This review contains spoilers for The Mandalorian season 2, episode 7, “Chapter 15: The Believer.”
In addition to Star Wars: The Bad Batch, Disney has officially announced an Ahsoka Tano series (among so many others) for Disney+, spinning out of her appearance in The Mandalorian. We basically predicted that in episode 5, as we only caught up briefly with Ahsoka in that episode while she was hunting for information on Thrawn. Now, with her spin-off show formally announced, it helps spell out an overall problem with season 2: Despite being called The Mandalorian, the show is rarely, if ever, focused on Mando (Pedro Pascal) — a statement that’s reinforced by the events of “The Believer.”
So here’s the situation: Grogu has been kidnapped, Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) is going to conduct some horrible experiments on him, and Mando is dead-set on retrieving him at any cost. The problem is they don’t know where Moff Gideon is and need his coordinates. So the focus of the episode is Bill Burr’s newly freed Mayfeld — a throwaway character from last season — and his time with the Empire while he and Mando find the coordinates. Sure, there are brief glimpses and some telling information that we learn about Mando, like he’s registered in the Empire’s database, implying he worked for them in some capacity, but most of the character development is on a side character that hardly anyone was asking about before this episode.
Granted, last episode’s outstanding action and impactful developments may have raised expectations that the show could maintain that great momentum, but the events of “The Believer” just feel like a step backwards. Of course we couldn’t just have Mando and gang go guns blazing into Moff Gideon’s base without a plan of attack, but it feels like the show got distracted along the way.
Why do we need to set up Mayfeld as having worked for the Empire previously? Why do we need to specify that he has remorse for his actions? Why do any of this? And the only answer I could come up with was to use his character in the new Mandalorian spin-offs that were just announced. Expect him to appear in Ahsoka and Rangers of the New Republic in some capacity. His character isn’t unique as he’s just another rendition of Finn — one that’s not even as interesting, with his stunted character development.
One of the biggest appeals that The Mandalorian had going for it last year was how it felt so far removed from anything we had seen from the franchise before. There were no Skywalkers, no Sith, no major Force-wielders — just the story of a bounty hunter trying to become a better man to care for his adopted child. Now the show seems more eager to set up spin-offs and returning characters in other shows, rather than making its main show as good as it can be.
There are good beats in “The Believer” that deserve way more time and attention. I really enjoyed watching Mando, for the brief time the episode decides to focus on him, having to remove his helmet in order to blend in with the rest of the stormtroopers. While Mayfeld pointed out on their ride over to the base that Mando will bend his Mandalorian code in order to justify his needs, his actions here instead come across as his being so desperate to save his son’s life that he’ll put aside his beliefs. He’ll remove his mask to get the job done as long as it results in saving Grogu.
His body language has also become significantly more rigid and confrontational. This may be because anyone would become annoyed having to be around Mayfeld for an extended period of time, but it’s a sign that the Mando who kills first and asks questions later is still alive in that Beskar helmet and is set to reemerge in the finale. Moff Gideon looked like he was going to shit a brick once he received Mando’s message combined with Pascal’s low and threatening cadence. We may have seen Mando develop and become a more sociable anti-hero, but he still has the capacity to commit massive amounts of carnage when needed.
It’s just a shame that all of that development is buried in an episode that isn’t interested in him. Fennec (Ming Na-Wen), Boba Fett, and Cara Dune (Gina Carano) barely receive any screen time, with only a brief scene of respect developing between Fennec and Dune as they snipe stormtroopers. Juxtapose this with the penultimate episode last season, where Mando, Dune, Grogu, Grief Karga, Kuill, and IG-11 (RIP you wonderful babysitter) teamed up, with many of them meeting for the first time, and working together to kill the Client and liberate Karga’s city. They bonded and established a rapport that made Kuill and IG-11’s deaths feel all the more impactful. For what little time they were together, it did feel like a genuine camaraderie this group shared, one that continued into this season.
Compared to that, “The Believer” can’t help but disappoint. We don’t see Fett, Fennec, Dune, or Mando bond with one another before the finale. The best we get is Mando coming to understand Mayfeld’s past, but he won’t be around for the finale. All of that development that could have been shared between the cast was instead dumped into a hole that the show most definitely isn’t going to utilize next week. Sure, the technical aspects of the episode are still strong, and the fight scene on top of the truck was fun, but none of that really mattered by the time the credits rolled.
I get that The Mandalorian is a show set in a large and expansive universe. I understand that not every episode needs to serve an overarching narrative and some episodes can just be one-off adventures centered on a unique side-character as seen in the season premiere. But when it’s your penultimate episode, especially coming off of a fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable previous episode, I can’t help but be disappointed. Make no mistake — I’m almost certain the season will stick the landing next week. But if it turns out to be a great finale, it’s only going to exacerbate how uneven the rest of the season has been and how episodes like “The Believer” really sell that impression.