"The Return" confirms the third season of The Mandalorian as a rather unsatisfying sum of disjointed parts. It does lots of Star Wars things in very Star Wars ways. This worked in previous seasons where tension and interest could be sustained through action because of a compelling and simple underlying narrative. But as the ambitions and scope of the series grew, I expected the series to grow along with it. Instead, it’s content to keep things simplistic. Simple is fine; simplistic is not.
"The Return" is first and foremost a big action outing, but the action — while expansive and expensive — is interminable and lacks imagination. It’s exceptionally competent but inert. It’s a bunch of repetitive fighting without any tension, because we know Din Djarin and Bo-Katan aren’t going to lose a fight. Maybe I could enjoy the action more if there were a greater sense of purpose or danger, but you’ve got a bunch of people on both sides wearing indestructible armor and helmets, and it’s not even clear what can hurt anybody.
"The Spies" is easily the best episode so far of The Mandalorian‘s rocky third season. It tackles a meaty story and pursues it with focus and momentum, a decent amount of world building, some solid action, appropriately heightened stakes, reasonable comic relief, and a decent cliffhanger that sets up next week’s season finale. I don’t understand why they chose the title they did, seeing as the episode has no spies, but that goes for many of this series’ laconic and often vaguely puzzling titles.
The episode opens with Elia Kane contacting Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito makes his first appearance of the season, after some whispers in previous episodes) to inform him that the pirates who tried to seize Nevarro (which Gideoon was behind) were defeated by Mandalorians, who are now the biggest obstacle in his plans to undermine the New Republic. Gideon contacts the others in the Shadow Council and asks for reinforcements to crush the resurgent Mandalorians. The council also talks of their plans to quietly rebuild the Empire, without calling too much attention to themselves.
Hoo, boy. Was that ever a mess. I’m honestly not even sure where to start. I mean, what the actual F?
"Guns for Hire" takes what should be a majorly significant transfer of power on this series and turns it into the strangest shaggy-dog story you probably never would’ve imagined (or wanted to). The Mandalorian used to be known for its clean narratives and gritty western sensibilities. Now it’s a comic book patchwork that feels like a meaningless Andromeda action hour one minute, and Law & Order: Droid Investigation Unit the next. Meanwhile, the stunt casting (Jack Black! Lizzo! Christopher Lloyd!!!) trips all over itself on its way to offer up cipher characters that feel like they wandered in from the wardrobe department on the way to the actors’ Star Wars checkboxes on their bucket lists.
When Pirate Swamp Thing (the worst pirate design in the history of pirates) and his band of lawless bandits open fire from the air upon Nevarro and then invade it, Greef Karga makes an urgent plea to the New Republic to send a patrol to restore order. The message is received by Captain Carson Teva (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee), the X-wing officer who saved Mando from certain spider death back in "The Passenger." Teva returns to Coruscant to report the situation and ask the New Republic to intervene. Notable is how slowly this message seems to be relayed given how urgent the situation is on Nevarro. A city is being laid to waste, and this guy has to walk casually through office cubicles and file a report in person.
"The Foundling" clocks in at just about 26 minutes, if you excise the recap and end credits, making it the shortest episode of The Mandalorian to date. The svelte runtime is a good fit for the void of content. I’m all for fun episodic adventures, but this outing is painfully slight, even for this series. When you only have eight episodes every year or two of a series as high-profile as this, is it too much to ask for more meat? I don’t think so.
I’m growing more concerned over how seriously we can take Grogu as Mando’s ward. During the opening training scene, he faces off against another foundling (who asks, not unreasonably, why his opponent doesn’t wear a helmet; can you picture Grogu with a Mando helmet?), and it’s a pretty hard scene to swallow. At least Yoda could talk in backward riddles with 900 years of wisdom before pulling out a lightsaber. With Grogu, it’s like fighting a teddy bear; you look ridiculous for getting beat, even with his high-jumping Force advantage. There’s a major tension brewing here: How can Grogu continue as a cute, endlessly nonplussed mascot while also becoming a fierce Mandalorian warrior? These two things are not a fit, to put it mildly.