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Narkina 5 (Andor - S01E08) - Live Action Series

Series: Andor

Title: Narkina 5

Season: One

Episode: 8

Original Air Date: October 26th, 2022

Runtime: 51 minutes

Credits: Review & Text: Thomas; Page layout & Design: Chuck Paskovics

Discuss the latest Chapter! (Discussion)

"That's cold. Even for you!" SPOILERS.

Cassian is transported to prison mere seconds after his mock trial

Andor is the gift that keeps on giving. To come to the point immediately, Narkina 5 was yet another excellent episode. What I find so interesting about Andor is that, similar to Filoni's Clone Wars, it doesn't shy away from switching between genres for each arc. We had a "spy" arc, we had a very traditional "heist" arc and it seems the third arc gives us a Star Wars take on the "prison break" genre. But it's not all about Andor of course, the other major characters also get their spotlight again, and the series takes a few turns you may not have expected.

Syril Karn has caught the attention of the ISB

Let's talk about Syril Karn first, who is probably one of the most depressing Star Wars characters ever. He's small fry, yet another cog with dreams of being this super skillful detective or maybe even secret agent. And for the longest time it was generally assumed that Dedra Meero will eventually contact Syril to gather more intelligence from him. So things seem to go according to expectations when the ISB comes to Syril at his workplace in the Bureau of Standards. As it turns out Syril has been filing bogus inquiries about a certain Cassian Andor six times in less than a month, Syril's way of finding the location of Andor.

Is it Syril's big moment now?

Yet Andor doesn't go where you'd expect it to go. Many other series maybe would have turned Syril into an ISB agent. But Syril, who thinks he's smart, efficient and a real asset to the Empire is brutally brushed off by Dedra Meero when he dares to suggest he could be a good ISB agent. Instead Dedra merely wants intel from Syril, anything not written down in the official report. She wants him to be a good cog. So what's next for Syril? It seems what many expected will not happen, i.e. Syril will not have some kind of redemption or career as Imperial. Instead it seems more and more likely that Andor will explore what it means to be a devout believer in a system, only to find the system has no real use of you and any dreams of making it big are shattered. It may very well be that Andor will explore utter failure and defeat with Syril's arc. To show us how an average, but very ambitious citizen of the Empire is crushed by the machinery. Now the only question is when or if Syril will snap and do something really stupid. The scenes with Syril, while short, were certainly a clever subversion of any theories fans had about his arc.

Narkina 5. You really don't want to be there!

Cassian gets most of the spotlight this episode. And Cassian has entered a nightmare, a living hell on earth. He's sent to a high security prison that basically is a veiled slave labour camp, the prisoners are basically forced labourers. Many countries around the world have this practice (though not as severe as portrayed here of course), back in the day in East Germany political prisoners assembled washing machines and other things for their rich West German neighbours, sold by mail-order businesses. And of course we still have prisoners working in prisons for little or no money today, all around the world. I feel Andor is a commentary on that practice, embedded in a SciFi setting and with things turned to the extreme.

Soulless, stark, clinical. A nightmare.

Cassian is visibly shocked, overwhelmed and close to the breaking point when he realizes where the Empire has sent him to. The prison guards have a sadistic streak, the floor is kind of electrical and all prisoners have to walk around barefoot, so the guards can trigger a shock that will have anyone writhing on the floor. And the working conditions may be cleaner than in some 19th century textile mill, but just as inhumane and brutal, with 12 hour shifts and insidous psychological tricks to keep the workers on their toes and doing the best they can to make the guards happy. The prison factory has several floors, each floor has seven rooms or so and each room has seven tables. The tables in each room compete against each other, the slowest table gets punished, the fastest table gets somewhat better food. And then the rooms on each floor compete against each other. Cassian is visibly shaken when it all sinks in. I have to point out Diego Luna's acting here, his subtle but very visible display of shock, fear and utter panic is brilliant in the prison scenes.

Narkina 5 holds thousands of prisoners across seven levels.

And while the prison scenes are merely exposition for now, we learn a few very important things. To begin with how everything works, we also learn that the inmates are starved for news about the world outside, but Andor can't or won't provide them with anything they want to know. He's completely oblivious about the ramifications of the raid on Aldhani. We also learn that reading is not necessarily a skill you're absolutely supposed to have, which raises so many questions about the education system in the Star Wars galaxy. Daily life on Narkina 5 is an endless grind. But by the end of the episode, 30 days after being first imprisoned, Cassian has become an effective cog. You do wonder how anyone could ever escape this place with no daylight, and guards that can have you crumple to the floor in pain at the push of a button. So will the inevitable prison break be planned and initiated from the inside or will the rebels attack Narkina 5?

