In its penultimate episode “The Spies,” The Mandalorian hits the gas and cuts the brakes. Within the normal episode runtime “The Spies” manages to cram all the strengths of the series into one strong episode that manages to finally give The Mandalorian its Empire Strikes Back moment. However, while “The Spies” will be welcome to those extremely disappointed by last week’s episode, there are still some catches.
Right out of the gate, “The Spies” lets The Mandalorian drop the facade. Elia Kane (Katy M. O’Brian) is, obviously, still an Imperial, and Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) has been running free the whole time. Gideon being back is the second worst-kept secret of the season but it is very welcome to have Esposito properly menacing around. Speaking of teasing, “The Spies” also addresses the Chiss in the room as Gideon meets with the Imperial Remnant Shadow Council and begins to sow the seeds of doubt that he’s returned; and if you paid attention to Celebration last weekend, you know he definitely is.
This political maneuvering also confirms the actual worst-kept secret of The Mandalorian: beyond doing live-action Thawn, these series are working to become the “somehow” to “Palpatine returned.” “Project Necromancer” is properly name-dropped alongside the precursor to the sequel trilogy’s favorite Nazi failure General Hux. Mostly though, this extended opening sets up the impending threat of the episode: Gideon’s coming to get even.
With this sword of Damocles hanging, “The Spies” wisely chooses some levity first. Following some quickly tabled tension as the Nite Owls join our helmeted faithful on Nevarro, Din (Pedro Pascal) is granted a present from Magistrate Karga (Carl Weathers) In what can only be called peak television, Groga becomes the pilot of IG-11’s corpse (now called IG-12) and as such gains two things he’s going to need: legs and the ability to say no. Grogu takes immediately to his new mecha as he runs around chanting YES and generally annoying his adoptive father. The entire sequence is both immensely cute and clever as IG-12 becomes a game-changer for Grogu’s agency.
Beyond my very much looking forward to the next Grogu toy, “The Spies” is a particularly well-shot episode. The Mandalorian generally doesn’t look bad, but this week there are some really striking scenes: the capital ship the Nite Owls have painted with the classic Mythosaur entering the skyline, Gideon and the other members of the council chanting to the glory of the Empire, and even with the dynamic shots used as Grogu plays menace in IG-12. There are plenty of other examples in the rest of the episode.
Most of “The Spies” zeroes in on the return to Mandalore. Yes, despite it only feeling like two days since the plan to reunite was initiated it is now time to lead everyone home. The plan is solid: take a survey team made up of members of both factions to the surface to locate the Great Forge remnants and establish roots there. Before long, things happen that begs the question of who actually are the titular spies. Somehow, there have been survivors loyal to Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) on Mandalore the whole time.
Linking up with these survivors increases the ground team’s numbers but also exposes some lingering tension. Axe Woves (Simon Kassianides) and Paz Vizsla (Tait Fletcher) come to expected blows, with Axe about to take his second L in as many episodes until Mecha-Grogu steps in to deflate tensions. More notably, when eating together, both Bo-Katan and The Armorer (Emily Swallow) seem to lay their agendas bare. The Armorer declares Death Watch dead and Bo-Katan confesses that she did originally surrender to Gideon with the promise that he’d spare the planet. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but it does steel Din’s resolve. He pledges himself to Bo-Katan like the other loyalists in an exchange that should hopefully remind viewers that a protagonist doesn’t have to be the hero. It’s a strong reminder of what their adventure has been.
During this time, the episode continues to play with the shoe we’re expecting to drop. Scenes cut between the ground team and The Armorer who’s split off to take the injured survivors back to the fleet. We’re being prepped for Gideon’s arrival, but we do get one more living Mandalore threat in the form of a monster that shreds that transport as they make it to the Forge. Just when it seems like we may be waiting until the finale, the shoe finally does drop.
Surprise! The Moff and his new Beskar-armed troopers were using the Mandalore underground as a hideout the entire time. While this begs a lot of questions like how much time has actually passed between seasons, this does all make for a tense brawl between the two groups, Gideon’s knockoff Mandalorians do a decent job at holding their own, even separating Din from the others using a blast door and detaining him. Despite Gideon’s sick Dark Trooper armor and the Bo-Katan disrespect, the other Mandalorians resist him, with Paz using his massive chain blaster to buy the rest time to escape. Paz earns himself a pretty impressive solo fight against Gideon’s forces until a final cameo enters. Three Praetorian Guards (the red armor guys from that amazing Last Jedi fight) easily take Paz down and leave just as quickly, leaving the credits of “The Spies” to roll.
With that, one episode of The Mandalorian remains and a lot of questions hover over it. What does Gideon’s big eugenics warrior look like? Did he capture Din to be petty and taunt him and if so why not do it the first time Din was here? Who are the actual spies? Are those troopers Din Djarin clones? Will Bo-Katan let Mecha-Grogu have a gun now that dad’s in danger? Seriously, how much time has passed between seasons?
Really though, while “The Spies” is an episode that uses all the best parts of The Mandalorian, I question what it was in service of. Some of this feeling certainly comes from learning about Lucas film’s plans to put The Mandalorian and Ashoka into a Defenders-style crossover film. As noted in previous reviews, it feels like the story has once again taken a backseat to lore. Esposito is a great presence, but to have the good guys on the back foot for one of Gideon’s projects and a rescue mission now being needed two seasons in a row is wheel spinning. The only difference is this time everyone knows for sure that it’s for the sake of stalling for Thrawn.
Honestly, I want to be proven wrong next week. It would be wonderful for another strong episode to come in and ride the wave of “The Spies” and be satisfying. Regardless, that multiple moments this season—especially in the back half—have felt more about maintaining Wookiepedia than telling a story about the Mandalorians is difficult to ignore.
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‘The Mandalorian’ 3x07 - 7/10