Just like most TV series, The Mandalorian needed some time to ripen to fully show its flavours. After four episodes have been released, there is finally time to tell what the series is like from the broader perspective, and how can we expect it to look on the long run – and whether it is, in the end, a good series or a bad series. (Warning – generic, not particularly specific but nonetheless spoilers are ahead.)
While the first two episodes served mostly as a long exposition, it was the third and fourth where something actually “started happening”. Were the first two episodes too random (especially the plot of the second one), too self-serving or fan-servicing (now targeted on the old fans, as opposed to the sequel trilogy)? Perhaps, but perhaps it was the only way to introduce and characterise a quiet, expressionless protagonist.
Lone Ranger feat. Cute Baby
The makers have counterbalanced this “cold hero” with the appearance of the hyper-cute “yoda baby”. It is hyper-cute, and I think it beats all the previous Ewoks and Porgs by a wide margin. This is definitely a success, it is “cuteness done right”, while balancing very well on the verge of being too cheesy, but never tipping over, like it sometimes was with the previous ones. At least that is how it has been so far, and I very much hope that it is going to stay that way.
At the same time, this sweetness is the result of a calculated marketing strategy – but unlike many previous cases, it is a successfully applied strategy. Why is it calculated? Because cute babies are not an element that belongs organically into a story of a lone gunslinger. It is in the story as a functional element. It is there to draw the audience that would otherwise not be interested in a “classic Western”, it is also there to relieve the tension of the story (or in this case, its long, moodless passages) with moments of cuteness.
But what if that is not the only reason?
Is The Mandalorian Subversive?
A lone gunslinger is not the character we expect to be taking care of a baby. But that is exactly what the Mandalorian does. It is a great contrast – the tough dude, whose almost only characteristic (especially in this case) is that he shoots people and barely speaks, is also a nursing parent. These are literally the two things the show has told about him.
One could say that this is the rare case of seeing a male character – especially this type of male character – in such a role. It is still very much staying clear of the limits, though. We have not yet seen the Mandalorian changing nappies or washing the baby (even though we can extrapolate) – personally, I would like to see, by the end of the show, at least a glimpse of such “hands-on approach”. If only to illustrate what it actually means – not as some sort of pure idea, but to make the audience grasp the fact that yes, this guy is a parent with everything that comes with it.
We also cannot speak about any big subversion of gender roles, not by a long shot. Especially the fourth episode shows that the Mandalorian’s role is still to be the male protector of a village of women and children. This is not changed even by the presence of one female villager who can shoot – but whose primary task is still to bring the Mandalorian food and care for her (and his) children.
But what about the character of Cara Dune? Well, I do not know if at this point we can call female characters taking on warrior roles subversive anymore. It should mostly come as a normal thing. I believe Cara Dune is notable for a more specific reason – she is a female fighter who actually looks like a fighter. Obviously, this is because Gina Carano is actually a wrestler. But imagine what would Cara’s brawl with the Mandalorian look like if she were played by an actress whose looks corresponded with average Hollywood ideal. Maybe normally we do not think about it as audience, but after seeing these scenes, it makes one think about realism – and that it is one thing to have a badass heroine, and another thing to have a badass heroine who actually looks like what a badass heroine would realistically look like.
Story As Weak Point And Future Potential
If there is one thing to say against The Mandalorian, it is that the plot has not been the story’s main focus. The Mandalorian is a lot about landscapes – or rather “culturescapes” or “alienscapes” (which includes baby Yoda). It is about certain “Wild West” mood. Episodes 3 and 4 were the first ones to actually provide more thoughtful plot than just a straightforward “get a quest, go, shoot things, done”. 3 provided some dilemma and 4 had more fleshed-out supporting characters than all the three previous episodes put together. Also, the fourth episode had an amazingly fleshed-out main “antagonist” with an amazingly atmospheric sequence in which the enemy looked truly threatening. The originality of this move – picking up something fairly simple and familiar and making it into a truly scary enemy – cannot be overstated.
If The Mandalorian continues to keep the pace it has picked up, then we are going to regret that there are only four episodes left now (well, until Season 2 gets released, at least). But at this stage, it finally looks like the starting point of a great show with lots of potential – if all the opportunities it has are used.