One of the most fun series of recent memor, by far, has been The Mandalorian. With the recent season two premiere, I took a look back at the first season and thought I would break down one of the more unique episodes: “The Prisoner”.
The episode was written by Rick Famuyiwa and Christopher Yost, and directed by Famuyiwa. How the first season of the show played out was very pretty predictable for the fans and that’s not a bad thing. They weren’t playing it safe, they were simply telling a good story and following the set pieces you expect from a classic western/samurai story, as well as the world of Star Wars. This episode was a little different though. It was bringing in heist and contained thriller elements. It was technically family-friendly, but it was visually and tonally different than other episodes. In fact, in the behind the scenes series on Disney+ about the show, the creative team voiced that this was the one episode that they were “nervous” about because it was so different from the rest of the series.
The other thing that separates The Mandalorian from other shows debuting these days is the format. Being on a streamer there are no commercials, but the episodes were released weekly. Other streamers have done this format, most notably Hulu, however Hulu includes commercial breaks. The reason this matters is that when you binge a show you can slow the story down more while still including a “story for the week” set up. There is not a single series that was made by Netflix that does not include a set up in every episode that is largely resolved by the end of the hour, however there are often equal amounts of new information that carry over. For The Mandalorian, they are not writing towards a commercial break (like Hulu) and they are not releasing all in one day (like Netflix and most Amazon series). This means that you need a bigger, but contained story for each episode, and your act breaks will largely happen at the end of the scene because you can’t cut to commercial.
One last thing to note about The Mandalorian is that there are no B or C-stories. New information or elements can appear in an episode and they all come back later on, but just like they can’t cut away to a commercial, they also can’t cut away to another storyline. This is not only different from other shows, it’s also different from other Star Wars projects. In an interview with John August and Craig Mazin for a special panel, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan said one of the tricks to writing a Star Wars film (and writing with George Lucas) is that if the scene is boring you can cut away. He was specifically looking at Empire Strikes Back and the subplot of Han and Leia happening while Luke is with Yoda. Neither storyline is super active, so you end up moving quickly back and forth between them. The Mandalorian cannot cut away to anything in most episodes (the exception being brief moments in “The Gunslinger” and the finale). This causes episodes lengths to be as long as they need to be, instead of stretched to fill an hour as a network or cable series would. But enough of the interesting elements, let’s get to the episode…
(At the end of the beat, say what kind of beat it is – Decision, Progress, Low Point, etc. – Should also be in italicize)
Mando (aka the Mandalorian), flies the Razor Crest into a space station where he is eyed with curiosity by the workers until he is warmly greeted by Ran, an old friend with a job for him.
While being told about the job (rescuing a prisoner), Mando is annoyed that his ship is part of the deal, which he did not know. (First Act Decision)
We meet the whole crew. Mayfeld – who is indignant towards Mando and quick tempered. Burg – the muscle who doesn’t take orders well. Zero – the droid that will be flying the ship, much to Mando’s chagrin. Xi’an – Another old friend of Mando’s who may have had feelings (or a relationship) with him, but definitely has a grudge.
TITLES / ACT TWO
Mayfeld goes through the plan with the team and Mando realizes that Ran witheld information from him about the kind of place they’re going.
A bored Burg starts going through Mando’s ship and Mando they almost get in a fight. Mayfeld breaks them up.
Xi’an eludes to a job she did with Mando years prior that didn’t go well. Mando says he did what he had to do.
Burg wants to see Mando’s face and is about to force him to take the helmet off when they fight and knock things over that reveal The Child (aka Baby Yoda). Mayfeld uses Baby Yoda to mess with Mando and show how attached he is to it. (Reversal)
They arrive at the New Republic prisoner-transport ship ahead of schedule and without warning from Zero. Xi’an and Mayfeld talk about the plan while Mando breaks them in easily. As they enter, Zero guides them to the control room.
Mando was not aware that this was a New Republic ship and he’s nervous about the situation. The rest of the group all laugh at him.
A droid comes near and Burg fires on it, setting off security droids and a countdown for law enforcement to come looking for them. (Midpoint)
Mayfeld, annoyed with Mando for worrying, challenges Mando to do his job and handle any droids that come near. Mando takes out several droids that approach all on his own while the rest of the group hangs back. Mando has proven himself, but Mayfeld dismissively says to “clean up his mess.”
They reach the control room and find that there is a human guard in the room that they didn’t know would be there. They get the cell number and location they need.
The guard reveals that he has a tracking beacon that will alert the New Republic to send back up if he sets it off. Mando tries to talk him down but Mayfeld jumps in aggressively. The three are in a standoff.
