Category Archives: The Expanse

The Expanse: “Caliban’s War” reveals some things but resolves too little to be truly satisfying

I suspect I’m about to express an unpopular opinion, but here it is: I found “Caliban’s War” a little disappointing. It’s a solid enough episode, and it was enjoyable to watch, but not much actually happened or was resolved and after last week’s stellar penultimate episode it felt a bit anticlimactic. There’s still plenty to be excited about looking forward to season three, and I am excited and looking forward to it, but I was hoping to a more conclusive ending to this season or perhaps a bigger reveal. Instead, we got an hour that picks up right where “The Monster and the Rocket” left off and happens almost in real time before capping the season with a(n admittedly great, if grim) final montage. It’s fine, but it’s not as big or dramatic as it could or should have been. It just doesn’t feel like a season finale, which makes it even more sad that we’ve got to wait until 2018 for season three.

**Spoilers Below**

The biggest disappointment, for me, was the wrap-up of events on Jules-Pierre Mao’s yacht. Last week ended with guns drawn, and this episode starts with shots being fired. Cotyar is shot right away, and they’ve only got the one small gun against several of Mao’s security guys, so they’ve got to think their way out of the situation they’re in, which is hiding behind a table trying not to get murdered. There’s some excellent banter—I love the dynamic between Cotyar, Bobbie, and Avasarala—before Bobbie heads into the wall to go to their ship and retrieve her power armor, which Cotyar brought with them for, well, reasons, I guess. It’s not really explained, and, while it makes sense why the armor might have been brought, it doesn’t make a lick of sense why Bobbie wasn’t told about it before they found themselves pinned down in a room with only one door and no pre-planned strategy.

Bobbie’s journey to get the armor out of the ship is largely uneventful. She almost gets hit by an elevator, which it’s obvious is not going to hit her because if it did she’d be splattered all over. It’s an attempt at injecting some tension and drama into the situation, but the time could have been better spent elsewhere. Similarly, while Bobbie’s conversation with the electrician that blocks the final door to the ship touches on some season-long themes about loyalty and trust and choosing who and what to fight for and what hills to die on, it’s played for laughs in a way that undermines the message and cheapens Bobbie’s character growth. There’s a short scene with Cotyar and Avasarala that deals with some overlapping ideas about loyalty and obligation and indebtedness and honor in a more serious fashion, but the overall tone of about eighty percent of the Avasarala-Bobbie-Cotyar material this week is light enough to be at odds with, frankly, any serious message they’re trying to get across.

I can see the appeal of maintaining a degree of levity somewhere in such an overall dark episode, but this storyline could have been treated somewhat more seriously, especially since it’s the one storyline this week that ends on something of a positive note when Bobbie gets back to Cotyar and Avasarala just in time to rescue them from certain death. Unfortunately, this is where I started to resent the time that was spent in the elevator. We barely get to see any actual fighting, and it’s over very quickly. I’m starting to suspect that this is due to budgetary limitations; the armor is just a costume made to look cool, after all, and it’s possible that a long, well-shot close quarters combat action scene using it would be expensive, time-consuming or otherwise difficult from a production standpoint. Still, it’s too bad. We didn’t get to see the battle on Ganymede, which at least made narrative sense since they wanted to keep it vague so the event could be slowly revealed through Bobbie’s flashbacks, but I was certain that the fight on the Guanshiyin would be a major showpiece of the finale. Disappointing.

On the Rocinante, there’s a sweet reunion (though it’s a bit hand-wavy about where they are, how Naomi and Amos got back to the ship, and how long it’s been since they left Ganymede) that is broken up when they realize that the protomolecule hybrid is down in their cargo hold. Holden, predictably, wants to go down there and shoot it, which is exactly what he and Amos do and works out exactly as terribly as anyone who’s been watching this show for two seasons now could have predicted. Holden ends up magnet-ed to the wall with his leg crushed behind a huge metal box of stuff, and Amos retreats into the ship while the hybrid starts trying to dig its way through the metal bulkhead to get to the nuclear reactor that runs the ship. Some quick brainstorming by the crew doesn’t come up with any great solutions to the problem, but they do have a limited amount of time to figure it out and rescue Holden before he dies from his injuries.

