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‘Andor’ Episode 11 Breakdown: Let’s Call It … Finale Prep

On the heels of last week’s all-timer, the penultimate episode was the series’ least revealing to date, primarily pushing pieces around the holochess board in preparation for the conclusion

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We won’t know until next week, but “One Way Out” may have been the best way out of Andor Season 1. Had Andor ended last week with its all-timer of a 10th episode, dayenu. We would have sailed into the break between seasons celebrating Andy Serkis’s Kinote address and Luthen’s cursed cri de coeur; Cassian’s decision to take down the prison (and, perhaps, the whole Empire) and Kino’s confession that he couldn’t swim; and the prisoners’ revolt and Mon Mothma’s moral dilemma. Most showrunners would have made like George Costanza and gone out on that high note.

But instead of ending with Episode 10, Andor creator and conductor Tony Gilroy said, “Never fewer than 12.” With this week’s 11th episode, Gilroy began building toward what he envisioned as a still loftier peak. In light of what he and his collaborators have accomplished this season, I wouldn’t have wagered against them. Episode 3, “Reckoning,” seemed tough to top until Episode 6, “The Eye,” surpassed it. Episode 6 was the season standout until Episode 10 made mics and mouths drop. Episodes 11 and 12, Gilroy teased, would be the most momentous yet. “Hopefully, they’re the most powerful two episodes that we have in the show,” he told Rolling Stone. “It’s our emotional catharsis. It’s our physical catharsis. It’s our summing up for these 12 episodes. We’ve invested a lot in it, so we have high expectations that we’re paying it off.”

Season finales are built on hope, and Andor’s ending may yet fulfill those aspirations and expectations. If it does, though, it will have to be because of next week’s last act. There’s relatively little power, payoff, or catharsis in Episode 11—the weakest, least revealing, and most redundant installment to this point, including the season’s slow-burn beginning. “I have a constant blur of plates spinning,” Kleya tells Vel when the latter visits Luthen’s shop. If one wanted to be harsh, that wouldn’t be a bad description of this episode, which—while hardly devoid of emotional moments—comes closer to treading water and marking time than any episode so far. It’s an unfamiliar feeling for me not to be enthralled by an episode of Andor, but if I’m going to give Gilroy’s work a standing ovation when the series soars, I’ve got to give it a golf clap when it fails to take flight. As Maarva (RIP) put it, “That’s what a reckoning sounds like.”

One of Andor’s delights is its freedom to get granular. The season’s extended length, compared to that of previous Disney streaming series, has given Gilroy and Co. the leeway to show us, say, Syril being berated over breakfast, Mon Mothma sniping at Perrin (and vice versa), Cinta chiding Vel about the latter’s privileged background, and many more moments that could have been cut for time but, by their inclusion, immeasurably enriched our conception of these characters and our immersion in their world. Andor’s detractors have complained about a lack of action, but Andor hasn’t needed lightsabers, blasters, or space battles to be intense and eventful; something significant has happened in almost every scene, even if it was subtle. Pressed by Rolling Stone, Gilroy defended the series’ pace and level of detail. “I’m not unhappy at all with the time we’ve spent with all of our characters,” he said. Neither am I. At no previous point this season have I felt as if Andor were excessively slow-playing its hand or squandering its time or mine.

This week, for the first time, Andor dragged. In the same interview, Gilroy defined drama as “watching people you care about in difficult circumstances make decisions that you’re interested in.” Episode 11, “Daughter of Ferrix,” satisfied the first two criteria, but it was lacking in the last one. This week’s episode featured five planets—six, if you count ex-sergeant Mosk’s choppy FaceTime from Morlana One. Aldhani aside, everywhere we’ve visited this season was represented. Yet all that movement in space coincided with scant progress when it came to developing characters.

