‘The Mandalorian’ Season 2, Episode 2: Hard-Boiled

Season 2, Episode 2: ‘The Passenger’

A big part of what makes the “Star Wars” universe so enchanting is that all its crazy creatures, robots and spacecraft have a real physical presence on-screen. Starting with the first movie in 1977, the Lucasfilm effects team has worked magic with practical effects, creating worlds where the vehicles sputter and shake, the droids creak and clank, and the aliens cast imposing shadows. Everyone and everything seems bound by the laws of gravity. That makes the action sequences more nail-biting and gives the comedy more slapstick sting.

This week’s episode, is pretty much 40 minutes of chase scenes and fights, interrupted by some of the series’s funniest gags to date. Directed by Peyton Reed (best-known for the buoyant teen comedy “Bring It On” and the wonderfully imaginative Marvel movie “Ant-Man”) and written by Jon Favreau, this chapter is a charmer, primarily because so many of its thrills and jokes are rooted in that essential “Star Wars” physicality: from the bulky enormity of Mando’s ship to the adorable tininess of the Child.

If nothing else, this episode compensates for the Season 2 premiere’s relative lack of Baby Yoda by filling nearly every spare second with adorable toddling and cute reaction shots.

Sometimes, Reed and Favreau build exciting TV out of almost nothing. In the opening sequence, the Mandalorian and the Child are speeding back to Mos Eisley when they get waylaid by bandits. This sequence features a lot of the lo-fi props, effects and stunts that make the “Star Wars” universe so believable, as real ropes and hunks of metal fly at characters’ heads.

The scene then ends with some good, dry goofing as Mando trades his jetpack to the Child’s would-be kidnapper before remotely activating the device and sending the bad guy hurtling to his doom. The fatal crash happens deep in the background — like seeing Wile E. Coyote fall to the bottom of a canyon in a Road Runner cartoon.

Mando looks at the Child and shrugs. Then the pack settles gently to the ground near our hero before abruptly flopping over. It’s the perfect punchline.

In a broad sense, one could argue this whole scene is unnecessary given that it has very little to do with the rest of the episode (beyond reinforcing the idea that the Child is still in grave danger). But it’s a hoot, and it sets the tone for the next half-hour of derring-do and deadpan comedy.

Most of the episode is about an assignment Din Djarin takes as a favor to Peli Motto. A humanoid frog-beast — referred to only as “the passenger” or as “frog lady” — has a jar of her eggs to take to a new planet, where her husband is waiting to fertilize them and save their species. The catch is that Mando’s ship, the Razor Crest, can’t go into hyperspace on the trip, lest the jump scramble those eggs (so to speak). So they have to creep along, avoiding pirates and warlords.

There are further complications. For one thing, Din can’t understand a word his passenger says. For another, the Child takes one look at her giant jar of unfertilized eggs and sees a bunch of delicious snacks. Reed and Favreau adeptly blend the genuine tension of the passenger’s situation — as she strives to preserve and protect the last of her kind — with the darkly comic sight of Baby Yoda’s occasionally sneaking a hand into the jar and popping one of the eggs into his little mouth. (By the end of the episode, he seems to have depleted about a third of the stock. And then he eats one more, in a hilarious pre-credits stinger.)

The biggest problem the crew faces is that they run into a couple of X-wing pilots representing the nascent Republic. Because the Mandalorian has outstanding warrants — and because he’s not sure he can trust the new folks in charge — he escapes to the nearest planet in a white-knuckle chase that has him swooping through canyons and hiding in an icy cave.

From there, everything quickly goes hinky. The Razor Crest cracks through the ice and falls into a lower chamber of the caverns. And that’s where the spider-monsters attack.

The payoff to “The Passenger” is a bit like the end to a shaggy dog story. Just when the Mandalorian’s ship is about to be overrun by thousands of these spider things — including one nearly the size of the ship — the Republic patrol finally catches up with its quarry, blasts the creepy-crawlies to smithereens and gives Mando the space-cop equivalent of, “We’re going to let you off with a warning, but be sure to get your taillight fixed.”

It wouldn’t be a stretch to find a theme in all this breathless action and arch humor. The passenger has offspring to protect, just as the Mandalorian has the Child, the big spider boss has its throng (which also hatch from eggs) and the Republic has its fledgling government. Everything of value is fragile.

But let’s be honest: What makes this episode so fun is that it feels like playtime. This is Reed, Favreau, the cast and the crew having a blast dreaming up cool “Star Wars” scenes and making them look as polished and realistic as a Ralph McQuarrie painting. It’s pure, pulp, made with love and care.

This Is the Way

For anyone who wondered what the Mandalorian was going to do with the big hunk of dragon meat he secured to his speeder last week: In this episode he delivers it to Peli Motto, who has her droids roast it. (But not too much. She likes her dragon medium-rare.)

When Mando sidles into a Mos Eisley cantina to find Peli, she’s in the middle of a game with a giant bug she alternately calls “Dr. Mandible” and “Zorak.” Assuming that neither of those is the creature’s real name, the implication of her “Zorak” crack is that “Space Ghost” exists in the “Star Wars” universe.

The effects team really plays up the frog-ness of the passenger, especially when the spider-things come creeping in as she’s bathing in a spring. She quickly uses her prehensile tongue to grab her bundle of clothes, then when she can’t flee fast enough on two legs she gets down on all fours and hops.

Whenever I watch “The Mandalorian” with my wife and kids, the thing that freaks us out most is whenever anyone lets go of the Child and he tumbles to the ground. We all scream at the screen simultaneously, “Do not drop Baby Yoda!”

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