They finally settle on a plan to seal off most of the Rocinante and then use pressure to vent the hybrid into space. The problem with this, however, is that it will almost certainly kill Holden as well. The crew spends half of the rest of the episode preparing to carry out this plan until Prax has a last-minute idea that allows them to get rid of the hybrid without killing the captain. Like Bobbie’s journey up the elevator shaft on the Guanshiyin, there are parts of this storyline that feel unnecessary, and Holden’s danger never feels quite real. The time spent preparing for the plan that is never actually used does offer some time for some excellent character work on the part of the crew. Though it might feel to the audience that Holden is going to be okay, the rest of the cast does a great job selling their anxiety and regret, and there are several truly excellent apology and goodbye speeches. It’s a bit of a State of the Crew recap to establish where all these relationships are at now at the end of the season, and if it’s a little heavy-handed and somewhat maudlin, it’s still entertaining.

The actual method by which they lure the hybrid out of the ship is fairly straightforward. Because the hybrid feeds on radiation, they can turn off the ship’s engines, take a nuke outside, open its casing and draw the hybrid out that way. When they throw the core of the nuke into space, the hybrid leaps after it, at which point Alex fires the Roci back up and points the ship’s afterburners at the hybrid to destroy it. If there’s anything perfect about this episode, this moment is it. It’s a clear (and beautifully executed) homage to the scene near the end of Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King, when Gollum wrests the Ring away from Frodo and falls into the lava of Mount Doom. Superficially akin to Gollum in shape, the protomolecule hybrid chases after the ball of radiation with similar intensity and the pose of the hybrid in its final moments, curled in an almost fetal position around the ball as the Rocinante’s engines turn on, is almost exactly the same as Gollum’s last pose as he falls to his death. I love it.

The episode ends with a longish montage in which three major things happen. Bobbie, having retrieved her armor, rescues Avasarala and Cotyar; Naomi confesses to Holden that she didn’t destroy their protomolecule sample, and, when she thought she might die on the Weeping Somnambulist, she gave the protomolecule to Fred Johnson; and, on Venus, the Arboghast, which had been descending to investigate the Eros crater, is spectacularly destroyed, broken down to its component parts, presumably by the protomolecule there. Of these, the fate of the Arboghast has a sense of momentousness that the rest of the episode’s events didn’t have, but it’s not entirely clear what has happened or why or how or what it means. Naomi’s revelation to Holden wasn’t the revelation I was hoping to see this season end with, but it’s also important. It would have been nice to get a little more of Holden’s reaction to this news, but we’ll have to wait until next season to find out how this changes things between him and Naomi. We’ll also have to wait to see what kind of hell Avasarala is going to rain down on Errinwright when she gets back to earth, though that wait was at least expected. I already have a feeling that season three is going to be epic.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • I would love for more exterior shots or maybe a virtual tour of the Guanshiyin. The outside shots of it are gorgeous, as is the room everything happens in. It’s more than pretty enough that I can forgive the hallways for being somewhat generic and plain white, but it would be neat to see more of it even if they don’t put it all in the show.
  • Holy shit, shirtless Amos was fucking glorious.
  • I loved the evolution of Iturbi and Janus into science bros.
  • Amos seems to draw a distinction between “always trying to do the right thing” and “always trying to be a good man,” and this seems like the kind of thing that one could write whole essays on. It seems like a distinction without a difference to me, but it’s one of the few (maybe the only) specific comments the show has ever made on gender. I’m still mulling over it, though.
  • If we weren’t going to see Mei get rescued this episode, I could have done without that final scene of Strickland putting her into storage. I particularly disliked that smug little “sweet dreams” line, which practically broke the fourth wall.

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…”

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.

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.

