Just about every episode of The Mandalorian, even as the show got slightly more serialized in the second season, has benefited from a streamlined sense of episodic purpose. Stories were lean, straightforward, and had great momentum. With "The Apostate," the series' third-season premiere, we have an outing that is surprisingly scattered, lackadaisical, and inconclusive. As we step into the mythology of Mandalore and whatever that may hold for Din Djarin, we're going to need to have a sense of purpose far clearer than what we get here.
The episode opens with the coastal ceremony of a foundling as he becomes a Mandalorian among the Children of the Watch — which is violently interrupted when a massive gator creature emerges from the sea and begins eating people. It's a set piece that might be more exciting if I weren't constantly asking myself why these warriors with jet packs don't immediately fly out of the danger zone and attack with tactics befitting intelligent soldiers with flight technology ... or just retreat. Din Djarin comes in to save the day (hoping to be forgiven for removing his helmet, I guess?), but is later informed by the female Armorer that there is but one (impossible) way to redemption: bathing in the waters of the mines on Mandalore, which were supposedly all destroyed. That's gratitude for you. So (ex-)Mando embarks on a mission to actually go there and see the mines for himself.
The motivation for this quest is worth some analysis. Why, beyond pure dogmatic lifetime-held belief (I suppose I've answered my own question before asking it), does Mando feel the need to rejoin the Children of the Watch when they've kicked him out for straying from its inflexible purity? What does he hope to gain by continuing to live by its code? There are other Mandalorian ways of living (see Bo-Katan Kryze) or even non-Mandalorian ways. It might be nice for the writers to challenge these beliefs, or, if not that, at least explain why Mando continues to want to live by them. What if he were an apostate for real, rather than by accident?
Anyway, Mando returns to Nevarro, which, with the Empire expelled, Greef Karga has turned into a thriving and legitimate city. There's a run-in between Karga and some pirates, which ends with a showdown and a quickdraw and four of the pirates dead, thanks to Mando's help. But Mando is actually here to have IG-11 rebuilt for reasons that seem arbitrary (the droid's remaining salvaged parts have been assembled into a statue in the town square honoring its role in freeing Nevarro). This fails because the right parts aren't available. So he next decides to head to the Mandalorian system and see what Bo-Katan is up to.
En route, he's ambushed by the ships of the pirates he killed on Nevarro, which results in an action sequence that's yet another rehash of the asteroid belt scene from The Empire Strikes Back. This is executed with all the technical skill you would expect on this series, but very little imagination. It doesn't feel the least bit necessary to the story other than an [INSERT ACTION SEQUENCE HERE] moment. I'm not sure if we'll see these pirates again after this (although it seems like we must), but I wasn't impressed by the goofy Muppet design of their captain.
Finally, Mando arrives in the Mandalorian system, where he meets Bo-Katan, sitting on a throne in an empty room after having been abandoned by her followers because, she explains, she doesn't have the Darksaber (Mando has it). If ever a new team were destined to be created — one where Pedro Pascal could remove his helmet, no less — it's here, but Mando turns around and walks away, deferring this possibility to another day. I'm honestly not sure why he even bothered coming here.
I dunno. This is the first episode of this series that feels truly listless, uncertain, and obligatory, going through all the usual action beats and cute Grogu and puppet-creature moments but without the conviction that usually makes it all work. What's lacking is the sense that this has a reason for being. Hopefully the series' drive hasn't been lost with the mission to reunite Grogu with the Jedi having been completed (and immediately undone). As an ice-breaker after two-plus years since the end of season two (and also the good Mandalorian-related sequences in The Book of Boba Fett, of which episodes 5 through 7 are practically required to properly understand why Grogu is back with Mando here), this feels like a major letdown. Hopefully upcoming episodes will find the narrative, the through-line, and the juice.
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