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‘The Americans’ vs. Russia-phobia

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No significant series spoilers except where specifically marked.

FX Networks isn’t above capitalizing on Russia fever to The Americans’ benefit. In the week prior to the series’ fifth-season premiere, they took out ads in the digital edition of the New York Times that briefly translated the front page to Russian. Indeed, the timing of the show’s return would, on the surface, appear to be incredibly serendipitous; just as headlines and social-media chatter are abuzz with ominous proclamations of insidious Ruskie influence over American democracy, the acclaimed series about KGB agents disguised as ordinary American citizens would seem to be more timely than ever. That turns out to be true – but not only for the reasons one might reasonably expect.

For the uninitiated, The Americans concerns the early-to-mid-1980s adventures of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell), real names Mischa and Nadezhda, covert KGB agents posing as travel agents operating out of DC. (The series is very loosely based on the exploits of real-life Russian spies who did indeed pose as American and Canadian citizens.) They have two American-born children who, as the series opens, are blissfully unaware of their parents’ true professions or national sympathies. Their neighbor Stan (Noah Emmerich) works for FBI counterintelligence, whose efforts to sniff out covert Russian activity we also follow. A third plane of action involves the KGB actors at the Soviet embassy, particularly Oleg (Costa Ronin), whose quest to carve out a useful niche separate from his powerful father offer a window into the particulars of Russian corruption, nepotism, and plain old bureaucracy.

While the series’ peerless performances, tense setpieces, and dense plotting have helped to make it one of the most acclaimed on television, it’s remained curiously underwatched. Indeed, despite the new round of hubbub, its paltry ratings haven’t seen an uptick. That may be in part because the series doggedly avoids the sensationalism of 24 or the strained topicality of Homeland, and it resists the urge to make covert spycraft seem sexy or appealing. More daringly, however, The Americans exploits the natural phenomenon of audience identification to subtly hammer home one of the most radical points of view on TV: when it comes to global covert interference, no one comes out with hands unbloodied.

Throughout its five seasons and change so far, both the KGB and FBI have been depicted committing monstrous acts of terrorism, sabotage, and murder – some historical fact, most pure conjecture. Agents and supervisors on both sides constantly misread, overestimate, and underestimate the other. We spend a lot of time with Philip, Elizabeth, and Stan, often in the act of simply looking in the mirror in quiet contemplation of things they’ve seen and done. Flashbacks depict the Jennings’ early lives as hardscrabble kids in postwar Russia. Dozens of characters, many of them small players, are given long scenes to espouse their views on Russia, the West, and how their experiences have shaped their views on each. Most importantly, we come to understand all of the series’ principal characters both as tools of state apparatuses and as complex people wrestling with their choices and actions.

This is where The Americans’ core strength and radical focus lies, one that’s especially refreshing in the current political climate. Over its run, the series has developed a case for understanding state intelligence and counterintelligence operations (regardless of country of origin) as mercenary, witless forces of systemic corruption, acting out of pure self-interest even when its individual actors are capable of good judgment, compassion, mercy, and remorse. For anyone with a passing knowledge of violent, antidemocratic intelligence-community misadventures over the decades, this seems like an obvious conclusion to draw. Yet as I write this, ostensibly pro-democratic commentators openly yearn (as James Wolcott of Vanity Fair and others have) for the so-called “deep state” to subvert an election result they’re unhappy about. Moreover, the fevered finger–pointing at any and all US officials who have taken meetings with Russian officials reeks of an urge to identify foreign villains whose nefarious manipulation of American democracy can explain away how an open-faced monster like Trump could rise to the highest office in the nation. (The problem couldn’t principally lie, of course, with the overall failure of Trump’s opponent, herself under erroneous FBI investigation during her campaign, to provide a compelling alternative vision for a clear enough majority of ordinary Americans, because that would mean rethinking the entire Democratic Party ethos.) The fact that the conspiratorial Russia chatter is far eclipsing any discussion of actual US-caused civilian deaths overseas, themselves simply an extension of Obama-era drone campaigns, is perhaps a sign of how fervently liberals are thirsting for a foreign enemy to pinpoint their contemporary woes on to the exclusion of all other considerations.

