People walking with purpose: that’s the visual motif of Andor so far, especially in its second episode. In the first few minutes, the show cuts from young Cassian and his forest-kid pals on Kenari, striding through the greenery on their way to the massive abandoned mining facility where a ship has crashed, to a man on Ferrix ascending to a bell tower for some kind of day-ending, dusky ritual (hammering what looks like an obelisk on its side) to a follow shot of Cassian on the street below. Cassian’s walk is then intercut with Ferrix workers hanging up their equipment and presumably heading home. At times, this recalls some of the most striking shots from Rogue One (including at least one that’s in the trailer but not the movie — of Krennic walking through post-battle wreckage, his white cape trailing through the water).
This won’t be a shot-for-shot recap; it’s just to say that there’s a delicate evocation of quiet routine in these early moments on Ferrix juxtaposed with what was presumably a similar industrial operation on Kenari — abandoned, we learn later, after a mining disaster (meaning that Cass, his sister, and the rest are, if not exactly in a Lord of the Flies situation, potentially in an Isle of Dogs situation). Calling these first five or six minutes an episode highlight might seem like faint praise, but there’s a more tangible sense of place in these dialogue-free moments than we’ve seen in other recent Star Wars shows.
It’s notable, because this is a brief episode that doesn’t necessarily stand on its own — even as an installment of a serial. Take out the previously cinematic (read: long) end credits, and you’ve got something that’s just about 30 minutes, much of which is spent clarifying and elaborating on setup from the previous episode. For example, we meet Cassian’s previously unseen mother, Maarva (given what we see of his childhood, seemingly an adoptive parent), who waits for him with his sensitive droid B2EMO (Dave Chapman provides the sometimes needy, sometimes reproachful robo-voice). They, along with Bix’s current beau, Timm (James McArdle), have heard the bulletin to watch out for a shifty Kenarian, placing some urgency on Cassian’s plan to sell his MacGuffin Empire gizmo and get the hell out of Dodge. Even more urgency comes from Timm narcing on Cassian to the corporate authorities on Morlana One, though Cass doesn’t know that yet. (“It just got worse for Cassian Andor, and he doesn’t realize it yet” has already become a go-to plot device in this series.)
Armed with this new information, Syril Karn gets pumped to apprehend Andor and assembles a hilariously dour 12-man force at the urging of his right-hand man, who enthuses that “corporate tactical forces” like theirs are the Empire’s best defense against “fomenting pockets” of rebellion. That 12-man force, however, fails to match this level of company spirit, even (or especially) in the face of Syril’s hilariously lacking inspirational speech, a perfect distillation of what happens when a corporate entity tries to manfully assume a leadership role.
Meanwhile, Bix has summoned her buyer for Cassian, who books some kind of hasty pickup service, refusing to tell the pilot anything about the cargo. (This is classic prestige TV: taking more than two episodes to broker what appears to be, essentially, an intergalactic Craigslist deal. Then again, anyone who has tried to sell something on Craigslist will probably sympathize with the rigamarole.)
The moments that make this episode feel most like a chunk of a longer pilot aren’t Bix’s shoe-leather negotiations but the scenelets that introduce Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård). Clearly, he will be more than just a buyer for Cassian, but the full extent of his role cannot be revealed quite yet. Rael does some purposeful walking, as he travels from ship to Ferrix shuttle in relative silence, with Skarsgård on the receiving end of a (sadly not literal) “hello there” movie-star face-reveal shot. He’s presumably traveling to find Cassian; the show cuts to Cass when another passenger muses to Rael that you can find “anything” at their destination. Naturally, the episode ends there: a series of shots in which Cassian is striding toward the camera with purpose. If you’re going to make a transparently transitional episode, this is how to do it. It’s brisk, detail-packed, and great-looking.
• The flashback on Kenari feels (so far) like a pilot’s worth of story — finely sliced and portioned out over the course of multiple episodes. Here, Cass and company approach the flaming wreckage of the downed ship, encounter an imperial soldier, and lose one of their own in the skirmish. (Props for really doing damage with those arrows.) However, what we learn in the show’s present, about the mining disaster that left the planet “toxic,” is a lot more interesting than the flashback scenes.
• Bix appears to sense Timm’s discomfort with the attention, however reluctant, she affords Cassian, and the two share more direct physical intimacy than has ever been implied in a Star Wars live-action scene. (Granted, I haven’t seen the Holiday Special in full; who knows what’s in there.) It’s definitely the only Star Wars scene I recall in which two people wake up in bed together and one of them pulls on clothes over underwear. It’s chaste by any standard but noteworthy in the current Marvel/Star Wars axis of sexlessness.
• The bell-hammer guy strikes in the morning. I really appreciate that the show cuts back to him and includes his practice swing and exhale before he gets to the task. In another age, his action figure would already be on the shelves.
• The Tony Gilroy aesthetic is pretty damn far removed from the J. J. Abrams aesthetic. That said, fans of the Abrams Star Trek movies will know what I mean when I describe the particularly grumpy diminutive alien assisting with Cassian’s cargo booking as “Keenseresque.”
• Nerdy Nitpick Corner: Luthen Rael gets a message on his ship’s radio about the number of “clicks” away something is, and that just doesn’t feel right in the Star Wars universe. It’s something a war-movie screenwriter would come up with. That said, if Team Gilroy works in any mention of “chems” in a future episode, I’ll give it a pass.