Cassian’s escape from Narkina 5 to Niamos was less suspenseful than his scenes in some episodes where he barely left his cell. Luthen’s return trip to Segra Milo was less illuminating than his rendezvous with Lonni on the lower levels of Coruscant. Much of the episode consisted of characters telling each other things we already knew, without shedding a lot of light on themselves or their circumstances in the process. Granted, the quandaries Luthen and Mon began to wrestle with last week are weighty ones, and there’s something to be said for showing that they’re still struggling with them. But in some scenes, it seemed as if Gilroy, the sole credited writer on the episode, directed by Benjamin Caron, was primarily reminding us what the holochess board looked like, and pushing pieces around, in preparation for the finale.

This week’s biggest plot point was the passing of Cassian’s mother, Maarva, which was unsurprising except for the way it was conveyed. Maarva was a major presence in the first half of the season, but she abruptly faded (and then disappeared) from the frame thereafter. After her final parting from Cassian in Episode 7, she was relegated to a single scene in Episode 8, which established that she was having trouble breathing. She was absent from Episodes 9 and 10, her existence acknowledged only through passing references to her being surveilled and not taking her meds. And at the start of “Daughter of Ferrix,” she’s already dead, having perished offscreen.

One of the difficult things about death and mourning—as many were reminded during the pandemic—is that we don’t always get to say goodbye when and how we want to. On the one hand, it’s especially poignant that Cassian, who has to learn about her death via pay phone, didn’t get to say goodbye. Not only did the Empire rob him of his liberty, but it also stole his chance to bid his mother a final, more peaceful farewell, to make good on his vow to return, and to tell her how he’s changed. The prison on Narkina 5 wasn’t intended to be a place to effect reform, but for Cassian, it was one. Maarva went to her grave—er, her brick—without having seen the new Cass herself. “Tell her she’d be proud of me,” Cassian says before he hears the bad news. It’s a true tearjerker, as is the response of an extra-emo B2EMO, who holds a lonely vigil for his longtime companion. The droid model does some of the best acting in this episode, as does Dave Chapman, who provides the voice of the weary salvage assistant.

On the other hand, Cassian being deprived of a final meeting with his mom doesn’t mean Andor’s audience had to be. Perhaps Maarva’s absence from the screen was intended to evoke the separation Cassian must have felt from her while he was imprisoned, but barring a beyond-the-grave appearance in the finale, it felt like a lost opportunity to salute the performance of Fiona Shaw. Shaw had a hell of a last scene with Diego Luna in Episode 7, but in the end, Maarva is almost a MacGuffin, a plot device designed to lure all of the principal players to Ferrix. Instead of focusing on her loss, I was left wondering whether Shaw might have had a scheduling conflict that forced Gilroy to write her out of Episodes 9 through 11.

The news that Maarva is about to transform from a figurative to a literal pillar of the community consumes a sizeable chunk of the episode, as we watch the ripples of her passing spread: Vel visits Luthen’s shop to tell him (or, as it turns out, Kleya) about Maarva’s death; Mosk calls to clue in Syril; some officers on Ferrix inform Dedra; and, finally, Xan breaks it to Cassian. Aside from Cassian’s call, all of these exchanges—and the catch-up with a wordless, dazed, post-interrogation Bix—felt like the plot equivalent of a tedious shift on Narkina 5. In this case, the widget being built is a season finale, which will require these characters to be in the same place. But all of this seemed like it could have been covered more quickly or condensed in Episode 12. When Kleya told Vel, “I don’t have time for this,” I had to agree.

The same goes for the scene in which Vel and Mon rehash the senator’s financial troubles. Maybe it will prove important to establish beyond all doubt that Vel is aware of every aspect of Mon’s plight, but for us, Mon’s finances feel like well-trod territory; I’m all for exploring the problems with funding a rebellion, but I’m starting to feel like I’ve audited Mon myself. Previous episodes have skillfully and forcefully hammered home the pressure Mon is under and the ethical conundrum she faces, and I didn’t glean anything from this second tête-à-tête between cousins that I hadn’t picked up more meaningfully from their desperate hug in Episode 9. None of these scenes really raises the stakes, pulls back the curtain, or fleshes out character traits, unlike Vel and Mon’s first meeting, or Dedra’s torture of Bix, or even Syril’s cereal sessions. (Though I guess it’s nice—and unexpected—to know that if Mon puts the Rebellion before her daughter and agrees to Davo’s request, Leida might actually be into it; “the old ways,” it seems, are ascendant, as some elite elders and/or expats are apparently trying to Make Chandrila Great Again.)

