Andor S1E08: Narkina 5

“Narkina 5” kicks off the prison triplet of Andor, which all take place primarily on a heptagonal floating prison on the eponymous planet. Star Wars gains a lot of currency from how used and lived it is: ships and vehicles and people have dirt and grime. It’s one of the failings of the prequels—the Coruscant setting and CGI airbrushes a lot of the charm of it out. Andor retroactively justifies this—Coruscant is used to counterpoint the other settings—characters, particularly Luthen, literally have to glam up to enter it.

But Star Wars has also gained a lot of value from the contrasting sterility of the Empire. If the “good guys” are gritty and determined, the Empire is well-groomed, disciplined, and above all surrounded by cleanliness. Their officers generally speak in Received Pronunciation English accents, the surfaces of their suits are usually reflective, their tunics are always spotless. 

The prison on Narkina 5 is a hyper-realized version of this. It approaches a cleanroom-esque sterility, reminiscent of George Lucas’ debut film, THX 1138. The sneering officer that introduces Cassian and his fellow new inmates to the facility notes that its inmates will be surprised to learn that they don’t use force to control their barefooted charges—no, rather, they just fry them through the floor (the screws all have heavy rubberized boots). 

That said, it’s not 100%. Cassian’s introduction to 5-2-D is held up when one of the guards supposed to help is held up because “they had to pull a guy out from 4” where they’re short-handed (foreshadowing!).

Andor really sinks its teeth into the prison-industrial complex at play here. The prisoners are making an unexplained doohicky—it’s not clear that they even know what the purpose of it is, although no one seems to remark on it—but we’ll touch on that in the final recap. The place is managed by Kino Loy (played by Andy Serkis, who owns every scene he’s in), an incredibly determined inmate with only a few hundred days left on his sentence. He introduces the work as a game—the tables in the room play against each other, the room managers like Kino play against the other rooms. It doesn’t take Cassian very long to assimilate, despite a rough first day where he’s electrocuted twice—after 30 days, he’s got the routine down. 

It also demonstrates how invisible this population is to the outside world. Cassian, who has just been arrested and harshly sentenced under the Public Order Resentencing Directive, has no idea what it is. The prisoners do, because all their sentences were doubled when it went through. 

That disconnect is reinforced when we’re jumped from the spartan environs of the prison where flavor in your food is a reward to the opulence of Mon Mothma’s apartments on Coruscant, where adding a worm to your drink to cause it to fizz is apparently a Chandrilan indulgence. And where the P.O.R.D. is being discussed in purely philosophical terms by the Senators. The scene mostly exists to establish that there’s trouble with the finances as Tay explains when he joins the party—their options are limited and getting unsavory, thanks to the banking regulations the Emperor’s passing in response to the Aldhani heist.

The noose also tightens around Ferrix. At Dedra Meero’s urging (with Major Partagaz’s support), Colonel Yularen approves her intensive monitoring of Ferrix, which means when Bix uses the Paaks’ radio to attempt to contact Luthen in a last-ditch effort to get a message to Cassian that Maarva is sick, both Paak and Bix are arrested (and Paak tortured) by the Empire. Ironically, Maarva is sick in part because she’s been poking around the hotel being used as the Imperial headquarters, checking to see if the sewer tunnels are still accessible should the rebels want to stage a sneak attack (more foreshadowing!). 

Syril’s, meanwhile, abused his place at the Bureau of Standards by filing a bunch of false inquiries into Cassian, which has caught the attention of the ISB, specifically Dedra Meero, who rather quickly determines he’s an idiot who knows absolutely nothing. It’s a testament to Andor’s writing that Denise Gough can utter the line “I’ll ask the questions here” and it doesn’t feel like the incredible interrogation cliché it actually is. Both she and Syril are utterly convinced of their righteousness and it’s profoundly weird to have an interrogation in which Syril doesn’t seem particularly cowed—not that he ever does seem to be cowed, but usually ISB supervisors have instilled fear. 

