The Expanse: “The Monster and the Rocket” is a brilliantly multilayered penultimate episode of the season

Every time I’ve seen the best The Expanse has to offer this show manages to reach a new height of exciting and thought-provoking entertainment, and “The Monster and the Rocket” is its newest leveling-up episode. It’s a tightly plotted and paced episode that hits every story beat and emotional note exactly right; it’s got layers of meaning and metaphor that make it ripe for critical analysis; and it ends each of its storylines in such a way as to build up maximum anticipation for next week’s season finale.

**Spoilers below.**

The episode opens with Sadavir Errinwright shaving and replaying Avasarala’s recent advice to him in his head. I started humming “Needle in the Hay” about the time he nicked himself and stared pensively into the mirror, but then it cuts to him walking his teenage son, Jefferson, to school. We learn that the elder Errinwright has been having nightmares, and his son is as sweetly concerned as any teenager ever is when their parent is acting strange. Sadavir tries to impart what sounds like some final advice to the boy, which freaks him out enough that Sadavir tries to calm him down with a particularly unconvincing “Everything is gonna be okay.” If there’s any part of this episode that I didn’t love, it’s this opening sequence, partly because the shaving scene feels a little on the nose and partly because, while I appreciate the attempt to humanize Sadavir Errinwright and make sure the audience knows that he’s got a whole life that he’s pissed away on his scheming with Mao, I have a hard time caring too much about this teen son at this point unless he’s going to be more than a throwaway character.

Before the Eros hearings begin, Errinwright meets with Avasarala, who feels bad for him but is still unwilling to sacrifice her own career and credibility to save him from the consequences of his own actions. Chrisjen tries to reassure Errinwright about the outcome of the hearing, but he’s not encouraged and in fact seems very agitated as he forces Chrisjen to hold onto a medal that he hopes she’ll give to his son if things go poorly. She also tells him about her upcoming meeting with Jules-Pierre Mao, and Errinwright insists to her that Mars would use the protomolecule weapon to destroy Earth. Avasarala doesn’t believe that, but Errinwright insists that she must convince Mao of it as well. She doesn’t get to do that, however, because Errinwright’s plan to get himself out of any consequences for his horrible actions is about to be set in motion.

If it wasn’t obvious enough after the opening scene and the short conversation with Avasarala before the hearing that we’re mean to think Errinwright is on the road to suicide, there’s a scene for that. He writes what appears to be a suicide note to his ex-wife, Jodie, and then plays with a small green vial that looks like poison. In hindsight, it’s almost a little too heavy-handed a red herring (not quite, though—I was momentarily fooled), and the next time we see Errinwright he’s coming back into his office after visiting the opera with the Martian defense minister, Pyotr Korshunov. Errinwright pours from a 107-year-old bottle of scotch and starts a sort of “let’s be real” talk about the protomolecule. Soon enough, however, Korshunov collapses, having a heart attack from the poison Errinwright has slipped into the scotch. The poison is one that specifically targets only Martians and was banned under international law, but Errinwright points out that “if you give a monkey a stick, eventually he’ll beat another monkey to death with it.”

Errinwright isn’t willing to let Mars have sole access to the protomolecule—even though Korshunov says they would use it to accelerate their terraforming project—and he’s willing to kill to make his point. At the same time, we learn, Errinwright has the MCRN ship Karakum destroyed before it can pick up the protomolecule on Ganymede. The last step of Errinwright’s plan, it turns out, is to call up Avasarala and Mao, now in orbit on Mao’s ship, and let them know how things are going to be. Mao is instructed to kill Avasara and come back to Earth so he and Errinwright can continue their partnership. As soon as the message ends, guns are drawn and Mao is out the door, leaving Avasarala, Bobbie, and Cotyar in the ship’s lounge with one tiny gun against several of Mao’s security force. And that’s where this story ends for the week! They’ve changed things just enough from the book that I’m not quite sure how it’s going to go down in the season finale, but however it does, Avasarala is going to be furious, and I suspect it’s going to be amazing.

