You know those inspirational movie montages they show on the big boards at ballparks, the ones with the “mad as hell” rant from Network, the “It ain’t about how hard you hit” scene from Rocky Balboa, and Bluto’s big speech from Animal House? Maybe mixed in with any number of fiery coaches in locker rooms, plus President Whitmore from Independence Day and William Wallace from Braveheart to boot?
Well, there’s a new candidate for inclusion in a hype reel headed for a bottom of the ninth inning near you. It comes courtesy of Kino Loy, Andy Serkis’s character, in Episode 10 of Andor. The grizzled Loy, down to 200-plus shifts until a liberation he no longer expects, had been a foreman for the figurative chain gang of Unit Five-Two-D. In that capacity, he kept prisoners in line and suppressed revolt. Now he’s inciting it: At Andor’s urging, he steps up to the PA system in the Narkina 5 prison’s control room and brings his rhetorical talents to bear in exhorting his fellow inmates to embrace a decidedly off-program plan.
Like any crowd-pleasing piece of oratory, this address starts soft and slow and builds to a crescendo that has characters and spectators alike ready to run through a wall—or in this case, drop their tools, overthrow their oppressors, and plunge off a platform to swim for freedom, like Steve McQueen doing a high dive at the end of Papillon. In the closing seconds of Episode 9, Serkis brought down the house with one line: “Never more than 12.” Here he brings down the big house with one speech. And if one line was enough to stir Star Wars fans’ souls, imagine what Serkis, writer Beau Willimon, and creator Tony Gilroy can do with 25. Actually, don’t imagine it: Watch it again, from the faltering start to the swelling call to action to the repeated refrain that gives the episode its name: One way out.
On second thought, this clip might not be best suited for baseball games, where the goal of the team with last licks is not to get out. But boy, does it work well in Andor, a series that never overreaches for unearned catharsis but that always hits paydirt when it mines for emotion. As his concern for Ulaf last week indicated, Kino wasn’t cruel; if he received a reward for helping the Empire ensure that its captives made quota, it wasn’t a fancier uniform or cushier quarters. (Though I guess it got him off of the assembly line and exempted him from floor punishment.) He was focused on finishing his sentence, but he always had it in him to join the resistance. This scene is simply the dramatic manifestation of an epiphany for a man who’d convinced himself that the best way to help others was to encourage them to comply—but who, in the back of his mind, had been keeping count of his captors all along. Loy speaks to his audience in the modulated tone of their oppressors, sounding almost Snoke-like through a filter that strips speakers of their individuality. But by the time he’s finished, he’s found his voice.
Here’s the turn that makes this series so special, though: Kino’s moment of triumph is tragic too. As Loy delivers his speech, spurring other prisoners to rise up and free themselves by offering them the hope rebellions are built on, he knows there’s no way out for him. The prison is surrounded by water, and he can’t swim. Like Cassian on Scarif years later, Loy is a man on a mission for others that he knows he’s not likely to survive. I’d like to think that as Andor embraces Jyn Erso by the waterside and waits to be engulfed, he spares a thought for Kino, who may not have made it to freedom but who, indirectly, helped destroy the Death Star too.
Another thing that makes this series special? Serkis’s showstopping speech isn’t even the most mic-dropping monologue in Episode 10. A little later, another doomed man, Stellan Skarsgård’s Luthen Rael, steals the spotlight right back with one of the most affecting sci-fi soliloquies since Rutger Hauer reminisced about tears in rain. Luthen has been in this fight for years; Kino is a recent convert, and probably wouldn’t see himself as a political activist or insurgent. But the Rebellion needs both of them, and the cast of Rogue One, to—as Luthen puts it—burn their lives to make a sunrise (and twin sunset) that they know they’ll never see.
For the first time since Episode 6, some blaster bolts finally fly in “One Way Out.” But the brief firefight is a prelude to the verbal fireworks that follow; instead of shooting it out with every last guard, the prisoners stream past their former captors as they cower behind a door. (The inmates are running the asylum, and it’s about time.) It’s not that this series can’t hold its own when it comes to scope and spectacle—see “The Eye” for evidence. But Andor mostly makes its mark with words, score, and subtle cinematography, and in those respects, this episode is all Emmy reel.
