Andor S1E04: Aldhani

If Andor is something of a spy show, then “Aldhani” is the first inkling that there are two organized groups: a government intelligence agency, and the insurgent cells operating against them.

The episode picks up directly after the frantic raid in the last episode (Luthen and Cassian are still just outside of Ferrix’s orbit before jumping to hyperspace), but it’s fair to note that it’s much slower paced than that one. Having brought all the pieces for the last few episodes into conflict, Andor is now content to introduce a whole bunch of new pieces, and Cassian’s story begins to step back. He’s been assigned to a heist on Aldhani under the assumed name “Clem,” and while he’s an integral piece of that (a pilot to fly through “50 meteor showers happening simultaneously” or, as Nemik puts it, “billions of crystals that heat up and explode” an event that happens once every three years), once he agrees to work for Luthen as a mercenary, he’s no longer got much agency over the plot.

Instead, we’re brought to the Imperial Security Bureau on Coruscant, and specifically Dedra Meero. I wouldn’t say her introduction is particularly exceptional as a moment, but I’m kind of enchanted with how much it achieves in the fifteen seconds it’s got to work with. We’re introduced first to her boots—she is, quite literally, the jackboot of oppression here, and if the footwear wasn’t clear, then her overcoat and cap scream Gestapo, even if she’s dressed in all white rather than Nazi black or brown. And then she’s walking to a sort of imposing, round building that’s both distinctive architecturally and yet also devoid of life, very much like the GCHQ or the NSA Headquarters.

There’s a dramatic irony to the ISB scenes, because they’re only vaguely aware there’s a rebellion that’s just five years away from destroying the Death Star. Meero manages to accurately identify that something along those lines is occurring, but for the wrong reasons: she notes the stole Starpath unit is part of a pattern of stolen technology with similar capabilities—except we know Cassian took it on his own initiative, before he’d even met Luthen. Her superior, Major Partagaz, calls her out for it, telling her that in the ISB they “act on verified and vetting information.” 

The other thing they are is banal evil. Dedra’s rival, Blevin is suspicious of her for being a striver. They fight over jurisdictions of their sectors. Partagaz dresses down officers delinquent in issuing their reports, and reminds them all that they’re not about security per se, but rather identifying diseases and “symptoms.” They’re the middle managers of fascism—one of the most chilling lines, for me, in this episode is, after having chided Dedra for having just two sectors to oversee to Blevin’s six, he’s got his reports in and she hasn’t, Partagaz pauses and congratulates her on her detention numbers for another sector which were far above quota, and that he’d like to see more of that work. It’s a quick throwaway—it never comes up again—but we’ve learned the Empire has set a minimum quota on people to be arrested, and that Dedra has arrested more than that, and that’s what you get merits for at the ISB. It’s the quality of an agency divorced from humanity.

On the other side of the coin, they’re not much better, they’re just more motley. When Luthen is making his pitch to Cassian, Cassian writes him off as being “Alliance, Seps, Guerilla, Partisan Front.” Luthen and Cassian both agree they’re all the same thing, except Cassian has to clarify that he means useless when Luthen willfully misreads him.

Equally distrustful is the rebel cell on Ahldani. The leader, Vel, is the only person in the group of seven beside Cassian to know of Luthen’s existence, or that she takes her orders from him (and Luthen gets very upset when she appears to not be paying attention to him). One of their members is an Imperial Lieutenant at the garrison, and he’s particularly upset by the addition of a stranger (no one’s happy), and there’s a lovely bit of character where it’s clear that he’s used to giving orders but is subordinate to Vel, offering a feckless bit of “I should’ve been told,” when Vel shuts him down with “he’s here, he’s Clem, that’s all that matters.”

Cassian’s not particularly forthcoming with the others as well. He hides Luthen’s gift of a sky khyber crystal necklace worth, apparently, 50,000 credits, from Cinta. 

