“I can’t swim.”
Kino Loy’s journey from day shift manager to leader of a prisoner revolt seemingly ends with those three words in the latest episode of Andor. Powerfully portrayed by Andy Serkis, the arc of Kino Loy has represented the arc of Andor on a micro level: take what the Empire tells you at face value and never push back and by the time you notice their cruelty, it will be too late. It’s one of multiple stories throughout Andor’s first season that drives home how standing idly by, believing the Empire’s professions of peace, order, and profit, will get you nowhere. In fact, it might take you to the edge of a precipice you’re unwilling to cross.
“Don’t ever slow up my line.”
Episode eight of Andor, “Narkina 5,” introduced Kino. The hard-nosed boss of level five’s day shift greets Cassian, a.k.a. Keef Girgo, with strict instructions. He talks about efficiency, meeting quotas, and staying in the lead compared to other levels. Maybe it’s pride. (It’s more likely his compliance is about not getting electrocuted for flagging productivity.) Kino, like the other prisoners, is counting down how many shifts remain in his sentence. It’s 249 when we meet him, but after you’ve counted down and down, that number probably doesn’t feel so large. Instead it’s more like a drop in the bucket of blurred, endless days manufacturing parts for unknown purposes.
We see Kino has clung to his forced labor like a lifeline. He worked his way up to manager and keeps those on his level in line. In order to survive, he’s developed a tough outer shell. Kino follows instructions from the Imperial guards: on program, eyes ahead, a model prisoner helping keep other prisoners on task. His eagerness, even if it comes from a place of self-preservation, makes him the tiniest bit complicit in the Empire’s enforcement.
Kino doesn’t welcome Cassian with any warmth. He’s seen too much; it’s not his job to care. Kino must keep the work going and continue driving his shift count down.
“Never more than 12.”
Utterly confident in their control, the Imperials don’t pay attention to the prisoners once they settle in their cells for the day. It takes Cassian pointing out that no one is listening to them. The prisoners can plan escape, revenge, or disobedience, and the Empire will be none the wiser. Cassian starts recruiting in a fashion, a move that foreshadows his eventual involvement with the Rebel Alliance.
The hard truth comes when Ulaf, a worker at Cassian’s table so close to the end of his sentence he can practically taste the fresh air, dies from a stroke. An attending prisoner medic tells Cassian and Kino what happened on level two. The Empire “released” a prisoner to a different level; the guards killed the entire level to keep the secret. No one is getting out. The Empire is using the prisoners to their last, no matter when they should go free.
His world disrupted, Kino listens to Cassian. Kino believed in the number of shifts on his console. He believed all he had to do was make it until the end of his sentence. That goal, a lie, got him through his days—until he saw past the illusion. It took the tragedy on level two and hearing about it from a witness to open Kino’s eyes, to break into a place he could no longer push aside. You can see the rage wash over Kino’s body as he processes the reality: no one is ever getting out of the Empire’s prison. No amount of being the model prisoner will help him. It’s another of the Empire’s lies.
“There is one way out.”
With the bandage that is this monumental realization freshly ripped off, Kino isn’t ready to bust out of the Narkina 5 prison immediately. However, the prisoners have to take advantage of the opportunity that the arrival of Ulaf’s replacement will bring. It means they must act quickly because as Cassian says, they’ll never have a better chance. The facility doesn’t have enough guards and the scheduled prisoner transfer will make the guards on level five vulnerable.
Kino Loy moves through the processing period into action, reluctantly taking the leadership role Cassian pushes on him. The prisoners are accustomed to following Kino’s orders; they react to that voice, that authority. So Kino organizes them with Cassian’s help and the Imperial guards don’t even know it because they’re too smug to observe the prisoners outside the production levels.
The revolt ripples across the prison in waves after Kino spreads the message from the comms center. He’s a single person, but in that moment, he is the entire rebellion embodied. Kino pulls the curtain away and shows the Empire for what it is. He becomes a catalyst who changes the fates of thousands of beings, encouraging them to help others in the escape as they stop the work.
Kino Loy wasn’t ready for a personal revolution, let alone leading thousands of prisoners in a fight for freedom. But he stepped up. He pushed back against the Empire’s lies and glimpsed freedom. We hope that someone helped Kino through the churning waters and to safety. There’s plenty of Empire left to fight and the rebels need all the help they can get.