[The following contains spoilers for the latest episode of The Mandalorian. Read at your own risk.]
Last week, it was Ran putting together a crew — with Mando his last pick. This week, Mando is the one putting together the crew — this time for an assassination. The story is back on track and laser-focused after the last three episodes of side quest nonsense, yielding the series' strongest episode yet. Plus plenty of theory fodder! Spoilers ahead for Episode 7 of The Mandalorian.
It starts with a transmission from Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), whom we last saw trying to kill Mando to recapture Baby Yoda. Greef is totally willing to let bygones be bygones and is not at all trying to bait Mando into a trap. He wants Mando to come back to Nevarro and use Baby Yoda as bait to kill the Client (Werner Herzog). That will weaken the Empire's hold on the city and cancel the bounty on Baby Yoda's head. Win-win.
Of course it's a trap. But let's be fair — even if this wasn't a trap, it's a terrible plan. Mando should remember (from Episode 3) that the Client is himself following orders to hunt Baby Yoda that come from someone else. So why would killing one middle-man stop the flow of bounty hunters? Mando should also remember (from Episode 1) that there's obviously a second party hiring bounty hunters specifically to kill Baby Yoda. Assassinating the Client solves neither of these problems.
Mando, however, chooses to believe that the only option is killing the Client, and chooses to trust Greef. Off he goes, putting together a crew of familiar faces: first, to Sorgan for Cara Dune (Gina Carano). Next, to Tatooine Arvala-7 for Kuiil (Nick Nolte), a resurrected IG-11 (Taika Waititi), and a few Blurrgs. And finally, to Nevarro for Greef Karga.
But on that final leg of the journey, Baby Yoda reveals his dark side, literally. While Mando and Cara engage in some friendly arm-wrestling (not a euphemism), the Child misinterprets the struggle and intervenes against Cara with Darth Vader's trademark Force-choke. Mando quickly shuts that behavior down, but Kuiil makes it clear he's not volunteering to babysit anytime soon.
Once joined on Nevarro by Greef and his three goons, the crew makes an overnight trek toward the city, when they are attacked by giant poisonous bat-like creatures (called "bats" in Star Wars parlance). Greef is mortally injured, but Baby Yoda waddles over and miraculously heals his wound with the Force. This is the first time we've actually seen this power, although in retrospect, Baby Yoda was trying to heal Mando's wounds in Episode 2. Powerful light and powerful darkness — let's just hope Mando is able to nurture that raw power in the right direction.
Getting healed by our loveable little Grinch makes Greef's heart grow three sizes, so he decides not to spring the trap after all. After shooting his own men, Greef comes up with a new plan to kill the Client, with Mando masquerading as a prisoner. Kuiil and Baby Yoda are sent back toward the safety of the Razor Crest, while the others set off with the empty decoy pram toward the city. They are ushered into the Client's chambers without a hitch. In some astonishingly Herzogian dialogue, the Client lectures them that the Empire was actually super great.
Since the first episode, we've been wondering about who exactly wanted Baby Yoda captured and for what purpose. With the introduction of Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) we finally have a concrete answer, but it's one that only leads to more questions.
In Episode 1, Mando was hired by the Client to bring in the Child dead or alive — preferably alive. Dr. Pershing, upset with the Client's indifference, insisted that the child be brought back alive. In Episode 3, when Mando snooped on Dr. Pershing and the Client's conversation, we saw their conflicting directives play out again. The Client ordered Pershing to quickly "extract the necessary material and be done with it." (We still don't know what they were extracting.) Pershing protested: "He has explicitly ordered us to bring it back alive."
That mysterious person giving the orders is now revealed to be Moff Gideon, a ranking Imperial with far more military resources at his disposal than a struggling warlord like the Client — including a squad of Death Troopers. He has so many Stormtroopers, in fact, that the producers didn't have enough sets of armor to shoot the scene. Most of those Stormtroopers are actually fans from the 501st Legion, a Star Wars cosplay organization, recruited to come to set wearing their own homemade armor.
It sure seems like Gideon already knows that the Client has been bamboozled. When the Client tells Moff Gideon that the Child is sleeping, Gideon tells him to check again — implying that he knows Baby Yoda isn't there. And then, just before Mando's crew takes their chance to kill The Client, somebody else beats them to it, sending a bolt through his chest. A squad of Death Troopers has opened fire through the window, killing indiscriminately. The Client, his Stormtroopers, and a droid all immediately die — Gideon is done with the Client's repeated failures. Our heroes, however, are able to quickly take cover because, as we know by now, plot armor is even stronger than beskar. And since the one and only thing we know about Gideon is that he wants Baby Yoda brought to him alive, the last thing he would do is have his troops fire blindly into a room where he believes the Child could be.
Gideon swoops in on a TIE Fighter specially customized for making an entrance, and delivers a monologue to confirm that yes, he really definitely wants that very special baby. "You may think you have some idea of what you are in possession of, but you do not. [...] It means more to me than you will ever know." Troopers on speeder bikes quickly retrieve Baby Yoda — Kuiil didn't quite make it to the Razor Crest in time, and now his smoking body lies dead (?) on the lava fields. Mando, Cara, and Greef have quite the cliffhanger to wriggle out of during next week's finale. Luckily IG-11 is waiting nearby inside the ship — newly programmed to protect Baby Yoda.
But let's not forget all the clues we've seen that a second party is after Baby Yoda — and unlike the Client and Moff Gideon, the bounty hunters they've hired definitely want him dead. Remember that back in Episode 1 when Mando and IG-11 found Baby Yoda on Arvala-7, IG-11 revealed that he had been given very specific instructions to kill the child. Let's also not forget the other bounty hunters who have come out of the woodwork intending to murder Baby Yoda — the Trandoshans in Episode 2 and the Kubaz in Episode 4. We still don't know who the second party is or what they might want. Perhaps they simply want to thwart whatever the Imperials are planning.
And this episode may have just dropped a major clue as to the Imperials' intentions with Baby Yoda. Mando introduces the concept of the "Strand-Cast" — a term that has not previously appeared in the Star Wars canon. From what we can gather in this episode, a Strand-Cast is a custom genetically-engineered being. Breaking down the term invokes the idea of selecting strands of DNA and casting them into a new form. Kuiil has personal experience working in "the gene farms" and hits on Cara with a reference to the "Cytocaves of Nora" (also a phrase being introduced to the canon for the first time, though you better believe it already has its own Wookieepedia article.) Kuiil is sure the Child is not a Strand-Cast because it's too ugly — like anyone would trust an Ugnaught's aesthetic judgments.
Two fan theories have dominated in regards to Dr. Pershing, the Client, and ultimately Moff Gideon's intentions with Baby Yoda and with whatever material they would extract. Either they want his DNA for cloning, or his midichlorians for smoothies. But the idea of the Strand-Cast opens a new possibility. What if the remnants of the Empire wanted the Child's DNA for another reason? What if they were engineering a powerful new breed of being for some nefarious purpose? And what if Baby Yoda's DNA was intended to be the key Force-sensitive ingredient for that purpose?
I won't spoil anything from The Rise of Skywalker here, but trust me — this theory will blow your mind once we can lay the rest of the puzzle pieces on the table.
Next week, we'll assume everything from the movie is fair game and put the remaining pieces together in our final recap of the season!
Previously on The Mandalorian...
The final episode of The Mandalorian will be released Friday, Dec. 27 on Disney+.
(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.)