Thursday, April 30, 2020

"The Gunslinger" (The Mandalorian, Season 1, Ep 5)(2019)

This episode title has so much promise!  I mean, "gunslinger" is such an evocative word -- the titles for this show have been amazing, I have to say.  This one promises that it's going to be about someone very cool and very, I don't know, exciting.  However, I'm afraid this episode doesn't quite live up to its title's tantalizing promise, for me.  So, be warned that this is my least-favorite ep of all season one.  And yet, that's kind of like saying that The Two Towers is my least-favorite book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy -- it's still enjoyable, just not as satisfying to me personally as the other ones.

As before, I am not marking any spoilage.  Read at your own risk.

Here we have a bad guy.  Chasing the Razor Crest.

Shooting at the Razor Crest.  Oy!  Stop that!  You mean thing.

Little One looks a bit carsick.  Spaceshipsick.  You know what I mean.

Never fear, the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) is more than a match for this random bad guy.  Look how calm and impassive he is while he outmaneuvers his adversary.

I like how even their explosions are pretty on this show.

All that was before the opening credits and episode title.  Really, it's all just there to give us an excuse for having to land at whatever spaceport is handy because the Razor Crest has taken a lot of damage.  Mando even had to resort to turning it off and turning it back on again to get it to really work.

Why, what desert planet might this be?  With twin suns?  And a town on the horizon that gets identified as Mos Eisley?  Why, yes!  We get to visit Tatooine!  This thrills me no end.  It's like coming home a little bit.

Mando lands and leaves a sleeping Little One aboard the ship.  There only appears to be one sleeping space on this ship, and that's where Mando puts his charge.  In his own bunk, in other words.  I find this very endearing.

Remember these little fold-up droids from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace?  They amuse me.  Especially because my 12-yr-old son can fold up just like them.  It's so funny to watch him just condense himself into this little turtle thing, and then pop up again, full-size once more.  Of course, Mando is very abrasive toward them and won't let them near his ship.  Because "No Droids" is his middle name.  Now you know.  He's actually named Mando No Droids Lorian.

Anyway, here we meet Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris), a woman spaceship mechanic with very '80s hair.  I really dig her.  She feels like she matches the look and feel of the classic trilogy, plus... a woman mechanic?  So cool!  And she's not just competent, she's good.  And no one questions whether a woman should be a mechanic.  I LOVE what they do with female characters on this show!  She's kinda bossy and vocally swaggering, but not in a mean way.

Anyway, Mando sets off to find some work to pay for his ship repairs.  Pretty sure he's not going to hire out on a moisture vaporator farm or anything.  That's not the sort of work he's suited to.  Maybe he can find someone who's in some kind of local trouble and protect them or ferry them out of here while avoiding any official entanglements or something.

I don't think they liked the Empire here on Tatooine, do you?

Little One does not stay asleep.  Of course.  Peli Motto isn't quite sure what to do with him (look how they avoid falling into that "all women are motherly and good with babies" trap!), but finds him cute nonetheless.

Meanwhile, Mando goes to a cantina (SQUEEE!) and asks a droid where he can find work.

Ahem.  Did you catch that?  Mando No Droids Lorian asked a droid a question of his own free will and did not threaten it in any way.  Nor did he shoot it.  Nor did he brandish any weapons.  This is noteworthy.  I have noted it.

And suddenly my enjoyment of this episode plummets.  Because we have met our "gunslinger," Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale), and he's a twerp.  A smirky, snotty twerp.  Blech.

Unless Mando is the "gunslinger" from the title?  I don't know.  Maybe they both are?

AUUUGHHHHHH, this guy is such a poseur!  Sitting there with his feet up on that table like he thinks he's cool!  You're not cool!  You are deathly uncool!

Get your feet out of my face.  Ugh.  Always with the eyebrows and the smirking.

So, anyway, he's got a Guild puck for a target and he wants to hire Mando to help bring her in.  Warm or cold, whatever.

If I were Mando, I would be like, "Whatever, kid, go find someone else to try to impress."  But Mando... Mando is a man of great patience.

Toro makes with the puppy eyes and pleads with Mando to help him bring in this target so he can join the Guild for real.

And Mando gives him this look, that, even through his helmet, is obviously a mixture of exasperation and oh-fine-I'll-help-you.  He's got a soft spot for strays and people trying to make something better of themselves.  So yeah, he says he'll do it.  Besides, he needs money, and there don't seem to be any old men and farmboys needing a ride outta Dodge hanging around today.

Back at the mechanic docking bay place thing whatever, he discovers that Little One and Peli Motto have made friends.  Peli thinks he's going to yell at her for playing with his baby.

Nope.  He quietly thanks her for taking care of him.  It's a sweet moment, one of my favorites in this episode.

Oh, my goodness, y'all.  Speeder bikes.  Speeder bikes!!!!!  I love them.  I got so excited when these things showed up.  The speeder bike chase in Return of the Jedi is one of my favorite parts of the whole trilogy.

And I get to see my Mando ride one!  Yeehaw!

One of my favorite cues from the soundtracks goes here.  I love all the shots of them zooming around Tatooine.

And now we have what is totally my favorite part of this episode.  We run into some Tusken Raiders.  Toro freaks out cuz wow, those guys are really quiet and sneaky.  They're totally referencing the common portrayal of Native Americans on film here -- you know, that scene in so many westerns where suddenly, the American Indian warriors show up silently and are all cool and inscrutable.