What differentiates The Americans from other, more openly nationalistic contemporary spy stories (again, Fox’s 24 leaps to mind), and places it more in line with brutally unsentimental works like le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, is its commitment to examining the human toll of counterintelligence work, which by definition replaces human will with national interests. The FBI and KGB’s respective missions corrode the souls of those who carry it out, even as each espouses the other’s evil with single-minded conviction. In the world of The Americans, as in ours, working for the state’s covert enforcement arm means all other moral and ethical considerations are bunk. Were the series set in the ’60s instead, we might have seen Stan helping to pen the letter urging Martin Luther King towards a lonely suicide, or enmeshed in some other nefarious COINTELPRO scheme. (Remember, this is the same organization that many modern-day liberals are hoping will precipitate the end of Trump.) He might well have protested, as Stan is, individually, someone who tries to be morally upright, but ultimately he’d have heeded orders, as the Jennings would were they handed down similarly monstrous orders. Ultimately, it’s they, and not the state, that carries the emotional and spiritual toll of such acts. Similarly, The Americans‘ second season features a sub-plot wherein an American counterintelligence effort dooms dozens of Russian sailors no nation was at war with, a fact that the Russian operatives (who unknowingly helped to pass along the poisoned intel) must carry with them indefinitely.

As depicted on The Americans, each state operative’s individual point of view is often defensible. Elizabeth in particular demeans American life and culture as aimlessly indulgent and counter-productively individualistic, a critique that rings true in the light of the failure of neoliberalism, the ideology that now drives the entire American project. Meanwhile, embittered Russian expats on the series bemoan the rampant corruption and destitution that drove them to dissent against their country in the first place. Stan might be part of the enforcement arm of one of the most corrupt American governments ever (the series coincides with the Reagan administration), but in his context, Russian operatives are murdering citizens and it’s certainly understandable that he wants to bring the perpetrators to justice. Behind all of the machinations on The Americans is a quiet recognition of the fact that state-sanctioned espionage and terrorism can only function because of the history of foreign misadventures and forced economic imbalances that foster the levels of enmity required for “true believers” to override any incipient sense of compassion within themselves in favor of horrific acts of violence. 

Season 3 and up spoilers in the following paragraph.

Perhaps the most poignant representation of nationalism’s poisonous influence comes when the Jennings are forced to recruit their eldest child, Paige (Holly Taylor), into the true family occupation. As they instruct her on the finer points of spycraft, what they’re really training her for is the act of putting the requirements of a nation-state ahead of all other considerations, including the sanctity of human life. On The Americans, death and suffering are always subordinate concerns if they support tactical gains, even if those gains ultimately prove futile or illusory, and not even the holiest order of American life, the nuclear family, is immune from the state’s corrupting influence.

End of spoilers.

The poignancy of The Americans‘ take on the poisonous nature of violent nationalism is especially effective due to the natural effect of our growing personal affection for and association with Philip and Elizabeth as we consume the series. Other series have taken advantage of audience association to subversive ends (The Sopranos more or less invented this technique, developing a rapport between audiences and Tony in order to set up a punitive, adversarial relationship between viewer and viewed), but The Americans exploits this natural occurrence a little differently, getting viewers to not only sympathize for but actually take the place of The Other, while associating Stan and the FBI with the role of the aggressors, the ones who will effectively terminate the story (and the series)  if they’re successful. As we watch Elizabeth and Philip struggle with the enormity of their actions, we find ourselves seduced by their plight even as they commit increasingly indefensible acts. The fact that they do so not only for country but in defense of their (uniquely American) family unit only amplifies the seduction.

Yet there’s another human dimension to The Americans that’s less despairing or cynical. In a recent sequence, Philip and Elizabeth are holed up in an Alabama motel room on a mission about to go violently wrong. Alabama (the band)’s saccharine country tune “Old Flame” comes on the radio, a cowboy hat is passed around, and the two tenderly console one another while succumbing to the irresistibly romantic, utterly alien (to them) pull of the music and culture they find themselves immersed in. If The Americans has an optimistic dimension, it’s that it’s possible, if only for a moment, to transcend the forces that seek to violently divide us in order to locate moments and sensations beyond the reach of state interference and influence. If we could forge stronger connections based on such moments and experiences of transcendence, we might be more popularly inclined to leave behind the superstructures that pit us against each other. Wittingly or not, The Americans argues that somewhere behind every tragically misjudged national agenda is a lost chorus of ordinary people striving to make their lives more liveable.

