[Editor’s note: The following review of “The Mandalorian” contains spoilers for the seventh episode, “Chapter 7: The Reckoning.”]
“Chapter 7: The Reckoning” is the best episode of “The Mandalorian” yet and avoids almost all of the issues that have plagued the Disney+ series’ last few installments. There’s an engaging, high-stakes premise and the episode features instantly-recognizable “Star Wars” elements without resorting to blatant nostalgiac pandering. The characters are likable, convincing, and play off each other. The action is quite brief, albeit satisfyingly visceral, and the shocking twists are actually shocking. It’s a superb slice of westernized sci-fi and a much-needed breath of fresh air that will leave viewers rabid to discover what happens next week in the season finale.
The episode opens with the Mandalorian, AKA Mando, (Pedro Pascal) receiving a message from Bounty Hunters’ Guild head Greef Karga (a hammy Carl Weathers), who offers a deal that would clear Mando and Baby Yoda’s bounties. The Client’s (Werner Herzog) Imperial forces are disrupting Karga’s operations, and he’ll clear the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda’s names in exchange for killing the Client. It’s time for the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda to head back to Nevarro and bring the plot full circle. But first, a few pit stops.
The Mandalorian teams up with former Republic trooper Cara Dune (Gina Carano) and Ugnaught farmer Kuiil (Nick Nolte), who each appeared in earlier episodes. The two are among the best of the series’ (former) one-off characters, and the team members’ reintroductions, clashing personalities, and backgrounds make for enticing back-and-fourths without detracting from the episode’s primary story. When Kuiil is gunned down by Stormtroopers in the episode’s entirely unexpected final scene it’s like a knife through the heart, which is a stark contrast from the nonexistent emotions you’d feel watching the deaths/imprisonments of the cardboard cutout bounty hunters you’ve probably already forgotten about from the last few episodes.
“The Reckoning” is entirely unlike the series’ midseason installments, but it isn’t great television solely because it pushes the narrative forward (though that certainly helps a great deal) instead of adhering to an episodic format. The episode also breaks “The Mandalorian” mold by offering up a few surprises that even “Star Wars” diehards won’t see coming: Baby Yoda uses the Force again to heal Greef Karga’s wounds, but more unexpected (and genuinely horrifying for longtime fans) was Baby Yoda instinctively Force choking Cara Dune during a harmless arm-wrestling match.
To see an infant version of Yoda, who is about as much of an “absolute good” as there is in “Star Wars,” use such a blatantly Dark Side power is equal parts stunning and terrifying, especially since most of the series’ characters are unaware of Baby Yoda’s true potential. It’s a brief scene but it says a great deal about the morally grey nature of the Force and its practitioners in a subtler way than most recent “Star Wars” projects have done. Sure, like the preceding six episodes, there’s the mandatory scene of some bounty hunters trying to gun down the Mandalorian and cash in on that sweet, sweet Baby Yoda bounty, but even that routine twist has a comparably refreshing setup and payoff this time around.
Another shocker is the abrupt (presumed) death of the Client. The Client is a true believer in Imperial supremacy and Herzog brings an air of wicked conviction to his character — he’s still the series’ standout performance by a considerable margin — which makes his demise when his superior, Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), orders Stormtroopers to indiscriminately fire on him and the protagonists all the more ironic and bittersweet.
“The Mandalorian” says a lot about Herzog’s character and the franchise’s Imperial loyalists in only a few sentences and lets the action tell the rest. It’s fantastic writing and episode director Deborah Chow, who also helmed Episode 3 (one of the series’ better installments) deserves considerable props for bringing a sharper focus to “The Mandalorian” as the season’s end draws nigh. She has a clear understanding of “Star Wars” and it bodes well for the franchise’s future that Chow is set to direct the still-untitled Obi-Wan Kenobi series for Disney+.
As for the long-awaited debut of Esposito, his Moff Gideon’s screen time is brief — it’s mostly a tease for a presumably larger role in the season finale — but he works with what he’s given and exudes a presence that is equal parts stoic and menacing. The episode offers just enough of his character to make viewers want to come back next week to uncover his motivations and fate, and it’s hard to ask for more from the new big bad in any series’ penultimate chapter.
Most importantly, “The Reckoning” should re-engage even those who have soured on “The Mandalorian” after the last few episodes. If Season 2 sticks with a largely episodic style, so be it, but if future installments can retain and expand on the interesting characters, exciting story threads, and meaningful additions to the “Star Wars” mythos, future seasons’ formats will be a moot point. There was truly no better way to right the ship as “The Mandalorian” heads for its Season 1 finale next week.