As we talked about last week, a lot of what's making 'The Mandalorian' so enjoyable is how it's willing to really unearth decades-old TV conventions and tropes, that may not even have much use in the world of streaming where it lives.
One such trope is the filler episode. Now, you'll argue that filler episodes are still a thing, and that some Netflix shows - particularly the Marvel shows like 'The Punisher' and 'Luke Cage' - made plenty of use of filler. They did, but the difference there was they were padding out the show, narratively, rather than simply pumping the breaks for an episode - giving it a one-and-done story - and letting it all catch up.
'The Passenger' is a filler episode in that the overall story hasn't moved at all. We're still not any closer to learning who the Child's people are, or where they are. Yet, which is better? An episode that pads itself out with some bland exposition, or one that tries to find an exciting way to fill forty-odd minutes of TV? Some of the best episodes of old TV were filler episodes. 'Far Beyond The Stars' from 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine', a total filler episode, is one of the best episodes of sci-fi television ever made.
Following on from last week's escapades, Mando is on his way back to his ship when a group of hoodlums get in his way and try to make a play for the Child, forcing him to end one of them in the most ignominious way possible, all before he's back at the spaceport and trading information on how to find more Mandalorians once again. This time, he has to take on a passenger - a frog-like female alien, carrying a batch of eggs in her final attempt to make it back to her home planet - but has to do it the long way. Her batch of eggs can't enter hyperspace for some reason, so they have to travel the long way.
It isn't long before trouble is encountered in the shape of two X-Wings who are patrolling the Outer Rim - one of them played by series producer / writer / director Dave Filoni, no less - and they're stranded on an ice planet. It's to the credit of director Peyton Reed, late of 'Ant-Man and the Wasp', and writer Jon Favreau, that they can handle reference the likes of 'Alien' in this episode and do it in such a way that's doesn't feel like an obvious choice. If anything, it's a reminder that the 'Star Wars' franchise has had some horror moments in its history. The weird snail-like creature from the Death Star's rubbish compactor in 'A New Hope', or the mighty Rancor of Jabba's Palace in 'Return of the Jedi' all take their cue from stop-motion horror, but this time around, it's CG-ice spiders and gross-looking eggs meeting their fate with a blast of fire from the Mandalorian's arm gauntlets.
For a director who's built a career around rom-coms like 'Down With Love', 'The Break-Up', and sketch comedy shows like 'Mr. Show' and 'The Weird Al Show', Peyton Reed has a good command of horror. Maybe there's just something innately icky about spiders, yet it does in a way that gets it under the wire of the show's overall tone and feel. Likewise, adding the one-off passenger character gives the episode more potential for threat because, well, they're a one-off. It's perfectly reasonable that they might be sacrificed to demonstrate threat.
The episode concludes with a lot of jumps and surprises, and before long, the bashed-up Razorcrest is once again on the trail - after diverting itself into a horror tangent for just under an hour. It's only in those final moments that you grasp that, in the season's overall context, they pretty much spun the wheels for an episode - but who cares when it's this entertaining and fun?