When I sat down this morning to watch The Mandalorian season 3 episode 2, I approached it cautiously. As I said last week, The Mandalorian season 3 premiere was too much of the same. And boring. Did I mention the bland space pirates?
But today's episode helped fix my gripes. It's not perfect mind you, there's still a big feeling I've got that's best described as "what are we doing here?" but it's still a step in the right diection for The Mandalorian season 3.
And as this story's headline suggests, much of why I liked the episode revolves around a new sort of villain that sets a new mood. Sure, Grogu is still able to provide his adorable self for levity, but the more The Mandalorian season 3 leans in this week's direction, the happier I'll be to wake up to it each Wednesday. Allow me to explain why, after the perfunctory spoiler warning!
The Mandalorian season 3 episode 2 goes in the right direction
After a premiere that felt more like the part of the video game where your character is given their assignments (find a memory card, go to the Living Waters of the poisoned planet of Mandalore), this week's edition just goes there. Well, at first Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu take a pit-stop at Peli Motto's garage on Tattooine, for the all-important moment where they dispense with the memory card need.
Here, Motto bargains them into a deal for her R5-D4 Astromech droid, which is pleasantly nervous and worried about being put in a spelunking mission. Motto tries to talk up the droid's abilities, as it served in the rebellion. But as Mando's taking off, Motto says to be careful with it, and Djarin replies "I thought you said it was built for adventure."
On their way to Mandalore, Grogu admires fireworks, and Din Djarin explains that part of being a Mandalorian is understanding navigation, "that way, you'll never be lost." This feels thematically important, even if Djarin doesn't realize it yet. He may think he needs redemption from the Mandalorians, but he may realize that doesn't have to be The Way.
After they touch down on Mandalore, we see a creepy cave opening and R5-D4 is commanded to go get air samples. Unfortunately, validating Grogu and R5's concerns about going off alone, the droid doesn't come back. It even disappears off the radar. So, Mando goes on his own to figure out what happened.
The Mandalorian introduces a beast worth fearing
After a battle with some four-eyed cavemen-like aliens who Djarin slices through with the Darksaber, our hero finds the R5 unit — which had fallen down. After rescuing it, and bringing it to the surface, Mando reads the R5's atmospheric samples to find out that the planet's atmosphere is breathable, which vindicates Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) and Grogu to go into the caves to explore.
Once they go deep enough, though, Mando finds an abandoned Mandalorian helmet, covered in dust. Which, as Admiral Akbar would say, was a trap. A mechanic cage pops up to trap Djarin, and it's a part of some larger beast.
This beast — which has a one-eyed alien face inside of its "head" takes Mando away, and Grogu follows them in the shadows. They walk into the beast's lair, which has spherical items that looked like possible eggs.
All of this delivered seriously strong horror vibes, especially as the top-pod of the larger beast opened and a spiky cyborg popped out. That beast stabbed a tube into Djarin to remove (seemingly important) fluid from Mando. After Grogu's spotted, he escapes after Mando yells "Get to Bo-Katan!"
Analysis: The Mandalorian season 3 feels much more alive
The last act of the episode was all about Kryze helping Mando out, and the two formed a pretty interesting alliance. Then, the massive Mythosaur showed its face. All of the above, with The Mandalorian going for a suspense/horror vibe, gave me hope that this series is evolving.
I write all of this with the overall desire for The Mandalorian to have a stronger thematic element and over-arching story — so we know why everything matters. The difference of philosophies between Din Djarin and Bo-Katan Kryze — the latter keeps their helmet off most of the time — slowly pushes at the over-arching story.
So, the more wild and creepy aliens plus story moments with thematic moments? This is The Way to make The Mandalorian feel fresh.