The Expanse: “Rock Bottom” sets us up for a wild ride to come

“Rock Bottom” is another solid episode that moves things along nicely, especially on Ceres, where Detective Miller is having the worst day.

First though, the episode opens with Chrisjen Avasarala, who I greatly missed last week and is in ruthlessly noble (or maybe nobly ruthless) rare form as she casually uses her position and inside knowledge to extort favors from a guy who doesn’t want to be involved with whatever she’s up to. I have said before that Shohreh Aghdashloo is creating Chrisjen Avasarala as a new science fiction icon, and every episode she’s in only further confirms that to be the case. This week, she doesn’t have a lot to do, but Avasarala’s ability to switch roles (here, between nurturing grandmother and cutthroat political player) is amazing to watch, if somewhat chilling.

My only criticism of Avasarala is really about the way she’s been written into this first season of the show. Since the character doesn’t appear in Leviathan Wakes, which material is primarily what has been adapted in the show so far, I’m concerned that not having much to do is going to be a perennial problem for Avasarala, especially if the show is pulling the current stuff she’s up to from the written material of later books. As much as I appreciate Avasarala, I would almost rather have waited until season two if it meant that I didn’t feel as if her storyline was so largely static and disconnected from the events in the Belt. That said, this week we did get to see her negotiate for use of a spy on Tycho, and we learned about her personal connection to Fred Johnson, which seems like a crucial bit of backstory and could turn out to be interesting later on. Still, I hate to see such a great character spending so much time basically spinning her wheels while there is much more interesting stuff going on elsewhere.

I kind of feel as if Holden and the rest of the Cant survivors’ journey ought to be the main event, but their arrival at Tycho and the sequence of events that end with them shipping back out on the Rocinante to go retrieve Fred Johnson’s mysterious contact, Lionel Polanski, are actually somewhat underwhelming. The show did manage to capture some of the tenseness in the first meeting between Johnson and Holden, but the more I see him, the more I’m not entirely happy with Steven Strait’s portrayal of Holden. Unless, of course, it’s the intention of the show that his face is supposed to be the most punchable one in every episode, in which case, mission accomplished. “Biggest dipshit in the universe,” indeed.

The negotiations that lead to Holden and the others all being able to leave Tycho together, which were pretty significantly detailed in Leviathan Wakes, feel a little glossed over and hand-wave-y here. I can understand the desire to avoid showing us a whole lot of people standing around arguing, and the generous reading of this adaptational choice is that the show’s writers don’t want to be holding the audience’s hand and that they trust us to figure things out for ourselves. This is certainly possible, but the explanation for how the crew all gets to leave together is almost a blink and you miss it moment, and I found myself filling in the details with recollections of how things went down in the novel. It’s not a huge problem, but it could definitely have been made a little more clear what happened.

The thing about the Rocinante crew’s time on Tycho that works, though, is the time that is spent this week showing us some more about who these characters are. Having them go out drinking and conversing in pairs (Holden and Naomi, Amos and Alex) is a nice reprieve from the constant stream of crises they’ve faced so far and continues some of the respite the characters got a taste of last week, but without ever feeling permanent. Instead, while the episode ends on a somewhat hopeful note for the crew, it also feels as if there is very clearly a storm on the horizon for them as the leave Tycho in their newly disguised ship.

Miller’s tribulations on Ceres steal the show this week, though this is mostly because Jared Harris is absolutely magnetic as Anderson Dawes. After being tased and kidnapped at the end of “Back to the Butcher,” Miller wakes up in a bad place and finds himself being interrogated/punished by Dawes, who it turns out is one of the show’s most compelling (albeit frightening) characters so far. More pertinently to Miller’s situation, Anderson Dawes is a true believer in his cause (Belter liberation), and he thinks that Miller is a traitor to their people. When Dawes realizes that Miller isn’t dangerous—that the detective is really just kind of sadly and creepily obsessed with Julie Mao—he decides to cut his losses and have Miller thrown out an airlock.

Fortunately, Octavia Muss shows up just in the nick of time to rescue Miller, and they retreat to Miller’s place, where Miller finally pieces together some of the last pieces of the puzzle of what’s going on with Julie Mao, the Scopuli, the OPA, and the destroyed ships. When he thinks he’s got it figured out, Miller finally gives in to Muss’s advice from last week. He takes it to his superior, Captain Shaddid, who promptly confiscates Miller’s evidence and fires him. Poor Miller just can’t get a break.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • I really like Octavia Muss, but the show doesn’t really seem to know quite what to do with her. This week was the most we’ve seen her get to do all season, but as soon as she’d outlived her usefulness, she’s shuffled off screen with unceremonious abruptness.
  • Naomi Nagata continues to be one of the show’s most interesting characters, but whatever her secret/mystery is has started to become somewhat infuriating. I’d love to get some piece of concrete information about her.
  • I’m a little baffled by this episode’s subplot with the space cops (unsurprisingly the same kind of brutal pigs as regular cops), the asteroid miners, and the suicide attack. While it’s tangentially connected to other things (nephew Diogo is one of the kids Miller busted in an earlier episode), it’s a fairly lengthy sequence that doesn’t have any direct impact on the rest of what’s going on, nor does it give us any new insight into other characters. If it’s just a bit of world building, it’s effective, but almost unnecessarily bleak and not that informative. Also, while Diogo is only listed on IMDb for two episodes, surely the show isn’t going to just leave things like this, with him just floating out in space by himself.

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