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The Mandalorian (2019) s01e05 – The Gunslinger

So series executive producer Dave Filoni, who apparently unmemorably directed the first episode, is back here. He’s writing too, making it the first “Mandalorian” not written by series creator Jon Favreau. So The Gunslinger doesn’t feel like Favreau playing with his Return of the Jedi Kenner toys, instead it now does feel like someone playing their Star Wars Roleplaying Game campaign only not really because a roleplaying campaign is probably better written. Filoni’s script is truly godawful. His direction is terrible too. It starts with a really stupid space battle for people who hated them making sense in Episode VIII, then moves on to Tatooine, where Pedro Pascal leaves Baby Yoda in the ship to go and try to find work. Except mechanic Amy Sedaris (who’s likable but bad) finds Baby Yoda while she’s working on the ship with her CGI prequel droids; Filoni’s a prequel guy. He really doesn’t get how to do the original movie Tatooine homages, but then he also doesn’t get how to do any action scenes either… okay, hang on. I’m ahead of myself.

So Pascal goes to the cantina where it’d probably be no worse if two aliens were arguing over who shot first and teams up with truly bad actor Jake Cannavale. Yes, Cannavale (as what Filoni seems to think we’re going to buy as a Han Solo-type) has terrible dialogue, a dumb story arc, lousy direction, all of it, but he’s really, really, really, really bad. He’s bad enough you stop taking the show about the adorable little hairless Mogwai and Jon Favreau’s custom repainted Boba Fett figure seriously.

If Cannavale had been on the first episode… I don’t know I would’ve made it to episode four. He’s even worse than Filoni’s script, which is saying a lot.

This episode also has Ming-Na Wen. She’s Cannavale and Pascal’s bounty, a superior assassin or something. You wouldn’t know it from her fight scene with literal first-time bounty hunter Cannavale, who holds his own in a terribly choreographed and directed fist fight until Pascal can get there to put the show out of its fight scene misery.

Is Wen any good? No. She’s not worse than the script though. Or Filoni’s direction.

There are some other Tatooine references in the episode, they’re all terrible. Some are worse than others. Filoni can’t even manage an obvious gag. He’s so bad. He also doesn’t realize the whole point of the show is Baby Yoda, which is exceptionally concerning.

And the speed-bike compositors do a truly awful job. Bring out the Vaseline.

The Mandalorian (2019) s01e04 – Sanctuary

It’s a really good thing the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) has seen Seven Samurai, otherwise he’d have no idea he and new pal Gina Carano (as a former Rebel shock trooper) would be able to train the villagers to take on the raiders out for their crops. The villagers hire Pascal, who’s on this backwater planet looking for someplace to lie low with Baby Yoda—but, seriously, how can you lie low with Baby Yoda because everyone’s got to notice the inordinate cuteness—and Pascal brings Carano onboard. They’ve already had a fist fight to bond so it’s a natural development in their relationship.

In the village, Pascal meets fetching widow Julia Jones, who also knows her way around a blaster somehow, and considers taking off his helmet and settling down. But it’s only the fourth episode; no spoilers… but it’s only the fourth episode.

The episode’s absolutely gorgeous, with Bryce Dallas Howard doing an excellent job with the direction. It’s also this tranquil village with rice paddies—or whatever kind of paddies—and the kids are all happy and cute and so on. They all love Baby Yoda and he’s thrilled to have all the attention. The show gets around to some exposition as far as Pascal and the Mandalorian way but at some point they’ve got to address Baby Yoda’s development. If Yoda Yoda was 900 and Baby Yoda is fifty, should Baby Yoda be talking by now? No, because he’s lived his life in hiding without a steady caretaker apparently. Baby Yoda doesn’t play into the episode much, not once Seven Samurai versus an AT-ST starts.

The big surprise of the episode is Carano, who’s good. Not sure if it’s the script, the direction, or just Carano learning to act but hopefully she’s not just in it for a single episode. It’s probably also Pascal’s best episode too, if only because he’s got a lot to say and interesting things to talk about. Jones is good too. It’s slight and obvious, but really well-made and performed.

If Disney+’s “Star Wars” shows are going to draw so heavily on Kurosawa movies, they ought to at least offer the corresponding one streaming.

