By Kieran Burt.
Andor episode nine delivers a continued look at the inner workings of the prison, with the pervasive feeling of oppression hanging over the whole run time, something new even for this series. Star Wars has never felt this bleak, the Empire this strong.
The episode opens with Bix Carleen being interrogated by Dedra Meero (Denise Gough), and this scene reminds us that no matter how much root for Dedra to triumph over Blevin, she is still a fascist. That’s how good her character is, we know she’s the bad guy, yet we want her to do well, but when we’re confronted with her doing evil it’s harder to oppose her.
Torture is always an intense topic, but here the Imperials approach it so casually, like it’s nothing to them. Neither Dedra or Doctor Gorst take it seriously, Dedra is all about giving Bix “encouragement” and the Doctor seems so happy he gets to use it’s equipment, explaining it way too casually, as though torture is something everyone does.
It builds up the tension, we feel what Bix feels in that moment. And once the torture commences, we actually see it happen, and feel for Bix. The scene closes out with a great homage to A New Hope, with the exception that A New Hope blocks the torture, whereas here it doesn’t.
And there is still a moment that we feel for Dedra. Back on Coruscant, Syril Karn stalks Dedra on the way to her work, trying to thank her for the promotion he got. He waits a long time for Meero to arrive, and when he does he tries to sweet talk her by saying that he wouldn’t lie to her, and that just “being in her [Dedra’s] presence”he realises life is worth living.
He man handles her, with the whole scene coming up in a super creepy way. Karn has demonstrated time and time again that he can’t communicate with people, and this is the worst instance of that. The softly spoken voice adds to the overall creepy feeling.
Credit for this goes to actor Kyle Soller, who is not creepy at all in real life. The way Karn’s character is written is amazing, at the start of the series there was some genuine sympathy for a guy who just wanted to do his job and failed, but now that’s fading fast.
There’s a lot happening in Mon Mothma’s life this week, with another Senate scene. It reinforces the name of the episode in a less obvious way, with raised voices both telling her to shut up and to be quiet, because they can’t hear her.
No one on either side is listening to Mon. The dialogue is something to what Padme used to say in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but Mon is feeling more defeated after constant oppression, and doesn’t fill the speech with confidence.
We then get a reveal that Vel is actually a rich kid from Chandrila, and Mon’s cousin to boot. She gets a beautiful jab at Perrin (who once again cements himself as someone who needs punching), and attempts to console Mon that the work they’re doing is vital.
As soon as Vel leaves, there is a great shot of Mon standing alone, missing the warmth of her cousin and feeling alone. It’s certainly not a feeling she can replicate with her husband or daughter.
A final Mothma scene is one between her and Tay Kolma. Mon is rapidly approaching a financial crisis, with the Empire about to realise 400,000 credits vanishing out of her account for an unknown reason. Tay suggests she work with a criminal to solve the problems, but the despair Mon shows and Genevieve O’reilly conveys at this is amazing.
It’s also really interesting that she’s willing to work with people like Luthen, someone who has noble aims but questionable means, but herself refuses to get her hand dirty to work with a criminal.
This shows an element of moral superiority to her character. She separates what she’s doing with Luthen, but she can’t bring herself to do anything with this criminal, even though, by Imperial standards, they all are.
Turning to the prison, where the bulk of the episode is set, Andor and his fellow prisoners try to figure out a way out, whilst not being shocked. But that’s put on hold, as fellow prisoner, Ulaf, is sick, and something goes horribly wrong on level two.
Andor shows his care here, making sure Ulaf is OK, and lets other team members take credit for actions. His time on Aldhani has made him more of a team player, something that will undoubtedly be important here.
Andy Serkis in this episode gives an excellent performance as the prisoner Kino, going from loyal worker who just wants to keep his head down to earn their freedom to rebel over the course of the episode.
In one particular hard hitting scene, Kino is trying to calm the other prisoners down, but his face betrays that he’s scared, running through fear and worry. Serkis’ character and performance in Andor is much more compelling and interesting than Snoke.
Serkis’ face when Kino realises the Empire doesn’t intend to ever release him is brilliant, and leads to the most satisfying line in the episode.
One minor complaint is the predictability of the arcs. While episode seven did provide some variation, being a standalone episode, this one arc and the previous two have had the identical structure. Two episodes of set up, and one episode of action.
It looks like that’s going to be repeated here, and this is a shame. There was a real chance to change that formula up a bit and give some action midway through an arc, but unfortunately this isn’t the case.
Despite this minor gripe, Andor continues to amaze with its tense storytelling, exposing Imperial atrocities and testing the sympathies of the audience. Star Wars has never felt this oppressive, but this look at the Empire is what the franchise needs. This episode easily provides the most uncomfortable viewing, but for all the right reasons.