The Expanse: In “Here There Be Dragons” lines are drawn and sides are chosen

“Here There Be Dragons” is, in general, another solid episode of The Expanse, though it’s central metaphor—relating the search for the protomolecule to historical exploration, where exploration is supposed to represent human advancement—falls a little flat and nearly obfuscates the much more impactful way in which the episode is about breaking points and choosing sides. The overall effect is sadly somewhat muddled, but there are enough smartly written, powerfully realized scenes that get their point enough that most of the episode’s flaws are forgivable in context.

It’s also starting to be very apparent that the show is diverging from the books in some significant ways. I’d planned on reading one book ahead of each season, but I’m increasingly feeling as if—if I want to continue reviewing the series as an adaptation of the source material—I’m going to have to go ahead and read the rest of what’s already been published, sooner rather than later. In the meantime, and for the foreseeable future since I don’t expect to read another four books and several novellas before the end of this season, expect less book-related commentary here. Instead, I’ll for the most part just be analyzing and commenting on what they put on screen unless there’s some very important book versus show connection to be made.

**Spoilers ahead.**

The episode starts with a flashback to Ganymede Station, before the mirrors fell, in which we see Dr. Strickland with Mei and a woman doctor or scientist walking through the station, apparently to the secret tunnels and rooms under the station. There are several of these flashbacks throughout the episode, and they don’t do much besides confirm that Mei was alive before the mirrors came down and that Dr. Strickland is an absolute monster. There’s not enough new information in these scenes about either Strickland or what he’s doing on Ganymede to really justify their existence, and as adorable as Mei and her backpack are every one of these scenes was a speedbump that distracted from actual current events in the show without being particularly entertaining. These kinds of running flashbacks have been used to great effect in the past to reinforce a thematic thread of an episode—the Epstein story was almost perfectly utilized in this way—but even Strickland’s late-in-the-hour speech to Mei about imagining themselves as explorers, a sinister echo of something Iturbi says earlier in the episode, isn’t impactful or memorable enough to feel necessary to the broader plot or message of the show or even just to this episode. This material could all have been left on the cutting room floor and the episode would have been better for it.

On Ganymede in the present, Holden, Naomi, Amos and Pax are working their way down into the depths of the station to search for Strickland and Mei. While still on their way down, Amos points out to Holden that Holden didn’t even try and stop him from killing Roma. Holden replies that he “[doesn’t] mind bashing some asshole’s head in” if it’s for a greater good, in this case finding and eliminating the protomolecule, which has clearly become Holden’s white whale at this point. Holden’s increasing tendency towards violence and amorality when it comes to achieving his, frankly, ill-defined objective continues to drive a wedge between him and Naomi. By the end of the episode, after Holden cruelly (and stupidly, from a strategic standpoint, to be honest) allows the final (barely) surviving Project Caliban scientist they’ve found to bleed to death before she can give them any useful information, Naomi has reached her breaking point.

While Holden, Pax and Alex are going to continue hunting for the Caliban creature and the protomolecule, Naomi is staying on Ganymede, where she intends to help Melissa on the Weeping Somnambulist evacuate people from the station. They can’t stop the protomolecule, she says, but she can do some good here and now for the people who need help on Ganymede. It’s probably the best thing Naomi has done for herself or anyone else all season. Holden is unhealthily obsessed with the protomolecule, and he’s dragged the rest of them along with him for more than long enough. That Holden feels the need to send Amos with Naomi as a protector is exactly the kind of sexist garbage I would expect from him, and Holden’s final kiss to Naomi is ugly and possessive enough—though I suspect it was intended to be bittersweet—that I’d be fine if she was rid of him for good. Losing Naomi may be the wake-up call Holden needs to get his act together, but he’s got a long way to go to deserve her.