Simon is a roving writer and editor who has been crawling slowly Westward across Canada for the last decade. (He currently resides in Toronto.) He obtained a BFA in Film Studies from Concordia University in the spring of 2012 and a Graduate Certificate in Technical Writing from Algonquin College in 2015. He is a former co-host of the Televerse podcast. His favorite films include F for Fake, Brazil, Stroszek, The Fog of War, Grave of the Fireflies and In a Lonely Place. He can be found on Twitter (mostly yelling about far-left politics, ye been warned) at @hollowmines.

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A Brief History of Survivor Series: A Cornerstone of WWE

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History of Survivor Series

Relive Some of the Biggest Moments in Survivor Series history

There are a few pay-per-views that are mainstays of WWE’s annual slate of offerings. SummerSlam. Royal Rumble. WrestleMania. Kids grow up dreaming of wrestling at these shows, and Survivor Series is one of them. The classic Survivor Series match is a five-on-five elimination bout, featuring a variety of top stars as well as up and coming wrestlers. It provides an important showcase for WWE’s talent, some of which don’t always get pay-per-view time.

Survivor Series
Hulk Hogan’s Best Survivor Series Team

Besides that, it’s a lot of fun for fans to watch.

Over the years, Survivor Series has produced a number of career-defining moments for the talent involved and those moments can mean everything. This is the pay-per-view that kicks of the build up to WrestleMania, the ultimate goal for all WWE wrestlers.

The 2019 event is even more interesting than past iterations because of it’s incorporation of talent from NXT for the first time ever, pitting their champions against Raw and SmackDown. If fans were looking for a statement as to how seriously WWE is taking NXT as its own brand, matching NXT against their long-standing brands accomplishes that.

Survivor Series NXT
Triple H with his NXT Champions

Bret Hart’s Survivor Series History

Many of the biggest moments in Survivor Series history happened outside of the actual namesake match. One of the most infamous moments in WWE history, The Montreal Screwjob, happened at Survivor Series 1997. Knowing Bret Hart was leaving WWE and wanting to make sure he didn’t take the belt to WCW, Vince McMahon ordered a fast count during Hart’s match with Shawn Michaels.

Hart’s response was infamous and understandable, his long feud with both McMahon and Michaels only coming to a relatively recent end.

Hart had a part in another big moment, this time at Survivor Series 1996. One year before The Montreal Screwjob, Bret Hart faced off against a young wrestler name Stone Cold Steve Austin who was looking to make a name for himself. Thanks to this match, he would do it. While it’s not often recognized as such, this match was the start of Austin taking the wrestling world by storm and building a legendary career fans still talk about.

Notable Survivor Series Debuts

A WWE franchise player, The Undertaker himself debuted at Survivor Series 1990, starting arguably the most legendary run for any gimmick in wrestling history. The next year at Survivor Series 1991, The Undertaker would go on to defeat Hulk Hogan for the World Championship and cement his legacy as ‘The Phenom.’

Royal Rumble
The Undertaker vs. Hulk Hogan at Survivor Series 1991

The Undertaker wasn’t the only wrestler to debut at the venerable pay-per-view. The Shield, a faction that would go one to produce three major singles champions, made their first main roster appearance at Survivor Series 2012. They came through the crowd and destroyed both John Cena and Ryback on behalf of CM Punk. The legendary Sting made his first WWE appearance at Survivor Series 2014, attacking Triple H and setting up a WrestleMania match between them.

WrestleMania
Sting vs. Triple H at WrestleMania

Sole Survivors

Asuka also achieved glory at Survivor Series 2017 as part of her build-up to WrestleMania. She was a member of the Raw Women’s Team, putting in a typically dominant performance. Asuka was the sole survivor, winning the match for her brand and eventually going on to win the first Women’s Royal Rumble match.

Survivor Series WrestleMania
Asuka Victorious at Survivor Series

Unfortunately, she didn’t win her match at WrestleMania, a loss that took months and months to recover from. Now, it seems like she’s finally back on track alongside Kairi Sane as the Women’s Tag Team Champions.

Many big names have been sole survivors, as well. Roman Reigns, Kofi Kingston, Andre the Giant, and Lex Luger have all held that distinction. The likes of Ric Flair, The Rock, and Dolph Ziggler have been sole survivors on two separate occasions each. Randy Orton holds the unique distinction of being a three-time sole survivor, though that’s no surprise for ‘The Viper.’ He is nothing if not a survivor.

