The Expanse: “Home” is a one way trip to total emotional devastation

I know I complained a little last week that this week’s material wasn’t covered in that episode, but after watching “Home” I have to take most of that complaining back. This content deserved its own episode, and the execution of it—shifting between point of views, building tension, and ending with a pivotal shared moment—is truly marvelous. “Home” does a brilliant (and beautiful) job of examining the complexity of a single event, and it’s completely emotionally devastating. Well-constructed, perfectly paced, and thematically coherent and powerful, this is hands down the best episode of the show to date.

**Spoilers below!**

Every episode this season has made good use of its pre-credits scenes, but this one is my favorite. Last week’s episode ended with the Nauvoo missing Eros, and this one picks up right at that moment again, with a pre-credits montage of everyone basically trying to figure out what happens that sets the tone for most of the rest of the episode. On Eros, Miller is still busy holding down a button to keep a bomb from exploding. At the UN, Avasarala is being briefed on what is known about Eros so far, which isn’t much. And on the Rocinante, the crew is scrambling to figure out what happened and what to do next, as Eros is on a collision course straight for Earth. It’s a dramatic and effective introduction to the holding pattern that defines the episode. Earth, the Rocinante, and later Fred Johnson are made desperate and helpless by their inability to stop Eros as it becomes clear that the protomolecule won’t allow itself to be destroyed, so the episode is split between their increasingly futile actions and Miller, who goes on a journey that allows him to finally finish his quest for Julie Mao.

The UN Security Council is in disarray as they work to do something to prevent the impending apocalypse that would be caused by Eros—an asteroid three times the size of the one that killed the dinosaurs—striking the planet. The two-pronged solution is to evacuate as many people as possible while launching half of Earth’s nukes at the asteroid in the hope of destroying it before it reaches the planet. In short scenes, we see the initial chaos and disagreement slowly shift to grudging consensus, though not true unity of purpose. The divisions in Earth’s government run deep, and Errinwright will have a lot to answer for when his conspiracy with Jules-Pierre Mao eventually comes out.

In the end, however, we’re reminded that the Earth material really is Chrisjen’s story, and it’s her reactions and her emotional arc that we’re meant to follow here. Shohreh Aghdashloo has an incredible, room-filling presence, and in all the scenes in the UN situation room there’s always a sense that it’s Chrisjen who is in charge. It’s her solo scenes, however, that hold most of the power this week. Though it was her conversation with her husband, Arjun, that brought tears to my eyes (that time delay was absolutely gutting), it’s her quiet strength in choosing to stay on Earth—the classic heroism of any captain going down with their ship—that made me really cry. It’s a role and responsibility seldom given to women in fiction and perhaps never depicted with such craft. The production values and cinematography on this show have always been excellent, but the set for Avasarala’s office, her beautiful costume, the lighting, and the framing of the shot all work together to create an iconic moment for the character.

On the Rocinante, the crew starts the episode scrambling to figure out a way to rescue Miller before they’re commandeered to help target the Earth missiles that have been sent to destroy Eros. I love that the show has made Holden and Naomi into more nearly equal partners than they ever were in Leviathan Wakes, and it’s great to see the whole crew working so well together in this episode as they chase Eros sunwards. The building sense of drama works surprisingly well as the ship speeds up to keep pace with the asteroid and the crew is forced to turn to a drug cocktail that will allow them to withstand the high-G force. I do wish that more time had been dedicated to Holden working out his differences with Miller; that all has seemed somewhat glossed over in the last couple of episodes. That said, by making Naomi a better developed character and having her connect with Miller, it’s not entirely necessary for Holden and Miller to have some kind of big hug-it-out scene about things. It’s enough that Holden cares because he’s a decent guy when Naomi cares because of a genuine bond of friendship with the other Belter, and allowing these characters to share the emotional weight of dealing with this stuff is a big improvement over the way it was handled in the source material, where the whole first book was told from just Holden and Miller’s points of view.