The Expanse: “The Weeping Somnambulist” has some great scenes but also some dead weight (**cough**Holden**cough**)

“The Weeping Somnambulist” is only a middling episode of a great show, but it covers a good amount of storytelling ground and marks the very welcome return of Chrisjen Avasarala after several episodes in which she had minimal presence. The scenes on Earth are excellent, there’s some surprisingly good character work for Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams), and the Rocinante is off on a new mission which wasn’t that interesting this week but seems likely to improve in the next episode or so. After a couple weeks of main characters mostly reacting to events that have happened to or around them, this episode feels much more proactive and forward-moving, even if it’s not always riveting stuff.

**Spoilers below!**

The episode opens with an irritating fake-out. A Ganymede relief ship called The Weeping Somnambulist is boarded by a couple of gun-wielding men wearing the livery of the Martian navy, but it turns out it’s just Holden and Amos in disguise. Apparently the Rocinante is too recognizable to take to Ganymede, so they’re going to commandeer the Somnambulist to get them the rest of the way there. The husband and wife team flying the Somnambulist don’t get any characterization aside from “pissed off at Holden,” so the eventual tragedy they experience isn’t particularly impactful. It doesn’t even work as something that should deeply affect the Roci crew, since they can’t reasonably be held responsible for the Ganymede dock workers’ initial attack on the Somnambulist and it’s similarly unfair to blame them for escalating a situation that had already escalated to guns to heads. Sure, Holden and company might feel guilty for having failed to rescue the couple, but it’s an unreasonable guilt and therefore hard to take seriously. I mean, okay, Holden and company had to get to Ganymede somehow, but it was truly, deeply unnecessary to spend so much time on this boring and trivial plot when there was so much more interesting stuff going on elsewhere in the episode. It dragged the whole episode down into mediocrity, and that’s a shame because the rest of the hour was very good.

On the bright side, Bobbie made it to Earth this week, and the brilliance of execution in this storyline almost makes up for the Roci crew stuff being so dull. When we first see Bobbie this week, Martens is helping her prepare for Earth with necessary drugs and supplements to minimize her discomfort on the planet’s surface. It’s a smart bit of worldbuilding exposition that also works nicely as a character beat, showing us more of Bobbie’s feelings about Earth. These early Bobbie scenes also work as a really wonderfully composed and acted bit of speculative fiction, even out of context, offering the viewer some insight into what it might be like for a human to be setting foot on Earth for the first time ever. Frankie Adams perfectly conveys Bobbie’s complicated feelings of curiosity, awe, pride in her own planet, resentment towards Earth and something a little like nostalgia, and Bobbie’s reactions to her first glimpses of Earth are truly moving stuff.

The peace conference at the UN is predictably unpleasant for pretty much all involved, though it’s highly entertaining for the viewer. The petty one-up-manship is passive aggression hovers somewhere between hilarious and too real as the delegations from both Earth and Mars take calculated swipes at each other before getting down to business. Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen is always delightful to watch, but it’s again Frankie Adams who steals the show in these scenes. Her frustration and anger at being asked to throw her fellow marine under the bus is palpable, and Chrisjen easily picks up on the lies Mars is telling to try and smooth things over. Even though things are being smoothed over in a way that heavily favors Earth (and at the Martians’ considerable expense), Chrisjen’s priority is ferreting out the truth about what happened on Ganymede. Her second interview with Bobbie is illuminating, but I can’t wait to see these two characters alone together.

The third storyline of the episode concerns Colonel Janus, Dr. Iturbi and their journey to Venus to see firsthand what has happened to Eros. I wasn’t expecting this material, which is either invented for the show or is drawn from the books in the series that I haven’t read yet, but it’s good stuff. The personality conflict between these guys is engaging, though perhaps a little on the nose with their sniping at each other about which one has the corner on Real Science™. As much as I liked these scenes, the only truly important one comes near the end of the episode when they finally get a look at the crater left by Eros and see that there’s some kind of biological material floating around the hole. Iturbi streams the information to Avasarala back on Earth. Learning what Chrisjen will make of this, seeing how she’s already making a connection between Eros and Ganymede and the rest of the generally strange events that have been happening in the solar system, is the other thing I can’t wait for next week.

