“The Mandalorian” is a $100 million show about nothing. There’s no overarching plot, no character development, and, six episodes in, still no emotional stakes or any indication that these issues will get resolved. It’s about a walking action figure and his merchandising-friendly pet, doomed to endlessly receive jobs that pay well enough to fly to the next episode’s location, team up with a celebrity cameo, get betrayed by bounty hunters, save Baby Yoda from said bounty hunters, and set off to the aforementioned next episode’s location.
“Chapter 6: The Prisoner” opens with the Mandalorian, AKA Mando (Pedro Pascal, probably?), meeting up with an old contact who will pay the Mandalorian to help break a prisoner out of a New Republic ship. It’s a fairly promising concept, even if there’s infuriatingly no context for the Mandalorian accepting this latest one-off quest. The Mandalorian has been marketed as a morally grey character and watching him go against the franchise’s good guys to make ends meet could have provided some much-needed depth to Pascal’s underdeveloped character, but “The Mandalorian” doesn’t do much with the idea outside of changing the look of the things the Mandalorian is shooting.
That’s the gist of things, and the rest of the episode carbon copies almost all of the story beats from the series’ last few episodes. Up next is the celebrity cameo: This week it’s Bill Burr (“F Is for Family”), the comedian who once referred to “Star Wars” as a “cheesy self-help book put in outer space with muppets.” Burr’s a funny guy and a talented actor, but the episode’s writing unfortunately gives him little to work with. His character, Mayfeld, spends most of his time insulting his unlikely Mandalorian ally, and although there’s not much to else say about him, Burr’s snarky delivery at least makes Mayfeld a more appealing foil to the Mandalorian than last week’s petulant Toro Calican.
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Burr’s character leads a ragtag team of bounty hunters, including a meathead Devaronian (Clancy Brown), who is an asshole. There’s also a volatile Twi’lek (Natalia Tena), who occasionally screams in frustration and maybe wants to have sex with the Mandalorian, but is mostly just an asshole. There’s also a droid, which has been programmed to be an asshole. They each get a brief introduction scene where they threaten or merely stare at the Mandalorian and then spend the rest of their screen time acting out their characters’ one stereotype before inevitably double-crossing the Mandalorian and getting put in their place.
The episode’s action sequences are a cut above the static plot, but still a bit of a mixed bag. There’s not much physicality in any of the hand-to-hand fights and the droids the bounty hunters fight don’t seem very weighty, but once the Mandalorian begins hunting his double-crossers, “The Mandalorian” adopts a light horror vibe that is strongly to its benefit. The antagonists get split up in dark corridors, stumble into some decent scrapes with the Mandalorian, and get afraid when they realized they’ve been overpowered. It gives the action some teeth and the ship’s droids and claustrophobic corridors all look faithful to the franchise, even if it never looks as flashy as the series’ reported price tag would suggests it could.
Action aside, there’s also Baby Yoda sometimes. But not often. He’s tucked out of sight on the Mandalorian’s ship for the bulk of the episode, and even the series’ most rabid fans will have trouble picking out a viral-baiting Baby Yoda .gif from this week’s episode. Eventually the bad bounty hunters find the thing and it’s implied that they want to kidnap or kill it. Later on, one of them tries to do that. Something something a long shot of the bad guy slowing aiming his gun at Baby Yoda, something something Baby Yoda emoting to build tension, something something Baby Yoda is saved at the last moment. You know the drill at this point.
“The Mandalorian” hasn’t made many attempts to hide that it’s a family-friendly serial adventure, but its younger skew is no excuse for the sheer stagnation here. “The Mandalorian” executive producer Dave Filoni’s work on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “Star Wars Rebels” children’s animated series has been admirable, and each of those shows pushed the franchise into interesting new directions. It’s not that “The Mandalorian” is playing it safe; the show is barely playing anything at all.
The last three episodes of “The Mandalorian” have been entirely interchangeable, and there’s been zero plot developments to speak of since the titular protagonist escaped the Bounty Hunter’s Guild with Baby Yoda in tow in Episode 3. There’s more than enough “Star Wars” locales for the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda to keep this unmoving jig up until the end of time, but one can only hope Season One’s remaining two episodes will provide some sort of long-overdue catharsis to this meandering journey.