Previously on The Mandalorian: Jack Black and Lizzo showed up for a pointless episode that kicked off a flurry of headlines about whether or not Season 3 is the worst season of the show. (It is.) Plot wise, Bo-Katan finally regained ownership of the Darksaber thanks to Mando literally just giving it to her after explaining to her old crew what happened on his trip to take a special bath. It was anticlimactic as balls, and I really don’t want to talk about it anymore.
WARNING: If you loved this penultimate episode of The Mandalorian, I genuinely don’t want to rob anyone of that joy. Maybe skip this recap if you don’t want my salty look under the hood to bum you out. There are a lot of gee whiz, pew pew pew moments, and if that’s all you needed, please know I have no quarrel with you. In fact, I envy you because I’m pretty sure I’m dead inside. Good talk.
After dicking around for six episodes, Chapter 23 “The Spies” finally gets into Season 3’s plot, if you can even call it that. We now know that these shows are building towards a movie that will be directed by Dave Filoni, so the Marvel-ization of this franchise is now complete. The Mando-verse is no longer telling a contained story, but instead, laying the groundwork for a theatrical event that won’t happen until after another whole season of The Mandalorian, at least one season of Ahsoka, and whatever the heck is going on with the Jude Law series Skeleton Crew. Whee!
After slinking down a dark alley on Coruscant, Elia Kane (Katy O’Brien) is greeted by an Imperial probe droid that scans her face for recognition before firing up a holo communication with Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito). As suspected, Elia is still working for the warlord, who is not thrilled to learn that Pirate King Gorian Shard failed to take control of Nevarro. Moff Gideon chastises Elia for assuring him that the New Republic wouldn’t get involved, but she informs him that it wasn’t the fledgling government. It was Mandalorians. More specifically, Bo-Katan and Mando working together, which surprises Moff Gideon considering their factions hate each other.
Armed with this new information, Moff Gideon makes his way through two very important chambers. The first ominously is lined with a new version of stormtroopers who are wearing notably Mandalorian-esque armor while also looking not far removed from the First Order troopers in the Sequel Trilogy. The second is filled with the same cloning tanks from Season 2.
After getting a small taste of what Moff Gideon has been cooking, he joins a holo conference call with other Imperial officers who are busy discussing how best to keep building their forces without attracting attention from the New Republic. It doesn’t take long before Thrawn is mentioned, but Moff Gideon doesn’t seem too impressed with the Grand Admiral’s reputation. In fact, Gideon seems to outright mock him by asking if he’s going to join their Shadow Council anytime soon. This is probably not a great idea considering one of the attendees is Captain Pellaeon (Xander Berkeley), who is basically Thrawn’s right-hand dude. Although, the average viewer would never know that unless they watched Rebels, so the homework factor on this show is piling up.
Anyway, with all the crackling energy of a Zoom call for work, this scene’s whole point is to establish that Thrawn is lurking about, Moff Gideon has been lying to the council about his cloning experiments, and what’s left of the Empire doesn’t need a restored Mandalore in the mix. Moff Gideon is granted reinforcements for his squadron of TIE Interceptors and Bombers (Yup, that was his work earlier in the season.) so he can eliminate the combined forces of Mando’s covert and Bo-Katan’s fleet. Oh, and also, there’s talk of “Project Necromancer,” which will probably involve explaining Palpatine’s return, somehow.
Meanwhile, back on Nevarro, Bo-Katan’s crew has set up camp with Mando’s covert after a slightly frosty introduction where everyone acts all tough, but you know they’ll be forming everlasting bonds of friendship before the episode ends. More importantly, Greef Karga has a gift for Mando. Remember all that IG-11 business from the premiere? It turns out the Babu Friks found an adorable and hilarious workaround: IG-12.
In the type of moment that has been sorely lacking all season — We’ll get into how Mando and Grogu have been afterthought later. — IG-12 is now a vehicular droid that can be entirely controlled by a small pilot. Mando, however, is not a huge fan of where this is going, but he’s quickly overruled by Grogu, who not only loves his new ride but makes quick use of the “Yes” and “No” voice commands. He’s not getting out of this thing, which is made clear by his repeated pressing of the “Yes” button. I’m not gonna lie, this chicanery was a great bit. It plays, but it also drives home how much Season 3 has squandered this show’s lightning in a bottle.
With Grogu now strapped into his new robot body, the Mandalorians pile into Bo-Katan’s refitted Imperial light cruiser and prepare to retake Mandalore. The plan: A small landing party will venture to the surface and secure the Great Forge. Once it’s safe, the rest of the Mandalorians will land and start getting their civilization on.
Naturally, the landing party includes Bo-Katan, Mando, and Grogu along with Paz Vizla, The Armorer, Axe Woves, Koska Reeves, and then a bunch of randos from both tribes. (“Mike, how the hell do you remember all these names?” I am a dork.) Shortly after landing on the surface, they encounter a group of nomad Mandalorian survivors who don’t have names, but one of them is definitely Skinny Pete from Breaking Bad. Hell, Charles Parnell’s character is just called “Survivor Captain.”
The nameless survivors reveal they’re loyal to Bo-Katan and welcome everyone aboard their rolling pirate ship thingy. On board, Bo-Katan finally reveals how Moff Gideon gained possession of the Darksaber. In a desperate effort to save Mandalore from the Empire, Bo-Katan surrendered the weapon to Gideon in exchange for her people’s lives. However, he betrayed her and bombed the shit out of the planet anyway in what’s now known as “The Great Purge.” This is why Bo-Katan was aggressively hunting down Gideon in Season 2.