“The Weeping Somnambulist” is a frustrating episode to watch without another one to follow it with, and this is mostly owing to its very abrupt and, frankly, anticlimactic ending. Bobbie’s emotional distress felt real and her clamming up under orders was a nicely final ending to the peace conference, and the revelation of the Eros crater information felt significant and game-changing, but the ending of the Roci storyline was too slight to compare and not consequential enough to qualify as a cliffhanger. Still, though this whole episode felt somewhat disjointed, inconveniently punctuated as it was by all the boring stuff Holden was doing, I expect the next couple of episodes to have some big narrative payoffs, exciting moments and the thematic coherence that this one lacked.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • I was happy that Doris wasn’t completely forgotten, even if Prax didn’t get to actually send his message of condolences to her family on Mars. It’s still a pretty textbook fridging, though.
  • While the Roci and Somnambulist stuff was boring, Amos and Alex both managed to have individually compelling moments.
  • That necklace that Avasarala wears is a gorgeous piece.
  • I already miss Fred Johnson and Drummer, and there’s no telling when we’ll get to see them again.

The Expanse: “Pyre” isn’t that hot, but it gets the job done

After the major climax of Eros crashing on Venus (ending the Leviathan Wakes part of the show) and the last couple weeks of gear-shifting as we move completely into Caliban’s War territory, “Pyre” is a somewhat strange episode. Last week’s “The Seventh Man” is probably my favorite episode of the show to date, but “Pyre” is possibly the worst episode of season two so far. Appearing in just a single short scene in “The Seventh Man,” Avasarala is completely absent from “Pyre,” as is Bobbie, who is presumably en route to Earth. “Pyre” introduces a new character, Praxidike Meng (Terry Chen), and then spends most of the episode working to connect him to the Rocinante crew. Meanwhile, Fred Johnson faces a major challenge to his authority that threatens to undo his work for the Belt and jeopardizes the safety of Tycho Station itself. At times, The Expanse has done well with these sorts of more focused episodes, but this one just doesn’t quite work the way it ought. It accomplishes what it needs to do, but without the show’s characteristic deftness and panache and not without some frankly awkward moments.

**Spoilers below!**

The episode starts with a flashback/dream sequence that introduces Praxidike Meng and his daughter, Mei, and this is the first weird moment of the hour. First, we see Prax (as yet unnamed) doing something with plants. Then we see overhead shots of the greenhouses on Ganymede, which is a cool (if belated) way of finally giving the viewers an idea of how Ganymede works. Finally, we see Mei as the figure waving her arms at the marines outside on the surface of Ganymede (as seen very briefly and indistinctly in “Paradigm Shift”) just before the orbiting mirror shatters and comes crashing down through the glass roof.

Cut to Prax waking up on a freight ship that has been commandeered for moving refugees from Ganymede to other stations. He’s found there by his friend, Doris, who breaks the news of his daughter’s death—although it, confusingly, turns out that Mei wasn’t in the greenhouse dome with Prax, but at a doctor’s appointment—and offers to take him with her to Mars, where she still has family and suggests they’ll be able to find work in the terraforming project. The grieving Prax rebuffs her but then changes his mind as the Belter crew of the ship prepare, supposedly, to shift any refugees from Earth and Mars to another ship to be taken back to their planets of origin. As the Inners are being herded to an airlock, Prax isn’t allowed on, because obviously the Inners are going to be spaced, which is exactly what happens. Seriously, this is so heavily telegraphed from the moment Doris first says “Mars” that it’s almost comical. It’s also a significant change from the source material, as nothing like this happens in the books (at least in the first two that I’ve read). More importantly, it’s upsetting and problematic on several levels.

