Andor S1E09: Nobody’s Listening!

I want to talk a little bit about Kino Loy, Andy Serkis’ character, who more or less dominates Andor’s prison triplet.

There’s another version of Kino Loy’s character where he’s an antagonist—a power-hungry psychopath, for example, who relishes his position and has to be killed or incapacitated for Cassian’s escape plot to succeed. But that’s not how he’s written and that’s not how Serkis plays him.

Instead, what you have is a genuinely intelligent and charismatic man who is clinging to the idea that there is a way to work within the system he has been presented with. And it is working for him, to some degree, in that he’s gotten a position of some power, even though, when the screws descend from their lofty perch to dump another inmate in unit 5-2-D, he’s forced to stand “on program” like everyone else. 

He seems to genuinely care—there’s a bit from the previous episode where he chastises Cassian for taking a break (if you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to help the Imperial War Machine, I guess), then passionately encourages the table to make a run for the win—it’s easy to forget, then, that the victory here is flavor for food, and that most people are playing to not get electrocuted. He’s not without violence—when Melshi characterizes the death of an entire room (both day and night shifts) as the prison wardens having “set them free” Kino punches him in the stomach for the insinuation that there is no other escape but death. In fact, in this episode and the previous one, Melshi’s nihilism is Kino’s one guaranteed trigger.

It’s critical that a person like Kino Loy believe that playing by the rules will secure his release. Because he is charismatic, and he is intelligent, and he is someone other people respond to. And the system he’s in is at least vaguely aware of this—that’s why they killed 100 men on Level 2 in the first place, for discovering the deceit that the Empire just reincarcerates men, so that the story wouldn’t get out. To borrow a turn of phrase from a future episode, it’s important that people like this stay sleeping. Because if they wake up, there’s nothing left for them to do but fight.

And it’s why, when confronted with Ulaf’s death and the new knowledge that Kino, despite his rigid adherence to the rules, is just as certainly going to die in an Imperial prison like everyone else, it feels like such a fist-pumping moment of victory when Serkis intones “never more than twelve,” when Cassian asks him how many guards are on each level. We’ve seen Cassian and at least one other prisoner conspire—they’re sawing on a pipe in the bathroom, they’re observing that the platform that ferries prisoners down into the factory isn’t capable of electrocuting them—but Kino rebuffs Cassian even when Cassian asks him to just teach him what he knows before he leaves. He won’t contribute to the escape—at least not until he’s woken up.

This is one of the more brutal episodes in the show—Ulaf is literally worked to death, the prisoners confront the knowledge that their wardens can and will kill them, but most of all it starts with a truly startling bit of horror. It’s hard to understate the distance Andor will go to remind you that the Empire is, actually, evil. It is easy for people living within the system to not comprehend that, but it knows what it is up to and it doesn’t care, and that’s most exemplified by Doctor Gorst’s torture recording (which Dedra initially characterizes as “a unique interview system some of us are very excited about”). It is literally the pleading cries of Dizanite children being genocided, a choral sound that apparently causes psychic distress in other species. The Empire uses a recording of its own crimes, of the pain and destruction it’s caused, to conduct further crimes, to create further pain and destruction. It’s staggering in its enormity. Given that Disney’s Star Wars shows are relatively bloodless compared to most films (even the movies, really) and must have had a prohibition on showing physical torture, in some ways it’s almost worse this way. The sound cuts out when the headphones are placed on Bix’s head, leaving only Adria Arjona’s voice, which means the audience is forced to fill in the gaps for ourselves what must be happening while listening to her panicked breathing and screams of anguish.

The only reprieves of this are the Coruscant scenes. Vel arrives to reveal that she is Mon Mothma’s cousin, which explains Cinta’s rich girl fleeing dig. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this reveal—it’s a welcome reprieve for Mon’s character, who is so bitterly isolated and whose only other allies generally treat her like a naïve waif (Luthen) or bring her bad financial news (Tay, who in this case explains she’ll have to take a loan from a Chandrilan gangster). In addition to sympathy, Vel and Mon’s shared rebellion sort of fleshes out some background of how Mon came to be the financial backing for a rebel network, although it’s never said. 

All that aside, though, it’s almost a little too pat for me. Cinta is right—Vel is a rich girl, and that’s not really who you’d expect to be your battle leader, especially given Cinta’s own flinty resolve presents a ready alternative. I generally support the conservation of characters in a narrative, and if that means that you can have one character serve different roles for different other characters, then that’s just being efficient. But here the galaxy feels just slightly too small to be real.

And then there’s the one almost comical encounter, Syril’s stalking of Dedra, directly outside of the ISB headquarters. He gives one of the weirdest, obsessive, monologues, that meeting Dedra reinvigorated his belief in the justice of the Empire—which, given that at this point we’ve seen Gorst go to work, is pretty fucked up—and Dedra’s both mortified by this clearly insane man ranting at her and also thrown off guard at being recognized, being seen in the way she wants to be seen. It’s validation by the completely wrong person, of course, but it’s still validation. She does mention she’ll have him arrested, though.

Maybe there is hope for the Galaxy after all.

Stray Observations

  • The power outage in the prison as they’re talking about something being wrong is a very subtle nod to the station draining enough power to electrify two shifts’ worth of men, and it’s subtle enough that, for me at least, I thought something was wrong but didn’t piece together it would mean drawing power away from other areas of the prison to do. 
  • Vel scores some points against Perrin at breakfast, to Mon’s delight. It’s a lovely little scene because nothing she says can really be taken as out-and-out offensive, but because the barbs only make sense to Vel and Mon (and the audience) Perrin seems to have a dim idea that he’s the butt of some joke, but not what the joke is.
  • This episode features the capture of a Rebel pilot, part of Anto Kreegyr’s cell. Dedra orders Gorst out immediately, but her attaché has already taken the liberty. Ultimately, the ISB learns of the planned attack on Spellhaus and plan to kill him but to stage it like an accident so that Kreegyr stays none the wiser.
  • Cassian, describing prison labor: “Cheaper than droids and easier to replace.”
  • The episode’s title, “Nobody’s Listening!” comes from Cassian’s chastisement of Kino—that he doesn’t need to be quiet about conspiring, the prisoners are not being eavesdropped on because the prison, and the Empire in general, doesn’t really care about them enough to even consider them human.
  • Mon Mothma gets heckled in the Senate chamber for her speech. The thrust of her speech may also ring fairly familiar to contemporary audiences: it’s about the institutional legitimacy of legislative bodies and preventing overreach by an executive. In some ways, it is kind of her attempt at outlining “norms” that the Galactic Senate ought to be adhering to.
  • The doctor who comes to treat Ulaf is himself an inmate, but he has a white uniform with blue trim, rather than orange. It’s a short part, but Adrian Rawlins (you might recognize him as Harry Potter’s Dad, or Chief Engineer Nikolai Fromin from Chernobyl) gives him enough characterization that we can intuit his backstory. He’s curt and exasperated and he doesn’t want to create any connections with the other prisoners, in large part because he does know what happened on Level 2. But he can’t bring himself to be completely without mercy—after all, he gives Ulaf a lethal injection rather than let him suffer the effects of a massive stroke—so he tells Kino and Cassian what’s happened.
  • Syril’s mom reappears here to chastise him for being unaccountable. “What is the return on my investment?” she asks. Then she immediately does an about-face when he explains it’s because he’s been promoted (which he later tells Dedra he attributes to her intervention).