With some good, old-fashioned Star Wars explaining everything to death out of the way, the survivors offer to take the landing party to the Great Forge. However, tensions begin to rise between Paz Vizla and Axe Woves who finally start beating the crap out of each other. In a prime example of this show’s writing not giving a single f*ck, the following happens: Mando asks Bo-Katan if they should intervene. She tells them they can’t, warrior code and all that. However, barely a few seconds later, Grogu breaks up the fight and presses the “No” button on his droid suit. Bo-Katan, who literally just said it’s bad to break up the fight, tells Mando that he taught his apprentice well. What in the- you just said— GAHHH.
Alright, well, maybe the next scene will make sense. As we all know, Season 3 has made a huge deal about Bo-Katan seeing the mythosaur and clearly building towards the massive creature revealing itself. What would be extremely deflating is if the show decided to randomly cram in a similarly massive beast for no discernible reason. Pretty stupid, right? You can see where this is going.
As the Mandalorian ship nears its destination, a freaking gigantic creature bursts from the ground. I’ve now watched this episode twice, and not once do you see horns on this thing, which means it’s not the mythosaur. It’s just some impossibly large ankylosaurus-like monster. At no point does anyone say, “Holy shit, it’s the mythosaur!” They all seem pretty non-plussed about the whole thing as the audience will no doubt be when the mythosaur does show up. This whole season has been nothing but huge beasts out the ass, so why should we care at this point?
With the ship smashed to pieces by Rando Creature #3, everyone makes a beeline to the underground caves leading to the Great Forge. Never mind the fact that the beast can burst through the ground because it’s the size of a goddamn mountain, everyone should be safe in these rickety caves. It’s the perfect plan.
Once inside the Great Forge, everyone “oohs” and “ahhs” before their homecoming is cut short by the Mandalorian stormtroopers from the top of the episode. They come jetpack-ing in, guns blazing, and folks, we got ourselves a battle. Realizing they’ve been ambushed, the Mandalorians trying to find a way to warn the fleet above that the Imperials know they’re here. (I forgot to mention that The Armorer was heading back to said fleet with wounded survivors.) Paz Vizla spots an opening in the ceiling and lays down fire so Axe Woves can make a break for it. That’s two characters conveniently off the table. Remember that.
Thinking they have the upper hand thanks to Bo-Katan and Mando John Wick-ing dudes left and right, the Mandalorians chase the fleeing Stormtroopers further underground. Unfortunately, they learn way too late that it’s a trap. Moff Gideon easily lured them into a secret base that he’s been using on Mandalore this whole time. That’s where the Beskar came from for his new stormtroopers, which also explains why there were traces of it in the New Republic shuttle that he escaped from. He also used the precious metal to upgrade the Dark Trooper armor, which he now wears along with a Mauldalorian helmet. Never forget that Moff Gideon is the biggest Star Wars dork of them all.
With Mando captured and hauled off into the facility, Bo-Katan uses the Darksaber to cut an escape hatch for the rest of the Mandalorians to escape before Gideon’s force can mow them down. Realizing there are too many stormtroopers piling in, Paz Vizla slams Bo-Katan behind a blast door and prepares to go down blasting. He fires off rounds until his massive gun is literally melting apart and then proceeds to wreck the remaining troopers through sheer brute force. Unfortunately, Moff Gideon has one final card up his sleeve: Praetorian guards. Remember the badass throne room scene from The Last Jedi? The red dudes, but this time, with Mandalorian helmets. Three of them make their way to Vizla, and it takes all three brutally stabbing him to bring the Mandalorian fighter down as the episode fades to black. RIP, big guy.
— In theory, Chapter 23 seems like an exciting episode where our heroes finally do battle with Moff Gideon. Again. For the third time. In practice, it was fine. The whole thing felt pretty inert, particularly knowing that this show is about to tread even more water to prepare for Filoni’s movie. There have been a growing number of complaints that The Mandalorian went from a neat little western with a Lone Wolf and Cub vibe to being forced to carry the weight of a new sub-franchise. What was a simple story about a bounty hunter and his green son is now a non-stop exercise in dragging the animated series into the live-action realm. On top of that, The Mandalorian is now saddled with the Herculean (and maybe impossible) task of restoring Star Wars to its big screen glory. We just want to see the baby eat soup!
— Speaking of narrative weirdness, there’s an interesting theory floating around that I’ve now seen in a couple places. In a nutshell, it posits that Mando and Grogu’s story was supposed to end with the Season 2 finale, which if you think about it, is the perfect ending. Mando makes the heart-breaking decision to hand the little guy off to Luke Skywalker to keep him safe, and in those final moments, he also disavows his creed by removing his helmet to say goodbye. From there Season 3 was supposed to focus entirely on Boba Fett, and Season 4 would move on to Bo-Katan, making the show a loose anthology series. Instead, we got The Book of Boba Fett, which jettisoned its own story to randomly slap Mando and Grogu back together. And, now, we have Season 3 where they’re shoehorned into Bo-Katan’s story to the point where it’s hard to figure out why they’re even there. I’m not big on fan theories, but that one does have legs.
— Back to brass tacks: This week’s title is “The Spies.” Every episode so far has had a double meaning that fits two characters, and we noticeably did not see a second spy to justify Chapter 23’s plural usage. Elia Kane is obviously the first one, but who is the other? The Armorer has been suspicious all season, and is a likely candidate. Axe Woves, however, made a convenient exit after being attacked by Gideon’s forces. If he’s already a mercenary in Gideon’s employ, last week’s episode showed that he’s honor bound by that agreement.
— If there’s one thing Chapter 23 definitely did, it’s move a shitload of toys. Jesus, you’ve got Grogu in IG-12, Mandalorian stormtroopers, Mandalorian Praetorian guards, Skinny Pete and the Pete Patrol, and of course, Moff Gideon in his dorked-up wannabe Darth Vader outfit. You’d think watching a blatant toy catalog would make me like this episode even less, but it didn’t. I need help.