Much the same could be said about Luthen’s second visit to Saw. I’m not about to complain about seeing Stellan Skarsgård and Forest Whitaker go toe-to-toe once more, but how much do we learn here? We knew from Luthen’s face-to-face with Lonni that the former was willing to sacrifice Kreegyr’s crew to preserve his own asset, and it’s no surprise that the ruthless Saw would ultimately endorse that course. (Nor is it a shock that the mercurial Saw would flip-flop on a team-up, or that Mr. “Lies! Deceptions!” would readily believe that “Tubes” is a mole.) The most charitable interpretation of the scene’s value is that it shows that Luthen—who seems to be carrying a concealed something-or-other shaped like a lightsaber hilt or a pepper grinder—has qualms about sacrificing Kreegyr. He wants this cross to be taken from him.

“How do you know I won’t tell him?” Saw asks.

“I don’t,” Luthen answers. “I don’t know what you’ll do.”

Part of him has to be hoping that Saw will alert Kreegyr, thereby sparing him from having even more blood on his hands. Even after 15 years, Luthen feels the weight of every lost life on his conscience: “Plus Kreegyr,” he adds, twice, when Saw refers to “30 men,” as if to ensure that he’s not undercharged his additional damnation. Luthen tells Saw, “I didn’t want you to have to make this choice,” but really, Luthen doesn’t want to make it alone, a sign of scruples that we weren’t sure he still had. (And also a sign that he’s conflicted enough about Kreegyr, and/or eager enough for a more united front, to let Saw in on his thinking, despite his strong preference for secrecy.) Nor does he want to wave away his actions as being for “the greater good.” “Call it what you will,” he demurs, prompting the uncompromising Saw’s suggestion: “Let’s call it war.” That tells us he isn’t the monster that the likes of Gorst and Meero seem to be. Then again, after Luthen’s speech about sharing his dreams with ghosts, it’s not as if anyone would’ve thought he or Saw was sleeping like a baby (or like a stone, as Nemik said a still-unconverted Andor was in Episode 6.)

Whatever the merits of the Luthen-Saw scene, the excursion supplied an excuse for the series’ first space battle. For that, at least, I’m glad we got it. The Fondor—which seems not to have a name beyond its make and model, making it a fitting flagship for a man of mystery—puts the Falcon and the Tantive IV to shame, as Luthen’s upgrades make short work of a Cantwell-class Arrestor Cruiser’s tractor beam and TIE wing. (Easter egg alert: The Arrestor Cruiser’s origins date back to the beginning of Star Wars, courtesy of Cantwell-class namesake Colin Cantwell, who died earlier this year.)

Luthen going weapons hot here—with some seriously wizard weaponry—may mark the first time he’s taken the fight to the Empire personally, rather than battling by proxy from behind the scenes. Thanks to his fake transponder code, it’s not clear that he or his ship was made, but this encounter highlights how hard it will be for Luthen to maintain his cover as the Rebellion’s operations ramp up. Along with his eagerness to go after Andor, it also highlights the reckless streak that made him move forward with Aldhani: Maybe he had intel, equipment, or contraband on the Fondor that would have made it impossible for him to pretend to be an innocent art dealer had he been boarded, but attacking a cruiser isn’t the strategy of someone who’s playing it safe.

Though I’ve mostly found fault with extraneous scenes, some individual lines also felt a little less sharp than usual. Gilroy threw a bone to viewers (like me) who’ve questioned the scarcity of nonhuman characters in the series—something he’s sounded open to addressing in Season 2—but the turn in the scene with the two Keredians (one of whom seemingly later enlists with Saw) was somewhat confusing. Did the Narkinians think Cassian and Melshi were Imperials at first, or were they just pranking them? The same squishiness applies to Eedy telling Syril, “The mystery of your former triumphs have been vanquished,” a mocking sentiment beset by subject-verb agreement issues, a weird word choice (Can a mystery be “vanquished”? Or does that go with “triumphs”?), and some uncertainty about why getting a good tip from a source would be a bad reflection on Syril. While I’m copyediting Andor, I’ll observe that at the end of an embassy scene, Vel tells Leida, “You are as [sic] nearly as tall as me.” Yes, I’m squarely in the realm of pedantic nitpicks now, but Andor’s dialogue typically pops with such precision that anything less than brilliance stands out.

