*** Be warned that FULL SPOILERS ARE AHEAD, so if you haven’t watched the most recent episode(s) of The Mandalorian, don’t read this article. ***
The Mandalorian has been very well-received and has already generated a lot of fan-favorite characters and moments – but it has also generated some criticism for apparent “filler” episodes.
“Filler” episodes are a relatively common complaint of fans and is a term thrown around for a variety of reasons. But if we’re taking what the true meaning of it is, it simply means that this is an episode that serves to fill the air-time and not much more. Often, then, this means that the episode doesn’t really connect to any larger story or further the overall plotline of the story.
And perhaps most often of all, this term is overused and misapplied. For some fans, saying something was a “filler” episode basically just means, “I found it boring” or “I didn’t like it” or “why’d they choose to tell that story?” or “I wish they would have focused on something else” or things like that. But none of those things, in and of themselves, warrant a “filler” categorization.
Anyway, the most recent episode of The Mandalorian has also been met with a few fans saying it was “filler.” We also heard similar things for certain episodes in season one. But I don’t think it’s a fair label, and here are a few reasons why.
1. Understand what kind of show The Mandalorian sets out to be
Many older TV shows were very episodic, meaning that each episode was relatively self-contained. This was the normal practice, and it’s still the practice of some shows today. However, in recent years serialized TV shows have become more popular, meaning that they focus more on telling one overarching story across the episodes. Neither one of these formats is right or best, but simply represents different ways of storytelling. In other words, if a show sets out to be an episodic show with new adventures each week, it seems pretty dumb to call those episodes “filler.”
So what about The Mandalorian? Well, it’s certainly not an episodic show, because it does focus on telling an overarching story. However it also resists some of the features of a serialized show as well, and each week often feels like a new adventure with Din Djarin and the Child. This is not a mistake. This is not accidental. This is not poor storytelling. This is the show’s design.
So yes, we should expect to have larger storylines that take a number of episodes (and even seasons) to tell. That’s obvious from a number of things, but perhaps none more so than the fact that the second season just picked up where season one ended (i.e. season one ended with “Chapter 8” and season two began with “Chapter 9”). But in the process of telling those stories, The Mandalorian sets out to tell a number of different fun stories that reflect a bit of that “adventure of the week” format.
2. The main storyline is kept in focus
With that said, The Mandalorian actually does keep the larger story in focus. In season one, it seemed that Chapters 4, 5, and 6 were the ones that sometimes received the “filler” complaint. But what was season one largely trying to convey with those episodes? A couple of things: (1) Din Djarin having a bit of an identity crisis as he’s torn between his former way of life and a new and better way; and (2) the Child is not safe anywhere. Those themes were carried on throughout those episodes.
In season two, let’s consider the first two episodes. As best we can tell so far, what’s the main theme? Well, Djarin makes it clear in both of the episodes that he’s searching for more Mandalorians. So in Chapter 9, that leads him to Tatooine. In Chapter 10, that leads him on course for Trask… but he’s sidetracked. So yeah, he is sidetracked, but he’s still in pursuit of the same overall purpose.
3. The show seems to be playing the long game
Overall, it seems that we can’t really declare an episode of The Mandalorian “filler” right away. I think the first two episodes of this season are prime examples of that.
So in Chapter 5 of season one, Djarin visits Tatooine, and it’s a relatively self-contained episode. Some people thought it was “filler” and “fan service.” But in Chapter 9, in season two, we return to Tatooine, and all of the sudden we realize that some things had been set up in season one that are beginning to pay off. We’ve already met Peli Motto, so Mando has a contact and ally. We know that Mando doesn’t like droids, but that allows us to see his growth (and probably IG-11’s impact) when he allows them to work on the Razor Crest this time around. Mando already has a speeder bike to use. Tatooine was needed, because that’s where Cobb Vanth is. We already know that Djarin can communicate with the Tusken Raiders and is willing to do so, which sets up a working relationship with them. And a mysterious figure approached Fennec Shand at the end of Chapter 5, and it seems that may be a familiar character… see my point? There was a lot of things that were picked up on in Chapter 9.
Ok, now think about Chapter 6 of season one. Mando joins forces with some other bounty hunters to infiltrate a New Republic prison ship and free a prisoner. This too is a self-contained episode that received the “filler” label from some. But in Chapter 10, of season two, there’s a huge payoff from that. Actually, there’s a couple of payoffs. Firstly, Zero makes a return appearance, allowing the frog lady to communicate with Djarin. But secondly, and more importantly, the New Republic X-Wing pilots know about what happened. His involvement in the incident leads to him trying to flee the pilots, and when they find him at the end, they mention that there’s a warrant out for his arrest. But they also mention how records indicate the good he did in the incident as well, and they let him go with a warning.
So already in season two, we’ve gotten a lot of payoff to maybe the two episodes that would most fit the “filler” label from season one, seeing the payoff. And we had already seen some of that payoff throughout the first season, as on the larger scale, Mando’s adventures led to a team-up at the end of the season.
Isn’t it possible that they’re continuing to set up a larger picture than we can see right now? I think absolutely yes. And so the first two episodes of this season should serve as a caution before we throw the label “filler” around, because we’re already seeing ways in which things fit into the larger story. It may not be instant gratification, but that’s ok.