The Mandalorian (2019) s02e03 – The Sin

All of Star Wars, all the movies, all the cartoons, books, comics, games, toys, socks, The Holiday Special, underwear, blankets—all of it—has been building to this episode of “The Mandalorian,” where they’re finally able to make Boba Fett adorable. Yes, Baby Yoda is adorable but of course he’s very adorable—and I was wrong, the scientist guy identifies Baby Yoda’s gender as male, which is a bummer, but also it’s probably not worth the headache. But Boba Fett and Baby Yoda being adorable together… who knew it was possible. Jon Favreau, Kathleen Kennedy, other folks but definitely Favreau and Kennedy. They knew they could make Star Wars heartwarming.

And damn if they don’t get away with it too. Because Baby Yoda is preternaturally adorable.

It’d be nice if there was something more to the show, of course. If Werner Herzog weren’t just useless stunt-casting and what if Carl Weathers were actually any good instead of being shockingly bad, actually. This episode also has a bunch of other Mandalorians coming into play and there’s a big serious action set piece with it, with some cool jetpack stuff. The episode’s got a lot more visual payoff than the last one. But not as much as the first episode. All of these visual realizings of the Star Wars Universe—like Jawas do have space ships to get from planet to planet and wouldn’t they be amazing—so it’s cool to watch. The production design is impressive.

Some of Deborah Chow’s direction is annoying, some of it isn’t. She gets away with the heartwarming but she also has this thing where they do focus blurs. I’m assuming they’re digital effects because it’s 2019 and why wouldn’t they be; given we’re already having to put up with the patented Star Wars transition wipes, the focus stuff just feels like a little much. They’re also weird because they’re the only things off in Chow’s direction. Otherwise it’s got the best direction in the show so far. And not just for the Rocketeer homage, which is way too much but still awesome.

And Pedro Pascal. Sure, he’s fine. But he’s better talking about Baby Yoda than talking about anything else. He’s always got this pause where it seems like he’s thinking of what to say and then it’s never anything impressive. He seems dumb, actually. Like too dumb to be out on his own. Favreau’s not the best writer. You don’t have to be when you’ve got Baby Yoda.

Oh, and the midichlorians might be back. Wokka wokka.

The Mandalorian (2019) s02e02 – The Child

Maybe even more than the first episode, this one’s a commercial for Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm. The adorable sight of Boba Fett playing Lone Wolf and Cub with a baby Yoda, what could be more PG+ Disney. Sure, the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) isn’t actually Boba Fett—though it’s unclear if he’s another Fett clone—but he’s better than Boba Fett because he hasn’t gone after our favorite good guys. In fact, he’s protecting an astoundingly adorable baby Yoda. It’s obvious the bounty on the baby Yoda is going to present an ethical dilemma for Pascal, who’s shockingly not bright and kind of whiney, actually. Like his bounty hunter spaceship from the Prequel Trilogy gets stripped by Jawas and he’s surprised. It seems like something he should be prepared to deal with.

Then there’s the Boba Fett versus Jawa Sandcrawler playset slash LEGO Star Wars: Boba Fett level when Pascal, his stunt man, and his CGI stunt animation try to take out the Sandcrawler in order to get back the ship’s missing pieces. During this entire sequence, baby Yoda is left alone in they’re floating pod (going gender neutral for now because, yeah, it seems like “Mandalorian” is going to introduce a female baby Yoda—a Disney Princess Girl Yoda—which is awesome and bring it on but also a tad obvious, which is a much more appropriate middle-name for show creator and writer Jon Favreau than Kolia)—anyway, Pascal isn’t paying any attention even though the episode opens with him fending off other bounty hunters after the baby. He’s not worried about such things when he’s fighting the Sandcrawler.

And the Sandcrawler sequence is impressive. It looks great; 21st century Disney visuals are phenomenal visuals.

Eventually Pascal has to go back to the verbose ugnaught (I finally heard the Nick Nolte in his voice this episode), who informs Pascal he needs to barter with the Jawas. Maybe the most interesting thing about the episode as far as Star Wars universe stuff is the idea Jawas go from planet to planet. Far more interesting than if the desert planet is actually Tatooine and there’s some tie-in to the next Star Wars movie, which is possible but seems kind of bold. Though, I suppose if anyone’s going to get away with it, it’ll be Star Wars. Star Wars got away with Jar Jar Binks and midichlorians.

Will Pascal learn to control his temper enough to work with Nolte to keep his bounty baby safe and so on?

It’s a Disney movie, what do you think. “The Mandalorian” is what the Ewoks TV movies should’ve been.

And now I do want to know if Favreau had a painted Boba Fett figure so it could be a new character.

