After the absolute barrage of announcements that came out of Disney’s Investor Day yesterday, including the confirmation that 10(!) new Star Wars properties are coming out in the next few years (two Mandalorian spinoffs among them), it feels almost quaint to check back in with what The Mandalorian is up to this week. And yet, Chapter 15, “The Believer”, written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa, reminds us why Disney has so much confidence in Star Wars as a brand and a franchise.
The penultimate episode of the season can often be a lighter, more disposable affair, setting up chess pieces for a climactic showdown in the finale. Sure, this week does that in spades, but also manages to weave that among a few clever cinematic homages, an incredible return appearance from Bill Burr, and some intriguing exploration of the moral grey areas of this galaxy far, far away. Plus, more Easter Eggs than you can shake a gaffi stick at.
So, hold on to your helmets (whatever shape they may take), and let’s get started! Again, it goes without saying that there are some major, major spoilers ahead. You must be cautious.
What’s Mayfeld Been Up To?
At the end of the last episode, we saw that Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) was putting a team together to help rescue baby Grogu, who’s now fallen into the hands of the unscrupulous Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito). He’s already got a blood debt from Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), now with freshly-scrubbed Mandalorian armor, and his sniper friend Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen, who’s almost 58, can you believe it?), along with old buddy Cara Dune (Gina Carano) along for the ride. But he needs someone on the inside, someone who can help him find out where Gideon’s cruiser is headed.
That brings us to Mayfeld (Burr), Space Bahston’s native son, who we last saw in a New Republic prison cell after Mando left him there last season. Now he’s serving a half-century sentence at the Karthon Chop Fields, cleaning up scrap and breaking down ships (not dissimilarly to Jedi: Fallen Order protagonist Cal Kestis when we first meet him at the beginning of the game). He’s none too happy to see Mando (after initially confusing Boba for him: “You know, for a second I thought you were this other guy”), but reluctantly goes along after being promised a “better view” when he returns to prison. It’s a real Dirty Dozen/Suicide Squad kind of situation.
Plot-wise, the gang needs Mayfeld’s experience as an Imperial agent to infiltrate a secret Imperial base on Morak, where they can suss out Grogu’s location. But thematically, Mayfeld’s grim cynicism serves as a neat followup to one of The Last Jedi‘s most intriguing deconstructions of the mythos, introducing a nifty moral relativism that the fanatically-rigid Din has to overcome.
Is Mando’s Commitment to the Creed Starting to Shake?
But before we do that, there’s plenty of shooting, sneaking, and derring-do to accomplish!
Their plan: hijack an Imperial cargo transport (similar to the ones the Rebels busted Jyn Erso out of in Rogue One) to sneak into the facility, grab the info, and get out. Because Cara, Boba, and Fennec are various levels of wanted by the Imperial Security Bureau and would show up on a genetic scan, it’s up to Din and Mayfeld to go it alone. Din bends the rules of his Creed-based reticence to show his face by changing into a stormtrooper outfit. It’s not a Mandalorian helmet, but it at least obscures his face. It won’t be the last time his code gets broken this episode, but more on that later.
On the ride into the base, we learn quite a few things about Mayfeld, the Empire, and the cargo they’re carrying. Burr’s ever the talker, filling the empty space Mando leaves with his own thoughts on the planet the Empire’s occupying, and the impoverished natives who suffer as a result. “Empire, new Republic, same thing to these people,” he notes. “We’re just invaders on their land.”
Does This Cargo Transport Chase Remind You of Anything?
And the Moraks are certainly pissed at these invaders, as they start guerrilla attacks against the transports in their convoy. Turns out they’re carrying rhydonium, a volatile compound that can easily go kaboom if it’s jostled too much on their bumpy trail to base — or, in this case, if thermal detonators are thrown at them. It’s a high-wire tension scenario right out of The Wages of Fear or William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, with shades of Mad Max Fury Road in the conceit of defending a tanker against scores of grungy attackers.