First, it’s a monstrous act of hatred on the part of the ship’s Belter crew. Yes, the man who actually does it tells Prax that “Inners wrecked Ganymede,” but that’s a very thin excuse for capriciously and incredibly cruelly murdering an airlock full of people who not only had nothing to do with the destruction of Ganymede but were themselves displaced victims of the attack. This demonizing of Belters has been something of a theme this season, but this is definitely the worst example of the trend so far and it’s not helped by the other events of this episode. It’s genuinely starting to feel like the show’s writers hate Belters as they depict them over and over again committing increasingly senseless acts of destruction and violence. Anderson Dawes and Fred Johnson’s nuanced rivalry makes sense and is deeply compelling, but most of the rest of the Belters we see aren’t complex, just wantonly, cartoonishly evil and stupid.

Second, the way this event is shown on screen is not far short of sadistic. Because it’s so heavily telegraphed, the viewer knows what is coming early on—if not when Doris first mentions Mars than certainly by the time all the Earthers and Martians are being removed from the main group—and yet we’re still forced to watch it happen in excruciating real time as they’re marched to the airlock, shift to zero-g, Prax and Doris touch fingers through the glass, and then the airlock opens. Even after this bit of lovingly crafted torture, we’re not done yet because there’s still time for a long and unnecessarily gruesome shot of poor Doris gasping for breath in space as she slowly asphyxiates and freezes at the same time. It’s deeply unpleasant to watch and only serves to highlight how terrible the practice of “spacing” really is while pointing to the apparent hypocrisy of Belters who fear that fate themselves but are willing to inflict it on others.

Finally, it’s a pretty textbook fridging of a newly introduced female character in service of Prax’s storyline. Or it would be if Doris’s death was treated as truly impactful and important. Instead, while Prax does try to report the crime when he arrives at Tycho, he doesn’t know the name of the ship he was on or the names of the perpetrators, and although he was on a ship full of other refugees I guess none of them are willing to corroborate his story. When the station doctor on Tycho says she can’t help him, this is the last we hear of it, as the show seems to be pivoting straight into the rest of Prax’s Caliban’s War story instead of dealing appropriately with the tragedy that they invented to fill some time in the episode while other things are happening on Tycho before Prax gets there.

On Tycho, we kick off the episode with Alex and Naomi returning on the Rocinante with Diogo in tow. They’re met at the dock by Holden and Fred Johnson, but when Diogo refuses to tell them anything about where Anderson Dawes has taken Cortazar he’s shuffled off quickly to Tycho station jail and not seen or heard from again from the rest of the episode. This is slightly anti-climactic because it happens so quickly, but we quickly move on to Fred, Drummer, Holden, and Naomi working to figure out how Dawes could get away from them without help (he couldn’t, obv). Fortunately, they don’t have long to wait before Dawes calls them up to officially break up with Fred. Dawes accuses Fred of withholding secrets from the rest of the Belt, which is accurate, and confirms that he has Cortazar. This is also when it comes out that Cortazar wasn’t just puttering around in his cell aimlessly; he’d found evidence of more protomolecule, and it was chattering like it had on Eros. There’s more of this stuff out there, but they aren’t sure yet where it is.

Naomi and Drummer head out to physically go to the antenna Cortazar was using for data collection to find out what he’d learned. I suppose there’s some unspoken concern that Cortazar could have been in contact with the sample that Naomi keeps failing to fire off into the sun, but it rather predictably turns out not to be that. Instead, there’s protomolecule on Ganymede. This sends Holden and Naomi to definitely-not-just-space-google former Protogen employees who may have been working on Ganymede at the time of the attack. In about thirty seconds, they discover Dr. Strickland, a suspiciously overqualified pediatrician who has conveniently been recently photographed with Praxidike Meng who is conveniently on Tycho right this instant. It’s the most egregious example of plot convenience theatre I’ve seen in ages, and I literally laughed out loud when Holden was like, “It can’t really be this easy.” No shit, it can’t, but it is, because this is what the show’s writers decided to go with instead of any number of more organic and less profoundly silly ways of getting Prax onto the Rocinante and all of them on the quest to find Mei.