Or I don’t. I changed my mind. I don’t. Custom action figuring when you’re in your late teens is something one should keep to himself. Bricks, glass houses, etc.

The Mandalorian (2019) s01e01

“The Mandalorian” is either like reading seventeen year-old Jon Favreau fall 1983 post-Return of the Jedi fan fic or it’s like playing his intricate, verbose Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game campaign–oh, wait, SWTRPG didn’t come out until 1987. So, no, it’s more like watching Jon Favreau play with his Jedi toys. A lot. But the toys play into how the story unfolds—Favreau, who wrote the episode in addition to creating the show, reaches into the toy bin, pulls out a figure, somehow makes it fit into the story. There’s a way too articulate ugnaught, a figure from Empire, pointlessly voiced by Nick Nolte. Most of the figures and vehicles are from Jedi. I think one of the guns is from Empire. You could sit with an old Hasbro catalog and check off items in the episode.

Visually, it looks like a bunch of Ralph McQuarrie paintings. Dave Filoni does an okay job with the direction. He tries hard to make it look like Star Wars: The Original Trilogy as far as his composition—outside when you’re pretty sure it’s a direct lift off a McQuarrie concept painting—but there are shot homages to Jedi the most, maybe Star Wars. Watching “The Mandalorian,” Disney has fully put on its big boy pants and figured out how to market to males age four through forty-four. I’m not sure Werner Herzog is going to attract the fifty-four year-olds. But if you grew up with Star Wars, “The Mandalorian” is for you. It’s how you could keep playing with your Boba Fett toys even after he died in Empire.

Oh, all the mythology on the Mandalorian culture? Metallurgy, female Mandalorians—“Mandalorian” is aimed at the OG Empire Boba Fett fanboys. I wonder if they’re going to release special toys.

Is it a good show? It’s not a bad show. It’s technically flawless except the Ludwig Göransson music, which isn’t bad just a bad idea for the show. Quirky Western. Eh. But it looks great. The acting’s… eh. Herzog’s in a scene, he’s quirky. Carl Weathers is in a scene. He’s not quirky. Lead Pedro Pascal is fine but the more he talks the more you realize you’re watching a cartoon turned live action through CGI.

Will I watch more of it? Sure. It’s never going to be challenging, but will always be mildly engaging and look great; besides, I like pointing out the toys I had as a kid too.

Star Trek: Discovery (2017) s02e06 – The Sound of Thunder

At this point, not even halfway through the second season of “Discovery,” it seems like the only way they’re going to redeem it at all is if they go full absurd. Like the Red Angel, which is actually a time traveling humanoid in an outfit with metal (as in heavy metal) wings. Unless it’s Matt Frewer, it’s not going to be worth it.

This episode gives Doug Jones a lot to do. “Discovery” isn’t just a show set in the 23rd century with aliens and mushrooms and warp drives, it’s also a show where you’re expected to take Doug Jones’s acting seriously. It’s like they made a terrible deal—you get into this makeup, someday we’ll give you a lot to do. And now they have and it’s awful.

And it’s not the makeup, because we meet Jones’s sister, played by Hannah Spear, and Spear is fine. Not great, but fine. No way she’s going to be great with the crappy script, which opens with a nonsense, poorly delivered monologue from Jones. He gets the big plot this episode—going back to his home planet and discovering the big secrets of his people and whatever—then there’s a couple C plots with Wilson Cruz being uncomfortable with his resurrection (and not very good at the acting) and then Anson Mount and Shazad Latif bickering about Starfleet principles versus Sector 31 fascism.

Sonequa Martin-Green is entirely back up for Jones, which is a heck of a slight. Not only is she top-billed, it’s supposed to be her show. It’s not the script lets her shine either. She’s in crappy scenes opposite Jones, who probably commits at least some major Starfleet violations this episode but gets an entire pass because… the show wants to leave us stuck with Jones.

Mount gets a single good scene, when he and Latif are bickering. “Star Trek: Discovery.” The secret recipe for success is the white, cishet captains.

Star Trek: Discovery (2017) s02e05 – Saints of Imperfection

They really did forgot Saru was dying last episode, didn’t they? Like, he’s a-okay for his first scene here, which is seemingly moments after the end of last episode. See, Tilly (Mary Wiseman) has been sucked into the fungus dimension and Sonequa Martin-Green is really sad so she has a voiceover about duty. It’s so poorly written, you’d think Alan B. McElroy was writing the episode, but no. It’s Kristen Breyer, who—and the following is a friend’s observation—thinks she’s writing “Call the Midwife.”

