How Andor’s Syril Karn predicts the rise of the First Order
Amidst the plethora of unsettling moments in “Nobody’s Listening!” – the ninth episode of Disney+’s Andor – I found one particularly troubling.
We’re in the shadow of the ISB headquarters, all gray and dark and cold.
“Are you stalking me?” Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) snarls. She’s face-to-face and uncomfortably close to the twitchy, slippery and recently reemployed Syril Karn (Kyle Soller).
And the answer, in short, is yes.
This would-be justice seeker was so enthralled by Meero’s ruthlessness, her desire to see Cassian Andor and all he represented ferreted out and destroyed, and her supposed kindness in expunging his record, that he’s been lurking about for who-knows-how-long just to offer his appreciation.
It comes off, at a minimum, as creepy. But that doesn’t prevent Syril from gushing over the ISB supervisor, words spilling out of him as he tries to express his tangled thoughts.
“After meeting you… just being in your presence, I realized that life was worth living. I realized that, if nothing, there was justice and beauty in the galaxy, and if I just kept going perhaps my deranged belief that there was something better fated for me in the future was a dream worth clinging to.
“I want what you want.”
On paper, those words appear admirable. Justice and beauty? Sure – sign me up. But the justice he seeks is so intertwined with Imperial rule, with oppression and tyranny and torture and secrecy and power, that certainly this is only justice from a certain point of view – and a view devoid of beauty.
What Syril is describing is enforced, rigid, unforgiving order: order for the sake of the few at the cost of the many. And based on what we’ve seen of Syril – a man whose fragile ego requires the demonstration of power over others to survive – this intermingling of hierarchy and beauty makes sense. After all, his own mother seems to value him in so far as he has a job title that she deems worthy. He’s internalized this shame and sense of self-worth, much to his own undoing.
Of course, Cassian did kill two of Syril’s colleagues; some sort of justice is warranted. But there’s little concern for the why – the context of the accident, the cultural and systemic attitudes that brought the two security officers to an unceremonious end – and an obsession only in sending a message that order remains. The people that order is meant to serve are merely window dressing.
And this brings us back to Syril’s collapsing of beauty, justice and order, and belies the ugliness of his otherwise pretty pro-justice words. He’s not interested in maintaining order for the good of the galaxy and its people; he’s interested in maintaining order so as to maintain and advance his own place in that structure. That’s the beauty.
And that’s the thinking that lays the foundation for the First Order: an infatuation with – a reverencing, even – of a governing structure rather than a priority for the people that structure is meant to serve. Toss in a few power-hungry would-be officers with something to prove and a chip on their shoulder – a certain General Hux comes to mind – and we can easily see how the First Order grows from the ashes of the Empire and the dreams of men like Syril Karn.
The wrong lessons are learned and acted upon. A scene between then-Senator Leia Organa and her counterpart from Riosa, Senator Ransolm Casterfo from Claudia Gray’s Bloodline further illustrates the point.
The two are caught in a tense discussion in Casterfo’s office, debating the merits of Imperial versus Republic rule. Literal relics of the Empire line the walls, despite this being the era of the New Republic.
Arguably, too many years have passed since the Empire’s fall, and people are forgetting the evil done at Imperial hands.
“If the galaxy truly could have been united under a wise, authoritative leader, such an empire might have stood for a thousand years, to rival the Old Republic itself.”
Leia realized she was gaping at him, mouth open. “You wish the Empire were still standing?”
Casterfo goes on to defend his position, saying the Emperor was corrupt, leadership was irresponsible.
Leia doesn’t tolerate it.
“That kind of power structure bred corruption from the highest levels on Coruscant down to the smallest outposts on border worlds. When the people with authority don’t have to answer to citizens of the galaxy, the result is tyranny.”
In fact, Leia’s words are a reflection of what we see week-to-week in Andor. This sense of corruption is what forced Cassian’s hand, leading him to respond to violence with violence.
But Casterfo doesn’t see or remember it like that. He was only a child during those days; he was no rebel hero.
“So the answer is to give power to no one? In order to ensure that no evil can be done by those in authority, we make sure no good can be accomplished by them, either?” (pages 31 – 32)
Leia is both unimpressed and afraid.
Ultimately, for men like Karn, Hux, Casterfo and all the rest, it’s easier to fall back on order, to push and prod their way to the top, then to truly look other galactic beings in the face and muddle through the nuanced grays of daily, communal, democratic living.
From a certain point of view, that might be considered beautiful. But it’s also quite frightening.