Now. Then. Forever.

The big four pay-per-views will always have a special place in the hearts of WWE fans, and Survivor Series is no exception. While every moment on screen plays a role in building a successful wrestler, showing up and showing out in big moments like this set the tone for the rest of the year.

Some of the biggest names in WWE history have made their names at Survivor Series, possibly even more so than WrestleMania. Survivor Series was created to play off the success of Andre the Giant versus Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III. Both men led their own teams at the inaugural event, featuring some of the biggest talents of their time.

That continues today as modern talent use this traditional pay-per-view event as a means of launching careers. It’s one of those events young wrestlers grow up dreaming about.

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‘The World According to Jeff Goldblum’ is a Quirky and Oddly Engrossing Worldview of Modern Culture

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Disney Plus launched on November 12th to the general public and with it came ten new pilot episodes for upcoming original shows including Star Wars: The Mandalorian and Pixar In Real Life. Out of all the original television series to debut on opening day, one strikingly stands out from the rest: a quirky National Geographic docuseries featuring Jurassic Park and Thor: Ragnarok actor Jeff Goldblum that was initially going to air on the television channel before switching over to the digital streaming service.

In the mouse’s newest selection of shows for their Netflix Competitor, variety can be the key to the foundation of building something successful and The World According to Jeff Goldblum might just hit the sweet spot for what this service needs, but it is still notably something that would never be labeled as a reason to buy into Disney Plus. With that being said, viewing a regular conversation with Jeff Goldblum has never been so engrossing before than in this odd gem of a series.

Goldblum Versus The World

The pilot episode of the series turns Goldblum into a comedic ethnographer who indulges himself in the culture of shoe collectors and creators. Goldblum slowly dives into his worldview of the purpose and significance of the common day footwear, while looking into how the business operates and the passion behind those who proclaim shoes to the highest extent. The pilot episode focuses on a theme of revelation while jumping from different specialists within the culture such as basketball teams, business owners, creators, and even YouTube personalities.

If you are a fan of the actor then you should already except what you are about to watch. Goldblum has his typical quirky and childish mannerisms that make him iconic, while he goes around interacting with a vast selection of people who are widely educated about the subject matter that each half-hour episode focuses on. Despite seeming like a show that can easily become a bore to watch, it never loses steam and becomes an exceptionally well-executed documentary with a flair of humor and spice of knowledge thanks to Goldblum’s mesmerizing appearance.

From the perspective of becoming an ethnographer, Goldblum surprisingly does a good job interacting with an audience he typically would never engage with. He never misses a beat as he proceeds to ask serious questions and of course, make humor out of certain situations when appropriate. Never once does he provocatively attempt to embarrass a group of people for mindless entertainment or make fools out of them like other docuseries on specific cultures have.

In fact, Goldblum goes the extra mile to participate in sneaker conventions, recreational basketball games, and even professional science laboratory visits- taking on the tasks that a legitimate ethnographer would have to engage in. All of his crazy yet conventional doings ultimately pays off into what ends up building a captivating show that may even attract audiences who do not care about anything that is being discussed. Goldblum’s personality will miraculously keep you hooked on his wild journeys through everyday life as he attempts to explain his stance on common objects while plunging into a perspective of life he has never once stepped into.

Science, Psychology, and Style

This is a National Geographic production though, after all. It is no surprise that this series would be injected with a relentless amount of historical knowledge that is slowly seeping into the core of the show. In the pilot episode, Goldblum combines science, psychology, and of course eccentric style to form a captivating presentation that is quite unlike any other docuseries. For example, in the pilot episode alone Goldblum covers how shoes work, why the category of clothing is so popular among shoe collectors, and the different art styles of footwear found throughout shoe brands.

That being said, for a series revolving around such a simple concept, there is a substantial amount of content to actually talk about and the production value here is unnecessarily high- hitting that Disney expected production value to the point where its astonishingly remarkable how much passion was actually put into this series. From the editing to the cinematography, this is certainly something that was not made without passion. On-screen graphics are always welcomely flashy, lighting is constantly up to pristine quality, and the focus always remains on the title actor.

