You know, I’m starting to become a believer in Bill Burr. Between his exceptional supporting work in Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island and this week’s Emmy-worthy guest performance in The Mandalorian, 2020 has been a turnaround year for the stand-up comedian. When an actor makes you forget their funny roots, it means their career in drama will be as long as their range. That is exactly what Burr delivered in “The Believer,” the penultimate episode of The Mandalorian‘s second season. With more Boba Fett appearances and outstanding action sequence-direction by Rick Famuyiwa, this latest chapter continues the sky-high quality of an outstanding sophomore year.
Kidnapping Baby Yoda is tantamount to a declaration of war. Our collection of bounty hunters, mercenaries, and ex-military will do everything in their power to get back little Grogu. The first thing to do is pull Migs Mayfield (Burr) out of his current prison sentence: cleaning up planets devastated by past Imperial/Rebel battles. The former Imperial sharpshooter — last seen betraying our protagonist in Chapter Six — is the best hope the robust crew has of locating Moff Gideon’s flagship. He’ll take them to the closest Imperial remnant facility — once inside, they can access a terminal to find the cruiser’s coordinates. Though reluctant to throw himself back into stormtrooper blaster fire, Mayfield ends up becoming a bigger asset than expected.
It’s off to the jungle planet of Morak for Mando and company. Who needs machetes to cut through the foliage when you have badasses like Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), Cara Dune (Gina Carano), and Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal)? With Boba Fett’s notoriety, Fennec listed as dead in the galactic database, and Dune’s documented New Republic allegiance, only Mando and Mayfield can get into the facility without being recognized. The stronghold is a refinery that processes rhydonium, an explosive fuel used for starships, chemical warfare, and bombing. Morak villages have been exposed to the fuel’s effects, underlining how even with new galactic leadership, some planets are still abandoned to the reign of evil dominion.
En route to the mining refinery, Mayfield displays an ignorant attitude towards Mandalorians and the surrounding galaxy. According to him, every group vying for power is untrustworthy, especially government institutions. He credibly argues that the New Republic turns a blind eye to injustice as much as the Empire did enforcing it. His enmity for political leadership is echoed by billions of species who live in poverty, endure civil war, or are left to their planet’s hazardous conditions with no promise of aid.
Jon Favreau’s script marks one of the few moments in The Mandalorian that actively draws parallels to American discontentment with our nations’ leaders regardless of political party. The series feels more relevant in doing so, deriving audience empathy for the plight of those who don’t have the luxury of the Force to save them or backed by dynasty wealth (the Skywalker/Solo clan).
Sobering political themes aside, “The Believer” offers some incredible action set pieces. The confrontation between skiff-riding pirates and the Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) that Mando and Mayfield pilot is as thrilling as chase sequences get. Famuyiwa and Favreau put their adoration of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road to good use, highlighting its vehicle onslaught freneticism without trying to outshine it.
The biggest surprise of all is the reaction to the APC’s survival. Djarin and Mayfield are stunned to see genuine comradery pour from the Imperial remnant troopers, a kindness never seen from them in Star Wars. As the audience dives further into the episode, we see the scary reality behind their rapturous mood: the Remnant truly believe they are the good guys who have been ousted from power by radicals.
Only when Mayfield faces his old commanding officer does he see that true evil is as clear as the glow of a lightsaber. After their momentous escape from marauders, Mayfield and Mando are questioned by Imperial Remnant officer Valin Hess (Richard Brake). He demands their designation number, forcing Djarin to remove his helmet to expose himself as the handsome Pedro Pascal.
All joking aside, this is another heroic act of Djarin compromising his creed value system for a loved one. In this, he puts his pride aside and easily passes Hess’s inspection, albeit with a little embellishment from Mayfield to excuse Mando’s awkwardness. Pascal retains Djarin’s intrinsic solemnity, though he appropriately looks as shocked as the audience is upon face reveal. Though this is the second time we’ve seen beneath the guise, the jarring effect ceases to quit. Nor should it.
After his intimidation tactic is over, Hess naturally reverts to fake pleasantries, offering the two respite and drink. Conversing with Hess gets a violent rise out of Mayfield, revealing the CO’s lack of empathy when he left Mayfield’s platoon to die as sacrificial lambs in service of the Empire. Their lives meant nothing, so now neither will Hess’s. Mayfield shoots and kills Hess in cold blood, with a trigger finger as hot as Mustafarian lava. Burr’s performance leading up to this shocking yet understandable display of violence is exceptional. His rising hatred is palpable, and you can see the epiphany gloss over his eye: the Rebel Alliance — though occasionally flawed and self-aggrandizing — are nowhere near the vermin scum that the Empire was (and continue to be as Imperial Remnant).
Despite the shootout, Mando and Mayfield get the coordinates from the terminal. Djarin is thus able to tap into Gideon’s holoprojector to warn him of Grogu’s impending rescue. Seeing Gideon’s look of confidence begin to diminish upon hearing Mando’s proclamation is beyond gratifying. Even more exciting is that Mayfield is allowed to be free of New Republic incarceration — Cara will report back that he died during the mission. With one of the strongest redemption arcs in Star Wars history — and that is saying something considering the work Luke Skywalker put in for Vader to come back to the Light — “The Believer” shocks with profound depth and unexpected poignancy. Not having Baby Yoda for an entire episode could have been disastrous, but instead, the Child’s absence only reiterates the strength of the saga when placed in the hands of responsible artists.