This episode introduces Mon Mothma for the first time, a character who first appears without much introduction in Return of the Jedi, almost entirely for the briefing before the battle. It’s worth noting that Genevieve O’Reilly has actually played this role since 2005—her scenes were cut from Revenge of the Sith, though she’s voiced the role in animated properties and played it again in Rogue One, and what a lucky break by George Lucas’ casting director nearly 20 years earlier, because she is excellent in this.

She’s kind of the epitome of how Andor approaches Star Wars. Gilroy and company have taken a character without much in the way of backstory that anyone who’s only seen the live-action properties would know, and rounds her out into a compelling character who adds to our understanding of what’s going on. First and foremost, her character is the financial backer for the rebellion, and the show uses her storyline to examine how money gets laundered to an insurgency. But also she’s a politician who opposes the Empire operating within the Empire. She’s part of the token opposition, and that means she’s watched—“I go to the bank, and they’re all new faces,” she tells Luthen—and above all disheartened by the way things are going. She knows she lives in a fascist state, she knows that choosing to mere live within that state is complicitness in its crimes, and she cannot bring herself to do that, but she also knows that to speak out too loudly is to invite her own death.

She’s also got a foil in her husband, Perrin, who doesn’t relish dwelling on the way things are going, and doesn’t mind hobnobbing with the various Imperial bigwigs intent on ruining everything Mon tries to get done. “Must everything be so boring and sad all the time?” he asks after she dresses him down for inviting them into their home.

Ultimately, I find the Coruscant parts of this next little triplet of episodes more compelling than the Ahldani parts. Luthen, Mon Mothma, and Dedra Meero are all far more interesting than the heist crew’s bickering. There’s depth there too—I especially like Vel, insecure as a leader, introducing “Clem” as having “fought his way free” to join them, and her introducing Luthen’s “critical redundancy in all areas” line as her own. We don’t have much in the way of the others yet.

Stray Observations:

  • This is one episode where there are references to things happening elsewhere in the Star Wars universe that serve vaguely as fan service. Mon Mothma notes that the Ghormans wouldn’t enjoy the various Imperials Perrin has invited to dinner—in Rebels, Mon Mothma names the Emperor as complicit in the recent Ghorman Massacre before fleeing to the Alliance, roughly three years after Andor’s first season takes place. In the Extended Universe, the Ghorman Massacre occured 13 years earlier, and was caused by then-Captain Tarkin landing his ship on peaceful protesters.
    • ISB Supervisor Lonni Jung justifies his request for additional protection because of increased shipments going to Scarif, the first tangential reference to the Death Star, revealed to have finalized construction in Scarif’s orbit in Rogue One
  • Space sheep! How do we know? They’ve got four horns, duh.
  • I believe that Vel and Cinta being acknowledged two queer women makes them the first out couple in Star Wars’ live action properties, but I’m happy to be corrected.
  • Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s performance as Arvel Skeen implies the existence of a Star Wars Brooklyn.
  • I didn’t talk much about Syril, he’s barely in this episode—the biggest thing he does is get dressed down by Supervisor Blevin, with a facetious congratulations for having “rung the final bell on corporate independence,” before slinking home to his mom in shame.
    • It’s just a throwaway line by Blevin, but in another parallel to the Nazis, it’s a direct reference to “Imperialization” (as Star Wars terms the nationalizing of industry). The Nazis, while not particularly coherent in terms of what economic ideology they wanted to pursue, made sure to eliminate the independence of any subdivisions of Germany and destroy any corporations they felt inhibited or opposed their social program, often consolidating the private sector in the control of Nazi party members. Here we have something similar: Preox-Morlana is allowed to oversee the Free Trade Sector up and until that administration becomes a problem for the Imperial government, after which the ISB is content to revoke all devolved powers. 
    • To me, Syril’s mother codes as stereotypically overbearing Jewish mother. Actress Kathryn Hunter (whose legal name is Aikaterini Hadjipateras) is a Greek-American raised in Britain, so it’s entirely possible, I suppose, that she’s meant to code as any culture with a known affinity for domineering matriarchs, including Greeks, Italians, and many Hispanic/Latine cultures, but there is something particularly jarring to me about her portrayal here, because it’s suddenly like we’ve transferred the action to ‘70s New York.