As the expected conclusion of Andor’s prison arc, “One Way Out” had a high bar to clear. From the moment Cassian was incarcerated, we knew he’d never stay on Narkina 5; after all, he has places to be, people to kill, and plans to steal. It also seemed a safe bet that his deliverance would come at the conclusion of the three-episode block written by Willimon and directed by Toby Haynes (whom I interviewed this week). We knew the destination and timing; the only source of suspense was how the series would deliver its lead character from his cell.
If you’re going to ask audiences to be patient enough to sit through two acts knowing that they’ll have to wait a week or two for a telegraphed resolution—a structure that may make Andor an even better binge than it’s been a weekly experience, not that I’ve ever found its pace to be a trial—then you can’t fumble the finale. And in each of its three mini-climaxes so far—the conflicts on Ferrix, Aldhani, and now Narkina 5—the series has thoroughly released its simmering, tectonic-plate tension in a volcanic display. Like Cassian with a blaster in his hand or Serkis or Skarsgård with a script, Andor doesn’t miss.
It‘s telling, and intriguing, that Andor’s ostensible lead doesn’t star in the most memorable of the episode’s heroic (or antiheroic) closeups. Eponymous title notwithstanding, this is an ensemble series, and despite Diego Luna’s compelling performance and ample screen time, Cassian sometimes seems like a supporting character in his own show. What sets him apart from the typical protagonist is that that’s the way he wants it. “Tell them what to do,” he urges Kino in Episode 10. “It has to be you.” Given the voice masking, no one would know the difference, but Cassian prefers to be behind the boards, not on the mic. Just as with Jyn in Rogue One, he steps aside and lets someone else take point.
Cassian is selling himself short: The prisoners couldn’t coordinate an uprising, and Kino couldn’t see the situation clearly, until Andor arrived. In that sense, it had to be him. As a leader, though, his greatest strength seems to be giving other people a push and then handing them the reins; that he’s a budding hero who doesn’t seek power, recognition, or responsibility is his character’s most compelling quality. At least as of now, he’s hardly an idealist. His opposition to authoritarianism is based on personal suffering; he’s no Nemik, and he’s not, by nature, a joiner. He believes he lacks the capacity to motivate the masses, but he knows they need a hype person to pull them together. Even in Rogue One, Cassian’s comment that “rebellions are built on hope” is more of an observation than an attempt at inspiration. Yet when it comes time for Kino and Jyn to make impassioned appeals, both of them quote Cassian.
Naturally, it takes a lot of laxity on the Empire’s part for Kino to be in a position to pump people up. Granted, the administration of a galaxy-wide government, military, and penal system must be a bear—hence the huge bureaucracy—but the Empire might need McKinsey to come in for a consulting sesh on the best practices of tyrants. (You know McKinsey would work for Palpatine.) First we learned that the Empire doesn’t use direct deposit, which left its hard currency exposed to the Aldhani heist; then we inferred, from the fact that Cassian is still incognito, that it doesn’t fingerprint or otherwise identify people in custody, or pool prisoner info in a centralized source. Now we know the Empire’s prison authorities exert zero oversight over their gen pops, even when their “factory facilities” are on high alert.
Last week, Cassian said the guards weren’t listening because they didn’t care; the prisoners, he noted, were “nothing to them,” which jibes with what we’ve seen of Imperial arrogance. But in “One Way Out,” which follows a serious slipup and the subsequent frying of a hundred men, we’re told that they care quite a bit: The guards are afraid, even panicky, Cassian says, and they “can’t afford to be surprised again.” Evidently, though, they also can’t afford to turn on a microphone or install some security cameras. I get that manpower is scarce, but you’re telling me one of those guards sitting at a console couldn’t have flipped a switch to eavesdrop, or checked a video feed to make sure everyone wasn’t congregating for a speech? What about droid patrols or computerized monitoring? Even the appearance of scrutiny might discourage this kind of collaboration. I know those electrified floors do a lot of lifting, but Amazon maintains more effective surveillance in millions of American living rooms than the Empire does on Narkina 5. Security at the Cottonwood Mall on Better Call Saul is tighter than this.
