The middle of this Mandalorian episode, the longest one yet, shifts attention towards Dr. Pershing, one of the non-Mandalorians responsible for Grogu repeatedly both falling into and escaping from Imperial clutches. When Disney+’s Star Wars shows explore another character’s dilemmas, they don’t always succeed at keeping track of the main plot.  In this instance, Din Djarin still advances his own goals, but doesn’t interact with Dr. Pershing. Now that Chapter 21 has given fans a stronger grasp of the New Republic’s importance to The Mandalorian, the best way for me to judge this episode seems to involve determining if it successfully makes me interested in Pershing’s fate.

The Convert

Airdate: March 15, 2023

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Writers: Jon Favreau and Noah Kloor

We were close to making some incredible breakthroughs. In the right hands, our discoveries could have helped a lot of people.

-Dr. Penn Pershing/Amnesty Scientist L52

Din Djarin, Grogu, and Bo-Katan Kryze visit the other Children of the Watch with proof of Din’s redemption on Mandalore. Meanwhile, Dr. Pershing seeks his own redemption by joining the New Republic’s Amnesty Program.  Longing to prove that his outlawed cloning discoveries could fulfill a benign purpose, he accepts assistance from Moff Gideon’s former comms officer, Elia Kane (Katy O’Brien), in acquiring resources to resume his experiments.

When Chapter 16: “The Rescue” set up a struggle for power between Bo-Katan and Din, I hoped to see him unite Mandalorians from different tribes, and assume a leadership position. By guiding her to the Children of the Watch’s covert, he takes a small step towards these achievements.  Seasons 2.5-3 often make me worry that Lucasfilm and Disney have reverted too much of Din’s status quo: The former’s finale returned Grogu to him, while the end of this chapter welcomes the Clan back into a tribe once described as “a cult of religious zealots,” thanks to Din surviving a trial that rebuilt a barrier between Grogu and his humanity.  Bo-Katan’s life changes more drastically across this and the next few installments, helping create the impression of her replacing Din as the main character.

Even if Din doesn’t feel like the central character anymore, his decisions still feel important to the future of Mandalorians as a whole.  After Chapter 18: “The Mines of Mandalore” presented several instances of Bo-Katan saving his life, this chapter reinforces the wider impact of his atonement.  The Imperial destruction of her castle suggests that without the circumstances that resulted in her following him to Mandalore, she would have suffered an untimely and inactive demise.  The stimulating dogfights preceding and following the destruction allow for more direct and obvious instances of Din rescuing Bo-Katan.  Promisingly, the dynamic gradually shifts from Bo-Katan ordering Din, to Din firing at Imperials that Bo-Katan overlooks, to Din leading Bo-Katan to safety from a fight they ultimately can’t win.

During the very long tangent on Coruscant, the New Republic ultimately dehumanizes Dr. Pershing through explicit and relatable means.  Among various factors affecting the impact of these means, the most important one concerns whether or not Pershing feels human in the first place.  As detailed in the article linked to at the top of this page, his previous appearances hinted at him valuing life more strongly than his superiors did.  However, those appearances occurred so sporadically, and ran so short, that I doubt the average Mandalorian viewer thought much of him.  I probably only paid so much attention to Dr. Pershing for biased and convoluted reasons, but the hints of his potential for goodness, combined with this episode’s new details on his past and research, help strengthen my desire to see him achieve his most beneficial role to the rebuilding society. I also relate more strongly than I should to the scenes where he finds his job less productive than his side interests, even if mine have less potential to change the world.

Omid Abtahi’s performance also promptly compensates for the minimal effort The Mandalorian Seasons 1-2 put into humanizing Dr. Pershing.  Abtahi continues to pull off Pershing’s nervous tendencies through his tones and gestures, appropriate for the doctor’s overwhelming new environment and situation.  He also manages to convey Pershing’s delight at taking risks; not just whenever Pershing considers continuing his cloning studies, but also whenever he accepts mischevious dares from Elia.  This sounds expected of a scientist, but especially one willing to defy authority, and also to stand up to Mandalorians.  Thanks to some Empire-level mercilessness from the New Republic, the former two qualities eventually help result in his apparent downfall.

Whether or not I think this chapter needed to spend so much time establishing the faults of the New Republic will depend on how prominently they affect future events in The Mandalorian, and/or its spin-offs.  The strongest thematic similarity I could find between Pershing’s and Din’s stories concerns society’s pressure for individuals to conform. Incidentally, Korean-American Lee Isaac Chung previously explored the risks and benefits of mundane nonconformity with the semi-autobiographical Minari. (The movie earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay nominations for Chung, and a Best Supporting Actress win for Youn Yuh-Jung.) When Elia Kane reveals Pershing’s retrieval of Imperial lab equipment to the New Republic, they punish him by either killing or mind-wiping him, possibly depriving the Galaxy of life-saving knowledge.  Similarly, previous chapters saw Din foil Imperial schemes by removing his helmet, then almost die during his trial of atonement.  

Later Season 3 chapters hint at the importance of nonconformity, although in the newest ones I’ve seen as of this writing – #20-21 – the hints come mainly from Mandalorians other than Din.  The parallel further weakened when I remembered that even though Din survived with help from a Jedi nonconformist, Pershing experienced betrayal from someone else defying the New Republic. “The Convert” shares several planets’ worth of intriguing plot elements, but relies too strongly on other chapters to effectively tie them together.

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