“They don’t have enough guards and they know it.” That’s the corollary to the exclamation point at the end of last week’s episode: Kino’s “never more than 12” acquiescence to Cassian’s nagging question about personnel on Narkina 5. Yes, it’s prison-break time. Though his fellow prisoners are terrified of the whispered-about slaughter that occurred elsewhere in the prison sometime during last week’s episode, Cassian argues that this was done out of fear — the Empire-run prison was so afraid of word getting out about the no-exit sentences that it panic-murdered 100-plus people. Of course, that also indicates its willingness to kill its way back to any semblance of order. But Cassian has a rejoinder to this line of thinking as well: “I’d rather die trying to take them down than die giving them what they want.”
The prison-break sequence isn’t the only plot going on in this episode, but it’s so crackerjack in its urgency that it demands discussion up front. Cassian and his new bestie, Kino, use the replacement of their fallen colleague from last week as an opportunity for attack: Just before their grueling work schedule grinds to a temporary halt for the introduction of a new prisoner, Cassian quietly heads to the restroom and breaks open a water main, shorting out the electrified floor when the guards attempt to turn it on. The workers then rise up and chuck various metal pieces at the two guards with blasters, and the guards are able to pick off plenty of prisoners turned Rebels. But they can’t shoot enough to stop the mass of men from overtaking them — and once they’ve ascended up to the guards’ area and acquired some blasters, there’s no stopping them.
The uprising spills over to other prisoners, some afforded more explanation about what’s going on than others. But they all seem to get the gist of it as a growing crowd rushes upward in the island-style facility. This process includes a terrific cut from the processed, deep-voiced, poor-man’s-Vader announcements coming over the PA system to the rather more pedestrian and nasal sound of the Empire guy actually making these announcements at his little station at the commander center. That’s where Cassian and Kino show up, to shut down the prison’s hydropower, which will paralyze operations there for ages. When the emergency backup power flips on, Cassian urges Kino to address the facility over the PA (presumably with the Vader-voice device turned off). Kino freezes— inspiring the masses on command is a different form of public speaking than barking at people to get back in line — but gradually builds up to a strong speech, incorporating that classic Andor rhetoric about dying taking them all down rather than giving the Empire what they want.
It proves prescient, of course — or it seems to. The only way out for these prisoners is up, up, then down: They must swan-dive off the edge of the facility and make a swim for it, and Kino, as if suddenly a punch line in a grim joke about futility, cannot swim. Before Cassian can figure out a solution for his onetime co-conspirator, he’s knocked into the drink by the rushing crowd. In another Star Wars series, we’d probably assume that Kino will pop up again down the line with a colorful story about his escape, or recapture and second escape, or something to that effect. With Andor, I’m not so sure. I think our (and Cassian’s) sudden last glimpse of him, his story unfinished but not looking great, might be a series wrap on our man Kino Loy.
In between the cathartic vigor of watching a messy Rebellion in action, we must recall last week’s revelation (unmentioned in my previous recap): that in the process of investigating the Rebellion’s upcoming Spellhaus job, the ISB has captured a pilot working for Kreegyr, the leader of the Rebel cell planning the raid. This week, the ISB has, offscreen, killed the pilot and staged the death in a way that should make it look accidental — and not arousing the suspicions of the Rebels — so that the Empire may continue to spy on them as the Spellhaus raid approaches. In a hall-of-mirrors espionage half-twist, the ISB also has to pretend to find the pilot’s death suspicious and investigate it, in case the Rebels are spying on it.
There is indeed a spy in their midst: Lonni Jung (Robert Emms), a minor ISB character, meets with Rael about the whole Kreegyr affair. Like his ISB enemies, Rael wants everything to proceed as normal — so the ISB doesn’t know that the Rebels know that the ISB knows about the Rebels, savvy? He also wants to keep Lonni on the inside, even after Lonni makes a plea to stop working as a double agent. The conversation is shot in long-take close-ups, save for a single jump cut, and Rael is fairly pitiless as he speechifies about how and why Lonni is essentially stuck in his double life permanently — a glory-free hero against his will.
Mon Mothma’s story continues this week, too: She has a scene with Davo Sculdun, the previously mentioned banker who can help set up an Empire-avoiding account for her Rebellion-funding “charity” money. He doesn’t want to take a fee for his trouble; he wants to introduce his 14-year-old son to her similar-age daughter. It’s maybe 5 percent less creepy than that sounds, in that the traditional Chandrilan marriages apparently happen around that age. But this wasn’t the future Mon Mothma (clearly the Galactic equivalent of a nonpracticing Catholic or thereabouts) had in mind for her daughter, who already holds her mom in low esteem.
I do wonder if this episode would have been best served — at least as a showy instant-classic mini-movie — if it simply stayed with the prison break as much as possible rather than a sort of half-measure of featuring fewer subplots than usual but still cutting away from the main event. Then again, there is some thematic heft in what Andor includes opposite its thrilling breakout: Watching ISB strategize over the upcoming Spellhaus job, and Rael spy and strategize in turn, offers an indirect forward look at how the Narkina 5 incident might be addressed (and raises questions as to whether it will be too big for the ISB to keep quiet or if it will barely register as a blip on the radar of on-the-ground citizens of the Galactic Empire). There’s also a clever contrast between the heroic, triumphant prisoner uprising and the life-destroying, behind-the-scenes machinations, whether it’s in terms of offscreen deaths or the quiet misery that Lonni will continue to endure undercover. The episode ends with a shot of Cassian and another prisoner (Ruescott Melshi, who appears in Rogue One as one of the Rebels who leads the assault on Scarif) making their way through a sandy area at night; they might not be safe, they might still be terrified, but they’re ashore and running.
• First things first: As several readers pointed out, last week’s trip to Narkina 5 was not the first Star Wars toilet; apparently one is visible on the Razor Crest in the first episode of The Mandalorian. Management acknowledges and does not at all regret the error.
• That overhead shot of Narkina 5, with the prisoners spilling away from the facility into the water in all directions, is some lovely stuff.
• This episode feels like the end of another Andor arc, and indeed the last two episodes will bring back director Benjamin Caron (who directed “Announcement,” the seventh episode that feels like a transitional one in retrospect) and series creator Tony Gilroy to finish up the season. Will the focus shift to the Spellhaus raid even though its major players have been mostly offscreen so far? Or will it remain the business of other factions we don’t see much until next season?