The Expanse: “Back to the Butcher” feels like a calm before a storm

“Back to the Butcher” feels like the show letting out a sort of sigh after four episodes of high tension, action-filled spectacle. Everyone gets to relax a little, including we viewers, and it’s interesting to see what the show’s characters do with their brief quiet time.

So far, while the show has avoided a truly episodic narrative, there’s still been a definite pattern and rhythm to the storytelling and how it shifts between Miller, the Cant survivors, and Avasarala. Last week was the first time since episode one that a new point of view was introduced. This week, Avasarala doesn’t appear at all, and there is a lengthy flashback sequence about Fred Johnson instead. It’s informative, but it stops short of telling the full story of this character and how he went from being Fred Johnson, The Butcher of Anderson Station, to Fred Johnson, high level OPA member. Having read Leviathan Wakes, I am familiar with the story, but I’m not sure if the Anderson Station stuff made much sense to anyone who hasn’t read at least the first book. It seems like there is enough information offered to let the viewer connect the dots, but I expect that next week we’ll hear more about it from Fred himself.

The reason we spend so much time on Fred Johnson, of course, is that he’s the first/only person to offer the now-fugitive Cant survivors some kind of lifeline. When the episode opens, they’re adrift in space, turning everything off so they can’t be found, and with a dead Martian (sadly, Lopez didn’t make it) on their purloined and highly recognizable ship. Catching up on newsfeeds now is also the first time the Cant survivors learn of how Holden’s announcement has gone over on the stations.

It’s an interesting situation for the crew, and while the debate over what to do next isn’t exactly compelling, I am just happy that there is a debate. In the book, this was all story that was told from Holden’s point of view, and it’s greatly improved by adapting it as an ensemble drama. I’m especially (still) enjoying Naomi’s increased importance on the show, and I love her friendship with Amos. This time on the ship—renamed the Rocinante when they finally decide to accept Fred Johnson’s offer of help—is a nice respite for everyone, and while there’s not a ton of actual time dedicated to it, there’s a lot of well-done touches that bring these characters to life a little more.

On Ceres, Miller is still digging deeper into his investigation of Julie Mao, to the point that he’s stopped drinking and is alienating his friends and coworkers. He’s approached this week by Anderson Dawes, who offers him a trade; Dawes will give Miller the guy who attacked Havelock if Miller will keep Dawes in the loop on the Julie Mao case. This all seems to be related in a subtle way to Miller’s crisis of identity and his torn loyalties, and it’s cleverly sharing screen time this week with what’s going on at Star Helix while Miller is busy elsewhere. I was legitimately surprised by Miller’s kidnapping at the end of the episode, though. That’s not at all where I thought things were going, and now I have to wait until next week to see a whole lot of shit hit the fan on the station.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • I want to know everything about Naomi.
  • Holden’s face when he finally gets his coffee might be the first time I’ve really found him likeable.
  • I like Octavia Muss a lot, but I wish she’d be given more to do than just act as a voice of reason and be ignored by Miller. It feels as if the show kind of wants to give her a bigger role, but they don’t want to actually do it, and so she’s turning out to be less a character and more of a device to be an impediment to Miller and give the appearance of the show having more female characters than it does. Here’s hoping that she gets more to do later on.
  • The Anderson Station story kind of destroyed me. It’s great world building and character background, too, but it’s good on its own and is a great example of how to properly utilize flashbacks.
  • Jared Harris steals every scene he’s in as Anderson Dawes. He’s a much more menacing-seeming character on the show than in Leviathan Wakes, but I like it.

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