The other major plot this week isn’t much less absurd than this, and it continues the aforementioned trend of mass Belter character assassination. After it’s pretty well confirmed that Drummer is not the traitor on Fred Johnson’s team, we learn that it’s been one of the other people working on the Tycho control room all along, a man named Edin, who has an unspecified technical job that gives him access to a lot of controls on the station. He’s in league with the OPA faction leader, Staz, and they’ve got a genius plan to take over the station, steal all Fred Johnson’s nukes, and fire them at Earth because what could possibly go wrong? They manage to take over the station’s control room, kill a couple of hostages, and shoot Drummer while trying to get the launch codes for the nukes, but they’re easily defeated when Holden finds out and sends Amos outside the station to cut off the air supply to the control room. Once everyone has passed out, Holden, Naomi and Alex show up and rescue Fred and Drummer.

None of this would be even remotely acceptable—because it’s a hilariously badly conceived plot from start to finish—if it wasn’t for a couple of saving graces. First, I love that when Staz shoots the first hostage Fred basically just shrugs and is like “I’ve seen plenty of death in my time.” Fred Johnson is a consistently well-drawn character, and this coolness under pressure is exactly what I’d expect from him. Second, after the rescue, when Alex is trying to help Drummer stand so she can go get medical attention, she grab’s Alex’s gun and puts bullets in the heads of both Edin and Staz before she limps off on her own. After an episode full of Belter’s being wantonly evil and/or stupid, it’s nice to see a Belter get the chance to do the sensible (albeit brutal) thing, and it further proves that Drummer is a badass.

The episode ends with the Rocinante crew leaving Tycho to investigate Ganymede and search for the protomolecule and Mei Meng, but not without one last fraught exchange between Holden and Fred. In the book it was much more clear that Fred Johnson wanted the Roci crew to stay in his exclusive employ to protect and advance his interests in the Belt, but here the reason for this little break-up is somewhat muddled. Fred and Holden had seemed to be of one mind on most issues over the last couple of episodes, and this week they worked well together and seemed as friendly as they’ve ever been, so Holden’s antipathy towards Fred feels sudden and unearned. On a second, closer, viewing of the episode, this feeling wasn’t as pronounced, but their dynamic still doesn’t quite make sense either.

In the end, I’m not sure it really matters, though. This episode felt oddly cobbled together from disparate parts, as if the writers were working with a checklist of things that needed to happen rather than telling a harmoniously balanced and truly well-conceived story. At the same time, much of the episode felt like filler used to flesh out material that is much less meaty on screen than it seemed in the novel. It’s probably the farthest from the source material the show has ever strayed, and though it remains mostly true to it in spirit, it’s still not an encouraging example of what happens when the writers have to solve adaptational problems. Here, my guess is that they didn’t want the Bobbie and Avasarala plots to get ahead of this one, or perhaps they thought the episode might be overstuffed if they tried to give each plot some time. Either way, coming up with some nonsensical melodrama to fill space and time was the wrong answer and speaks to an unfortunate laziness that I hope we don’t see more of in the future.

On the bright side, next week Bobbie and Chrisjen are back and hopefully in a major way. Thank goodness.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • Love Mei’s backpack. It’s a nice touch with the hologram characters, though I’m now wildly curious about the economics of that kind of disposable consumer good being sent to someplace as far as Ganymede.
  • Holden accusing Drummer of being a traitor made me want to punch him right in the throat more than I usually want to punch Holden in the throat. Peak asshole Holden, for sure.
  • I’m still not loving this Amos subplot, though I felt this week like I had a better idea of where the show is going with it (something something tragic backstory, probably). The whole thing feels almost like an afterthought and understanding what the point of it is requires a pretty significant attention to detail.