The episode’s also really poorly directed (by David Barrett) but whatever.

So the Discovery goes on a super dangerous mission halfway into the fungus universe to rescue Wiseman. Meanwhile Wiseman has promised fungus in human form Bahia Watson she’ll help the fungal life forms with some predator out to get them.

What else. Oh, right. Shazad Latif, with his long hair and full beard and an all-black Section 31 outfit (Section 31 is the Starfleet CIA). He’s back. But he doesn’t have anything to do after a scene with Martin-Green, who was more affected by holochatting with him than meeting him again in person. Can you hear me, Clem Fandango?

Along with Latif, Michelle Yeoh’s back, scenery chewing as the Mirror Universe emperor turned regular universe super-spy. She’s vaguely amusing. More than when she played the role straight. Also from Section 31 is boss Alan Van Sprang, who’s got a clean-shaved head and a scruffy beard to show he’s mysterious and damaged. He’s old buddies with Anson Mount but they grew apart when Van Sprang started running assassinations, I guess.

The episode goes on and on and on. The third act is full of lengthy, poorly written monologues from poorly directed actors, when they all have four or seven minutes before they all die. The monologues seemingly take much longer. I’d time it but I never want to see the episode again.

At least the Klingons don’t show up again.

Also—they’re just delaying the arrival of Spock some more. It’s just another filler episode. So bad.

Star Trek: Discovery (2017) s02e04 – An Obol for Charon

Wow, what an exceptionally bad episode of television. I noticed Alan B. McElroy (he wrote Spawn, he’s not good) in the titles last episode or maybe the one before, but I didn’t think much of it. Even though last episode was bad. I figured it was just lack of Anson Mount and any Mia Kirshner at all. But McElroy’s got a co-credit on this one too so maybe he’s just sinking the proverbial ship. Mount has a little more to do this episode because it’s an Enterprise—sorry, sorry, sorry—Discovery trapped in a more powerful alien vessel’s “web” episode. Not the Tholians, unfortunately. Something new. Think an organic, friendlier V’Ger. Think something dumb.

There’s a cold open teasing Rebecca Romijn as the first officer from the Enterprise, who was in the original pilot, played by Majel Barrett. Now sure why a tease is necessary. She comes by to dump some exposition to Mount about Spock and then she goes away. Mount takes the ship Spock-hunting only to get caught by V’Ger/Probe/Nomad and then there’s onboard troubles when Saru (Doug Jones) seems like he’s going to die. Because he’s got a strange alien disease and it’s killing him out of nowhere. You know, just like lots of “Next Generation” episodes. Or a lethal pon farr type thing.

“Discovery” is “Star Trek” as written by people who write repetitive fan-pic.

The Saru thing leads to the most humiliating scene for Sonequa Martin-Green in the show this season or last. She’s got to have a heart-to-heart with Jones and he’s so unbearably bad you wish he’d just die. It’s not going to happen because it’s the fourth episode in the season and the writers are just bad, but for every millisecond Jones “acts” in the scene, you’re wishing they’d just kill him and end this terrible scene. Martin-Green’s usually able to keep her head above water but her emotional breakdown stuff?

So bad.

Actually, the only thing in the episode to make things slightly tolerable is Tig Notaro. She’s awesome. She doesn’t build rapport while acting, which is a problem because it leaves Anthony Rapp hanging out like laundry, but she’s still awesome.

Otherwise the episode sucks. Whoever plotted this season—the episode’s all bullshit just delaying having to introduce Spock for another episode or whatever—did a rather bad job. Mount can’t overcome McElroy. I just hope there’s no more of the latter to come.

Star Trek: Discovery (2017) s02e03 – Point of Light

There’s that incredibly disappointing “Star Trek: Discovery” I know. Though not exactly. I had no quality expectations going into the first season so I didn’t have any disappointment, just dread of watching the show. But this episode perfectly encapsulates everything the show has done wrong until this point. It’s not really a victory lap of its badness, it’s a bad episode hitting all those points, over and over again.

