Andor Episode 5 review: “The Axe Forgets”

Episode 5 of Andor was released today, titled “The Axe Forgets,” and it’s another strong episode in the series.

It’s perhaps the most dialogue-driven of any of the episodes so far (which is saying a lot), but it’s just so well written that it carries things extraordinarily well. Let’s dive in to our review of the episode, and be warned that spoilers are ahead!

SUMMARY:

The crew on Aldhani prepares for their mission to steal the Imperial payload, and the team struggles to trust one another – particularly centered around “Clem,” the new addition, whom we know as Cassian. The team works on final preparations for the heist the next day, while Gorn secretly makes sure that the Imperial base is susceptible to the infiltration and plan. As the crew heads out toward the facility, the tensions reach a breaking point when Skeen confronts Cassian about why he’s really there. In turn, Cassian decides to reveal the truth, telling them that he’s getting paid but that he’s committed to seeing the task through. This seems to garner him a level of trust among the others.

Meanwhile, on Ferrix, the Empire begins to establish a dominating presence. On Coruscant, Mon Mothma continues to have tension between her and her husband, Perrin – and her daughter, Leida, too. Syril Karn visits with his mother, who isn’t exactly encouraging. Dedra Meero continues her investigation into the missing Imperial equipment. And Luthen waits for word from the team that he knows won’t come that night, fearing that they can be traced back to him either through Vel or Andor.

REVIEW:

The episode gets its title from a line uttered by Skeen early on, something that winds up having significance throughout. He shares his story, having seen the atrocities of the Empire up close, and says, “The axe forget, but the tree remembers.” In other words, the Empire forgets the damage it leaves behind, but the people affected don’t. That’s punctuated later in the episode when Vel, having told Cassian about Gorn’s story, says, “Everyone has their own rebellion.” Everyone has a different reason for their rebellion against the Empire, but it leads them together, to fight back.

As such, this episode peels back the curtain a bit on the team. We learn that Skeen’s brother was a farmer, but after the Empire flooded his farm, he killed himself. We learn that Gorn fell in love with a woman from Aldhani, and through her with the planet itself, but he lost her and in turn lost his love for the Empire as well. We don’t learn the stories of everyone, but we do learn more; for example, Cinta is cold and mysterious (and it’s hinted she’s romantically involved with Vel), while Nemik is the true believer in the rebellion who is thoughtful, hopeful, and skilled (and as such seems like a prime candidate to be killed off next week, unfortunately).

But what lies behind each one of them is a commonality: they haven’t forgotten the Empire’s evils. They’ve experienced it first hand, and though the Empire just moves on like it’s nothing, the people left behind in its wake do not and cannot. But this theme actually works in another direction too. We see a few scenes of Syril Karn speaking with his mother, and it’s quickly becoming clear why he is the way that he is. It doesn’t excuse evil, but his mother isn’t the best influence on him and seems driven purely by status and ambition. This helps make sense of why Syril might be as well. But the last glimpse we get of him in the episode is him staring at the hologram of Cassian, and it’s clear: the tree remembers. In Syril’s view Cassian has taken everything from him, and he can’t just forget that.

That storyline takes a clear back seat to the story on Aldhani, as do the others. Mon Mothma doesn’t play as big of a role, but we’re continuing to see her struggle at home, and now her daughter is introduced in the mix too. It’s a side of Mothma that we haven’t seen before: we’ve always seen her as the regal, composed leader of the entire rebellion… yet here she’s struggling to sustain these relationships at home. Her daughter accuses her of being selfish, and it seems to sting her. Probably because there’s an element of truth there, yes, but I also think because she knows what’s really going on. It doesn’t seem like her husband knows much of that, or at least doesn’t care, so if her family isn’t even aware of her ‘rebellion’ then her actions intending to help others are being perceived as selfish. It’s an interesting dynamic to explore more. One example in this episode centers around her driver’s name, Kloris. Perrin doesn’t remember it, because he doesn’t really care to, but Mothma does. And we know what Perrin doesn’t, because of last week’s episode, which is that Mothma doesn’t even trust her driver. Yet she still cares to know his name. It’s the contrast between Perrin, who seems to just revel in his luxury and not care about the plight of others, and Mon, who is trying to act for their good even when she’s not sure how they will respond. I’m bummed that we won’t be seeing the dinner party after all, but every scene with her is fantastic.

Two other storylines show up even more briefly. There’s the one with Dedra, who continues her search and seems to win over an aide. It’s hard not to notice the similarities between her story and Syril’s – both wanting to do their jobs well and investigate, but both being shut down by a superior officer before going ahead with it anyway – so we will have to see whether it leads to the same place. And then there’s the one with Luthen, who gets just one scene here, but he’s clearly worried about the mission. He’s afraid that he didn’t cover his tracks enough and that this could be traced back to him. He knows that either Vel or Cassian could do that, but his connection with Vel still isn’t quite known.

The episode is a slower, deliberate, and dialogue-driven story, and it works well. It works in part because the show isn’t desperate for a huge action sequence, since the conversation can create enough tension with it. But there’s also some great bits of storytelling in other ways, and maybe my favorite is with the TIE Fighter. There’s a lone TIE that approaches, but you can hear its roar in the valley before you see it. This show accomplishes with one lone TIE what other projects haven’t with a whole squadron of them, and it’s to make this a truly intimidating presence. It’s so well done. Another example is with Coruscant, which still looks gorgeous yet feels a bit more sterile and lifeless from the prequel trilogy – a silent yet significant acknowledgement about how the Empire has sucked the life out of it. They’re in the belly of the beast, and it shows. It’s things like that which help this series immensely, and the cinematography joined with the writing and delivery of the lines are absolutely top notch.

And that’s really the only reason this works. I think there’s no question that this series is taking some significant risks, because it’s a Star Wars story with almost no action. It’s a story that moves incredibly slow in a franchise that moves incredibly fast. And though it’s working tremendously well so far, I think the jury will remain out on the series as a whole until we see a bit more. The story is told in three-episode arcs, which means that next week’s episode will mark the culmination of this current arc (presumably). It’s been two episodes of build-up, with exactly zero action sequences, which means that the expectations will be higher for the end of it. It worked in the first arc, but then again we got to see all three episodes at once. This will be a key test as to how it works on a weekly release. I think the show could use some more action, but I also think that the show manages to have the tension, intrigue, and entertainment value without it – which is, in itself, a significant accomplishment.

The best way I can think of to describe this series (as others have noted too) is that this is the closest thing to a Star Wars novel on-screen that we’ve gotten. There’s a lot of character development and world building, there’s a slow build to climactic events to come, there’s a lot of dialogue and sparse action, etc. And as a lover of Star Wars books, I think that’s great. I also think that, especially for more casual viewers, this series is probably best to be binge-watched arc-by-arc.

Because of all of that, it’s a bit hard to precisely evaluate this episode since it’s just the middle of the story. But it was another strong episode, one in which we got a ton of development on the characters in anticipation of what’s to come. This episode, like the others, seemed to fly by and kept me eagerly wanting more, which is a great thing. I can’t wait to see the fireworks next week.

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