The Expanse: “The Seventh Man” is a perfect balance of personal and political

This week, The Expanse shifted gears again in “The Seventh Man.” After last week’s fast-paced mix of exposition and set-up, capped off with a decided feeling of consequence by the Ganymede incident, this episode takes the time to do a couple of hugely important things. On a Martian ship, Bobbie Draper is recovering from her injuries and trying to make sense of her jumbled memories, while on Tycho station there’s a struggle for control as Anderson Dawes and Fred Johnson compete with each other for the opportunity to determine the future of the Belt. It’s an episode that’s light on action but heavy on talking and politics and full of some of the show’s best writing to date.

Spoilers ahead!

There’s only one scene on Earth this week, but it’s a good one. When the news comes in about Ganymede, Avasarala and Errinwright are watching with the Secretary-General and they have to make a quick decision about what to do about it. Errinwright pushes for attacking a Martian target, but Chrisjen advises caution and calls for a peace conference on Earth, where she argues that Earth would have the advantage. The Secretary-General is convinced, so that’s happening, probably next week. It’s interesting to see how the balance of power has shifted in Chrisjen’s favor since Eros, but it’s also obvious that she’s still wary of Errinwright, with whom she’s increasingly at odds.

At Tycho Station, refugees from Ganymede are flowing in, and the Rocinante crew is helping to get people settled on the station. Meanwhile, Anderson Dawes has also arrived on the station, where he’s inviting refugees to Ceres as well as rallying Belters on Tycho. We soon find out why: Having wrangled Ceres, Dawes is on Tycho to make a decisive play to wrest control from Fred Johnson. We get to see Dawes publicly debate Johnson over what the OPA’s next steps should be, and it’s riveting stuff. The real ideological differences that have previously been implied or inferred are made explicit when the two men have to stand in front of a parliament-esque gathering of OPA faction leaders and make their cases. Later, as Dawes schmoozes his way around the station trying to ingratiate himself with Holden and Naomi, then Drummer, then Diogo, pumping them for information, we get a real sense both of how deep the divisions go and how different Dawes and Johnson’s tactics are.

The Tycho sequences are (except for a weird Amos segment) by far the strongest parts of “The Seventh Man,” and they’ve got several things going for them. The dialogue is smartly written. The speeches are entertaining to watch and effectively communicate complex arguments. The increasing tension between Holden and Naomi is well-conveyed as their relationship frays at the edges. Dawes’s connection with Drummer is clearly depicted, with enough on-screen information to intrigue the viewer but without telling us the whole story all at once. Dawes’s encounter with Diogo is pitch perfect and a great/chilling example of the ease with which young people can be manipulated by those they admire. The final short action sequence as Dawes abducts Cortazar is a much-needed break from talking scenes and gives Fred Johnson a clear goal going into the next few episodes. In short, it’s a balanced, cleverly plotted, and well-thought-out storyline that admirably holds up its half of the episode.

If there’s any major criticism I have of the Tycho story this week it’s that Holden’s “character development” doesn’t feel particularly earned. The foreshadowing of having Dawes compare Holden directly to Miller didn’t quite work because there’s not any actual evidence before this episode that Holden has evolved into anything at all, much less into a new Miller. To be fair, I suppose Holden has become more circumspect this season about shouting sensitive and inflammatory information to the whole solar system willy-nilly, but he’s still pretty much the same old frustratingly naïve and self-righteous Holden we’ve come to barely tolerate over a season and a half of the show. His late-night attempted attempt on Cortazar’s life was genuinely unexpected, and not in a good way. That said, his decision to shout over Belters to support Fred Johnson (and his dipshit defense of his actions to Naomi) was exactly what I would expect of him.

The part of the episode I was most excited to see was the Bobbie Draper stuff, which was both just what I predicted it would be and much better than I thought it would be, primarily due to Frankie Adams’ strong acting as she works through Bobbie’s trauma and confusion after the Ganymede incident. After being rescued from her damaged exo suit, Bobbie is taken to the Scirocco for treatment for her injuries and multiple rounds of questioning about what happened on Ganymede. It’s during this questioning that we get some of the blanks from last week filled in, which is pretty much how I suspected things were going to go. I thought we’d see more flashes of the seventh “man” that gives the episode its title, but the Ganymede monster is kept deliberately mysterious and Bobbie is told to not speak of it when she finds out at the end of the episode that she’ll be going to Earth to testify at the UN.

