I’ve commented before on how Andor has shied away from showing any atrocities on the Imperial side, opting to solely focus on the questionable morals of the Rebels. That changed this week, as we saw just how ruthless the Empire can be. Great performances all around and sharper writing than last week, I’d be willing to say that Nobody’s Listening is the second-best episode to air so far.
The ninth episode continues from where we left off last week, with Bix in Imperial custody. She’s being asked by Meero about the identity of “Axis”, who we know is Luthen (absent from this episode), as well as any information on Cassian. Meero has, up until this part, been a stern but ambitious bureaucrat. But when asked if she’d believe the truth if Bix said it, she smiles at being called out and confirms she wouldn’t, telling her interrogator to have at it. Instead of using physical pain, he uses the recorded sounds of an indigenous population’s death wails as a type of mental torture and it has a quick and harrowing effect. Bix looks like she’s been through hell by the time the recording is done.
Later on, when reporting her findings to the ISB, she makes an extremely subtle grin, which breaks from her usually cold and rigid exterior. She likes the pain and fear and the power that they provide. She crosses paths with Syril, who waits for her outside ISB HQ, and essentially proclaims he stalked her and is very grateful for her help in clearing his record, an act that got him a promotion. But super creepy and Meero tells him if she sees him again, he’ll be arrested. Curious as to where they’ll take the Syril story now, he seems like such a wild card.
Meanwhile, back in the prison, we see that Cassian has been planning an escape with some of the other inmates. Considering this is the same day that we ended the last episode on, I wish the show made it clear in episode 8 that Andor was working with the other inmates to try and escape. We saw him observing, but I don’t recall any shared planning being addressed. Either way, it was good to see him taking action this week and working with others. Andor doesn’t play well with others but he’s forced into a situation where he’s dependent on others and his powers of observation and leadership have built up a quiet conspiracy within the ranks of the prisoners, with at least one other prisoner following Andor into the larger Rebellion by the time of Rogue One.
But while he’s gotten a lot of his floor on board, one mind he can’t change is that of Andy Serkis’ Kino Loy. Convinced the Empire is listening in on the inmates, he refuses to share any information on the facility and tells Andor to cease his train of thought. He’d rather do the hard work, get the rewards and get his release in due time. He puts a lot of faith and stock in the Empire’s word, despite being a prisoner.
But something is off at the prison. Some sort of commotion on the second level has everyone a bit spooked. We later learn that the entire floor was wiped out. The reason? They discovered one of their new arrivals was actually from the fourth level. The Empire wasn’t releasing anyone, they were recycling inmates. The second floor tried to riot but were all eliminated.
Then one of the members of Andor’s station suffers a massive stroke. Kino tries his best to get him medical attention to tide him over for the next little while. He has only 40 days left until ‘freedom” but the doctor decides to euthanize him and reveals the fate of the second floor and the recycled prisoners. Putting him to death via injection was a nicer fate than putting the old man through another few years of that pain. This revelation shakes Kino to his core and he finally joins Andor in his plot. Serkis was an absolute scene stealer this week, going from steadfast conviction (no pun intended) to denial and then realizing he was wrong. When faced with the possibility that something terrible happened on the second floor, he looks shaken up but keeps focused on work. But you can tell it stuck a cord, he looks nervous and unsure.
We also learned that Vel is actually Mon Mothma’s cousin. This puts a whole new dynamic on Vel, who has abandoned a life of riches in order to fight the Empire on the ground. Mon Mothma is getting nowhere in the Senate these days, yet Vel has successfully stolen hundreds of thousands of credits from the Empire. Mon must be wondering what help she really is at this point, and it’s interesting knowing she ultimately does become the leader of the Alliance. Much like her cousin, she’ll abandon the life of riches to lead. But for now, she’s struggling with where to put the stolen credits and she’ll find herself crossing paths with a notorious thug to safely move the funds. I find it interesting that both Vel and Mon are essentially wearing masks; Mon pretending to be an inconsequential senator and Vel the rich girl visiting home. No one can be themselves while under the gaze of the Empire, so they all have to pretend. Andor, meanwhile, tries to convince Kino that the Empire doesn’t care enough about the prisoners to warrant listening devices, the inmates are cheaper than droids and easier to control so in their ignorance, they leave them alone, believing fear will contain them.
The prison setting makes this observation easy, but regardless, the episode is framed around the theme of being trapped and imprisoned. Apart from Andor’s obvious predicament, Mon Mothma is stuck being unable to do more for the cause, Syril is stuck under his mother’s thumb and Bix is held against her will. Only those with power, Meero, Syril’s mother and Kino retain the illusion of control, but Kino breaks free from his metaphorical imprisonment by the end when he learns that the Empire is dishonourable and agrees to help Andor and company escape by revealing the number of guards on each floor. Everyone is trying to do something but red tape, ideologies and physical barriers inhibit people from doing what they want to do. Quite often, people get herded into doing what they’re told to do, whether that be the prison warden, the ISB or the Empire at large. Great stuff.
Next week should prove to be a great action episode, not unlike episode six, but in terms of nuance and character, this episode excelled in that department. Andor continues to be one of the best-written shows on TV.