Goldblum’s consistent upbeat pazazz and high energy makes this series not only entertaining and relaxing to watch for his comedic appearance, but for an enjoyable source of overall education- something that most other docuseries tend to struggle with when multitasking multiple genres.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Is The World According to Jeff Goldblum worthy of being called a reason to purchase Disney Plus? Absolutely not. Is it worth watching on an empty afternoon though? Unsurprisingly yes. This is a fun family series that is not only educational regarding subject-matter but educational to learn more about Jeff Goldblum himself. Without the big-name actor though it would be hard to imagine why anyone would ever want to watch this series.

Goldblum’s presence allows this series to become a notable piece of content available on the streaming service, however, without him, it would be nothing but another typical documentary series with no real focus. It is entertaining until the very end and is keen on ending off on a positive punchline to keep you coming back next time. Simply put, it is another great addition to Disney Plus’s colossal lineup that will seemingly never stop producing high-quality content.

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The Mandalorian’s First Episode is an Impressively Lush, Spaghetti Western-inspired Introduction to its World

The Mandalorian Season 1 Episode One Review: “Chapter One”

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The Mandalorian Chapter One

George Lucas famously took inspiration from Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress when first writing his treatment of what was then titled The Star Wars; it’s pretty much why we spend the first twenty minutes of A New Hope with R2-D2 and C3-PO. He also used many of its shot compositions, but ultimately reconstituted the pastiche through a unique, worn science fantasy style into what we collectively recognise as Star Wars: A New Hope. In the ensuing four decades, the Star Wars franchise has looked well beyond Kurosawa for its cinematic language, channeling everything from gangster movies to political thrillers to survival horror to wuxia through its peculiar galactic design.

Now, to the delight of everyone who has ever wanted Star Wars to be a Western since seeing gunslinger Boba Fett, The Mandalorian is here to satisfy under auspices of director Dave Filoni.

That “Chapter One” is a meditative and deliberate character study where nothing extraordinary happens, and yet is still riveting, suggests that The Mandalorian will be a complex and thoughtful offering.

The first episode, titled “Chapter One,” is a tale of two halves, and within those halves are two different Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. As with that genre, the exposition is minimal; yet, accepting the basic conceit as one does with a Western — in this case, the eponymous Mandalorian (forever the ‘Mando’ with No Name, played by Pedro Pascal) is a gun-toting bounty hunter who goes around chasing renegades — the rest is parsed out. Given the series is so stylistically steeped in that heritage, it is fruitful to analyse The Mandalorian in the context of its spaghetti western influences.

The Mandalorian strides toward town amid a flurry of snow

The opening moments find the Mandalorian checking a transponder on some icy planet amidst a sleet storm, then ambling towards some podunk outpost framed by a wide shot, in much the way Stony the gunman did in the beginning of Once Upon A Time In The West. The subsequent scene, in a bar, reflects Once Upon A Time In The West’s saloon confrontation as well — if not for the actual exchanges, then for the chiaroscuro contrast in the set lighting, the cutting to the other patrons’ reaction to accentuate unease, and the close-ups of all involved. Composer Ludwig Göransson even tries for something akin to the famous aching harmonica, but lower-pitched with woodwinds.

Unlike Cheyenne and Harmonica in Leone’s masterpiece, “Chapter One” sees the Mandalorian break the tension by breaking a few heads, as he quickly comes to collect his target fugitive: a blue-gilled alien named Mythrol (Horatio Sanz), who immediately tries to talk his way out of it. This is one of many naturally-lit, seated conversations that frame the episode, with each successively coaxing a little more emotion from the initially silent Mandalorian. It’s a simple but effective technique, providing expositional context for the uninitiated, introducing the other starring actors, and it ultimately suggests a nuanced character beneath that blank helmet.

The affable-yet-blubbering Mythrol’s juxtaposing role in “Chapter One” efficiently emphasises how imposing the bounty hunter is. For example, Mythrol is a terrified wreck as the Mandalorian clinically dispatches a giant, scaly walrus called Ravinak. His nervous yammering in the face of the Mandalorian’s austere silence aboard the starship makes his request to “evacuate a thorax” far more intimidating. And when Mythrol inevitably tries to plan his escape, the Mandalorian appears like a phantom, mercilessly freezing him in carbonite (but not before Mythrol laments that he won’t be seeing his family by “Life Day”…The Star Wars Holiday Remake, coming to Disney+ this December). To his enemies, this Mandalorian is as much of a frigid void as carbonite.