While everyone else is trying without success to find a way to stop Eros from crashing into Earth, Miller must travel through the insides of Eros to find the heart of the protomolecule infection. The show smartly limits the other characters all to, essentially, single rooms from which to work while emphasizing Miller’s arduous physical journey, which has elements of dreamlike wonderland mixed with eldritch horror. The on-screen journey parallels what has become, for Miller, and almost spiritual journey, and the moment when he realizes that the center of the protomolecule infection is at the Blue Falcon where they found Julie in season one is only surpassed by his awestruck explanation to Holden and Naomi about what he’s seeing. The juxtaposition of Miller’s travels through Eros with the relative stillness of the rest of the cast is a perfect way of heightening the sense of epicness, and I must reiterate that I’m so glad this portion of the story was given a full hour so it has plenty of time to breathe and build up to the final scenes.

When Miller finally reaches Julie herself, she’s unconscious, covered in the protomolecule and dreaming of flying her racing ship back to Earth. He’s able to gently her, but she’s confused and disoriented, and it’s heartbreaking how all she wants is to go home. It’s melodramatic, but it’s a kind of melodrama that I love and when Miller tells her that she can’t go home anymore I about lost it completely. There’s a part of me that feels as if I ought to hate this story, and I didn’t love it in the book if I’m perfectly honest. However, Thomas Jane’s Miller is much, much better than Miller ever was in the books, and his desire to find and help Julie has always felt sweet rather than creepy. This meeting at the Blue Falcon is the final test of the show’s ability to really make this story work, and it does. Miller’s gentleness with Julie is beautiful and represents a real character development on his part, and even the way he kisses her and lays his head on her chest as they head off to eventually crash into Venus feels like a kindness that stems from feelings of true and selfless love. The moment felt truly earned by the time it had arrived, and I found that I mostly just felt glad that Julie wasn’t alone any longer.

The episode ends with a short montage of characters watching Eros make its way to Venus, and it’s a wonderfully low-key way to wind things down after the tension and stress of the preceding hour. Miller’s protégé Diogo is getting OPA tattoos, which hopefully bodes well for his continued presence on the show. Avasarala is lying on her rooftop watching the night sky, a lovely callback to a similar scene in season one but also a great image in its own right; she was willing to die with the planet she loves, and now she can relax knowing that it’s safe, at least momentarily. Fred Johnson watches the last leg of Eros’s journey on the news feed on Tycho while the Rocinante crew watches the same coverage on their ship. Finally, as Eros silently crashes on Venus, the Rocinante crew has a drink and toasts Miller’s empty chair. The quietness and stillness of all these moments, free of dialogue as they are, is exactly the right way to have ended an episode that was split between frantic activity and a fraught journey. There’s a sense of the momentousness of it, but also the sense that life keeps going on even after such a major crisis. As a way of wrapping up the material from the first book in the series, “Home” couldn’t have been much better.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • Errinwright’s panicked, furious call to Jules-Pierre Mao is a great scene. Errinwright can be a bit of an opaque character at times, and this is probably the most emotion he’s shown about anything so far on the show.
  • Fred Johnson doesn’t get a ton of screen time this week, but he makes the most of what he gets, planting the seeds of a fragile accord with Earth, or at least with Chrisjen Avasarala. His “And so it goes” brought a tear to my eye, as all Vonnegut allusions, even much cheerier ones than this, are like to do.
  • I love Chrisjen’s conversation with Arjun, but it would have been even more heartbreaking if we’d seen even a little bit more of him in the preceding four episodes. One can easily believe the love between these two characters as portrayed by two skilled actors, but a little more showing of their relationship would not have been amiss.
  • We don’t see any Mars action, though we do hear about the Martian government. It makes me almost wish for some Mars POV analogous to Avasarala, but I must admit that it would only make the show bloated. Still, Mars is such a big part of things that it’s too bad we don’t get to see and root for them the way we do with Earth and the Belters.
  • A+ use of music this week. This show always does a great job in this department, but this episode was superb.

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