Saturday, December 07, 2019

Back to Old Tatooine

Written and directed by Dave Filoni, last night's new Mandalorian, "The Gunfighter", was one of the better episodes of the series so far and the episode that felt most like a Western. Filoni's instincts as an animation director still aren't translating well to live action but a nice guest cast that included Amy Sedaris and Ming-Na Wen bolstered a plot that finally gave the Mandalorian an opportunity to come across as savvy and experienced.

I wasn't expecting to see Amy Sedaris as a mechanic on Tatooine but she was a very welcome surprise. The star of the great comedy series Strangers with Candy, Sedaris is known for deeply ironic comedy but she plays it more or less straight here and has easily the strongest performance in the episode. The main plot involves a young bounty hunter played by Jake Cannavale whom the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) takes under his wing. Cannavale may not be an especially bad actor but there seemed to be something tonally off about him, possibly due partly to Filoni's inexperience as a live action director. But it occurred to me the reason Sedaris worked so well may be the same reason Werner Herzog works so well and Harrison Ford works so well. Being a good actors is helpful but primarily what all three have is a strong internal world. Each one has mannerisms that are simultaneously odd and yet credible, the organic manifestation of personality that's harder to replicate than it is for some character actors just to allow to manifest naturally. This natural personality lends credibility to everything else in the special effects heavy productions. If these weirdos believe it, somehow it makes us believe it too.

I also like how Sedaris' big curly wig made her look like a parody of Ellen Ripley in the first Alien movie.

The Tatooine location was nice to see and a good backdrop for a dumb protege gone bad Western plot. This is more like an old Hollywood Western than one of the Spaghetti Westerns the show's supposedly patterned after--it kind of reminded me of an Anthony Mann movie. It was sabotaged a little by the ongoing and increasingly stupid concept of a bounty hunter guild. What exactly are the benefits of joining the guild instead of looking for posted bounties and collecting rewards on your own? Health insurance? Did Boba Fett say, "Sure, I'll take a pay cut for this." The guild could've been easily excised from the episode by having the kid, Toro, striving to make a reputation for himself instead of trying to get into the guild. The interest in capturing or killing the Mandalorian could've been established simply by a bounty being put on the Mandalorian's head. Sure, we could say that the senselessness of a bounty hunter guild is something we could ignore to enjoy the ride except it was pointless to introduce it in the first place. It's like some dead, vestigial limb and it makes it harder for the show to put its pant on.

I really liked the Mandalorian negotiating with the Tusken Raiders and taking Toro's binoculars without asking. He really felt like a Spaghetti Western hero for a moment and I liked Filoni seemingly taking a dig at the type of annoying young guy he has such inexplicable fondness for in his animation work.

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