Don’t let the jaunty little exclamation point that serves as a flourish on this week’s episode title fool you. “Nobody’s Listening!” is meant in a literal, urgent sense. It’s not a taunt but a primal wail and one the writers know we’ve all wanted to scream at one point or another in the last few years. Even the excited synth riff accompanying this week’s title card belies the brutal tone of episode nine, which spends its first half focusing solely on Cassian and Bix, separately but simultaneously under the boot of the Empire.
We start on Ferrix, where Dedra is interrogating Bix about Cassian’s whereabouts, what she knows about the thefts of Imperial technology, and who her mysterious buyer is. It’s been interesting watching her demeanor shift from polite-but-stubborn-loyalist in the company of her fellow ISB officers to arch-supervillain when she has someone “below” her captive. Last week, it was Syril, though not under nearly as dire circumstances. Dedra has brought along with her Doctor Gorst, an absolute creep of a mad scientist who’s developed a torture technique that doesn’t maim the body but the mind. Recently, the Empire slaughtered a sentient alien race who resisted an Imperial refueling center on their home. The slaughter was broadcast as proof of the mission, and the cries of the aliens as they died had a special property that drove those who heard the massacre into a state of helpless insanity. The three communications officers who received the broadcast were later found huddled together in a crawl space. “We found a section of what we believe are primarily children,” Gorst tells Bix, almost giddy, attaching a headset to her and telling her the process doesn’t take long. Though, “It won’t feel that way to you on the inside.” It takes just seconds before Bix is screaming.
On Narkina 5, Cassian continues his drudgery at Table 5 under Kino’s could-kill glare. Unlike almost everyone else in the prison, Cassian is unwilling to accept that he’s here for the long haul. When he takes a bathroom break, we see he’s been scratching away at a pipe behind the toilet panel, but that’s about as active as his escape plan gets. For now, he’s a passive observer, keeping his head down, his table producing, and looking out for fellow Table 5-er Ulaf, an elderly inmate whose body and mind are degrading by the day. One night, Cassian and Melshi engage Kino in a predictably one-sided conversation about escaping. Kino’s having none of it. He’s 217 days away from release and dead-set on avoiding even the slightest trouble. “You think they’re listening?” Cassian scoffs at Kino. “You think they care enough to make an effort?” Cassian knows systems, what makes the Empire tick, and he knows for every true believer there’s just a guy on the payroll. “We are nothing to them,” he says, not in despair but seeing it as a strength to be exploited.
At least one person is watching, though, and it’s Mon Mothma. She’s in the Senate delivering a rebuke of the PORD, which allows the Empire to arbitrarily resentence prisoners for however long they see fit. It’s maddening and all too real that she’s met mostly with jeers and other senators pointedly turning off their lights and leaving the “floor”; it’s a dead-end fight, and even for Mon, a way of keeping up appearances. Do I believe she really cares about the PORD? I do. Do I believe it’s her priority? I do not. “Nobody’s Listening!” asks, again and again, what happens when lives become commodities? Dedra later justifies keeping Maarva alive as “bait,” as if the episode were putting too fine a point on it. Behind the scenes, Mon works with Tay to make sure her funding of the cause is well-laundered. It’s difficult making a 400,000 credit withdrawal disappear, so he enlists the help of an interstellar loan shark called Davo Sculdun—a “thug,” Mon says, uneasy. Also keeping up appearances is Mon’s cousin: Vel! I was sure Vel was related to Luthen, but it looks like Mon was her gateway into the rebellion. Mon tells her to sit tight and play the part of “spoiled rich girl” for a while. Which sounds fun to me but, you know, it’s Vel.
If there’s such a thing as levity in Andor, it comes courtesy of everyone’s favorite punching bag, Syril Karn. Still browbeaten and emotionally manipulated by his mother on a daily basis, he stakes out the ISB building hoping to run into Dedra. One day he succeeds, and the result is something I’m sure he thinks is some kind of grand romantic gesture committing himself to Dedra’s cause. Once again, she’s entirely uninterested and alarmed at his disproportionate feelings for her and the ISB. “I want what you want,” he tells her. They are, indeed, kindred spirits in a twisted way, but Dedra’s good at her job, and we’ve already seen how Syril handles an occupation of Ferrix. Back to your day job, Syril.
There’s a tinge of horror throughout this week’s episode. Something I haven’t experienced in a Star Wars story before is genuine unease, but Bix’s torture and Cassian’s endless toil on the production line succeed in that regard. Back on Narkina 5, there have been frantic hand signals between prisoners on different levels about something big going down on level two. Later on, Ulaf collapses and a med tech is called, also a prisoner. Ulaf, 40 days from release, has had a huge stroke, and the only thing the doctor can do for him is give him a peaceful death. Cassian presses the doctor for answers about level two as Kino looks on. Turns out someone on level four was released, then immediately sent back two floors down. The prisoners got wise, and an entire production floor was “fried.” We could see it on his face already, but Kino finally knows it fully: No one’s ever getting out. Cassian asks him, one more time, the question he’s asked for the entire episode: “How many guards are there on each level?” Kino doesn’t flinch. “Never more than 12,” he answers right back, knowing Cassian is now his only shot at leaving. A prison break brews.
A lot of you (quite fairly) got on my case about not acknowledging that one of Cassian’s Table 5 colleagues is Melshi, the gentle Scot who’s part of Cassian’s rebel team in Rogue One. I confess: I’ve held off on watching the film until I’m done with Andor, lest I get too distracted by Andor’s true narrative and purpose.
More absolutely savage insults from Syril’s mother this week. My personal favorite: “I put you back on your feet and what is the return on my investment?”
I suppose Doctor Gorst’s torture had to be suitably monstrous to make Bix’s cooperation less of a betrayal and far more understandable. Adria Arjona’s eyes sell it as soon as the headset goes on. Anyone would talk.
“We’re cheaper than droids and easier to replace” is a hell of a line and entirely accurate for earthbound prisoners, too.
No Luthen this week. What’ll be his reaction when he finds out the Empire is closing in on him?
The Star Wars fanfare and logo that precedes any of its Disney+ offerings show where Lucasfilm’s priorities lie: Helmets and droids or, in other words, merchandisable iconography. Something Andor has absolutely no interest in. Respect.
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