Tag Archives: SyFy

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: “Static” is a solid set-up for major events coming next week

After last week’s action-packed season premiere, “Static” is a fairly quiet interlude that splits its time between character development moments—as various people deal with fallout from last week’s events—and exposition and set up for another major event (or two) next week that should wrap up the end of Leviathan Wakes material and put us into Caliban’s War in episode five. The Expanse has always laid out its episodes in this sort of cyclical pattern, alternating between action and exposition, punctuating the flow of its overall story with periods of calm and excitement, but with mixed success. The show’s quieter episodes have had a tendency to feel like wheel-spinning, and there’s some of that here, but there’s also copious evidence that the show’s writers have taken some of the common criticisms of season one to heart and found a much better balance between exposition and events. To be sure, there are a few clunky moments in “Static,” but it was never boring, and there’s plenty going on the keep viewers excited for next week’s episode.

Spoilers below for the episode and books.

“Static” starts with an event leftover from last week, the destruction of Deimos by the Earth navy, which comes even before the opening credits. The opening shot of Earth’s missiles zooming towards Deimos quickly cuts to Bobbie Draper and her squad of Martian marines watching the news, which details the tiny moon’s complete obliteration and the deaths of all seventeen of its residents. We then get a short scene of Avasarala and Errinwright discussing the possible war with Mars, which turns to a voiceover on top of scenes of the Martian marines training. It’s a smart use of a couple of minutes that further sets up the rivalry between the Avasarala and Errinwright philosophies and highlights the seriousness of the situation. This whole opening sequence also resonates thematically with the rest of the episode (and, I expect, much of this season of the show), which deals heavily with ideas about the value of human life, whose lives matter, and the ease and difficulty with which different characters treat different lives as disposable. Sadly, Chrisjen doesn’t get much to do the rest of the episode, though her “What the fuck is that?” when she finally gets a message back from Fred Johnson near the end of the hour promises that she’ll have plenty to do in the next episode or two.

Similarly, Bobbie and the rest of the Martian marines are subjected to a somewhat boring and, frankly, redundant subplot this week. We get to see the way that the three native-born Martians single out and pick on the Earth born Private Travis, which was already touched upon in the first episode of the season. In the end, this relatively minor personnel issue is resolved and Bobbie and company are sent on to Ganymede, which book readers will recognize as the place where we first meet Bobbie in Caliban’s War. I suspect that all this time spent with Bobbie’s team is meant to help viewers connect with her and them before the Ganymede incident, but all these characters struggle with likability—probably because they spend so much time on petty bickering. It’s an interesting adaptational dilemma, though, if you think about it. On the one hand, I’m glad that the show didn’t work too hard to paint Bobbie and her team as overly soft and lovable. Bobbie’s not, in general, a super likable character, and the show is portraying her pretty much how she appeared in the book. On the other hand, they’re going to a lot of trouble to try and make the viewer care about this team of people and it’s, one, not working very well and, two, strongly telegraphing that this group of characters is marked for tragedy. The ominous way that Sutton pronounces “Ganymede” is a dead giveaway.

Most of “Static” takes place at Tycho Station, to which the Rocinante and Fred Johnson have returned with prisoners from Thoth. While the crippled ship is being repaired, its crew is fractured. After shooting Dresden last week, Miller is out, banished from the Rocinante by a furious, self-righteous Holden and from Tycho by Fred Johnson, who is himself struggling to figure out next steps in how to deal with Eros and the conflict between Earth and Mars that is sure to spill over into the Belt and Outer Planets. Holden and Naomi have a disagreement about Miller and Dresden, which sends Naomi off the Rocinante for some girl time with Fred Johnson’s assistant, Samara, and leads Holden to focus on interrogating their most important prisoner, a scientist named Paolo Cortazar. Amos starts the episode by having a commiserating drink with Miller but turns out to be instrumental in getting Cortazar to talk. Meanwhile, Alex is eaten up with guilt over the deaths of the twenty-five Belters on the second boarding pod at Thoth, and he spends the whole episode running and rerunning simulations of the fight in order to figure out a way that he could have saved them. All of this works together to produce a strange effect that is probably not quite exactly what the writers hoped for. The idea of breaking up the crew and then putting them back together at the end of the episode is a solid one, and it ought to be enough to fuel an episode, but the truth is that not all the conflicts here really work. There aren’t always clear consequences for characters’ actions, and the interpersonal stakes feel low when compared to the major events happening in the story.

