Let’s be clear up front: Its first season now ended, Andor is the best of Star Wars on television — and arguably better than the two theatrical post-Lucas prequels that it elaborates on (Rogue One) and sometimes weirdly resembles (Solo), if you’ll allow an imperfect, blue-milk-to-jawa-juice sort of comparison. This was pretty obvious a handful of episodes into the season, and the show sustained its massive cast, crisp writing, and steady pacing for longer than any of its TV predecessors, too. If the old Star Wars movies were informed by the cliffhanger serials that used to play at movie theaters, this was the first (live-action) Star Wars show that embraced the trappings of prestige-TV serialization. It’s not inherently better than a movie, but it does tell a more sprawling story than a feature could reasonably handle.
Given all that, it’s remarkable how relatively few serialization pitfalls the show has faced — like, say, repeating itself. For its finale, Andor makes a full-circle return to Cassian’s adopted home planet of Ferrix, where most of the major characters convene. The Imperials are hoping to capture Cassian Andor; some rebel spies are hoping to kill him before he’s captured (and potentially spills valuable information about Luthen Rael and the rest of the operation — although at this point, how much does Cassian really know, relative to all of the subterfuge going on?). As for Cass himself, he ended last week as a period disguised as a question mark: He doesn’t have to return for his mother Maarva’s funeral, but clearly he will. Will he be captured, killed, or ushered to temporary safety?
If there’s a problem with this installment, it’s that we know two of these outcomes are unlikely (or, in one case, impossible). Of course, you can generate suspense in the why and the how of all this, but put it this way: As the compelling action unfolds, this episode includes a lot of reaction shots of characters we don’t know much about. In some ways, it more resembles what I imagined Andor might be like based on the weaker aspects of both Rogue One and prestige-TV habits: somber, speechy, spies spying on other spies, marching toward a foregone conclusion.
Before the fireworks, there’s a bunch of skulking and seething in the shadows. A young man on Ferrix carefully assembles a bomb. Nurchi pries a bit of information out of Xanwan regarding Cassian’s ill-advised potential funeral attendance. Vel joins Cinta, who has been watching an undercover ISB agent and has also observed Dedra roll into town, all in service of figuring out how and when to kill Cassian before the bad guys find him. Rael turns up, too, for reasons that struck me as somewhat unclear. As it turns out, Cassian is not so much hell-bent on attending Maarva’s memorial as he is on, once he’s back on world, finding and rescuing Bix. It’s sort of a spiritual make-good for the guilt he feels for not seeing Maarva again before she died.
The episode leaves Ferrix for only a few brief scenes, mostly notably one with Mon Mothma dressing down her worthless husband for gambling again — a conversation staged (on her side of it, anyway) for the sake of her driver, who she realizes is spying on her. Sure enough, he reports their problem to the ISB, who find it a convincing “accidental” explanation for the suspicious account activity they’ve flagged in recent months. Between this and introducing her daughter to Davo Sculdun’s son, she may have staved off the Empire’s suspicion for the moment. Though Mon’s story has sometimes felt like its own side series that requires some pasting into Cassian’s narrative (there have definitely been multiple episodes in which she has bigger, more satisfying scenes than the title character), it’s kind of neat that we get a bonus Mon Mothma prequel embedded in a Cassian Andor prequel-to-a-prequel.
Back on Ferrix, Dedra, annoyed that the Spellhaus job had full casualties off-screen in between episodes, is adamant that Cassian be taken alive, and figures that the meager terms the ISB has negotiated with the locals for Maarva’s funeral — half a street, for a small stretch of time, 40 people max, argued up from 30 — is the perfect trap. But Ferrix clangs the anvil early, and citizens hit the streets in bigger-than-approved numbers. With a marching band playing a mournful tune, the whole thing has kind of a New Orleans vibe, with a special guest: Maarva herself! No, she’s not secretly alive (sorry, commenters!); she has prerecorded her own eulogy. Only it’s not for her; instead, she eulogizes a time when the people of Ferrix could keep their heads down and do their best to ignore the encroaching fascism in their midst. “We let it grow, and now it’s here,” she says. “It’s not visiting anymore. It wants to stay.” When the Imperials attempt to cut off her speech just as it reaches a rousing climax entreating everyone to fight the Empire, the people rise up; basically, Maarva incites a riot at her own funeral, which is extremely badass.
Did the Daughters of Ferrix expect this outcome? Hard to say. As another disembodied voice tells us, as Cassian listens to the late Nemik’s manifesto, these uprisings happen “spontaneously, without instruction.” It certainly feels like a deliberate choice to keep the meticulously planned and ultimately doomed Spellhaus mission off-screen and instead to show this chaotic battle — and to have it commence entirely without the participation of our major living (human) good-guy characters. Cass doesn’t even attend the ceremony; he’s on his way to rescue Bix, gets her to a departing ship, and entrusts a distraught B2EMO with looking after her until he meets up with them.
When that will happen, though, is unclear because Cassian’s ultimate destination is Luthen Rael’s ship. (Hell of a parking spot Rael has found, where he is able to slip in and out of such a hotspot without the Empire ever noticing.) As Rael prepares to quietly depart, Cassian confronts him with his deduction that Rael had shown up there to kill him. He gives him a choice: “Kill me … or take me in.” Rael smiles slightly, his unspoken answer another foregone conclusion. Season over.
It all makes sense, but it does do that longform-TV-storytelling thing (and also, come to think of it, that overly-serialized-movie-series thing) of circling back to previously covered ground: This episode ends with Cassian leaving Bix and his droid, promising he’ll return to them, and joining up with Rael. Next season, will he, Rael, Vel, and Cinta … plan a big job against the Empire? Any of that sound familiar? (More prequels within prequels: Given the structural difference for season two of Andor, is season one just a prequel to those episodes?) Of course, the first season of Andor has not thrived on shocking twists and turns; its surprises come from the way it’s been able to deepen so many of its characters and their dilemmas, all as they occupy territory that looked so familiar at the outset. If this episode flirts with turning the details of rebellion into inspirational platitudes, at least the series has shown its work.
• Dedra is a working woman of the galaxy: well dressed, punctual, no time to eat dinner, married to her work. But what if a fastidious nerd everybody hates came along and … rescued her? Like, literally rescued her from a crowd ready to rip her limb from limb? It’s a little bit odd that Syril was among the crowd converging on Ferrix, all just to notice a bomb-throwing kid after he throws a bomb, but on the other hand: that long, intense, creepy, beautiful pause as a visibly shaken Dedra attempts to regain her composure after he rescues her! Just saying: There is a 40 percent chance that when we rejoin these characters in season two, there will be a little baby Dedril, whom Syril’s mom will surely favor over her son.
• Am I the only one who thought that homemade bomb was destined for B2EMO to set off in a noble act of self-sacrifice?
• The anvil-clanger kicks a stormtrooper off the tower! Hell, yeah.
• Mon Momtha name-checking The Last Jedi’s Canto Bight as a place where her worthless (albeit probably not gambling) husband can go? HELL, yeah.
• RIP Anto Kreegyr; the ISB’s files on you are closed. I like to imagine they said something like “Nobody seems to like this guy that much, but if pressed, they can’t really explain why. His vibes are just off.”
• Of course I understand this from a dramatic perspective, but sure seems a bit out of character for no one from the ISB to attempt to cut off Maarva’s holo-speech before she gets to “FIGHT THE EMPIRE!” — did they not see where she was going with it?
• Thank you for following along with me over the course of 12 fine-to-great episodes! A year ago, I would not have bet the house at Canto Bight that I’d prefer Andor to Obi-Wan Kenobi, but here we are!