First off, Anson Mount plays a bit part in this episode. Smaller than Michelle Yeoh who’s a pseudo-surprise cameo but not really because it’s in the “remember the characters from Season One we’ve ignored the last two episodes (and the show’s been better), let’s check in with them” plot. That plot is all about Shazad Latif trying to fit in on the Klingon homeward as sidekick to new leader Mary Chieffo. Chieffo’s already got to deal with the old Klingon men not wanting a woman leader, much less having a human sidekick, even if he is a Klingon grafted onto a Federation officer or some such nonsense. Anyway, the Klingons bickering and plotting is like an old Atari commercial for a “Star Trek” video game but spoofing “Game of Thrones.” Though it gets much worse once there’s action. Director Olatunde Osunsanmi is really bad at the action.

Also it’s going to take a lot to believe Latif can fight off three guys bigger than him, even if they do all have enormous mask-helmets on because the Klingon makeup people have made all bad choices this year, which is impressive since last season’s choices were all bad too. They’re taking it up a (bad) notch.

And it’s hard to be onboard with anything else because the whole Anson Mount takes command, when is Spock showing up subplot has taken a terrible turn in the form of Mia Kirshner as Spock’s mother. Kirshner ain’t no Jane Wyatt. Kirshner ain’t no Majel Barrett, ain’t no Winona Ryder; she probably couldn’t do as good of a job faking Vulcan-birth as Cynthia Blaise either. Kirshner’s really, really, really, really bad. She’s so bad she sucks the life out of “lead” Sonequa Martin-Green. Martin-Green’s entirely support this episode, first for Kirshner, then for Mary Wiseman. Wiseman’s big cliffhanger plot—she’s seeing a ghost—gets resolved super fast here. “Discovery” doesn’t just have bad ideas, it has no commitment to them. Same thing happens, even bigger, in the Latif and Chieffo plot line but I’m trying to stay away from the Klingons. At least on Discovery, Anthony Rapp will amble through like his agent wanted to make sure he got paid for every episode of the season.

But, yeah, it might just be the “Game of Thrones” draining, but I’m currently terrified whatever Martin-Green did to Spock involves pon farr because… the writers are that desperate to be “Game of Thrones”-y.

Star Trek: Discovery (2017) s02e02 – New Eden

This episode certainly doesn’t do anything to “solve” the Anson Mount problem—i.e. Mount’s leagues ahead of anyone else on “Discovery,” past and present, as far as commanding the show. He’s a TV show lead. It’s almost depressing to see Sonequa Martin-Green in scenes with him because she’s already had the indignity of being the first potential Black female captain on a “Star Trek” and now she’s just second-fiddle to Mount. Mount’s so good you’re tricked into thinking “Inhumans” might be all right, just because he’s so good on “Discovery.” No wonder people want a Mount-led spin-off.

New Eden feels like “Star Trek” for more reasons than White male captain; it’s got Jonathan Frakes directing, it gives the bridge crew something to do besides look at each other when Martin-Green pisses someone off, it’s got a very “Star Trek” main plot and a very “Star Trek” B plot. The A plot is about the ship finding this far-flung planet in the Beta Quadrant (I used to know everything about “Star Trek” quadrants; not any more) and on this far-flung planet is a human settlement. Now, it’s far enough away from Earth they can’t be settled, but there they are, complete with a church. It feels like a budget conscious “TOS” episode, where they find a civilization dressed in leftover frontier costumes Paramount had laying around. Throw in Mount and Martin-Green gently arguing about whether or not the Prime Directive applies to the people and some religiosity stuff and it’s like a mix of “TOS” and “TNG.” Very cool.

The B plot has Tilly (Mary Wiseman) figuring out a way to save the planet from an impending… asteroid swarm. Something. Lots of tense action, which Frakes does all right with but not exceptional. It’s all about the human adventure for Frakes and he does well with it. It’s taken seventeen episodes but Doug Jones’s Saru finally has a non-obnoxious scene. There might have been one in the first season but I think I’d remember it. Though then there’s the whole thing about alien Saru getting a lot less obnoxious because he’s second-fiddle, rank-wise, to Mount.

Okay stuff for Anthony Rapp—seriously, the show is wasting him so far—and the mysterious “Red Angel” C plot, which is going to bring in Spock and tie everything together. The Red Angel stuff seems a wee contrived for a “Star Trek” show and I really hope it ends with the introduction of Sybok and a trip to the center of the galaxy but I’m not hopeful.

“Discovery”’s much better, two in, this season than last. Though the “up next” teaser at the end threatens the Klingons; they’re always good for dragging the show down.

Also Sheila McCarthy shows up for a bit on the planet. She’s awesome as ever.

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