The Passenger opens where last week’s staggering and bombastic opener ended: fanging it across the dusty dunes of Tatooine, headed back to the Razor Crest with Boba Fett’s pocked helmet in tow. It’s a hell of an opening; an ambush almost has Mando pinned, but in true Lone Wolf and Cub style, he and The Child manage to escape. It’s a brutal, funny and snappy opening, proving that Favreau’s writing and Peyton Reed (Ant-Man) in the director’s chair can really make magic happen.
It also proves my theory: at times, Mando and The Child are basically the sci-fi western version of Curly Sue, with Jim Belushi and his rascal urchin sidekick pulling scores and growing closer all the while. Did I just compare The Mandalorian to Curly Sue? Yes. Yes, I appear to have done just that.
Once they get back to the spaceport, we’re given the strongest scene yet featuring Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris, who has really settled into a nice rhythm), and hey presto, the title becomes clear. Mando is going to continue his search for the Mandalorians who’ve gone into hiding, but first, he needs to find them.
And a Frog Lady (that’s what she’s credited as – I’m not being speciesist) needs passage to the very planet Mandalorians were apparently sighted. Her cargo? Eggs. The last of her bloodline. Another parent, trying to protect her young in a hostile universe which quite literally has “Wars” in its name.
The first season of The Mandalorian gave us a triptych of A-plot episodes before taking things down a notch and taking us into standalone monster-of-the-week style adventures. And last season, it was two of those three standalone outings which proved the only weak points in an otherwise flawless body of work. This week, after an all-out cinematic opening, we’re presented with what is essentially a standalone story about Mando (a defacto parent) ferrying Frog Lady (a desperate parent-to-be) across a single sector of space at sub-light speeds.
Any faster, you see, and her eggs will break. And whilst The Passenger might not be an A-plot episode, think back to where Mando was, morally, this time last season. He still grumbles about the job, but he’s gone from Mando to The Mando With No Name. He’s gone from bad guy who is super cool to good guy who is super prickly.
Two X-Wings (god, is there anything more thrilling than the purring whine of an idling X-Wing?) arrive and grill Mando on his unwillingness to ping them. The exchange is funny and tense, but before long, they deploy their S-foils and ask him if the Razor Crest was, in fact, sighted at the New Republic prison ship from last season. Remember? Where Mando’s crew betrayed him and gunned down that nice New Republic Officer? Mando runs for it, and what ensues is a brief chase which looks, sounds and feels like proper Star Wars. It’s a gorgeous pursuit, but it leaves Mando shipwrecked and trapped, perhaps ruined, in a freezing cave.
There’s so much to unpack here, in spite of this episode feeling relatively low-key at times. The Child acting like… well. A child. He’s never been cuter, or naughtier, or more mobile than he is in The Passenger, and watching the practical effects in play (Frog Lady, too, seems to be a huge, beautiful Jim Henson creation) is pure Star Wars wonderment. The Child does, however, keep eating Frog Lady’s eggs, and having Mando scold him is, again, a far cry from where our hero was this time last season.
Frog Lady, freezing and worried about her brood, hijacks the busted head of Richard Ayoade’s robotic bad-guy from the heist episode last season, delivering an impassioned and (ahem) anything but robotic plea for her. Mando – the newer, kinder, but still prickly Mando – accedes and attempts repairs. Before long, though, Frog Lady has run off and is swanning about naked in what appears to be a lovely natural hot spring with her eggs bobbing gently around her. Mando and The Child find her, gather the eggs up… and The Child notices the thousands of strange orbs littering the chamber. He eats one. It’s an egg, too. A spider egg.
And that’s when all hell breaks loose.
Much hay has been made of Dave Filoni’s work on Clone Wars and Rebels, and whilst I’m convinced he doesn’t have a handle on live-action storytelling, these are the very spiders which made life hell for the crew of the Ghost in Rebels. They pour from the walls, converging on our three shocked heroes, and one the size of a small Kaiju makes an appearance which would make any arachnophobe barf. It is, truly, not an episode for people who struggle with spiders. Like I said: this is an episode about parents, and whilst the thematic waters aren’t plumbed very deeply, this panzer-tank of a spider is defending her young, against two people defending their young.
The parallels aren’t hammered home, nor is there any time to do any hammering. The spiders chase Mando, Frog Lady and The Child back to the ship, and all seems lost… until the X-Wing pilots from earlier show up. Mando, clearly unused to getting karmic payoff for good deeds, is asked by the pilots whether the security footage from the prison ship did, in fact, show him trying to save the guard who was gunned down. This might not be part of the central story, but it is a lovely payoff for a kindness our hero-in-the-making attempted some time ago. Mando fixes the ship as best he can, and the Razor Crest sputters noisily to its destination.
Should The Mandalorian have veered away from the main story this early in the season? Probably not. But while The Passenger might seem like filler, it’s a fun, solid story with more musical genius from Ludwig Göransson, more truly cinematic sequences, and more payoffs from moments in season one which felt, at the time, a little disconnected. In short, it’s a very decent episode… but good god, after than opening, I cannot wait to get back to the main event.