Warning: Major spoilers for The Mandalorian season 3, episode 7 lie ahead. Turn back now if you haven't seen the episode yet!
The Mandalorian is back with a bang. After a few meandering episodes, 'The Spies' is an exhilarating return to form for the Star Wars show, featuring some crucial links to the wider saga – and delivering a harsh reminder of the stakes of the season.
The episode opens with a tense, moody meeting between Elia Kane (Katy M. O'Brian) and a hologram Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito). As soon as we see the blue form of The Mandalorian's biggest bad, our memories are jogged as to the threat that has been lurking in the shadows all season long. Esposito is as delightfully sinister as ever, bringing just the right amount of quiet menace to his performance before letting loose on hammier lines like "Long live the Empire!"
Gideon might not have a lot of screen time in this episode, but he makes a huge impression. A walk through a strikingly atmospheric lair – complete with what looks to be clones in tubes, harkening back to the Snoke subplot quietly brewing in the background – results in a dark meeting with the galaxy's hidden villains. In just one scene, we're told that Grand Admiral Thrawn will soon be returning, reminded that people across the galaxy are still loyal to the Empire, and introduced to Brendol Hux, father of the future General Hux (and played by Brian Gleeson, brother of Domhnall Gleeson, in a perfect piece of casting). The meeting not only re-establishes the threat facing Mando and co., but also deftly sets up the future of the galaxy: the Imperial remnants will soon become the First Order, and Thrawn will soon be appearing in the live-action Ahsoka show (played by Lars Mikkelsen). The Mandalorian has always excelled at balancing its own storyline with references towards the wider galaxy, and, here, it once again pulls off that tricky task of setting up the future without losing its own way.
As is brought up in the meeting, if the Mandalorians manage to retake their home world, it could spell disaster for the Empire. That ongoing quest to return to Mandalore is the focus of this episode, which allows for a fascinating evolution of the relationship between Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal/Lateef Crowder/Brendan Wayne) and Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff). Considering Din was formerly in possession of the Darksaber – before handing it back in the last episode – you naturally might have assumed that the duo would have been at odds this season. Instead, we've watched them slowly develop a friendship that now sees Grogu happily sitting in Bo-Katan's lap, then Din pledging himself to Bo's service in a genuinely, quietly moving moment. This is far more interesting than watching the two of them fight it out: if this episode spells out anything, it's that Mandalorians are stronger together, after all.
We also learn that Bo-Katan surrendered to Moff Gideon in exchange for Mandalore's safety and survival – but, of course, the Imperial betrayed her. Making things so deeply personal between Bo-Katan and Moff Gideon is a great move, and it adds a weighty tension to their brief meeting later in the episode. It also serves to highlight just how devious Gideon is, as well as his devotion to the complete destruction of Mandalore.
In 'The Spies,' Gideon has enlisted the aid of Beskar-clad troopers who prove to be worthy matches for the assembled Mandalorians. It all leads to a trap that sees Din brutally captured in a heart-stopping, perilous sequence. The very real danger of the moment has you fearing for Mando's life, even if we can trust that any truly dramatic moments involving him will be saved for the finale. In a strange way, Din's capture could even be for the best: Mando has somewhat taken a backseat in the latest episodes as Bo-Katan stepped into the spotlight, so the promise of another confrontation between Din and Gideon hopefully means the Mandalorian we know and love will return to center stage for the finale.
It's not just Din's capture that ratchets up the tension, either. Paz Vizsla (Jon Favreau/Tait Fletcher) makes the decision to stay behind and fight the troopers so the Mandalorians can escape – a moment made all the more emotional by the fact that Paz has a son waiting for him back on Nevarro. Paz seems to make short work of the troopers, but then the Praetorian Guards enter the fray. They annihilate the Mandalorian so cruelly that it's impossible not to fear for the lives of every character who might cross their paths next episode. With their sleek red uniforms and glowing purple, lightsaber-esque energy staffs, they could prove to be the show's toughest enemies yet.
But, amid all the action and advancement of the plot, the show still finds time to further develop the bond between Grogu and Mando, which remains the beating heart of the series. Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) brings a repaired IG-11 – now named IG-12 – to Mando and Grogu, though the droid needs someone small to pilot it (and hit the "yes/no" dialogue buttons). Din pointing out that Grogu is too young for the task is met with Baby Yoda pressing "no," in a laugh-out-loud moment. When Grogu is given free rein to explore, he repeatedly, adorably hits "yes," and we see the return of long-suffering Dad Djarin when Grogu starts messing around at a market stall.
It can't all be fun, though. There's a surprisingly heartfelt moment later, when Grogu, piloting IG-12, intervenes in a fight between Axe Woves (Simon Kassianides) and Paz Vizsla. "He didn't learn that from me," observes Din, before the adopted father and son share a single nod. Grogu also looks heartbroken when Mando is captured, and you can't help thinking that the finale would feature some really beautiful symmetry if the Child ends up rescuing Din from Gideon this time around. It's also a testament to Rick Famuyiwa's skillful directing, and Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni's tight script, that this episode manages to spin so many plates without becoming muddled or bogged down.
With Din captured, the Mandalorians on the run, and Moff Gideon more powerful than ever in his new Beskar armor, with the Praetorian Guards and his near-indestructible troopers backing him up, the board is set for an action-packed, stirring finale. If The Mandalorian sticks the landing and manages to tie together the more disparate elements of the season so far, we can rest assured that season 3 will stand side by side with its excellent predecessors. For now, though, 'The Spies' is another all-timer of an episode that changes everything.
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