And even better?  Mando uses sign language to communicate with them.  Just like an old-timey trapper or buffalo hunter in a western.  It's so delicious.  And he treats them with respect, not fear, and I love him.  Have I mentioned that lately?

So after trading Toro's binocs for safe passage across Tusken land, they spot a dewback dragging a body.

Mando goes to check it out.  This shot is just here cuz he looks cool in it.

Someone shoots at him while he's investigating the dragged-by-dewback body.  Someone mysterious who is holed up in the hills on the other side of the valley, high up and hard to get at.  Presumably, their target.

They decide to wait it out.  Mando leaves Toro on watch and catches some sleep.  Know what's super fun about wearing a helmet?

No one knows if you're asleep or awake.  Which lets Toro make a blithering idiot of himself pretending he's super cool.  He makes fun of Mando, though, which basically makes me want to drop him into any convenient sarlacc pit we may happen upon.

I love how much they show us using scopes and viewfinders on this show.  It makes me think of old war movies.  Anyway, Mando comes up with a perfectly brilliant way to attack their quarry even though they have to cross a big open stretch of desert.  Ride straight toward her and blind her with intermittent flares.

It totally works.  I love how smart he is.  They not only don't die, they capture their quarry!

This is their quarry, Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen).  She's a hyper-cool assassin who proceeds to pull a Ben Wade from 3:10 to Yuma (1957), or tries to.  See, Mando leaves Toro alone to guard her while he goes off to find that dewback again because Fennec shot up one of their speeder bikes and they can't all ride one speeder bike to get back to Mos Eisley.  And so, Fennec tries to get inside Toro's head and convince him that letting her go is a better idea than taking her in to collect a bounty.  She's there to rendezvous with someone, and she says once she does, she can pay him way more than the Guild would.

Random beautiful shot as the twin suns of Tatooine start rising.

Of course, Toro is interested in what she's saying.  Especially when she starts telling him how Mando's in big trouble with the Guild because he's on the run with an asset and so on.  And then, this episode tosses a HUGE surprise.  Just twists so sharply I could get whiplash.

So when Mando gets back astride the dewback, looming bold and impressive against the sky...

...he finds a dead Fennec.  And he gets this aura of just being so tired.  Because this twerpy kid he'd tried so hard to help, had taken under his wing, had protected and encouraged... has turned on him.  I feel so sad for my Mando here.  He's so disappointed and tired of it all.

Yummy shot of him riding back toward town, knowing he's going to have to find Toro and face him down.

The obvious place for Toro to try to waylay him would be the repair hangar.  And the obvious thing for him to do would be to use Little One as a hostage.  So Mando goes straight there to find him.

And here's Toro, doing the obvious thing and being all gloaty about it.  Ugh.  This ep would have been so much cooler if it had been Fennec that Mando had to go up against.  She was a worthy adversary.  Toro just... isn't.

Mando obediently tosses his sidearm on the ground and puts his hands behind his head.  (Side note: why does a guy with his hands on his head bring out every single one of my protective instincts?  Even just this screenshot makes me want to charge in there and save him.)

Toro's so convinced he's won.  He's just forgetting one very important fact.

Mando is a hundred times smarter than him.  And still has those flares they used to get to Fennec.  Okay, that's two facts.

I love how cautious Mando is whenever he approaches a seemingly dead or unconscious body.  He's definitely learned that lesson John Wayne taught us in El Dorado (1967), to never go near an adversary until you're sure he's dead.

There's a moment of panic where we can't find Little One, but it turns out he used the Force to jump out of harm's way at just the right moment, and now he's playing peek-a-boo from behind a bunch of... stuff.

Peli Motto is afraid Mando's deal went all wrong and she won't get paid after all.  But she's wrong.  In fact, Mando gives her all the money and seems to keep none for himself.  Oh, my dear, dear Mando.

But we end the episode with a mysterious person with tall boots and a cape walking up to Fennec's dead body.  WHO IS IT?  Presumably, the person she was going to meet up with.  But are they setting up an adversary for season two, or is it the guy who shows up wearing a cape in the finale eps?  I don't know!

It was such a delight to have Ming-Na Wen pop up in this!  I love her portrayal of Agent May on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and she brings such a cool, stern, kick-butt presence to Fennec Shand.  I really wish she hadn't died off so quickly because she could have been a really awesome recurring character, maybe somebody we just bump into again some other time.  Of course... she could just be playing dead, and come back at some point.  I hope she does.

Interesting note on the names in this ep.  Wikipedia confirms my suspicion that Fennec Shand is named for the fennec fox, and says they modeled her sly, sneaky abilities as an assassin on foxes.  So I'm wondering if Toro Calican also gets his first name and some characteristics from an animal.  Toro is the Spanish word for bull.  And he certainly acts a bit like a bull, doesn't he?  Swaggering around, obstinate, prone to charging ahead instead of being patient.  And if you wave something exciting like a big, fat reward in his face, he will destroy anything in his path to get to it.  Only to be taken down with an elegant, graceful stroke by Mando, like a bullfighter in the arena finishing off a bull.

Okay, that's all for this week, folks.  Up next is one of my two favorite episodes, and I can't wait to explore it here!