Werner Herzog talks to The Mandalorian

To his employers, however, he is marginally more talkative. Carl Weathers as Greef Carga, a bounty hunter guild-master and form of bail bondsman, along with Werner Herzog (presumably as “Werner Herzog”), have sparse, largely expositional dialogue, but both immediately create an engaging dynamic with the Mandalorian on the strength of their acting. Weathers especially makes the most of deviously trying to pass off Imperial Credits in the aftermath of the defunct Galactic Empire; the mixture of indignation and exasperation when exclaiming, “They still spend!” is perfect. Werner Herzog essentially just has to intone in his distinctive German accent, but clad in black and surrounded by ex-Stormtrooper bodyguards, it’s no wonder that the Mandalorian is unsettled by his new client’s dubious proposition.

However, the fortune he will be paid in Beskar — the metal alloy used in Mandalorian armour that was ostensibly robbed by the Empire from the Mandalorian homeworld — allows him to ignore the obliquely threatening idea that it is “good to restore the natural order of things after a period of such disarray.”

These conversations are interspersed with brief vignettes of the Mandalorian walking about town ignoring roasted and caged Kowakian monkey-lizards, or through dark alleyways and halls, observed by other mute bounty hunters, which serves to distance him from the liveliness of the society. One gets the feeling that he is less troubled in the desolate plains of foreign planets, or in the cold steel of his spaceship.

Leone’s spaghetti westerns were enriched by a masterful, atmospheric craftsmanship that complemented the profoundly beautiful composition of the cinematography; in that vein, “Chapter One” is very much a pensive tonal piece over anything else, happy to leave much to situational subtext while lingering on that inscrutable helmet.

Only once does the episode pierce through the mask to the man behind it, with disorientating flashbacks to the childhood trauma punctuated by the triggering anvil strikes of a newly minted shoulder plate from the Beskar ingot he received as down-payment.

The Mandalorian walks through to the blacksmith

Each interaction — with his victims, his superiors, his equals — makes the Mandalorian slightly more forthcoming, more human, and less robotic, like the droids he so detests. Credit should be given to Pedro Pascal and his doubles’ physical acting. As the Mandalorian’s emotions come increasingly to the fore, Pascal’s physical demeanour and movements become less constricted, and instead grow more loping and loose. Now that his shoulder plate signet is ceremonially fitted onto his ensemble, it will be interesting to see how the rest of this season explores the broken man occupying the armour, and whether it is a protective halo to suppress his nightmares, or a cage for reawakening humanity.

With humanity comes fallibility, and while the second half of “Chapter One” mirrors the beginning of the first — with a transponder held aloft — here The Mandalorian transitions to its second Leone work, A Fistful of Dollars. Almost immediately after he steps onto the planet’s surface, the Mandalorian nearly has his arm ripped off by a bipedal fish-headed monster called a “Blurrg.” He genuinely becomes “The Mando with No Name,” because Clint Eastwood’s “Stranger” in the Dollars Trilogy couldn’t take a punch either, despite being a fantastic gunman. It’s also possibly the first time a feted, cool, masked Star Wars character anticlimactically getting knocked about hasn’t infinitely diminished the allure; rather, it acts as a reminder of the tenuousness of their line of work. It only took thirty-six years, but Star Wars has finally cracked the “Boba Fett Syndrome.”

The Mandalorian is rescued by Nick Nolte’s pig-faced Kuiil, whose facial hair is alike José Calvo’s helpful innkeeper, Silvanito, in A Fistful of Dollars. Kuiil plays a similar role to Silvanito, feeding and resting the Mandalorian, then guiding him to where the bandits are hiding. There is a shot of the two looking down over a ridge to observe the bandits that echoes Eastwood and Calvo watching the massacre of Mexican soldiers.  

Mando and Kuiil talk about the situation

The closing act of “Chapter One,” as one would expect for a Western, is a shootout (heavily promoted in the previews). Things are complicated, however, by the presence of the unintentionally deadpanning bounty hunter murder-bot, IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi), who shoots before he asks questions like whether the Mandalorian is also part of the bounty hunter’s guild. However, the two team up in order to try to kill the bandits and split the reward. In a true sign of growth, the Mandalorian goes from dismissing droid landspeeder taxi drivers at the start of the episode to repeatedly stopping IG-11 from initiating self-destruction. It’s a darkly funny scene, and like most of the episode, is tonally on point amidst gunfire.