Xi’an abruptly kills the guard but his hand triggers the beacon. They have 20 minutes before more ships come according to Mando. (Reversal #2)
They race to the cell they need, with Burg taking out a couple droids on the way. The cell opens to reveal Qin, Xi’an’s brother with a grudge at Mando for ditching him years earlier. (False Climax)
Burg punches Mando into the cell, trapping him while the group heads out. (Low Point)
Mando attacks a droid passing him by, pulling him to the door and using him to break out of the cell. (Plot Push)
Mando goes to the control room and traps the group, separating Burg and Xi’an from Qin and Mayfeld.
After Mando cuts off their comms, Qin decides to leave his sister behind and tells Mayfeld he’ll triple his share if he takes out Mando.
Zero tries to message the group to warn them but comms are off. Zero feels Baby Yoda’s presence and goes looking for him.
The quartet of criminials are all split up and go looking for Mando.
Burg returns to the control room with the door closing behind him but he can’t find Mando. Mando attacks from the ceiling. Burg gets the upperhand as they spar.
Xi’an hears grunting and runs towards the voice.
Burg has the upperhand and holds off the sliding doors… until Mando slams the opposite sliding set down on him.
Mando confronts Xi’an. They spar with Xi’an throwing everything she has at him. His armor protects him and he takes her out.
Mayfeld creeps through the dark and is nervous. Mando finds Mayfeld and knocks him out.
Qin makes it to the ship ladder when Mando catches up. Qin tries to negotiate.
Zero finds the child. The baby holds up his hand and the droid explodes Mando is revealed to be behind the droid and the droid’s killer.
They fly back to Ran, where Mando delivers Qin. Ran is upset to not see the others with him but Mando reminds him the “no questions asked” policy. He takes his money and leaves, no longer trusting Ran. (Climax)
Once gone, Ran messages for Mando to be killed. Qin finds the tracking beacon on him that the guard had earlier. A trio of New Republic X-Wings fly in. They see the gunship leaving (preparing to fly after Mando) and fire on all of the space station dock.
Back on the Razor Crest, Mando looks at home with the child as they go on their way. He gives the lever nob that Baby Yoda loves to the child to play with. (Resolution)
A final scene of the rest of the crew all trapped, but alive, in the prisoner transport cell.
A show like this, with a heavy Western influence, you don’t necessarily need a scene or sequence at the top to set up the mental state of the protagonist that you would with a show like The Flash. Anyone who watches the show understands that he is an untrusting, but loyal, loner. From the moment that the Mandalorian found the child he’s been struggling to keep his life operating in a way that he understands and resisting the father role. In the previous episode, he protected the child from someone who attempted to kidnap him, but he still wasn’t fully taking on the father role. He takes another small step into the role at the end of this episode as he realizes he can’t trust the guild and he can’t trust anyone else in this journey. He has to take care of the child and he’s enjoying it, as we see when he hands the nob to Baby Yoda at the end.
I broke the episode down into four acts because that’s standard for a TV drama, but this can of course be three acts because the overall beats are still the same. The final scene is also seemingly unneeded for the overall arc because it wouldn’t ruin anything if Mando had killed them (the audience has no qualms with him murdering as it is). It does keep the characters open to return later on (and if you’ve seen season two so far… I won’t spoil it for you).
This show also opens up the world in a different way than the previous ones. In other episodes we’re either on Navarro (where half the episodes take place as Mando’s home base) or Tattoine (where we’ve been before in the movies). This episode and “The Sanctuary”, which takes place on Sorgan, are really the biggest world-building episodes and act as polar opposites to one another. Sorgan was a forest planet that is lush and has a full community that Mando was ready to drop the child off in. This episode takes place in a grungy space station and a cold, stark, prisoner transport filled with criminals. “Sanctuary” was about Mando learning that no man is an island and pushing him to embrace community. This episode is about pushing Mando to realize the kind of community to avoid. His life is not the same anymore and he can’t pretend that it is and be around the same people. It would be a couple more episodes before both of these lessons are fully realized, as Mando learns he has to create a new community and family.
When looking at “Sanctuary” and “Prisoner”, you can really get into how season arcs can create a second act that doesn’t waste any episodes. I would encourage you to look at other shows where you feel like they’re stalling or filling out episode counts in the middle to see what they’re missing, in comparison to The Mandalorian, or what they have that you didn’t realize before.
Outside of this breakdown, I hope everyone is safe, happy, healthy, and voted! Happy Writing!