It’s a thrilling, exciting set piece (admittedly more technically accomplished than the Simi Valley fan film we got last week), culminating in the intriguingly-triumphant rescue by Imperial forces, Ludwig Goransson‘s score blaring in victory as their arrival is greeted with cheers and raises fists by grateful stormtroopers. It really contextualizes the “no good guys, no bad guys” attitude Mayfeld introduces into the episode.
Still, they’re at the base, and it’s time to get to work. There’s a wrinkle, though; Mayfeld recognizes one of the Imperial officers as an old commanding officer of his, Valin Hess (Richard Brake, who you may clock as Joe Chill from Batman Returns and the chemist from Mandy). He can’t show his face to the terminal for scanning so they can access the info on Grogu’s location. Din will have to.
Why Does Mando Take Off His Helmet?
The title of today’s episode is “The Believer”, which feels pointed at Din, forced here to remove his helmet for the good of the mission — yet another chip away at the Code he’s lived his entire life. He’s none too happy to do it, but it happens, and we get a good, long look at Pascal’s handsome visage before the data stick pops out, chock full of Baby Yoda data.
Before they can leave, though, Hess confronts Din and shakes him down for his registry number and assignment. Turns out he’s only got a good poker face with the helmet on, so Mayfeld has to bail him out by entering the conversation, which Hess turns into a friendly drink in the canteen.
What Are the Empire’s Plans to Retake the Galaxy?
It’s during this chat that we get the other side of the conversation Mayfeld started at the beginning of the episode. Turns out Mayfeld’s cynicism is the product of his time serving under Hess during the Galactic Civil War; he served under him at the Battle of Tanaab (last referenced in Return of the Jedi, where Lando Calrissian apparently pulled off fancy enough moves that they made him a General for the Battle of Endor), and Operation: Cinder (around which the video game Battlefront II is based), an initiative planned in the event of Emperor Palpatine’s death where orbital satellites would destroy Rebel planets as revenge. (The desolation of Burnin Konn, where Mayfeld lost 10,000 of his buddies to the Imperial war machine, is described in great detail.)
All of this, plus Hess’ assertions that the people of the galaxy welcome authoritarianism (“everybody thinks they want freedom, but what they really want is order”), snaps something in Mayfeld, who shoots him Tarantino-style in view of everyone. That kicks off a huge firefight in which Mando and Mayfeld have to climb out through the window, plinking off troopers with the help of snipers Fennec and Cara, and climb aboard Slave I for a narrow escape.
Was That the Sonic Bomb from Attack of the Clones?!
As fanservice-y as Boba Fett’s return has been, it’s awesome to see the interior of Slave I in greater detail, with its cargo and seating areas on flat platforms that the vertical-landing ship rotates around. None of these details, however, are quite as cool as the return of the seismic charges from Attack of the Clones, one of which Boba uses to blow up a couple of TIEs tailing them during their escape. The way the sound cuts out, right before the beat drops on their pursuers, is particularly satisfying.
Anyways, the day is saved, the coordinates are safely in their possession, and Mayfeld is let off the hook with one of those classic Sean Connery-in-The-Rock declared-for-dead situations (“A body can…vaporize?”) Here’s hoping he shows up again — Burr’s one of the most unconventionally-compelling performers in the franchise’s history, and his outlook gives us the same moral questions as Last Jedi‘s DJ, without any of the irritating mannerisms.
Why Does Mando Warn Gideon That He’s Coming?
The episode ends with a warning send to Gideon by Din, repeating the same words Gideon said to him at the end of the season: “You have something I want… he means more to me than you will ever know.”
While it might seem foolish to warn your enemy you’re coming, it also serves as vital development for Din’s character — all season, we’ve seen his commitment to the Creed erode, from seeing other Mandalorians who follow a different path to his growing attachment and love for Grogu.
Seeing the lengths to which he’ll openly go to protect and rescue The Child, culminating in this proud-papa status he’s reached at this point in the season, has altered his belief system into something more individualistic and familial than the cult-like fanaticism he was raised with. Next week we’ll see his plan fully hatched, and here’s hoping Mando will be reunited with his son once more.