Gilroy has said, “I don’t like to have holes in my story. I like to be rigorous.” In the spirit of holding him to his high standards, then, I’m noting for the record that this lack of oversight slightly strained my belief. I also couldn’t care less, because this episode, and this series, rules so hard that tiny nitpicks about plot seem much more frivolous than they do in other Star Wars series whose flaws are more glaring and whose high points can’t compare. Please pardon me for pausing for a few paragraphs to register a small critique between paroxysms of praise about the best show on TV.
Let’s return to our regular raves. After all the theatricality of Kino’s Hollywood pep talk, the last look we (and Cassian) get of him is remarkably unmovielike. There’s no hug or handshake; no final, heartfelt nod or request to “tell my family I love them.” After Kino confesses that he can’t swim, Cassian is swept away by the human tide before he can give Kino consolation, thank him for his service, or propose another plan. These are men placed in proximity by forces beyond their control, and just as swiftly separated.
“You need to help each other,” Kino said through the loudspeaker. “You see someone who’s confused, someone who is lost, you get them moving and you keep them moving until we put this place behind us.” Yet when we last see him, he’s a pebble buffeted by a riverbed; a mass of humanity is streaming around him, not even aware that he was the one who rallied their resolve. Will anyone stop to help him? Will he find a flotation device? Will he jump just to die on his terms, instead of in servitude? I’m OK with not knowing, though I don’t doubt that a Kino book or comic is already in the works. This might be the only answer we need: Remember the last word of Nemik and K-2SO? This week, Kino says “Climb,” too.
At the very least, the breath Kino took as he entered the prison wasn’t the last fresh air he ever tasted. “You shouldn’t be here,” a surprised prison official said when Kino and Cassian appeared and turned the tables by telling him to stay “on program.” His words—spoken in the actual, non-resounding voice of the small man behind the curtain—were truer than he realized; nobody belongs in a hellhole like that.
Speaking of hellholes: Luthen is living in one too—on the inside, at least—and he has been for 15 years, since the Emperor rose and Luthen realized he’d have to give up everything to oppose Palpatine’s power. Based on how he answered Lonni’s question about what he’s sacrificed for the Rebellion, it seems like Luthen had a lot to get off his chest; he doesn’t get many chances to speak plainly, so it’s probably healthy for him to express himself. Or it would be, if the sentiments he was expressing weren’t “I’ve made my mind a sunless space” and “I share my dreams with ghosts.” Goddamn. (On Wednesday morning, I got a text from a Star Wars–fan friend who’d just finished the episode that simply said, “Fuck.” With lines like these, sometimes appreciative profanity is the only fitting response.)
What makes this scene so stunning isn’t just Skarsgård selling Luthen’s scorched soul—an effect Haynes helped coax out of the actor by observing that Skarsgård’s first takes had “felt like a speech”—but where it takes place. When Lonni (whom we learn is Luthen’s mole inside the ISB) takes a turbolift to see his handler, he plummets for a full three minutes of screen time, long enough that Luthen left an earpiece so they could talk on his trip down. Not only is this a brilliant bit of world-building that neatly conveys Coruscant’s size by laying out how long it takes to reach the city-planet’s lower levels, but it also illustrates how trapped Lonni is, as well as the depths to which Luthen (who’s cloaked and gloved like Darth Vader) has sunk in order to maintain his secrecy. Lonni wants to leave the fight and be a devoted #GirlDad, not to fear for his life while leading a double one. But the vow that rebellion demands leaves little room for relaxation or indulging personal desires.
