The Expanse: “Cascade” is an incisively thoughtful exploration of systems failures

I suspect that “Cascade” may not end up being a fan favorite episode due to its lack of action and excitement, but it’s one of the best written episodes to date when it comes to thematic coherence and the emotional weight of its character arcs. It’s also an episode that gives us a much better look at the show’s imagined future of Earth, a deftly accomplished bit of revelatory exposition that gives us a fuller picture of the context in which the events of the show have happened. There’s not a ton of forward movement on the main plots this week, but the character work, exposition and set-up in “Cascade” seem sure to be invaluable as we move into the final three episodes of the season.

**Spoilers below.**

On Ganymede, the Rocinante crew split up to look for news of Mei and Dr. Strickland, Holden and Naomi going one direction while Amos and Prax go another. While their search makes up their plot and accounts for most of their actions in this episode, it’s secondary to the deeper story being told here, which is about the breakdown of communications and relationships between members of the crew, a system failure that is paralleled and emphasized by the cascading system failure—helpfully explained by Prax—that is currently taking place on Ganymede Station. Prax’s line, “The station’s dead already; they just don’t know it yet,” is positively foreboding, implying a time limit on the group’s activities on Ganymede (a feeling backed up by the social and governmental breakdowns we see on the station—the place is a powder keg) as well as suggesting that the damaged relationships between the Roci crew members may also be past a point of no return.

Against the backdrop of the dying station, Naomi and Holden, unquestionably the leaders (in an almost parent-like role) of the Rocinante crew, are still and increasingly at odds over the way things have been going, primarily because of Naomi’s growing discontent over the amount of violence and damage that they bring with them wherever they go. The tragedy on the Weeping Somnambulist has exacerbated the situation, and Naomi is not dealing well with Holden’s seeming indifference to the event. For his part, Holden feels guilty, but he’s rather desperately holding to the debatable belief that they did the right thing. Meanwhile, Amos seems to be becoming both increasingly unhinged and increasingly introspective, on a necessarily self-centered, inward-looking journey as he examines and tries to understand his own violent tendencies. Perhaps paradoxically, Amos’s disconnection from his friends only seems to leave him further unmoored and more prone to acts of extreme violence, though he’s so far still been able to be reined in before actually senselessly murdering anybody.

The good news for the Roci crew this week is that they manage to find a solid lead on the whereabouts of Mei and Dr. Strickland, though they still have no idea why Strickland took the girl in the first place and there’s plenty of reason to be apprehensive about what’s going on. Though Holden and Naomi haven’t found any evidence of protomolecule infection on Ganymede, it seems likely that the off-the-beaten path unsurveilled sections of the station where Strickland took Mei would be a perfect hiding place for some secret mad scientist stuff. The bad news is that Mars has ordered a no-fly zone around Ganymede, which will make it difficult, if not impossible, for Alex to retrieve them even if they are successful in rescuing Mei and discovering what Strickland is up to.

On Earth, the “peace conference” is wrapping up. Though Admiral Nguyen thinks that Bobbie has simply cracked from the trauma and stress of her experience on Ganymede, Avasarala still has some questions she hopes Bobbie can answer. Unfortunately, Bobbie is locked in her room until the Martian delegation is prepared to leave. While Bobbie is using every sharp metal implement she can find to break out of her room so she can see the ocean, an increasingly distraught-seeming Errinwright is going through the data from Bobbie’s armor, which evidently confirms to him that the events on Ganymede were connected to whatever Jules-Pierre Mao is up to. Apparently wracked with guilt and worry about the consequences, Errinwright finally goes to Avasarala and tells her everything he knows, giving her all the information he has on the protomolecule project. This Errinwright and Avasarala scene is great, if only because of the complexity and nuance of feeling both actors are able to convey with relatively few words. It’s not a long scene, but it’s something of a watershed moment, with Errinwright essentially throwing himself on Avasarala’s mercy. While Chrisjen’s not ready to tear up the existing government of Earth just yet by outing Errinwright for his illicit activities, it’ll be interesting to see just how it plays out in the coming weeks.

The showpiece and most deeply impactful part of “Cascade,” however, is Bobbie Draper’s journey through the streets of New York to see the ocean. Once she escapes from her room, Bobbie quickly realizes that she has no idea how to get to the ocean, and she’s disoriented and kept perpetually off balance by the bright sunlight and open spaces. She also finds that Earth isn’t very much like what she thought (or was taught) it was at all. As she roams the streets of New York near the UN, she finds not a decadent world of lazy, entitled people, but a dystopian hellscape where many people are barely subsisting on basic income, at least some healthcare needs aren’t being met, the environment has been significantly poisoned and opportunities for legitimate work are scarce. I imagine that this view of The Expanse’s Earth is no more completely representative of the state of the planet than a view inside the UN or of Holden’s parents’ farm, but it’s an important counterpoint to those more sanitized images that has been completely missing up until now. So far, Earth, largely due to Chrisjen’s self-assured and hyper-competent presence on screen, has been allowed to see like one area of the solar system that more-or-less had its shit together, but it’s revealed here—to Bobbie and the viewer—to be just another broken and possibly failing system. Bobbie’s emotional journey in this episode is one of the most compelling single-episode arcs of the show to date, and it marks Bobbie’s arrival, finally, as a primary protagonist that the viewer can truly empathize and identify with.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • I loved the Alex scene on the Rocinante. It was a nice bit of levity in an otherwise serious (and at times quite dark) episode. However, it was slightly overlong, especially with that obnoxious music playing.
  • “Truth and fact aren’t the same thing” might be the best evidence yet that Martens is fucking evil.
  • I loved the small but significant detail of Bobbie using her Purple Heart to finish popping out that window. Nice symbolism, if a little on the nose.
  • I want more Cotyar scenes.
  • “Every shitty thing we do makes the next one that much easier.”
  • Chrisjen tells Bobbie that Mars was testing the protomolecule as a weapon, which seems somewhat supported by the no-fly zone around Ganymede, but I didn’t think Mars had any more official connection to Mao and the protomolecule than Earth did. Interesting.
  • “Fuck you, ma’am.”
Me too, Naomi. Me, too.

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