After the adrenaline shot that was “Chapter 14: The Tragedy,” “The Mandalorian” gets a little sidetracked in this season’s penultimate episode, “Chapter 15: The Believer.” If you’re looking for more Boba Fett action after his Robert Rodriguez-grade re-introduction in "The Tragedy," or more exciting teamwork from the new crew, “The Believer” doesn’t provide that. You certainly won’t get anything about Baby Yoda AKA Grogu, who is now in teeny tiny handcuffs and a prisoner of Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), and doesn’t appear in this episode.
Instead, "The Believer" tries to follow up the storyline of … Mayfeld (Bill Burr, still brandishing that Boston accent), who appeared in one episode last season: "Chapter 6: The Prisoner") that involved Mando being recruited for a jailbreak that went wrong. Episode writer/director Rick Famuyiwa has a certain affinity for the character, as he directed and co-wrote the episode that previously gave us Mayfeld, but it’s a return that clearly should have come earlier in the series. And on top of that it’s just not a very rich episode, which would sting less if it weren’t taking away from such immense momentum.
Clocking in at 37 minutes, “The Believer” begins with picking up Bill Burr’s Mayfeld on the prison planet, to recruit him for a special task. He’s the only one who can help our masked hero Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and his recently aligned team of Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), Fennec (Ming-Na Wen) and Cara Dune (Gina Carano) find the coordinates of the Imperial ship that took Baby Yoda. Though he’s initially shocked and skeptical about the idea of helping them, Mayfeld goes along with it.
The way to the coordinates requires another side mission for this season of “The Mandalorian,” this one involving infiltrating a secret mining hub on the planet Morak, which is run by Imperial forces. To get inside, they have to hijack a convoy truck, but not just anyone can go in. The genetic readings will recognize and call out Fennec, Dune, and Fett, forcing Mando into an unusual position—to take a walk in someone else’s armor, as Mando and Mayfeld hijack a truck and appear as stormtroopers, driving the convoy to the mine. Not for nothing, this also changes the framing of the episode, as you think from earlier scenes that this will be an ensemble episode, but instead it puts you back with Mayfeld and Mando.
The convoy ride is the episode's true centerpiece, delivered at an alarmingly steady pace that makes you aware this episode is not going to be the crescendo you might have hoped. Mayfeld was a bit of a motor mouth in season one, but now he’s here with more of a conscience, talking about how people believe different things, simply because of where they're born. "I'm a survivor, just like you," he says to a tense Mando. The scene would be especially powerful if it didn’t feel so jumbled in making its point that everyone is the same, whether they come from a planet that no longer exists, like Alderaan, or from a history great sacrifice, as with the people of Djarin's home planet of Mandalore.
With the story in need of a mid-episode threat, some Shydopp pirates attack the convoy. Somewhere between a “Mad Max” and “Fast and Furious” road robbery, the action is exciting enough as Mando fights pirates on top of the moving convoy, the camera swooping overhead and the editing allowing for choreography to play out in decent chunks. And it’s interesting that Mando forgets that he seems to forget that he’s not in his durable Beskar armor, initially using his forearms to block attacks but feeling the sting after. The pirates are after the truck's cargo, a starship fuel called Rhydonium that requires a steady transport, and they keep trying to throw thermal detonators at them. Mando can fend them off for the most part, but they receive help from the troopers waiting outside the mine.
Mando and Mayfeld are welcomed to the mine as heroes, meeting a bunch of smiling faces at the base. With Mayfeld’s words that “we’re all the same” ringing in our ears, it is a discordant emotional moment, as if we are to recognize that these happy looking soldiers of the Empire think they’re ultimately doing the right thing too. The idea of it is interesting, but it still feels like a diversion from the problem at hand, especially as “The Mandalorian” puts another obstacle in the way of getting to Grogu—Mando has to show his face to get the coordinates from a machine that’s located in a mess hall.
And so it happens again, for the second time ever, but far more anticlimactically than last time—Mando takes off his helmet and shows his face. “The Mandalorian” has for a long time been working on the psychology behind why he insists on not taking off his helmet, and recently has been trying to make him question it. In this case as well, it becomes an extension of what he’ll sacrifice to save Grogu. If it means forcefully challenging his engrained religious zealot beliefs, so be it. But in the scope of the episode, it doesn’t have much dramatic impact. That could be a good thing in the long run—let’s normalize seeing Mando's face more often, the same way superheroes are no less significant to us when they’re in plainclothes.
Mando and Mayfeld catch the attention of Imperial Officer Valin Hess (an effectively creepy Richard Brake), who wants to congratulate them with a drink. This tense interaction, in which Mando is frozen in discomfort and Mayfeld takes the lead, brings up more of Mayfeld’s darker memories under the Empire. In a past life, he served under Hess, and experienced the staggering loss on both sides. As a former soldier coming to terms with how much destruction he’s been complicit in, Mayfeld becomes aggressive toward the officer, especially as Hess blows off the thought of immense loss of life with an evil grin. In one of the episode’s few surprising moments, Mayfeld shoots him point blank, and our two awoken heroes escape out the window fending off a base full of stormtroopers.
Finally, Fennec and Dune are put to more use, previously restrained to brief cutaway shots as they hold their sniper rifles in the distance, waiting for something to happen. Mando and Mayfeld receive some sniper help from the duo, while Boba Fett takes his Slave I to pick them up. To put a fiery bow on the episode’s exploration of Mayfeld’s feelings, he helps blow up the Rhydonium from a distance, saying he has to "get some stuff off my chest." Like Mayfeld's earlier tangent in the convoy, you can see what "Chapter 15: The Believer" is going for when he does this, but it’s not an engrained enough character to make the act work on an emotional level. We don't fully see in him what Famuyiwa does.
To cap off this somewhat thoughtful but ultimately misguided episode, Mando sends a message to Moff Gideon’s ship. His words for the evil Empire figure are not threatening, but in the convoluted language of the episode, are meant to be taken as such: “Soon [Grogu] will be back with me. He means more to me than you will ever know.” I couldn’t believe that something so anti-threatening, and in turn vulnerable, would be used by Mando to make his bold statement that he’s coming. It’s one of the show’s cheesiest moments—and "The Mandalorian" has done pretty good in avoiding those this season—and it's not the final note that charges you up for the final episode of the season. Esposito’s face doesn’t seem all that taken aback by it, probably because right when the show cut to black, Moff Gideon made fun of Mando's emotional declaration (as bullies do), and went back to harvesting Snoke clones, or whatever he's up to.
“The Believer” is certainly steered by its heart, and a compassion it has for everyone in the galaxy. On a smaller scale, it shows Mando becoming more open with his new self—as a team player, a father figure, and a guy who just might even take off his helmet. Those are compelling elements about the growth of the series that bears his name, but it's frustrating that focus is even an issue in the penultimate episode. Here’s hoping that the season finale will be more than just a rescue mission that plays out like any of season two's earlier diversions. And if the episode were about two hours long, that would be great as well.