The MVP: Andy Serkis’ Performance in Andor Sells Kino Loy’s Redemption

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The MVP: Andy Serkis’ Performance in Andor Sells Kino Loy’s Redemption

Editor’s NoteWelcome to The MVP, a column where we celebrate the best performances TV has to offer. Whether it be through heart-wrenching outbursts, powerful looks, or perfectly-timed comedy, TV’s most memorable moments are made by the medium’s greatest players—top-billed or otherwise. Join us as we dive deep on our favorite TV performances, past and present: 

We’ve gotten a non-stop stream of Star Wars stuff these last few years, but even judged charitably, a hefty percentage of this output has been lacking in the originality department. As much as I can still go in for this universe of laser-sword-wielding space monks and spice runners, between tiresome shows like Obi-Wan Kenobi or Book of Boba Fett, these stories have returned to the well a few too many times. In this context, it was all the more surprising when Andor, another series retelling past events, not only turned out to be the most memorable Star Wars thing in recent memory, but also one of the best TV shows in the last few years period.

One of the most critical aspects of the series’ success is its complex characters, each finding different ways to navigate the oppressive hegemony of this fascist Empire, whether that means fighting against it, joining it, or scraping out an existence in the diminishing territory outside its reach. And of this compelling bunch, there’s one who succinctly sums up the show’s arc: Kino Loy, a character played to perfection by Andy Serkis. While Kino begins as a hellish middle manager dedicated to upholding an unjust status quo, this performance adds shades of nuance, inviting us to hope and imagine there may be something more underneath his initially callous exterior.

When we meet Kino, he’s nothing short of a class traitor. After our burgeoning revolutionary, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), is sentenced to six years in prison at Narkina 5 for a crime he didn’t commit, he’s assigned to Kino Loy’s section of the facility. Loy is a fellow prisoner who serves as a floor commander, which means he’s tasked with maximizing the output of his men. From the jump, Serkis’ grumbly line delivery and barely suppressed anger make him feel appropriately gruff and mean, the type of brutal boss who initially seems eager to kiss management’s ass.

Serkis’ strained neck and bulging eyes communicate his agitation when anything remotely threatens the group’s productivity and, in his eyes, the upcoming end of his sentence. But while the character is initially deplorable, Serkis doesn’t play him like an incompetent, sniveling weasel. Just like everyone else, he’s trapped in this place, and we later find this massive moral compromise he’s made is at least partially borne out of the belief that this may be the best way for everyone to get out of here someday. The sharpness with which he barks orders swiftly communicates that he’s completely bought into the system and believes that, if they all play by the rules, they’ll eventually escape this hellish prison.

Although he doesn’t exactly make the best first impression, we quickly begin to see something else. After other prisoners gossip that this situation is a ruse because none of them will get out of here, Kino borderline flies off the handle, lashing out in a way that seems to imply he also nurtures some lingering doubts about whether there is really an end to their terms. Without directly saying as much, Serkis’ irritable outbursts key us in that there are some cracks in the armor and that, unlike the hopeless bootlicker Syril Karn (Kyle Soller), there’s some hope he may come over to the right side.

Never missing a beat, Cassian picks up on this and starts working on him, hinting at the fact he’s likely also daydreamed about what a breakout would entail. Even as Kino brushes him off, Serkis’ low tenor and calm demeanor hints that there’s more bubbling underneath the surface and that, while part of him may be tempted, he doesn’t want to screw up so close to the end of his term. We can see how long he’s been here in his baggy eyes, scraggly facial hair, and the way the performer communicates a grim resignation, repeating the soul-crushing motto “On program!” which, like everyone else, he’s been conditioned to use through the threat of violence.

And all of these little suggestions that Kino may not be rotten to the core come to a head in Episode 9. As Ulaf, an older gentleman on Andor’s work team, collapses from the strain of working constant 12-hour shifts, the floor commander calls a doctor. “Hold his head up,” Kino says, speaking to the man with something vaguely resembling tenderness, Serkis reintroducing the kind of basic human kindness that’s been beaten out of this place. As the doctor approaches, Kino keeps reiterating how the man only has a few shifts left until he’ll be freed, something that mirrors his own situation. He repeats this point like a prayer that faith in this system will eventually be rewarded.

But then comes the moment that finally breaks his faith in this crooked status quo. The doctor not only informs them that Ulaf suffered a stroke and “needs” to be euthanized, but also that the truth of this purgatory has finally gotten out: if they complete their term here, they’ll just be transferred to another prison. Unless they do something, the only real escape is death. Serkis’ reaction is understated but effective, first shock, then anger, and then resolve, as he finally gives Andor critical information for the escape plan about how many guards are on each floor: “Never more than 12,” he says with a cool fury.

His journey from a co-opted manipulator to a true leader comes to fruition in his last episode, “No Way Out.” After convincing his men to participate in the prison break, he and Andor find themselves in the building’s command center. He goes up to the microphone used to orchestrate their forced labor. Unlike his previous thundering declarations, Serkis has a tremor in his voice at first, communicating how the character is unsure if he’s big enough for the moment.

But then, looking over at Andor, he directly quotes what our protagonist said to him earlier. He picks up steam, more and more, eventually delivering a fiery proclamation. The shifting look on Serkis’ face, from the initial tremulous self-doubt to absolute conviction, sums up the arc of the entire series, a story about people like Andor and Kino who were initially non-believers but eventually come to realize there is only one way to deal with the Empire: revolutionary action. His voice booms five powerful words to his fellow prisoners, “There is one way out.”

Even though Serkis only appears in three episodes, his footprint on this series can’t be overstated. He took an initially deplorable figure and conveyed the underlying complexities of the character so effectively that when he delivered that final rueful smile on Kino’s face, as he revealed his inability to swim and, thus, escape the prison, it felt like a punch in the gut. He went from not wanting to stick his neck out to someone who risked everything when he knew he wouldn’t personally benefit. His arc parallels our protagonist’s without feeling redundant, as Serkis’ commanding screen presence contrasts nicely against Diego Luna’s subtle guile as Cassian.

While Andor depicts the horror of living under a fascist state with appropriate brutality, it’s not a story that gives into despair. Instead, it’s defined by optimism that fighting for a better world is undeniably worthwhile and that as long as there are people struggling for the cause, change isn’t out of reach. It’s hard to think of a more potent shorthand for the series’ belief in change than the look that comes over Andy Serkis’ face when Kino Loy finally sees the light.

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Elijah Gonzalez is an assistant Games and TV Editor for Paste Magazine. In addition to playing and watching the latest on the small screen, he also loves film, creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to, and dreaming of the day he finally gets through all the Like a Dragon games. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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