It’s somewhat weird, this late in the show, to shift the primary point of view of a storyline like this, and I wasn’t sold on the change from Avasarala and Bobbie’s POVs to having this part of the story told more from Errinwright’s perspective, but it works well on several levels. Having read some of the books, even knowing that the show has deviated somewhat from how these events occurred in Caliban’s War, it’s interesting to get a POV that we didn’t get in the novel. The POV change is also a great way of revealing the rather vast difference between the way that Chrisjen perceives and understands Errinwright and the way that he really is, which is much more underhandedly ambitious than she has given him credit for before now. Both Avasarala and Mao are caught flatfooted by Errinwright’s actions this week, and so, to a certain extent, is the audience, who has been primed all season long to think the same way Chrisjen does about Errinwright and to see him as a pawn of Mao’s rather than a competent and cutthroat schemer in his own right. Smart writing combined with capable performances on the part of all involved have paid off wonderfully in the form of a genuine surprise and a cliffhanger ending that feels truly consequential.

On Ganymede, the Roci crew is still split up. Holden, Prax and Alex are hunting for the Caliban hybrid in the wreckage of the domes while Naomi and Amos go to see what they can do to help Melissa get the Weeping Somnambulist airworthy so they can help evacuate the collapsing station.

When they arrive at where the Weeping Somnambulist is docked, Naomi and Alex find near chaos and no welcome, as Melissa is still angry about them getting her husband murdered. However, Naomi insists on helping to repair the ship, and Melissa eventually lets her since it needs doing. While repairs are going on, conditions on the station continue to deteriorate, more people keep showing up outside, and things start to get increasingly chaotic as people start to get frightened. Things get worse when Melissa tells Naomi that they only have enough air on board to take fifty-two people out of the well over a hundred who are waiting outside. Melissa closes the door to the ship when people start to get violent, and she and Amos don’t think it’s safe to open in again. Naomi, however, can’t bring herself to leave everyone, and she insists on going out to talk to the crowd, organizing them into groups and taking children first, then young women and men until they can’t take any more. It’s a truly heart-wrenching scene and a superbly executed redemptive moment for Naomi, who desperately wanted to help at least some of Ganymede’s people.

Meanwhile, the hunt for the hybrid isn’t going super well, as it’s hiding and darting about so that Holden can’t see where to shoot it, which has him very much on edge. Holden’s state of mind isn’t helped by Prax being against killing the creature altogether—since they don’t actually know what it is and it might be someone’s young child and the victim of an evil science experiment—and Alex being concerned about damaging the ship and/or getting caught by the MCRN and shot. In fact, Holden seems to have finally gone full Ahab on us, and he’s being absolutely monstrous to the other two men about everything. It’s only when the Karakum is destroyed and it becomes obvious that ships leaving the station—like the Somnambulist—are in need of assistance that Alex puts his foot down and refuses to keep hunting the hybrid. He takes the Rocinante to help, intercepting a torpedo launched at the relief ship, and by threatening (bluffing?) to take out the rest of the Martian fleet they’re able to stop the MCRN from firing any more.

The episode ends with the Rocinante escorting the Weeping Somnambulist to safety, but they don’t know yet that the Roci has a stowaway. The hybrid has torn into the side of the ship, so that’s gonna be a fun discovery next week. Personally, I almost didn’t notice it this week, watching the episode for the first time on a computer monitor; even on a 21” wide screen, it’s small, and the episode was exciting enough that, if you don’t know to look for it, you might be too busy breathing a big sigh of relief for the Somnambulist to catch it. That said, on a 50”-ish television screen, the hybrid tearing into the side of the Roci is pretty clearly visible, so anyone watching the show more traditionally should have no problem seeing it.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • Errinwright’s advice to his son—“listen to your heart”—is reminiscent of Polonius’s advice to Laertes in Hamlet, and the stage metaphor is continued explicitly in Errinwright’s conversation with Pyotr Korshunov later on. I’m not really equipped to analyze that much more deeply, but I’m certain the Shakespearean allusion is intentional and I will read the shit out of anything that someone else wants to write about it.
  • Speaking of “Korshunov,” I choose to believe that’s not a reference to Air Force One.
  • Bobbie and Cotyar bickering is my new favorite thing. I’m definitely going to be looking for fanfic while I wait for season three of the show to come out.
  • Avasarala is a terrible traveler.
  • Chrisjen’s short speech about “Earth’s real gravity” is excellent.
  • “You even arrested my cousin! He’s a monk.”
  • “You people are shit magnets.” #ACCURATE
  • “Please, put those down and step away from the panel right now.” Delivered with exactly the right air of exasperated outrage at seeing something done wrong.
  • “You’re not finished yet.” Not finished crying, that is.
  • “Give me an open channel.”
    “Oh, man…”

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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 )

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s