Last week’s season premiere of The Mandalorian had some serious space Western vibes. But although it picks up shortly after last week’s adventure, with Mando and The Child still on Tatooine, “The Caretaker” foregrounds a different, but equally essential, ingredient in the Star Wars recipe book: Puppeteering and creature work. Although the link between Star Wars and the Muppets has always been unofficial, they’ve been fellow travelers since Frank Oz took up Yoda for The Empire Strikes Back. And by featuring one (helmeted) human interacting with two practical creatures throughout most of the episode, “The Caretaker” evokes Lucasfilm’s corporate cousins at The Muppets Studio—who also like to stage scenes that have more puppets than humans in them.
Speaking of The Empire Strikes Back, the majority of this episode takes place on an ice planet, which may have enhanced the Empire/Frank Oz association in my mind. (Knowing this show, they did it on purpose.) Much like last week’s episode, “The Passenger” uses the overarching narrative of the season—Mando’s goal to deliver The Child to his people with the help of some other Mandalorians—as a catalyst for a side adventure. This time around, they’re escorting an unnamed, amphibious friend of Amy Sedaris’ Peli Motto—referred to henceforth as Frog Lady—from Tatooine to the estuary moon of Trask, where her husband has found a home for them on the only planet capable of supporting their species’ reproductive cycle. I figure it’s kind of like moving to the suburbs to start a family.
Anyway, with all the “helping the innocent” and “chasing his adopted green son around telling him to take things out of his mouth” that’s been going on these past couple episodes, it’s easy to forget that Mando travels in a shadowy world of criminals and mercenaries. But “The Passenger” reminds us of that, by having Mando flee from New Republic cops in X-wings when the Razor Crest is pulled over (so to speak) on a routine traffic stop. Aside from facilitating cameos from co-showrunner Dave Filoni and Kim’s Convenience star Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, the X-wings and their pilots serve a couple of narrative purposes: They get the Razor Crest onto the surface of the ice planet, for one, as well as tying this episode back, however confusingly, to the season-one episode “The Prisoner.”
They also underline an aspect of The Mandalorian that creator Jon Favreau has emphasized in interviews, namely that the show takes place in the period immediately following Return Of The Jedi, just in a corner of the galaxy where the fight between Rebels and Imperials is as distant as politics are to many ordinary Americans. (Well, not recently, but you get the point.) The presence of X-wing pilots hunting for “Imperial holdouts” reminds us that somewhere, at this same time, Princess Leia is becoming a general, Luke Skywalker is rebuilding the Jedi Order, and the Empire is mutating into the First Order. Asking for “pings” and stopping the Razor Crest because it wasn’t up to current transponder beacon standards also shows that bureaucracy is alive and well in the New Republic, which is actually kind of amusing when you think about the larger political allegory at play.
But first, ice spiders. When a character walks into an ice cave in a Star Wars property, an ice monster can’t be far behind. And thanks to The Child’s insatiable snacking, in “The Passenger” it’s a mama ice spider with a Sarlacc mouth and her creepy-crawly babies. For some, that’s the most terrifying thing they can think of, and while I wouldn’t call myself an arachnophobe, seeing thousands of any type of creepy-crawly swarming over something always produces a shiver. This scene gave us more of the high-quality visual effects we saw last episode, which combined nicely with the practical puppet work and sticky spiderwebs that end up all over the hull.
And while this week’s deus ex machina was a little too convenient for my tastes (both in having the X-wing cops return and them letting Mando off with a warning), tonally “The Passenger” balances out its cute with a playful streak of black comedy. These are combined in The Child, who played a more active role in this episode, justifying his screen time more effectively than last week. Just as we forget that Mando is technically an outlaw, The Child’s so gosh darn cute that we forget he’s also a bit of a trash panda. He doesn’t care if these are the last of Frog Lady’s eggs, they’re yummy and he’s going to eat them—leading to a parting bit where The Child pops one more precious egg into his mouth as Mando jokes not to wake him if the cockpit door comes open, because they’ll all be dead. Like father, like son…
- Today’s recap is a little late, but you all understand, right? There’s, uh, some other stuff going on.
- Naming this week’s guest star “Frog Lady” seems kind of lazy, until you remember that original production notes give Mos Eisely cantina patrons names like “Weird Girl” and “Local Ugly Men.” So, you know, whatever.
- Speaking of the Cantina, this week’s episode was directed by Ant-Man’s Peyton Reed, a film it seems safe to assume is being referenced with the return of Dr. Mandible, the Killik Peli beats at Sabacc.
- Peli seems like the kind of person who’d be best friends with someone she just met. And she does love kids, as we learned when she babysat The Child in season one.
- The Child was a combination of a 12-year-old boy eating everything in the fridge and a puppy nosing through a trash can on this episode. He’s a growing boy, he’s hungry all the time.
- Speaking of The Child’s eating habits: Ever been to a bar that has a giant jar of pickled eggs behind the counter, and the liquid they’re floating in is either orange or a dark emerald green? That’s what Frog Lady’s egg backpack reminded me of.
- The character of Frog Lady also marks the return of Misty Rosas, the 4’9” suit performer who also played Kuiil (RIP) last season. She made her screen debut playing Amy the Gorilla in Congo.