This is probably most glaring in Miller’s storyline this week. In his first appearance of the episode, Miller is assaulted and berated by Holden, who is outraged at Miller’s extrajudicial killing of the unarmed Dresden. Fred is more quietly angry at Miller, perhaps angry less at Miller’s action and more at Miller’s usurping of Fred’s authority in the situation, perhaps for some other complex reason. It’s not always easy to tell with Fred Johnson, who is still a somewhat mysterious character in the show. In any case, Fred orders Miller off Tycho ASAP and sends Miller off to, presumably, find a ship to take him off. However, this isn’t what Miller does at all. It turns out that almost no one is actually that upset with Miller. In fact, some of the Belters on Tycho seem almost to hero worship the ex-cop, and Miller loafs around the station for somewhere between a day or so and a couple of weeks. The timeline is confusing. He has a drink with Amos, then goes to the Mormon temple on Tycho and lets some poor nice Mormon waste time giving Miller the whole spiel about the generation ship, the Nauvoo, parked outside Tycho. Miller is also having visions of Julie Mao, who seems to be beckoning him back to Eros, so he decides Eros needs to be destroyed and goes back to Fred Johnson to suggest that they use the Nauvoo to do it, and Fred agrees with no real argument. It’s a weird storyline because it feels important and somewhat dramatic during the watching, but its internal logic doesn’t actually hold up to much scrutiny. It’s Fred’s easy agreement at the end that really killed my suspension of disbelief, but this plot overall relies a little too heavily on the ability of viewers to fill in blanks and imagine character motivations and rationalizations that aren’t adequately supported by what is shown on screen.

The disagreement between Holden and Naomi is an obvious one. Holden, self-righteous prig that he is, hates that Miller shot Dresden, who was unarmed and not obviously presenting any imminent threat to the people who were in the room with him on Thoth. Naomi, however, sees the wisdom of Miller’s decision, though she isn’t entirely approving of it being so unilaterally decided and carried out, and she urges Holden towards forgiveness and clemency or at least pragmatism. This argument sends the two apart for most of the remainder of the episode, with Holden working with Fred and Amos to get information out of the scientist, Cortazar, while Naomi drinks and plays and dances with her new friend Samara. Before the end of the episode, Holden and Naomi have one more conversation where they reconcile, and this puts them right with each other in time for whatever comes next for them. The thing is, this is the first test of their relationship, but it never feels truly consequential. When they aren’t in the same room, it’s as if the two characters don’t even exist to each other, and their reconciliation feels too easily accomplished at the end after such a significant philosophical disagreement.

Still, “Static” is a good episode that does a lot of necessary ground laying for next week’s major events. The Nauvoo exposition was nice and not too clunky, the use of the Eros noises as a soundtrack was mostly well-done, and while quieter than the first two episodes of the season, this one didn’t feel slower or less interesting. I’m happy to see that we’re on track to finish Leviathan Wakes by the end of episode four, though. I cannot wait to get deeper into Caliban’s War material. The back half of this season should be awesome for female characters, and that is definitely relevant to my interests.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • I love Errinwright’s line at the end of the opening sequence, where he turns Avasarala’s own words against her: “It’s like you always said; Earth must come first.” This is a great way of pointing out Chrisjen’s own hypocrisy in using rhetoric that can be easily interpreted in ways she doesn’t intend but probably should have been able to foresee.
  • I noticed that “Nauvoo” doesn’t set off spellcheck, so I googled it and learned an interesting bit of Mormon history that I was previously unaware of, so that was neat.
  • It’s interesting how Amos is used this week to relate to both Miller and Cortazar. One man has a rough exterior but an excess of empathy, while the other has been altered to feel none, yet Amos connects with both of them. I’m not always sure that the writers are sure what they want Amos to be.
  • I would have loved to see Alex’s story given more time this week, as well as some more interaction with other characters. He felt very alone and adrift in his pain, but it seemed as if this mini-storyline was almost an afterthought.
  • I genuinely hated the short EDM montage with the music made from the Eros recording. I’m not big on montages in general, but this one in particular was egregiously bad. It communicated nothing that hadn’t already been conveyed in the previous scenes, and it was heavy handed way of making a thematic connection between disparate storylines.