Cassian is now officially an HVT for the Empire

Thanks to Syril's info Dedra Meero now knows about Andor and in yet another ISB meeting all the recently discovered facts are discussed. Dedra becomes a bit cocky when she talks to Colonel Yularen, but immediately realizes her mistake. But Yularen either does not care or is impressed enough with Dedra's findings. The ISB now knows that Cassian works with a high profile rebel the ISB has dubbed "Axis". And Cassian will lead them to him, or so they hope. But first they must find him. Too bad the Empire doesn't have any facial recognition tech or fingerprints or anything really that would let them know Cassian is already in custody under an assumed name and currently assembling some machinery as a prisoner on Narkina 5.

Mon Mothma married her husband when she was 15...

After last week's quite intense dinner party this week's social event is much less stressful for Mon Mothma. Her daughter Leida however doesn't fail to notice that Tay Kolma is a regular visitor now. I still have the feeling the series has plans for Mon Mothma's daughter. Tay informs Mon Mothma about the difficulties to secure the funds, but it's not entirely impossible. We also learn a few things about Mon Mothma. She became a senator at 16 (what is it with teenagers in Star Wars becoming senators?) and she married her husband when she was 15. As is tradition. Okay... It's still quite remarkable how Mon Monthma juggles her official persona and very clandestine rebel life. Also, and I feel this is yet another smart idea: Andor keeps switching between the high society dinner party and the soul crushing scenes in the prison with Andor. The difference couldn't be more stark here. Cassian is at the very bottom, whereas Mon Mothma and family enjoy the best life has to offer.

Kleya has a few stern words for Luthen

The dynamic between Luthen and Kleya is also further explored. She was initially introduced as his "assistant", but it has become very obvious that this is just a front, Kleya is certainly no one who takes orders and while the exact rebel hierarchy is probably very unclear, it's obvious Kleya is not just someone who does as Luthen asks her to do. Back on Ferrix Bix is trying to contact Luthen. Cassian's mother is ill, she fell and does not feel well, and Bix wants Cassian to come back home and hopes Luthen has a way of finding him. It seems Luthen is the more romantic and sentimental of the two, since Kleya gets a bit upset with him and scolds him for letting things slip. She reminds Luthen that all ties to Bix must be cut, that Ferrix, now under Imperial rule, has become too dangerous and that they must turn the radio off. Luthen relents and accepts it. Luthen does have another mission on his plate anyway.

Saw Guerrera's hideout

It turns out Luthen is on his way to Saw Guerrera, he wants him to help with some mission that could need his support. But Saw is quite reluctant and we learn that the rebels are not even united, old wounds haven't healed yet and Saw is apparently less than willing to work with a fellow insurgent who used to be a separatist.

Even in Star Wars rebels/terrorists hide out in cold and damp caves

The scenes with Luthen and Saw shed an interesting light on the dynamic in the early rebellion. Saw is labeled an anarchist by Luthen and from Rogue One we know that the Rebel Alliance never officially worked with Saw, who is a bit too extreme even for their tastes. And Saw himself still thinks in old clone war categories, it seems past political allegiances are more important to him than the common enemy they all have. The early rebellion really is far removed from the group of heroes we met in the movies. They are ruthless, brutal and divided, with in faction squabbles. So for now it seems Saw will not help Luthen. But the most interesting fact was that the rebels even distrust each other, since Luthen never admits to Saw that he ordered the attack on Aldhani. Yes, the early rebellion is really as depressing as Coruscant and the Empire.

One look at her and you know how Vel feels

One of the more surprising things in Andor is that the series did not dismiss Vel after the Aldhani arc. No, we even get more character development with her and her girlfrind Cinta in this episode. Cinta has made it to Ferrix and Vel meets her there. And we learn that Vel is indeed the daughter of rich parents who ran away from it all, to live the life with her rebel girlfrind Cinta. The suprising thing here is that while Vel came across as super tough and ruthless before, we learn she is actually quite a bit sentimental and romantic. Vel is less than happy when Cinta says she will stay on Ferrix to find out Cassian's whereabouts, but that Vel needs to leave, since two people would raise too much attention maybe. Vel wants to protest, but Cinta reminds her that she told her from the very beginning that the "struggle" would always come first. Then Cinta says a somewhat mean-spirited thing to Vel when she says she'll pretend to be a daughter of rich parents who ran away and now hides on Ferrix, which is apparently exactly what Vel did. And she is taken aback by that cold hearted comment. So a despondent Vel leaves Ferrix and leaves Cinta behind.

