The Expanse: “Salvage” finally (and gloriously) unites the show’s two biggest plots

The Expanse up to this point has been highly entertaining, turning out consistently high quality, if not superb, episodes week after week. However, a common complaint and the show’s single biggest problem has been its tendency to get mired in exposition and distracted by filler material that prevents forward movement on the main plot lines. This has been largely due to the show’s trying to keep Miller’s and the Cant survivors’ storylines where they needed to be while still giving time to more tangentially related plots and characters. The end result, though, has been some unevenness from week to week and a couple of episodes that even felt slightly stagnant. At times, it felt as if the various plots the show has been juggling were never going to come together. This week, though, in “Salvage,” all of the patient waiting pays off in a big way.

On Earth, Chrisjen is informed by Errinwright that he’s activated a black ops team to investigate whatever Fred Johnson is up to on Tycho Station. She’s not thrilled, and she’s concerned about making a martyr of James Holden, but there’s nothing she can do to stop it. We also learn this week that Chrisjen’s old friend, Franklin DeGraaf, has killed himself. In a beautifully subtle moment, we get to see Chrisjen react to this sad news and then continue working through her grief. It’s a legitimately great character building moment, smack dab in the middle of a scene that shows that the U.N. on Earth has no idea what they’re dealing with in the Belt and might in fact be only compounding problems that they don’t understand. Avasarala’s scenes have felt somewhat disconnected all season from the events in the Belt, and it would be easy to write this scene off as unimportant or unnecessary, but there’s actually quite a lot going on here.

Miller’s flight to Eros is mostly uneventful, but there’s a great scene on the transport where he meets a Mormon man who is preparing to board the Nauvoo generation ship. It’s a nice, quiet interlude that deftly weaves together Miller’s character development with some exposition about the Mormons and their ship that seems like it will be important sometime down the road. When Miller arrives at Eros, he wastes no time in trying to locate Julie Mao, who has been traveling under the name Lionel Polanski, but his efforts only end up with him arrested and needing to be bailed out by his friend Sematimba, who wants to know what Miller has gotten himself involved with. Without being completely forthright, Miller convinces Sematimba to tell him the last place “Lionel Polanski” was known to be—a flophouse called the Blue Falcon.

The largest amount of time this week is spent with the crew of the Rocinante. When they reach the asteroid where the Anubis is supposed to be, they at first think they’ve been misdirected before they finally discover a stealth ship hidden in a crevasse on one side of the giant rock. Though the ship appears to be dead, Naomi points out that the intact hull suggests that there could still be air (and possibly survivors) inside. As everyone but Alex slowly explores the Anubis, they realize that the ship is not damaged at all, but has been deliberately turned off and vented—and a short range shuttle is missing. The most significant discoveries on the Anubis, however, are that it was at Phoebe Station and that there’s some kind of mysterious blue, glowing space goo that seems to be alive and gunking up the ship’s reactor. Fully freaked out, everyone hightails it back to the Rocinante so they can continue on towards Eros in search of the missing shuttle and Lionel Polanski, but not before destroying the stealth ship.

As a great lover of the mysterious space goo trope in science fiction, I have a deep appreciation for this segment, but I would have loved to see it portrayed more as it was in the books, with recognizable human parts embedded in the goo. In hindsight, however, I’m forced to admit that showing it that way on screen would have definitely spoiled the next big revelation of the episode. When the Rocinante arrives at Eros, Holden and company are able to relatively quickly make their way to the Blue Falcon, where Lionel Polanski is booked into room 22. Avasarala’s spy has set them up to be murdered, presumably on Errinwright’s instructions, but they are saved from that fate by the timely arrival of Miller.

The now-ex-cop recognizes Holden right away, but he’s more concerned with finding Julie as soon as possible. Unfortunately, when they all finally make it to Julie’s room, it’s clear right away that things are not right. All of the devices and lights in the room have been turned off, and it smells of “sweat, sick, and ozone” (a wonderfully evocative phrase that helps to convey the horror that the characters are experiencing). When they finally find Julie, she’s in the shower, covered all over with—you guessed it—space goo, which seems to have been fatal.

It’s a great way to end the episode, and perhaps the best possible lead-in to next week’s two-hour finale. “Salvage” manages to squeeze a lot of story into its running time, but it’s still an episode that is capable of pausing for interesting moments and continuing world building. It’s a wildly fast-paced episode that only builds momentum as it goes on, but it never feels rushed. Now it just remains to be seen how much story is going to be crammed into the finale, since this episode managed to somehow push all the way to the moment where I thought the show was going to be at the end of episode ten. I didn’t think it was going to be possible, but it now seems rather likely that this first season is going to make it to the end the source material in Leviathan Wakes, or very nearly so.

I can’t wait.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • The broad shot of the Nauvoo, with the trumpeting angel in gold, is incredible. Like, yes, of course that’s what a bunch of religious whackos are going to drive out into space. It’s gorgeous.
  • Fred Johnson is surprised by something in the data from the Donnager, but we don’t learn yet what it is.
  • “I kinda wanna blast it.” Good instincts, Amos.
  • The music at the Blue Falcon is amazing.
  • “Shit just follows you around, don’t it, kid?” Pretty much.

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