Andor Episode 8 Introduces A Truly Heinous Imperial Prison

This post contains spoilers for episode 8 of "Andor."

The hidden bowels of the Empire's systemic cruelty have been revealed in the latest episode of "Andor." Titled "Narkina 5," the episode mostly centers around this titular orbiting moon that houses a chain of prisons surrounded by water on all sides. In episode 7, Cassian was arrested during a beach trip in Niamos after a trooper found him walking the wrong way, despite the fact that he was just a tourist. The rebel attack on Aldhani caused the Empire to double down and assert its authority in unjust, uglier ways, leading to innocents like Cassian being thrown into prison for years on end. After receiving a six-year prison sentence, Cassian is assigned to Narkina 5, a place more bleak and dastardly than hell.

The core of "Star Wars" has always been deeply political, and "Andor" dives into the depths and nuances inherent in corrupt systems and relations between the oppressor and the oppressed. Apart from depicting the lives of those who are not Sith or Jedi, "Andor" parses through the socio-political fallout of rebellion, the true cost of dismantling an oppressive system, and the heinous circles of hell that constitute a fascist megastructure. "Narkina 5" tightens the noose around several characters and situations, but Cassian's sudden introduction to the hellish Imperial prison complex surely takes the cake.

Let's dive deeper into the workings of the horrible Imperial prison complex on Narkina 5. 

The illusion of levity and freedom

As Cassian and the other prisoners are boarded onto the ship bound for Narkina 5, the first thing they're asked to do is kick their shoes aside. The moment the prisoners walk into the facility barefoot, three guards wearing insulated boots walk up to them. They carry no weapons. The guards explain that the prisoners are expected to clock in 12 hours of daily labor, and will be provided clean prison cells and substantial food. However, if they fail to follow protocols, the floor, made of Tunqstoid steel, will electrocute them with the press of a button. To demonstrate this, the guard shocks all of the prisoners briefly, allowing them a taste of what is to come if they choose to rebel.

The shift in Cassian's demeanor is perhaps the most terrifying and heartbreaking evidence of the hellish nature of the place. There is nowhere to run, no loopholes in the system, and even the floor he stands on barefoot can lead to an agonizing death at any moment. As Cassian is ordered around by the guards on his first day, he looks around in fear, hyper-vigilant of everything happening around him. The guards usher him inside a facility and prison line manager Kino Loy (Andy Serkis) brings him up to speed about what he's supposed to be doing.

Loy is super-strict with Cassian, informing him that he is the boss here while the guards are away. After being assigned to table five, he watches his mates working at breakneck speed at the assembly line, pressed for time and with no room for error. What's worse: Loy has turned their labor into a competition, where the best table with the highest productivity level is rewarded with added benefits, while the low-ranking ones are punished. 

A cesspool of contempt

There's no watchtower, and no guards overseeing the workers, but that is not necessary. The Imperial surveillance system in Narkina 5 is a diabolical one, as the Empire has mastered a system to keep the inmates from hoping against hope. There's the illusion of freedom, with the dystopian, clean cells and limitless food, but outdoing one another comes with added taste and flavor to the food, which is otherwise missing. This is a cruel way of keeping inmates fed but making them miserable and hopeless, especially when there is no space for brotherhood or fraternity, as in-fighting and contesting against one another is heavily encouraged.

People like Kino are given special provisions of power, and they intend to abuse it to any extent to protect their own skin. There can never be a sense of real camaraderie among tablemates, as one person unable to achieve set standards of productivity will lead to the entire team being fried. This spectacle of discipline and punishment and constant vigilance makes shells out of the inmates, and one of Cassian's teammates reminds him that increased or decreased individual points do not matter here. There is no escape. There is no respite. They're overworked laborers alienated from the means and modes of production and the final product, which the Empire uses to their own ends. More importantly, they are alienated from one another.

The prisons in Narkina 5 thrive on mini theaters of punishment and taking away individual and group agency from the inmates. As no one can escape on their own, and groups cannot be formed, the mere spark of rebellion is stomped out even before it has a chance to flicker. 

The death of hope

Perhaps, one of the cruelest systems in place is the 30-second window for the inmates to enter their cells, after which, the corridor floor lights up red, meaning that anyone who steps into it will be fried to death. This is not only an effective measure against anyone attempting to escape but also a tempting way out for anyone who feels they cannot continue in this hellhole anymore. Cassian witnesses this when one of the inmates willingly jumps into the red-tinted floor — while he is horrified, the other inmates are mostly annoyed, complaining that they will have to deal with the stench all night. This proves that this is an occasional occurrence and that the inmates have been heavily desensitized to the agony of their peers.

The stark white interiors of the prison complex mirror the empty, hollow mechanism of the place, extending to the white prison costumes with a speck of orange. The guards stand out due to their black uniforms and insulated boots, a reminder of who is in charge and what the Empire stands for. To them, the inmates are void entities, and folks like Loy have also adapted to this attitude. Loy asks Cassian to report to him about injury, sickness, or in-fighting, as it affects productivity, but asks him to keep his hopelessness to himself. This is a place made to break the best of men, and leech off hope from the most rebellious of renegades, including Cassian. Even if he manages to leave the complex, they're underwater and surrounded by bodies of water on all sides, and flying out of there seems out of the question. How will Cassian manage to do the impossible? We will have to wait and see.

Episodes of "Andor" are currently streaming on Disney+.