Another week, another incredible episode of Andor. What else is there to say? There is a level of adult, genuinely adult, sophistication on this show unmatched by any other iteration of Star Wars. It would be stupid to remake Star Wars in its entirety in Andorhis picture, of course; this is primarily a children’s franchise, always has been, and so it should remain. But why not cast a wider net from time to time? Why not make a Star Wars show with things to say about human relationships, the nature of fascist cruelty, the routine dehumanization of prisoners, the whole ball of wax thing? For God’s sake, one character suspects another of having an extramarital affair! Another is euthanized! On the screen! In a Star Wars show! I look at this and at times I literally cannot believe my eyes and ears. It’s so consistently surprising, so consistently thoughtful, and so consistently good.
This episode follows our heroes through some very dark times. On Coruscant, Senator Mon Mothma watches as her pleas to reign in the Emperor’s excesses fall on deaf ears in the Senate, where some members cheer, several members heckle, and others simply whip off their floating podiums in a flamboyant display of “la la la” . let me not listen.” Big last-days-of-the-Reichstag vibes.
Behind the scenes it’s tough too. Her bank friend Tay—who we learn was a childhood sweetheart, which explains some of their obvious romantic chemistry—tells Mon that she’s moved money she can’t account for, and that he can’t write it over. She needs a loan to fill the gap, which means contacting a Chandrilan gangster.
Earlier, Mon gets a visit from his cousin…Well! Yes, the leader of the rebel cell that carried out the attack on Aldhani with Andor is indeed from a family of rich aristocrats; as with Mon, this acts as a cover for her real activities. It is Vel who asks if there is more going on between Mon and Tay than just business. For her part, Mon just asks Vel to act like a spoiled rich friend for a while instead of continuing to go on dangerous missions for Luthen. “WHO?” Well deadpans.
Back at Ferrix, Bix Caleen falls into the hands of ISB officer Dedra Meero, who really lets her fascist flag fly in an interrogation scene. She’s mostly there to act intimidating and reveal to Bix how much they already know about Ferrix’s rudimentary separatist/rebel operation. The interrogation itself is the field of one Dr. Gorst (Joshua James), a smiling young man who has helped develop a torture technique that uses the psychoactive screams of dying alien children slaughtered by the Empire. I mean, oh my god, guys, this is brutal.
(Please also note the visual shoutout to Darth Vader’s interrogation of Princess Leia in the original Star Wars: The door slams shut and the camera whips to the ground as the boots of a guard stomp past.)
Bix gives up everything she knows, and Meero reports back to the ISB. Together, they find that Andor was involved in the attack on Aldhani, making him crucial for more reasons than just his connection to Luthen, the unknown figure the Empire has dubbed Axis. Later, a rebel pilot – part of a faction led by Anto Kreegyr, the man Luthen tried and failed to persuade rebel extremist Saw Gerrera to meet with last week – falls into their hands. The ISB plans to stage his death so that his ship will be recovered and brought back to the rebel base. All this is done with relentless, even cheerful efficiency. All these people are very good at their jobs; Seeing people perform tasks skillfully is one of the consummate joys of visual narrative fiction, which is what makes this story all the more perverse.
One person who is particularly attracted to Meero’s expertise is Syril Karn. Still beaten incessantly by his mother at home, he has received a promotion thanks to the ISB which wipes his record clean in exchange for cooperation and information. Karn literally stalks Meero to thank her – and to express the inspiration and hope she has given him, in painfully flowery and sincere language. “Just being in your presence made me realize that life was worth living. I realized that if nothing else there was justice and beauty in the galaxy.” Do I understand looking at Dedra Meero and feeling this way?Yes I do, which is alarming in itself.
But the main action is on Narkina 5, where Andor continues to suffer in prison. First, his tablemate Ulaf (Christopher Fairbank), despite having just over a month left on his sentence, begins to slip, plagued by obvious physical and mental problems. Andor himself acts out an escape attempt—noticing that the elevator leading to their room isn’t powered, secretly sabotaging some kind of wire in the toilet, conspiring with other inmates—but can’t really get anywhere unless and until his supervisor, fellow prisoner Kino Loy, reveals how many guards there are on each level. Loy wants nothing to do with this.
That changes when word gets out that two entire rooms on another level have been executed. Why? They grew restless when a prisoner from another level, apparently “released” at the end of his sentence, was simply sent to their room instead. No one gets out, in other words. Except for Ulaf, who has a massive stroke, and as an inmate doctor dies there on screen. After that, Kino tells Cassian that there are only 12 guards per level. The wheels are turning, that’s for sure.
I focus so much on the writing of this show, the shocking and rewarding ways it deviates from the Disney Star Wars norm, that I feel like I’m neglecting the performances. Honestly, they are consistently excellent. Genevieve O’Reilly, who conveys Mon Mothma’s imprisonment in a gilded cage. Denise Gough, making Dedra Meero one of the most magnetic and terrifying villains in the Star Wars legendarium. (She’s serving up Peter Cushing, baby.) Diego Luna, a rat in a trap, is always looking for a way out, never letting himself go. Andy Serkis, who shows layers of weariness and fear during Kino Loy’s blast, emotions that eventually give way to anger when he realizes he’s been caught. Kyle Soller barely holds it together as Syril Karn, all desperation to prove himself to someone, anyone, to be respected, maybe to be loved. Kathryn Hunter as his mother, a passive-aggressive martinet, who makes his life worse even as she pretends to make it better. There’s such a wide range of performances for such a wide range of characters, all handled with care, all, even the bad guys, treated as three-dimensional people.
Unless things go wrong, Andor has already cemented itself as one of the best science-fiction shows of the century, up there with Battlestar Galactica, Darkand Raised by wolves. I simply can’t wait to see how far it goes.
Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling stone, Vulture, New York Timesand anywhere that wants him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.