Dedra has Bix in her clutches

Also on Ferrix Bix tried to contact Luthen, Cassian's mother does not feel well, she fell and she wants Cassian to come to her. But as we know no reply ever came. But thanks to Syril's intel Dedra now knows that Ferrix is the place to start the search for Cassian. And they not only find Bix' friend who hides the radio transmitter, they also find Bix, she tries to run but she is no match for Stormtroopers. In yet another display of quite insidous pschological tricks, Dedra has Bix' friend not removed from the interrogation chair, so Bix can see what happens to people who are not 100% cooperative. Things may get much worse for Bix... but how bad they will get is something we will probably find out next week.

As I said in the first paragraph, Narkina 5 was yet another brilliant episode. The dystopian SciFi prison setting, while not unique, is still a very haunting setting and I feel Gilroy also includes some political commentary here about prison systems across the world. We also learn the Empire really knows how to play people and their psychological tactics are ruthless and very efficient.

The insights into the early rebellion continue to be fascinating. Mon Mothma fights on the political front and pulls strings in the background. Luthen is more hands on, yet you never get the feeling that any of the rebels are friends. All that connects them is the common enemy. Yet they distrust even people who fight on the same side, as is evident by Luthen's denial of his involvement with the Aldhani heist. And Kleya and Luthen aren't best of friends either probably, then again, someone has to make the tough decisions and Kleya is not wrong of course to switch off the radio. To her Bix is a small time civilian with no significance and Cassian's family life is of no interest either. They only need to find his whereabouts so they can eliminate him.

Syril's arc is certainly also remarkable. For the longest time you felt you know where this is going... only it's not. Syril fails and fails and fails and keeps failing. All his ambitions and dreams are shattered. It's ironic that someone who believes so much in the Empire is treated so poorly by the system. Now where will this take us? Either Syril will do something really desperate to find Cassian on his own, hoping that will give him what he feels he deserves... or maybe he will realize that his love for the Empire is rather one-sided. And what other side is there? However, I don't feel Syril will ever join the rebels. At best he may foolishly try to infiltrate them, only to get killed. But Andor keeps surprising viewers. So let's see where Syril's path will take him

A few words about Vel and something I usually don't talk about that much, since I feel it has become too much of a Twitter buzzword: "LGBT representation". In my opinion Andor is the first Star Wars series or movie to treat this with respect and any sense of normality. Neither do LFL twitter accounts triumphantly blast it out to the world that Andor has a lesbian couple as if it's the most novel thing ever, nor does Andor treat the two women as something that's merely meant to collect some brownie points. Let's compare it to what we got in The Rise of Skywalker, a totally random kiss for two seconds or so between a very secondary character and a nobody. Never hinted at before, never mentioned again, you can easily cut that scene in countries that still live in medieval times. Yet Disney can pat themselves on their back, or so they think maybe. And let's not even talk about the "Lando is pansexual now" comments leading up to the release of Solo. So I have to give kudos to Tony Gilroy and his team (and Lucasfilm anno 2022 too) to treat the Vel and Cinta story like ANY other romance out there. And that there's no need here to nudge the audience or to wink at us like it was done quite a few times before. I hope going forward that same sex romances in Star Wars will be treated just like Vel's and Cinta's story, as something normal. Not like it's some circus attraction or anything noteworthy in 2022. Yes, it is still kind of noteworthy in media, even in 2022, but I feel we need to reach a point where's it is not anymore. And Andor does it right.
What I find so fascinating about Vel's character and arc in particular is how it is insinuated that Cinta may have used Vel's affection also as a means to an end, to get the daughter of rich Coruscant parents to join the cause. I am not saying Cinta's love is fake, most likely not, but love has always been a very popular recruiting method. Vel probably dreamed of a romantic life as a rebel, with her love by her side... yet she finds that Cinta is instead all business first. But we already knew that from previous episodes where it was shown that Cinta has nerves of steel and is no nonsense about anything. Vel's background also very much resembles those of real life terrorists (talking mostly about European terrorists here, like the RAF in Germany, Italy had the Brigade Rosse etc). Most are well educated, studied at university, almost all of them are either from very well off families or even upper class. One female terrorist in Germany was recruited because her family was friends with a target the RAF wanted to kidnap/eliminate and she and two terrorist friends made it onto the guest list of a party given by the unsuspecting target (who was killed). I see Vel in the tradition of people like them. Only she's a "rebel" of course. With orders to kill Cassian...

Anyway, Narkina 5 is yet another brilliant episode and the third arc starts out really promising with a great new setting. Cassian has to escape a prison you can't escape from. How will he pull it off? With or without rebel help? It's 5 holocrons from me. We had very interesting world-building, some surprises, much more insight into the early rebellion once more and the cinematography and acting are still among the best we've ever had in Star Wars. Probably THE best.

Added: October 26, 2022
Category: Andor
Reviewer: Thomas
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