever ugly business she’s alluded to. And speaking of dirty business: Were she and the Mandalorian really lovers, or is all this teasing? Ran suggests the former when he calls them lovebirds and alludes to Xi’an missing him, but it’s hard to tell. (It’s not like we can try to draw some conclusions from the Mandalorian’s reaction, after all.)
One thing we can conclude: Ran’s associates make lousy houseguests on the Razor Crest. Zero drives thoughtlessly and Burg paws through the Mandalorian’s stuff when he’s not around. When confronted, the Mandalorian’s passengers lay eyes on another passenger: the Child. Mayfeld makes some vaguely threatening remarks about the Mandalorian’s “pet,” but can’t really push them too far until they have to get down to business.
It’s here the episode gets down to business, too. The second episode directed by Rick Famuyiwa (who also directed “The Child”), “The Prisoner” gives The Mandalorian its tensest chapter to date as the Mandalorian and his morally dubious new associates break into the New Republic ship and do their best to elude an increasingly threatening array of droids. Unfortunately, they don’t try too hard to stay undercover. Burg shoots one of the mouse droids, and from there on it’s nonstop action.
Bad for them. But good for us, since the episode brings in some newer, deadlier battle droids, intense Mandalorian-on-droid combat that showcases our hero’s arsenal, a Mexican standoff, and a game of hide-and-seek. (It’s a matter of taste which conflict you like best: The Mandalorian versus Xi’an, Burg, or Mayfeld? The Child versus Zero? Burg versus those big floating droids?) The episode also puts some distance between the Mandalorian and his companions: He doesn’t want to kill the unexpected human pilot of the transport ship, and he especially doesn’t want to have to fight off the New Republic forces certain to show up, should the pilot sound the alarm. Xi’an and the others, however, have no such reservations. Another distinction: He’s not Quinn, Xi’an’s brother, another unscrupulous Twi’lek from the old days who’ll later sell out his sister to save his skin without thinking twice.
Anyone who’s felt like The Mandalorian hasn’t featured enough dirtbags so far should have no complaints after this episode. And though the Mandalorian might not be one of them, he certainly knows their ways, anticipating Ran and Quinn’s betrayal and sending a bunch of New Republic fighters their way before heading off to parts unknown after handing the Child his favorite toy: a round metal knob. He’s a creature of simple tastes, happy to go along for the ride, whatever scuzzy pockets of the universe that might involve.
• Ran’s, “Is that you under that bucket?” could suggest that he knows what the Mandalorian looks like without his helmet. More likely, it means that Ran hasn’t seen his new armor, helmet and all.
• Of all the alien races introduced in the Star Wars movies, few have thrived in spin-off projects like the Twi’lek, who’ve played major roles in the animated series overseen by The Mandalorian executive producer Dave Filoni. That trend continues here with Quinn and Xi’an, the latter brought to life by Natalia Tena in a fun, scary performance. Will we see her again? Will we learn about her past with the Mandalorian? Right now, she and the other criminals are headed for prison, joining the ranks of other Mandalorian characters who may or may not make return appearances. Even Ran and Quinn’s fate is ambiguous. Those are some big explosions, but we don’t know that they died in them.
• “Maybe he’s a Gungan”: Oof. It’s bad enough that Jar Jar and his race get made fun of outside the Star Wars universe. Looks like they’re jokes inside of it, too.
• Xi’an raises the big question lingering over this episode when she tells the Mandalorian, “I know who you really are.” Is she right? Or does she know who he used to be? He certainly seems to be trying to be a less violent person, even against those who wronged him. Another question: Is it the influence of the Child that’s changed him?
• Speaking of the Child, could he have defended himself against Zero? He was on the verge of doing something before the Mandalorian blew him away. (His new compassion does not yet extend to droids, apparently.)
• This week’s suggested viewing: There’s a really good Robert Aldrich Western from 1954 named Vera Cruz starring Gary Cooper as a desperate character who has to team up with some truly awful characters (led by Burt Lancaster) to survive, which echoes through this episode.
Note: This recap has been updated with correct character name spellings. Screeners don’t include subtitles, so every week is a fun guessing game!