Just When You Think Andor's Imperial Prison Can't Get Any Worse, Episode 9 Ups The Ante

This post contains spoilers for episode 9 of "Andor."

With the latest episode of "Andor," "Stars Wars" has never been so bleak. The previous episode, "Narkina 5," offered us a terrifying glimpse into the Empire's industrial prison complex and how it affects those abused by the system. As if things were not already hellish enough for Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who is currently stuck in the prison complex, episode 9 significantly raises the stakes when it comes to the fate of the prison inmates on Narkina 5.

There is a fresh rumor circulating in the prison complex: something terrible happened in Level 2. The inherent nature of the prison's power dynamics, which alienates inmates from one another and thrives on mini theaters of punishment, prevents this news from having the impact it should have. As a result, there is a consistent lack of clear communication between the different groups, which makes it difficult for Cassian and his mates to understand the nature of the incident, and the implications for their collective situation. However, the truth is soon revealed, and it changes everything.

Let us look into how episode 9 manages to heighten the anxieties surrounding the Narkina 5 scenes in the show, and what these fresh developments could mean for Cassian and his crew.

A cruel, vicious maze with no exits

Episode 8 highlighted how the Empire's prison complex is specifically designed to reduce inmates into cogs in a capitalist machine, where there is no space for hope or rebellion. Despite these impossible odds, Cassian attempts to find loopholes in the system and notices that the guards are at their weakest while bringing in a new man to the work levels. On close observation, Cassian realizes that the elevators are not electrically charged, which grants them an extremely narrow window of escape. As it is too early to hatch an actual escape plan, Cassian continues to observe his surroundings minutely.

Meanwhile, the rumor about Level 2 starts circulating, which causes a stir among the inmates in the other levels. While Cassian and Taga (Tom Reed) want to know more about the situation, Kino Loy (Andy Serkis) insists that they have no reason to feel agitated over a rumor that might or might not be true. Despite his steely demeanor, Loy seems visibly shaken by this new development, as it jeopardizes his hope of finally being free. With 217 more shifts to go, Loy does not want to abandon this hope, which is why he shuts down Cassian's questions about the number of guards that are present on each level.

However, after a tragic incident with Ulaf (Christopher Fairbank), Cassian and Loy learn the truth about the Level 2 incident. After an inmate had served his sentence and was set free, the guards had accidentally placed him on the same level by mistake. Fearing that this might trigger a rebellion, the guards fried every single inmate on Level 2. None of them ever had a chance of escaping the hellhole: the illusion of freedom, and the hope that comes with it, has finally been shattered.

A medical system rigged to fail

Since the beginning of the episode, Ulaf is sick and frail to the point that he is unable to do his work properly at his station. Cassian displays genuine compassion towards Ulaf, and urges his teammates to help the old man and shield him during inspections. However, after Ulaf has a stroke, Loy requests a medic, and it is revealed that there are no Imperial doctors in the prison complex. Instead, medical emergencies are tackled by fellow inmates who have some knowledge about the field. Doctor Rhasiv (Adrian Rawlins) explains that he can do nothing to actually save Ulaf, as they are not expected to treat inmates, but assist them in their deaths instead. This is incredibly cruel, even for the Empire, as the sick or injured never have any real chance at survival, with death or captivity being the only real choices present to one and all.

The fact that Ulaf could have been saved, but is instead given a fatal dose meant to kill him immediately, adds yet another layer of corruption to an already unfair, hellish system. Realizing that there is no true escape, Loy finally understands that following orders will get him nowhere, as the game is rigged in the Empire's favor at every turn. This is when he decides to reveal to Cassian that there are no more than 12 guards present at every level, marking a shift in his attitude towards the Empire. Often, the truth can set you free, and this is what happens in Loy's case in the latest episode.alone, Cassian will never be able to escape on his own, but with Loy's help, and that of his teammates, there is a solid chance for them to band together and achieve the impossible. 

Even an impenetrable fortress has its weaknesses

"Andor" has reserved its big prison break moment for its season finale, which makes sense, as the success of this plan dictates the futures of the characters involved. Canon dictates that Cassian will end up playing a crucial role in the events of "Rogue One," which means that his escape plan will work. However, this foreknowledge does not necessarily dilute the stakes at Narkina 5 — if anything, it only makes the actual logistics of the escape more thrilling. 

While we have no idea how Cassian and Loy will end up planning such a high-risk operation, the significance of the act is not lost on the viewers. If Cassian and the others manage to break free of the shackles of this impenetrable fortress, there is no greater blow to the Empire, especially after the Aldhani incident. The breakout will not only expose the cracks in the Imperial megastructure but also act as a renewed source of hope for the disenfranchised and the oppressed. 

Cassian's frantic proclamations of "nobody is listening!" rings truer by the end of the episode, when the true nature of the Empire is revealed. The inmates, like Loy, will finally realize that they are nothing more than pawns in a rigged system, forced to compete with one another for a dream that can never be actualized. The promise of freedom is a lie, as the Empire does not even deem the inmates as people deserving of basic rights that demand that certain laws be upheld. They are replaceable fodder for the Imperial machine, and it's time for them to wake up and attempt an escape, no matter what the consequences. If their fates are already marked with a painful death, why not take a gamble and fight for what's rightfully theirs?