The Axe Forgets
When you’re planning a big mission (or running a big-budget TV series that can’t consist solely of nonstop action), a lot depends on downtime — how it’s spent, how it’s managed — and how you react to the smaller pressures that may not be as intense as those in the midst of the action but nonetheless build up, slowly but surely. This is something that Andor captures particularly well in “The Axe Forgets,” which could easily come across as another piece-moving prelude in lesser hands. The plot of this episode is, basically, Cassian Andor (known by the alias Clem) and the Aldhani crew get ready for their big score; the episode ends just as it’s about to get under way. At several points, we’re literally watching characters run rehearsals — this isn’t one of those heists in which the prepwork is seamlessly cut together with the plan being put into action. Yet the episode finds a lot of life, and even some thematic unity that might have been lacking from the first installment of what seems, based on the writing and directing credits, like a mini-trilogy of episodes four, five, and six.
While the previous episode had Cassian attempting to keep his head down and avoid blowing cover, here he takes more of an active role in the last-minute preparations, even (or especially?) as Arvel sniffs around him in suspicion, searching his modest (but suspicious!) belongings. The point at which Cass switches from defense to offense is when Vel and Taramyn (Gershwyn Eustache Jnr) ask for his input on performing a particular calibration on the ship they’ll need to fly out of the garrison. Cassian realizes they genuinely do not know how to get the ship off the rail where it’s mounted and insists he’ll have to take charge of piloting it; Vel reluctantly acquiesces.
From there, Cassian seems to be emboldened. During a practice session in which the crew tries out its Imperial-soldier marching, he offers helpfully nitpicky feedback about where everyone should be positioned, based on their dominant hand (and, therefore, the locations of their weapons). He also seems to flirt, however briefly, with Cinta (Varada Sethu), though both Vel and Arvel warn him off in different ways. Arvel still regards the newcomer with suspicion, though not everyone is so cautious: Karis (Alex Lawther) eagerly shows Cassian his as-yet-untitled manifesto along with some pre-Imperial tech that the Rebels are using to their advantage. The manifesto is exactly what a young, antsy idealist does in his own downtime, illustrating how maybe Karis feels full of possibility rather than the pre-mission dread that might be afflicting more hardened leaders.
Cassian successfully diagnoses the latter when Arvel pulls a knife to question him about his kyber-crystal necklace (worth 30,000 credits), why he’s bringing “a treasure to a robbery,” and just who the hell this “Clem” guy is. First, as a show of good faith, Cassian confesses he’s being paid to work with the Rebels (though he doesn’t get further into his backstory or even his real name). Then he calls out how little this matters, how Arvel’s suspicion is really just an expression of his pre-heist jitters: “The day before is always hard. Too much time to worry.” Vel, who has now joined Cassian in the hot seat with the revelation that she knew about his Rebel-for-hire status and didn’t tell anyone else, insists that the group continue to its camp and sort it out there.
Naturally, things cool off by that evening. Arvel offers a fairly standard-issue motivational backstory of his own; the Empire is responsible for his brother’s death, just as it was responsible for the loss that turned Lieutenant Gorn (Sule Rimi), their man on the inside, against his bosses. “The axe forgets, but the tree remembers,” as Arvel says earlier in the episode, supplying its title. Now that fences are more or less mended and Cassian acknowledges that he will obey Taramyn going forward, Vel and Cinta depart for parts unknown. “If all goes well, we’ll see you tomorrow night” is all Vel has to offer when Cassian asks where they’re going. Maybe, it turns out that, even in the heat of the action, there will still be some waiting, wondering whether everything is going to come together.
The other subplots are more like check-ins for this episode, keeping the action appropriately close to the Rebels as well as on the subtle machinations of Lieutenant Gorn, secretly readying the garrison to be infiltrated and robbed by the Rebels. This waiting period seems to imbue him with a sense of purpose — exactly the opposite of fallen rent-a-cop Syril, still marinating in frustration over at his mom’s apartment, without any “prospects,” as his mother (Kathryn Hunter) puts it in her Jacki Weaver–like vocal tone. Hunter bites into some primo Dan Gilroy dialogue as the mother harangues her disgraced son: “Shame we couldn’t have seen more of each other when you were flourishing; I’d have the memory to sustain me.” She insists on pushing through this waiting period by calling in a “family favor” from the unseen Uncle Harlow, who is presumably, but not confirmed as, some kind of Imperial-friendly higher-up (or at least high up enough that he doesn’t have much contact with this grim branch of the family tree). He can only offer more limbo: He will think about which new career path to recommend for a young man he seems unlikely to know very well. From the looks of it, Syril will spend this time fixating on Cassian Andor, the man who cost him his job.
Downtime at home isn’t much nicer for Mon Mothma, who gets rejected by her daughter as her husband, Perrin (Alastair Mackenzie), looks on with smug indifference. At least she has her low-key loathing for Perrin to keep her if not fully occupied, then maybe slightly distracted, as she secretly maneuvers to aid the Rebels; Rael, holed up in his Coruscant front, can only fixate on his comms channel, listening for signs that won’t arrive yet. He’s nervous, both about the mission he wants to pull off and the fact that, if caught, the Rebels (specifically Andor) could be traced back to him. “It’ll all be over this time tomorrow,” Rael’s partner tells him. It’s a testament to the show’s writing that she is both entirely correct and entirely incapable of easing his mind.
• The whooshing noise of those TIE fighters on Aldhani is so wonderfully loud and menacing; it always sounds at first like it could be the call of some distant beast.
• As I’ve mentioned before, Andor is not much for offering a new menagerie of weird alien creatures or a garage full of droid designs. It is, however, pulling its weight in the field of Star Wars foods. Most notably, this week we see Syril’s breakfast table, which includes what might be some kinds of gnarly pastries but really showcases a sort of colorful cereal (is this the first cold-cereal sighting of the entire saga?) and, of course, accompanying blue milk. Over on Aldhani, mealtime is grimmer, as Cassian is introduced to tree milk with the ringing endorsement of “You can live on it.” (Not yet, apparently; Cassian chokes it down and pours the rest away. Maybe the Imperial garrison has some good snacks he can pilfer.)
• Though he hasn’t yet made an appearance and may never do so, I think it’s safe to say that Syril’s hated Uncle Harlow may be a candidate for the Star Wars Quietly Loathed Family Member, right up there with Cliegg Lars, the extremely sketchy moisture farmer who buys Shmi Skywalker, marries her, promptly loses her to Tusken Raiders, then attempts to dissuade her son, Anakin, from trying to rescue her.
• New Andor episode titles dropped, guys! No, not a title for the next episode containing the merest hint to pore over. Disney has released the titles for the five episodes that have now already aired. No time like two weeks into the show’s run to finally unveil what the first episode was called. (“Kassa,” in case you’re wondering, followed by “That Would Be Me,” “Reckoning,” “Aldhani,” and this week’s “The Axe Forgets,” clearly the best one so far.)
Andor Recap: Waiting Is the Hardest Part