In general, the comedic style in “Chapter One” is comparable to the Original Trilogy in its understated and wry sensibility. The comedy is indicative of larger reassuring qualities that the episode possesses: it is atmospherically, thematically, and tonally cogent. This returns us to the discussion at the start of the review, and poses a question: with the variety of genres Star Wars has subsumed, one can reasonably ask, what is Star Wars “supposed” to be? And therefore, does The Mandalorian feel like Star Wars?

Lest this be mistaken for some covert screed about agendas and ruined childhoods, it is an important question, because it is one that Star Wars has been asking itself since at least 1999, when The Phantom Menace first arrived with its diplomatic negotiations and midichlorians. During Dave Filoni’s show-running and development of The Clone Wars and later Rebels, physical and mystical manifestations of The Force were introduced. Rebels even had time-travel! Rogue One had moral turpitude and bleakness.

Relating to comedy, Lawrence Kasdan’s script made The Force Awakens probably the most overtly comical Star Wars film to date. Meanwhile, one of the frequent criticisms levied at the divisive The Last Jedi was that the so-called “gag humour” pushed things too far for Star Wars. So The Mandalorian and “Chapter One” arrives at a crucial, but not unusual moment in helping to set standards for what Star Wars is — or more accurately, illustrating what it could be.

The Mandalorian Chapter One

For that reason, having Dave Filoni direct the first episode of this venture into live-action television was a smart decision. Some shot compositions are deceptively beautiful in their clarity, the mark of a masterful animator who appreciates the importance of artistic staging and creating coherent lines of focus. Furthermore, at this point, Filoni may have contributed more hours to Star Wars canon than George Lucas himself. As Lucas’ padawan, he has a firm grasp of navigating the tonal and shifts within the realm of Star Wars, while still having learnt the core tenets of the series directly from the source.

However, he has frankly executed those ideas with more panache than Lucas managed post-1999. At a time when legions of people are imposing upon the franchise some decades-worth of expectations of what they believe a galaxy far far away should be and represent, The Mandalorian is a nexus of both traditional Star Wars adventure and pushing it towards what fans always imagined the imperfect films to be. That “Chapter One” is a meditative and deliberate character study where nothing extraordinary happens, and yet is still riveting, suggests that The Mandalorian will be a complex and thoughtful offering.

That was a lie about nothing extraordinary happening. There is one revelation at the very end that serves as a brilliant hook for the next episode and has ramifications for Star Wars as a whole. Suffice to say, it brings the Mandalorian’s arc in “Chapter One” to a thematically interesting place that is consistent with his burgeoning humanity. The consequences will surely propel the conflicts for the rest of the season, and it’s the sort of momentous event that gives renewed hope the tumultuous times Star Wars finds itself in won’t be the death of its potential inventiveness as a galaxy-wide lens for exploring compelling concepts.

Other Thoughts/Observations:

The Mandalorian and Greef Carga’s conversation references Star Wars: Underworld, the unproduced live-action series George Lucas had proposed and commissioned purportedly fifty scripts for, and the main reason why he made Clone Wars in the first place — to see if Star Wars was viable on a television budget.

Armourer (Emily Swallow) has an interesting Mandalorian costume that mixes a Viking fur cloak and a cross between a Corinthian and Trojan helmet. Also, watching two Mandalorians sit across from each other, barely speaking with neither removing their helmets, is the sort of awkward visual comedy I hope we see more of amongst these reserved bounty hunters.

Kuiil witheringly chastising the Mandalorian that his ancestors rode “Mythosaurs” and he can barely mount a Blurrg was funny.

Similarly, Brian Posehn’s taxi driver showing up in a spluttering, barely functioning landspeeder was a good joke. They also got a wide-shot landspeeder and screen-wipe in! It’s like poetry!

The CGI for the Blurrgs was generally good, but the combination of the bright daylight and their smooth skin texture made the effect much more obvious than others. Still, we’ve come a long way from staccato creatures incongruously inserted into the Original Trilogy. Also, IG-11 looks so photorealistic!

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