The Mandalorian S2E7: The Believer
What’s behind the mask?
This week, on The Mandalorian, that’s what we’re trying to find out. To be quite honest, I wasn’t super-hyped for this outing; after a dodgy one last week, it looked to be another prison break set-up of a character (Mayfield, played by Bill Burr) who I didn’t like in season one. And, to an extent, it is – but the prison that Mayfield is trapped in is one of the mind, so let’s get into that pretension, shall we?
So much of the Star Wars canon is about people concealing their identities; whether it’s behind the literal masks of characters like Vader and Kylo Ren (or the myriad stormtroopers and similar throughout the franchise), or those who hide out who they really are for the safety of themselves or others (Obi-Wan in A New Hope, Luke and Leia before they know of their true parentage, Amidala in Phantom Menace, Palpatine in the prequel trilogy). And the Mandalorian is the centering of a character who does just that – someone whose modus operandi is to be invisible, impercievable, almost impossible to know.
The Believer is a story that takes on exactly what that means, in both the literal and metaphorical forms it comes in for this universe. This is best explored through Mayfield, who I’ve got to admit is really used well for those ends – he worked for the Empire, and, though while behind the mask of the Empire, he was complicit in terrible things, but The Believer is about what lies underneath it. The humanity of the people who are involved with such unimaginable cruelty. There’s an awesome shift in perspective where Mando and company are being hounded by pirates, and the show delivers us the arrival of TIE fighters and stormtroopers to fight them off as a genuine victory; it’s a slightly discomforting but genuinely bold shift, a reminder that it’s only our perception of the good and bad in this world that dictates how we react to their presence. Burr is the centerpiece to this story, sharing a scene with a one-time commander of his (Richard Brake, who, in this house, We Stan) where his guilt, his anger, his grief over the loss of his morality is laid out for everyone to see. It’s truly really smart, inventive, and complex storytelling, and turned me around on Burr in this role pretty much entirely.
But when we ask what lies behind the mask in The Mandalorian, we’re talking about Din Djarin himself. And let me tell you, this is a pretty Djarin (heh) episode for our understanding of Space Dad of the Year. Fundamentally, The Believer is a shift from Mando as a Mandalorian first and foremost to a father who is searching for his son; we get an extended sequence during which he’s forced to remove a helmet and show his face, and the performance that Pedro Pascal (who has, by osmosis of not being able to see him most of the time and becoming forbidden fruit, become literally the hottest man on television) is honestly downright fantastic.
Because Din doesn’t want this. He doesn’t want to be exposed in this way. His armour is as much his safety blanket as it is his literal protection against the world at large; it allows him to be anonymous, not to hold the weight of what he’s done because nobody could know him enough to lay it on him, anyway. Taking it off in pursuit of Grogu is scary, not just because he has to show off his nine-year helmet hair, but because it’s an acknowledgement that he’s more than a blank slate now. He has taken responsibility for someone else, and forged a connection with defines him more than the rules by which he has lived his life up until that point. Pascal conveys this deeply discomforting shift in perspective with next to no dialogue, and honestly, makes me sad that we don’t get to see more of his face every season, because he can use it so damn well.
This is a cracking episode of The Mandalorian, and one that feels vital to the conclusion of the emotional arc that this season has set up. I love Din Djarin and I love where the show has taken him, and I love, most of all, that we are starting to see his shift towards someone who builds himself around his care for other people, not his ability to deny his need for it. After a wobble last week, I’m in for this finale, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here. Who is behind the mask is not the same person who was behind it when we first met him – and that’s about the most satisfying thing I can say about The Mandalorian so far.
(header image via HeyUGuys)