At least Lonni can unburden himself to Luthen, who tells him he thinks of him constantly—though clearly as an asset, not a friend. After six years embedded behind enemy lines, one might think that Lonni would have proved himself worthy of being read in to Luthen’s plans. But discovery is always one Dr. Gorst session away, and so Luthen lies to Lonni about Aldhani, just as he did to Saw Gerrera. He also says he’s willing to sacrifice Anto Kreegyr and his 50 fighters—the very Rebels he was trying to aid—so as not to make the ISB suspicious. So much for “help each other.” At this stage, there’s no room for sentiment.
We’ll see if Luthen sticks to that stance, or if Lonni does. They’ve probably done worse to get where they are. “Your career has profited greatly from information we provided,” Luthen notes. Who suffered greatly from that intel being passed along? Kreegyr’s crew aside, who else’s life is Luthen sacrificing, as he sacrificed his own? And what harm has Lonni done with the tools of his enemy in order to keep climbing the ladder? Perhaps those tools will be turned on him; with Dedra (and possibly Syril) sniffing around, I don’t love Lonni’s odds. For the sake of his daughter, I hope he has life insurance.
Kino and Luthen suck up so much oxygen in this episode that Mon Mothma is almost an afterthought, but she shouldn’t be. Her discussion with the rakish, Dickensian Davo—amid the white walls of the embassy, not so different from Narkina 5’s—is disturbing in its own special way. Davo, who has met Perrin “several times” (I’m shocked), has no use for a fee in exchange for laundering Mon’s money. He craves respectability, and so he wants to wed—or for starters, introduce—his son to Mon and Perrin’s daughter in a Velaryon-esque bid to strengthen his house and legitimize his line. Now Mon must decide whether to condemn her daughter to the same tradition that dictated the direction of her own life and led to her unhappy home.
“Our choices for change are limited,” Mon says early in the scene, referring to the embassy’s décor. But it’s also true of herself, and potentially Leida if she trades her daughter’s future for the Rebellion’s. Maybe the most disquieting aspect of this scene is Davo’s response when Mon insists that she isn’t considering his request: “That’s the first untrue thing you’ve said.” As Davo deviously puts it, “Our position sometimes makes decisions for us.” But this isn’t the kind of decision that elicits what he calls “a drop of discomfort.” Ask Luthen: This is the kind that requires surrendering “all chance at inner peace.”
In “One Way Out,” Cassian declares—and Kino repeats—“I’d rather die trying to take them down than die giving them what they want.” The prison he’s trying to take down is such an embodiment of the Empire’s ethos that it’s shaped like the Imperial crest (and, for that matter, like the parts the prisoners have been building). And if Narkina 5 is a microcosm of the Empire, and Cassian just toppled it to free himself and other prisoners from the Imperial yoke, it stands to reason that he’ll want to stay in the fight and extend that freedom to the rest of the galaxy. He’s likely learned his lesson about what happens when you try to turn your back on creeping autocracy and relax on Niamos—fascism finds you anyway. And as long as the Empire is out there, snapping up innocents and sentencing them to death, he could only hope for a qualified kind of freedom, which wouldn’t be enough now. Narkina 5 was the crucible that created a Rebel. (Sorry, Melshi—make that two Rebels.)
When word of the prison break spreads, news of Andor’s involvement will surely reach the ISB (and, perhaps, Syril). Which means that Maarva, who’s being watched by both the ISB and Cinta and seems to be seriously ill, may be in great danger. If Cassian contacts her, he will be too. Then again, none of our protagonists is ever far from death. Did you notice how casually Cassian stepped off the electrified floor a fraction of a second before it turned on? That was the move of a man who’s accustomed to balancing on a knife-edge, and whose life is already forfeit.
With two episodes left in the first season, we can expect certain developments to succeed the (ahem) escapist entertainment of “One Way Out,” including a clash at Spellhaus, clarity about Syril’s role, and the rest of the story of how young Kassa was permanently parted from his sister on Kenari. But there’s much more than that happening here; this series is so rich I want to reenroll in college and take a course in it. “Andor and Fascism” seems like a seminar that might be offered somewhere. If not, I’d settle for a Tony Gilroy MasterClass. But I guess that’s what we’re watching, one week at a time.