This episode is also maybe the part at which Dedra first conducts her “heel turn” for lack of a better phrase. Many have people commented there was a sort of bait-and-switch with her where she seemed sympathetic as a competent woman in an incompetent man’s world, only to be revealed that she’s attempting to break through the glass ceiling at the headquarters of the Gestapo, and this is the first mask off episode where she’s faced directly with the business of the ISB and doesn’t flinch (actually directly facilitates it). This is not Catch Me If You Can, where you’re supposed to root for both cat and mouse. The cats in this story are the cats in Maus—actually Nazis. For me, this was indicated in her first episode, where Partagaz lauds her for arresting more people than she needed to, but I can see how her subterfuge of intentionally making sure Bix sees Paak’s post-torture state comes across as a surprise bit of hands-dirtying that she’s otherwise not engaged in. Like Syril, she’s committed to the cause.

Similarly, so is Cinta, staking out Maarva on Ferrix, much to Vel’s chagrin. Their relationship is fleshed out a little bit more here, with Cinta openly declaring that a) her affection for Vel is second place to her devotion to the cause, and b) she’s Vel’s mirror, confronting her with the truth about herself, such as that Vel’s a rich girl running away from her old life (even more foreshadowing!). Vel can’t really remain on Ferrix, but Cinta can, waiting for Andor to show up so she can kill him, as per Kleya’s orders in the last episode.

There’s an irony, then, that both the rebels and the Imperials are hunting him, but of course the Empire has already caught him. Just under the alias Keefe Girgo, a man quietly toiling away on Narkina 5, one of seven men at a table, seven tables to a room, seven rooms to a floor.

Stray Observations

  • The Bureau of Standards cubicle job apparently requires two screens and two keyboards simultaneously.
  • Colonel Wullf Yularen, when listing out the things Dedra has requested to monitor Ferrix seems to take special exception for “code droid.” He also mentions “local agent” funding—the man we’ll see be that local agent is introduced here as one of Dedra’s lackeys helping to interrogate Syril. It’s a little ironic that he’s balking at costs here when in the previous episode, he basically stated that they had free reign to do whatever they wanted.
  • Dedra’s named Luthen “Axis” which is a cool nickname, if slightly ironic given how closely the Empire is meant to evoke the Nazis. I think, in a metatextual way, it sort of underscores for us that from the ISB’s point of view, they’re the good guys in an existential struggle against evil.
  • We’re introduced to Ruescott Melshi at Table 5, who is the most pessimistic of the crew. Ironically, the only person in the entire room besides Cassian we know is going to get out of here alive (because he dies on Scarif).
  • Luthen visits Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera, to try and request he join another rebel in attacking an Imperial facility by providing air support. It’s a great scene, if rather divorced from the rest of the episode. Saw and Luthen begin by accusing each other of having pulled off the Aldhani heist and then noting that lying about it would be exactly what they would do had they done it, and then managing to immediately devolving into an internecine squabble when Saw goes into a rant about the guy Luthen wanting him to work with being a Separatist (the bad side in the prequels and the occupants of Saw’s home of Onderon in the Clone Wars tv show). He then lists a number of other groups he won’t be working with—Neo-Republicans, Ghorman Front, Partisan Alliance (which is weird because his group is the Partisans), Sectorists, Human Cultists, and Galaxy Partitionists—all of whom he derides as “lost.”
  • When Tay shows up at Mon Mothma’s party, Perrin derides her as “saving the Empire from the Emperor.” To which Mon Mothma waxes nostalgic for the apparent firebrand young man Perrin was as the Chandrilan academy, which clearly winds him up. It’s all of two sentences of dialogue (three if you count Perrin’s disgusted reaction) but it really highlights Perrin’s transformation from radical to conservative.
  • Also, when he announces that he’s “off to feed myself” Tay zings him with “charity begins at home.”
  • I don’t know that there’s a more indelible phrase than “on program!” the command given to inmates at the prison to stand with their hands on their head and their eyes front. It’s even more compelling when put through a voice modulator and blasted over a PA system.