“The Seventh Man” (and The Expanse in general, if we’re honest) is, ultimately, a story about storytelling, but it’s also a story about the personal nature of politics. Powerful people vie to shape narratives to their own purposes, both selfishly and not. Avasarala has an almost preternatural ability to read situations and come up with creatively constructive sources of action to prevent all-out war. We see that she has counterparts among the Martians as well, people with cooler heads than the common soldiery who are working hard to keep the peace as well, even if that means making up a plausible story to cover up an implausible event. Fred Johnson and Anderson Dawes both have stories to tell this week, and both of them are true in their ways—humanity is stronger if they can live peacefully together, and the Belt and Outer Planets need to be self-governing and united against those who don’t have their best interests at heart.

Identity figures largely into all these storylines this week. Avasarala is still working to assert herself in her stronger position following the destruction of Eros; she sees herself as an iconoclastic champion of Earth, and perhaps her greatest pressures come from her own expectations of what she should be achieving. Bobbie Draper has lost her unit in a tragedy that she doesn’t yet understand, which has left her unmoored, and now she’s being sent to Earth, but not as a conqueror or even as a warrior; her navigation of this unfamiliar territory is going to be fascinating in weeks to come. Anderson Dawes sees himself as the true leader capable of uniting the OPA under his control, and his work for the Belt and Outer Planets is confirmed to be real and sincere. However, he also seems burdened with something like self-hatred—a sort of archetypal man-willing-to-do-bad-things-for-good-reasons who knows how to fight, but not how to achieve and maintain peace. Fred Johnson, on the other hand, dreams of real and lasting peace, but his history and status as an Earther makes him an eternal outsider in the Belt. They may respect and appreciate him, but they won’t follow him like they’ll follow Anderson Dawes.

All these various takes on identity are at work with Naomi and Holden. We saw last week that Naomi is identifying more and more strongly with her Belter roots, and this episode continues that trend. She is fully invested in the suffering of those she sees as her people, and she’s deeply admiring of and moved by Anderson Dawes. She’s definitely struggling with some feelings of guilt over deceiving Holden about the hidden protomolecule sample, but her feelings of resentment towards him for his lack of understanding of her are even stronger than guilt. In some ways, Holden’s motivations mirror Fred Johnson’s—he wants to do what he can to help people in the Belt, but he also wants peace in the solar system—but Holden has heroic aspirations as well and is (we learn) at least open to the idea of modelling himself more after his friend Miller. Holden’s arc here isn’t as well-defined as Naomi’s, and it’s certainly not as relatable or likeable, but it does fit within the general thematic neighborhood of what’s going on with everyone else.

The Expanse is always good, but this episode and last week’s “Paradigm Shift” have been truly superb. The show’s characteristically high production values, powerful writing, excellent casting choices and solid acting have worked together to create a deeply affecting new direction for things now that we’re past the relatively weak Leviathan Wakes source material. The deeper we delve into Caliban’s War territory, the better things are getting, and that’s an awesome achievement for a show that was already the best thing on television.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • The blood snowflakes in the opening scene were beautifully gruesome and make for a great image, but that is not how blood works.
  • I didn’t really “get” the Amos stuff. This wasn’t quite a flashback, there wasn’t enough information given about Amos’s past to make sense of his actions, and things are left basically unresolved after he has the conversation with Cortazar about the “procedure.”
  • Jared Harris is perfectly cast as Anderson Dawes. Absolutely magnetic and probably my favorite character to watch aside from Shohreh Aghdashloo as Avasarala.
  • Not enough Alex this week, and I did not like how he talked to Naomi.
  • I feel like Naomi and Holden’s relationship is quickly headed for Greek tragedy territory, but they were still going strong at the end of Caliban’s War, so I’m very interested to see how that shapes up over the rest of this season.