Andor writer and executive producer Tony Gilroy has a knack for creating unnerving tension in his projects. Whether in the Bourne franchise, Armageddon or his directorial debut, Michael Clayton, Gilroy’s works often resolve under incredibly stressful circumstances that leave the audience reeling while they process. The season finale of the first season of Andor, “Rix Road”, and in fact the entire first season itself, certainly fits that pattern, slowly using every tool at the creative’s disposal to simultaneously build tension within the audience and the characters nearly right until its final moments.
On the surface, the finale is all about the convergence of nearly all of the series’ key figures on Ferrix where they hope to find Cassian returning for Maarva’s funeral. But what makes the episode carry so much weight is that it also works as a convergence of nearly all of the series’ key themes. This thematic convergence is much more impressive both in the way it is reflected by the key parties involved and also that it was possible at all, much less done so well given the scope of Andor. Has been oft-discussed, the 12-episode season was shot as “pods” of 3 episodes and each “pod” seemed to neatly tie up the themes that pervaded each of them. To have them all thunderously return here required significant planning and craftmanship by Gilroy and his team.
Most prominent among those thematic echoes is the recurring idea that everyone has their own rebellion. That sentiment, first spoken by Vel Sartha to Cassian in “The Axe Forgets”, and the weight it rightfully carries in a galaxy where the Empire has now made it clear that there are no limits to what they’ll do to maintain “order”, come rushing back to mind during Maarva’s funeral march down Rix Road. During the holographic speech recorded before her death, Maarva powerfully reminded the people of Ferrix that they’ve been comfortably and somewhat selfishly ignoring the truth of the Empire. Calling it both a “wound that won’t heal” and a “darkness reaching like rust into everything”, Maarva uses her final moments to tell the people of Ferrix to wake up. Indeed her “last words” before B2 stops broadcasting are “Fight the Empire!”, inciting and inspiring the Rix Road revolution. Maarva Andor goes down in history as an OG Rebel by stirring the people of Ferrix to fight.
Maarva’s words resonate with the words of another dead character who longed to see the Rebellion move ahead. Though he had a short arc in Andor, Karis Nemik’s manifesto, which Cassian read through when he first returned to Ferrix earlier in the episode, ultimately served more as a book of prophecies. Nemik’s beliefs that “the smallest acts of insurrection” advance the cause of the Rebellion, that “the Imperial need for control is so desperate because it is so unnatural”, that “authority is brittle” and that “oppression is the mask of fear” are all fully realized during Maarva’s revolt. It’s ultimately the act of an Imperial officer to stop Maarva’s speech that becomes the tipping point of a largely unarmed group of mourners (there is, of course, the bomb) choosing to charge into battalions of troops. The Empire’s devastating response ends in mass casualties but with so many survivors, including those who escaped, word of what happened on Ferrix will spread and can almost certainly be counted on to become a key point on the timeline of the formation of the Rebellion.
Though Cassian hasn’t been the primary protagonist of every episode, the finale goes a long way in bringing him to the end of a long character arc that started with him simply in search of his long-lost sister. Cassian’s transformation comes in part when he seemingly comes to the conclusion that the audience has had all along: despite believing his actions only ever impacted him, he’s right at the center of the series of events that have caused so many unintended consequences for those he loves and those he’s never met. Seemingly inspired by the memory of Clem Andor’s words that “people don’t look down to where they should…they don’t look past the rust”, which connect directly to his words to Luthen Rael during their first meeting, Cassian changes the course of his entire life. Though he has ample opportunity to escape, Cassian chooses to seek out Rael and fully commit himself to the Rebellion. Sure of his worth, Rael smirks as he takes Cassian back into the fold, but as awesome as that is for Cassian, it’s likely problematic for some of the others involved and a likely plot point for an early arc in Season 2.
Ultimately, Episode 12 of Andor is a remarkable standalone episode depicting what will certainly come to be known as one of the inciting moments of the Rebellion and a remarkable season finale that embraces the massive totality of Season One. So often finales miss by only serving one of these purposes but Gilroy served both purposes masterfully by resisting previously established themes, stirring a sense of tension that had been building for 12 episodes while also putting at the center of the episode an event that built on that tension while providing a release that will carry over to Season 2 for the audience and the characters.