Episode 11 doesn’t end with a line that leaves us in a pre-finale frenzy: Melshi’s insistence that “people have to know” about the conditions on Narkina 5 isn’t exactly a barn burner à la “Never more than 12.” Like the first two episodes, this one just sort of stops, though the shot of a grief-stricken Cassian staring at the water was a nice nod to his last seconds on Scarif. I’d like to think that as he’s hugging Jyn and waiting to be immolated at the end of Rogue One, he’s also hoping he’s about to be reunited with Maarva, who would have to be proud of the son who she once thought wouldn’t grasp the concept of standing up against the Empire.

“Every time I look at a scene or a character or a line, everything about me wants to turn it upside down,” Gilroy told Rolling Stone. He echoed that sentiment on The Watch, saying, “You’re always looking for a hook. Even in the most basic scene, you’re always looking for something that’s like, ‘Wow, how can I make this do something that I never did before?’ And sometimes you get that. A lot of times, maybe you won’t.” Gilroy has gotten that time after time in Andor. This week, there was more of the “maybe you won’t.”

This is Andor, though, and even in a week with more filler than we’ve become accustomed to, there was plenty to appreciate. I mourned along with B2EMO. I thrilled along with Luthen’s Go-Go-Gadget Haulcraft, which like Luthen has hidden capabilities. I laughed at a skulking Syril robbing his mother’s safe, as the law-and-order-loving reject, dressed in his old custom-tailored uniform, committed a minor crime to feed his obsession with Cassian and exact revenge for Eedy’s violation of his “private box.”

I liked Cassian and Melshi breaking Rogue One/Andor tradition by not dying after discussing a climb. I liked ISB agent Corv unwittingly spying side by side with Cinta. I liked Nemik’s voice-memo manifesto, which Cassian—a more receptive reader now—evidently can consume as an audiobook instead of a written tract. I liked Mon’s exasperated, relatable remark about Luthen: “Who knows what he knows?” I liked Kleya’s line, “I don’t have ‘lately.’ I have always.” (She’s obviously learned from Luthen, the monologue master.) I also liked learning about Ferrix’s burial tradition, and seeing Saw’s janky-looking X-wings, and deciphering Luthen’s, Kleya’s, and Vel’s spoken codes.

“These days will end,” Luthen told Cassian in Episode 3, adding, “Soon enough, they’ll have something else to listen to.” Next week, Andor’s first season will end, and we’ll find something else to watch. (Though by demoing Andor on other networks, Disney is trying to keep the party going.) Whatever we move on to probably won’t be as good, notwithstanding this (hopefully) single-episode lull. “Daughter of Ferrix” may have been more of a run-down quadjumper than a souped-up Haulcraft, but like the Narkinians’ sputtering ride, it carried our characters from Point A to Point B. I don’t doubt that next week’s big finish will up the ante—and the Anto, though thus far it’s hard to get invested in the fate of a faceless cell and a leader we know as a name and a hologram. This week wasn’t bad; it was only a letdown by the standards of a series that’s become the best on TV. If the worst-case outcome for Andor is that Episode 10—or, for that matter, Episodes 6 through 10—set such a high bar that the end of the season can’t clear it, that’s not a terrible problem to have.

“There’s nothing more you can do,” Kleya tells Luthen when the latter is tempted to travel to Ferrix to keep Cassian (and, by extension, himself) out of ISB hands. “That’s never true,” Luthen answers. It’s not true of Andor, either, which has much more to do before bowing out until its second season. The stage is set for a face-off on Ferrix, and far-flung characters are converging. There’s only one way out: through one more episode.