This review contains some spoilers for season 3, episode 3 of The Mandalorian, “Chapter 19: The Convert.”
I’ve been trying my hardest to avoid comparing The Mandalorian to Andor, because honestly, it just seems unfair. The two series are playing in very different leagues and delivering very different stories. When The Mandalorian embraces its inner Saturday morning cartoon like it did in last week’s “The Mines of Mandalore,” that’s when it feels like the show is at its best.
However, in this week’s “Chapter 19: The Convert,” it’s impossible not to draw direct comparisons between The Mandalorian and Andor, and when the two are placed alongside one another, their differences in quality become glaringly clear.
Written by Noah Kloor and Jon Favreau and directed by Lee Isaac Chung (who helmed 2020’s excellent film Minari), this third episode of season 3 feels like a bit of an experiment. While it’s bookended with Din (Pedro Pascal), Grogu, and Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) in the moments immediately following last week’s adventure, a bulk of “Chapter 19” is spent with Doctor Pershing (Omid Abtahi), the cloner who worked alongside the Client (Werner Herzog) in season 1 and Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) in season 2. And while I appreciate a show that plays with structure and point of view, his struggle came across as a store-brand Andor B-plot.
Pershing’s fall from grace into the amnesty program of the New Republic, struggle to maintain his sense of self on Coruscant, and being relegated to mind-numbing clerical work could’ve been an interesting concept, had we not seen the same storyline play out with Syril Karn in Andor a few months back — and with much more effective grace and nuance. This all feels like they’re cribbing from Andor’s text, without any of the subtext that made it such an impactful series.
The dialogue, delivery, and shot composition all feel pedestrian compared to what we saw last year. And again, I hate comparing the two very different shows, but when they’re wading through the exact same thematic waters on the exact same planet, it’s hard not to. Also, I continue to have this fear in the pit of my stomach that everything in this series as well as The Bad Batch involving cloning is leading towards Grogu being a key component in cloning Palpatine for The Rise of Skywalker, and if that’s the case, I’m going to write a strongly worded letter to Bob Iger.
This section of the episode also brings to light one of the big problems that’s cropping up in this season of The Mandalorian. When Pershing and G68 (Katy O’Brian, recently seen as Jentorra in Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania) speak of being stationed aboard the same ship during season 2, they treat it like some long-distant memory. They remark, “That’s not how things were back then,” and have nostalgia for specific rations.
The problem is these statements hold no weight, because we as the audience have no idea of what the time frame of this series has been. Even its creators seemed confused on the amount of time Din and Grogu were separated, with the latter training with Luke Skywalker between seasons during the events of The Book of Boba Fett. Given Pershing’s journey, it’s clear that it’s been years since season 2, and yet nothing in the series has ever really addressed this massive stretch of time.
While most of the plot of “Chapter 19: The Convert” lags behind the quality we saw in similar stories in Andor, there were a few highlights. A post-Empire Coruscant is full of lights and color, a far cry from the monotone nature of the planet during the reign of the Emperor. And the sheer scope of the planet-wide megalopolis was displayed wonderfully when Pershing and G68 approached the small rock jutting out from the ground that’s actually the peak of the highest mountain on Coruscant. Finally, Chekhov’s box of biscuits getting a payoff as G68 bites into one as she looks upon Pershing getting lobotomized was a wonderful moment to wrap up the story.
While most of this episode’s runtime is spent with Pershing, Mando and crew make a bit of progress on their journey in the bookends. The opening low-orbit dogfight was a great set piece, and I dug how it culminated in Bo-Katan seeing yet another one of her homes destroyed while she was powerless to stop it. However, when we return to the trio as they make their way towards the Children of the Watch, another one of my major concerns with the series as a whole takes center stage.
A problem I’ve had with the core idea of Mandalorians since the start was the necessity of helmets getting in the way of nuanced facial expressions and non-verbal cues. This hurdle popped up again in the closing moments of the episode, where the Armorer (Emily Swallow) told Bo-Katan that, because she helped rescue Din from the Living Waters, she too had become a member of their weirdo Children of the Watch cult. With all the other action figures patting her on the shoulder and welcoming her, she tilts her head in the direction of the mythosaur sigil, recalling the beast she briefly glimpsed in the previous episode.
But what else was going on inside her head? Was she surprised to be embraced by this group? Relieved to have discovered this newfound family? Starting to believe once again that she’s some kind of a chosen one? Disgusted to be associated with these zealots? Worried that Din had seemingly learned nothing during his adventure?
By hiding the faces of actors like Pedro Pascal and Katee Sackhoff behind masks, there’s a simultaneous lack of both subtlety and clarity in moments like these, which is frustrating when I want to learn about these characters beyond a superficial level.
Each of the first three episodes of The Mandalorian season 3 has felt extremely different in its own way. We opened with a resetting of the board, got a classic Saturday morning adventure last week, and were tossed a curve ball this week with “Chapter 19: The Convert.” Sadly, this detour lacked any of the weight and impact of the similarly themed Andor, making the entire story feel like one of Doctor Pershing’s failed experiments.
Related: How Old is Bo Katan in the Mandalorian on We Got This Covered