On Earth, Bobbie gets a lecture from Captain Martens about duty before being informed that she’s out of the marines when they get back to Mars. When they go to leave, however, their dropship isn’t allowed to land and pick them up—something about an attempted OPA attack, straight from the desk of Undersecretary Avasarala. While they’re waiting for their next chance to leave, Bobbie goes to Martens’ quarters, where she gives him one last chance to come clean with her about what happened on Ganymede before she beats the information out of him. When she gets the story—“We were a goddamn sales demo!”—Bobbie flees (or, rather, walks quickly) through the Martian embassy before having to run the rest of the way to the Earth border, where she requests political asylum.

Everything about this sequence of scenes is done well, from Bobbie’s subtle expressions as she’s told that she’s no longer a soldier—which has been the core of her identity before now—to the restrained brutality of her attack on Martens—she wants information, not to kill him—to the tense drama of her flight from the embassy. Everything is crisply filmed and artistically composed, and I love the contrast between the artificial lighting inside the Martian embassy and the bright natural sunlight outdoors. Bobbie’s decision to go after Martens for information and her even more important choice to take what she’s learned to the U.N. represent hard-earned character development, and the beating she gives Martens is a great catharsis for both Bobbie and the viewer, especially in light of the confirmation that Mars is looking to buy Project Caliban. That we also get a nicely done scene with Bobbie, Cotyar and Chrisjen is just icing on the cake of this storyline this week.

Chrisjen herself is still dealing this week with fallout from Eros and doing her own work to find out as much as she can about the protomolecule and what’s going on in the solar system. Iturbi is still sending her regular updates from the Arboghast at Venus, where he and Janus have almost buried the hatchet and managed to get some science done. In another standout scene, Errinwright comes to Avasarala with an idea to get at Jules-Pierre Mao through his daughter, Clarissa, though Chrisjen cuts him off to break the news that he’s about to face some consequences for his role in what happened with Eros. Errinwright seems to think that he’s taking the fall just because Mao isn’t available, and he even has the balls to ask Avasarala to speak in his favor—which she, of course, won’t do—before kind of sighing and resigning himself to the fact that he’s on his own. Still, Errinwright seems at least slightly certain that he’ll get through this mess, at least to judge by his slightly ominous parting “somehow” to Chrisjen. Shohreh Aghdashloo and Shawn Doyle have a great onscreen chemistry together, and they do a wonderful job of selling the scene and making the audience really believe that these characters have a long, somewhat tumultuous, history as colleagues and political adversaries while still having a friendship (for lack of a better word) that goes quite deep.

As if a great Avasarala/Errinwright scene wasn’t enough, we’re also treated to a brilliant Avasarala and Cotyar scene late in the episode when Chrisjen receives a message from Jules-Pierre Mao himself, inviting her to parlay with him at a place of his choosing, off Earth, with a limited escort of her own. Cotyar insists that it’s a trap but then makes Avasarala’s own arguments to her, and it’s nice to see how much he’s come to care for her. His protective concern and her need for him to validate her opinions establishes an almost familial closeness between the two of them, and it’s sweet.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • While I didn’t like the flashbacks in general, I appreciated the contrast in the job done by the set dressers to transform the hallway between pre- and post-incident looks.
  • I want a Misko and Marisko backpack.
  • So, Naomi had a kid. Nice to have that confirmed, but it’s been so strongly hinted at this season that the revelation wasn’t surprising.
  • Alex scenes on the Rocinante are delightful. There’s one moment during their slingshotting path to Ganymede where they come around the turn of a moon and Alex sees Jupiter and several other moons ahead of them, and it’s beautiful. I suspect that sort of thing would never get old, no matter how common space travel gets.
  • While Alex’s slingshot maneuver has already been criticized for its science fail—which showrunner Naren Shankar has already addressed—that wasn’t the most absurd thing to happen in the episode. That honor belongs to the coffin pod thing that they find in what Holden calls an incinerator but that seems to work much more like a near-magical vaporizer. It looks ridiculous when they zap it, the sound it makes is silly, and calling it an incinerator is just plain inaccurate. There’s not even any ash or melted plastic or metal left over. Just *fwoop!* out of existence.
  • Bobbie to Cotyar: “What the fuck are you looking at?” She’s a people person.
  • The protomolecule sure has set up house on Venus.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s