Andor E8-E9: Everyone Has A Prison

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In episodes 8 and 9 Andor changed its setting a little. From the valleys of occupied Outer Rim worlds and from rusty scrapyards we have moved into prison cells and Imperial offices.

The current plot is not lacking irony: ISB with officer Meero at the helm is looking for Cassian, as are the Rebels who consider him a loose end. At the same time Cassian himself is already in prison for a minor offense he did not even commit.

Andor continues to be a conversation drama. If you described just the plot, it is absurd and unlike any of the epic Star Wars tales. Nothing is at stake but the life of the protagonist. But at the same time everything is at stake: the lives of all the ordinary people around Cassian, like the thousands of inmates we see on Narkina 5.

As a Star Wars planet, Narkina 5 also deserves a praise for its unique environment as well as the clever (and horrifying) prison design.

Everyone Is A Prisoner

But it is not just the prisoners who are at the mercy of the system. The genius of Andor‘s storytelling lies in that which is unspoken but at the same time perfectly clear: everyone is in a prison of sorts. All the citizens of the Empire are helpless to change their fates – which is the one reason for rebellion. Senator Mon Mothma, living a life of luxury and freedom compared to most others, is in her own private prison – her formal marriage, the front she has to maintain, and even being caught in the Rebel-Imperial struggle she cannot really escape.

But the villains have their prisons as well. Syril Karn may be the best example of all: he has no perspective in life except becoming a well-working cogwheel in the Imperial machinery. And even his dreams of escape are twisted, he cannot see a different future or greater glory than being recognised for his loyal service to the Empire. He would do anything for it, even risk his life by stalking an ISB officer.

The scene between Dedra Meero and Syril Karn shows the absurdity of an ISB officer being stalked, while showing Dedra’s subjective experience that is not invalidated by her being a villain.

Empathy With The Villains?

Syril Karn and especially Dedra Meero may be the best villains introduced in Star Wars yet. They are certainly the most layered. The genius of Andor is in showing them from all their sides, and making the audience understand them before again reminding us how horrible they also are. We have every right to pity Syril Karn because of his life situation, and how his mother seems to love him only when she can be proud of his career advancement.

But the next minute we have Syril stalking officer Meero, and we can start sympathising with her instead. We have every right to, as well as we may have sympathised with her getting past the glass ceiling. Yet then we see her torturing Bix and we are reminded of what system she serves and we see what she is willing to do. And there we are: the fact that Dedra is a villain does not invalidate the ethical questionability of Syril’s behaviour. At the same time the scene reflects Dedra’s own practices on herself, as Syril is doing to her what Meero is doing to thousands of others as part of her job.

Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) representing the violent extremist version of the Rebellion

Struggle For The Soul of the Rebellion

That is what Andor is: conflicting. That is, making us feel conflicted about the protagonists (or antagonists?), Imperials and Rebels alike. Rebels are willing to eliminate perceived threats such as Cassian, and are okay with sacrificing individuals like Bix.

Or are they? Is Andor going to become the story of the nascent Rebellion’s forming identity? Because so far, the Rebellion could go either way. We briefly saw Saw Gerrera, the radical resistance leader, whose extremist approach was showed elsewhere (Rogue One, Rebels). The future of Luthen’s and Mon Mothma’s followers has not yet been decided, but from the current perspective, it could easily end up being that of Saw’s.

Dedra Meero interrogating Bix Caleen

Hopelessness and Hope

At the same time there is Cassian’s own story amidst the lives of countless others, straggling between hopelessness and hope. The repetitive grinding work at the prison is yet another way to show the reality of life under the Empire. One also has to once again commend Andor for its realism: maybe Andor is no Orange Is The New Black, but even its portrayal of prison life feels realistic.

The prisoners have their own lives, and the storytelling of Andor is again masterful at fleshing out characters with minimum screentime. Poor old Ulaf, but also the doctor who tends to him (how chilling to show two medics in the same episode – the kind but imprisoned one who has to administer death, and the sadistic Imperial who interrogates Bix and of his own free will relishes in maximising the suffering of his subjects!). There is also Andy Serkis’s Kino Loy, the man who pragmatically complies with Imperial order in the hope that non-conflicting behaviour would let him leave the prison in peace – and whose belief in that shatters in the amazing final scene of the ninth episode. And those who have watched Rogue One may have already been paying attention to otherwise unremarkable Melchi – the person who plays equally unremarkable secondary role in the film, but whom we can now expect to become Cassian’s long-term companion.

Or can we? Andor is (thankfully!) not the type of TV show to rely on shocking plot twists, but things may not always take the straightest route.

Whichever way it is going to go, after nine episodes the audience can certainly trust Andor to be amazing. The only downside is that there are only three episodes left of the first season.

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Rostislav Kurka
Rostislav is a Protestant theologian and a self-trained Sith, counting Jan Hus, Dorothee Sölle, Darth Revan and Darth Traya among his main influences. He hails from the hundred-towered city of Prague, where he had spent a large part of his life creating worlds and inspiring young generations to roleplay. His involvement in organising children's camps led him to accidentally writing a Lord of the Rings musical, which made him temporarily famous, and a Three Musketeer-Jedi fanfilm, which didn't. He has recently moved to the frozen waste of Finland, because that's it, the Rebels are there.