Saturday, June 15, 2024

The Expanse Teems With Tension And Danger

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The Expanse brought the third episode of the new season yesterday, “Static.” It continues to draw us deeper and deeper into the mystery and drama.


We open with Earth missiles destroying the Mars moon the UN agreed on in the previous episode. Bobbie and her team watch the news grimly, expecting war to start. There’s a conflict between one of the team, who immigrated to Mars from Earth when he was a child, and another, who is a born and bred Martian and also, apparently, racist.

Chrisjen talks to the UN Undersecretary. They discuss the possibility of war, and of losing it. He insists that he’s not afraid. He also points out that their best chance to win would be a pre-emptive strike.

The Rocinante returns to Tycho Station. Jim is a bit miffed with Miller, to put it very mildly, for shooting the Head Human Experimenter. Frank Johnson isn’t very thrilled either. He tells the man to get off his station. Miller drinks in a bar when Amos comes to give him his things from the Rocinante. It’s a bitter twist of Jim telling Miller to leave his things before the mission, that there’s going to be a place for him after. Amos and Miller drink together. Amos explains that Jim can call things on the Roci because he’s “as close to righteous as it gets.” Given this, it’s probably a good idea to listen to him.

Jim and Naomi argue about Miller. Naomi explains why Miller shot the man and Jim is angry that she’s defending him. He insists that Miller did not have the right to make that call. “And you do?” She asks him.

Miller keeps drinking. Diogo, the young Belter Miller knew on the mission, comes to sit with him. When the bartender cuts him off alcohol, Diogo basically drags Miller home with him once he realizes the older man has nowhere to go.

Naomi and Alex talk to Fred Johnson’s deputy (or, what is her exact job description?) about the damage to the Rocinante. It turns out their escape from the fight was nearer than they thought. She promises to repair the ship.

There is another conflict among the Martian crew, for the same reason, and ends with the ‘Earther’ attacking his colleague after provocation and Bobbie punching him. Hard.

Jim, Alex and Fred have an interview with the surviving scientist from the secret station. Jim tries to use his ill mother to relate to him, but he fails.

Alex runs his fighting simulations over and over again. Naomi goes to party with Johnson’s deputy.

Miller stays with his Diogo and is irritated by the loud music he listens to. When he protests, he finds out it’s the remixed static coming from Eros. Diogo terms it a call to arms.

A Tycho station scientist explains that something was done to the secret station workers. They lost the capacity to feel empathy. It’s irreversible.

Bobbie gets a dress-down from her lieutenant for hitting her subordinate. She expresses her desire for war. The lieutenant puts her down rather sharply, saying that she’s supposed to obey orders and that the orders are not to go to war at the moment.

Chrisjen’s spy comes to her with the promised secure channel to Johnson. She sends a video message to him, asking him for any proof she could use to stop the war. He listens to it, and says that he has what she needs. His deputy warns him that if the OPA finds out about this communication, he’s dead.

Amos talks to the secret station scientist about what happened to Julie Mao. The scientist is absolutely fascinated, and explains a lot about the protomolecule in turn.

Miller goes to talk to the Mormons about their trip to space.

Amos compares the scientist’s fixation with the protomolecule to a paedophile’s fixation with children. He takes Jim with him next time when they talk. The scientist is just as eager as before. He says that he requires access to the data from Eros to tell them more. Once he gets it, he explains that there’s a countdown coming from that station, and that the infected people are building something.

Chrisjen receives coordinates of the secret station from Fred Johnson.

Jim finds Alex training on the simulator. Alex explains he feels guilty for the twenty-five people who died when one of the pods was destroyed. Jim then talks to Naomi, and tells her they need to do something about Eros, and that he cannot do it without her.

The Mars crew makes up.

Miller speaks to Fred Johnson, telling him they have to destroy Eros, and that they could use the Mormon ship to do it.


My biggest regret, in “Static”, is not enough Chrisjen.

What we had of her, however, was as great as usual. Her worry about the looming war was almost tangible. And in her first scene, there was an especially chilling moment.

“It’s like you always said…Earth must come first.”

This is what the UN Undersecretary reminded her of. It’s probably a little more current than the writers knew when they were putting together the script, given some recent political speeches. It would be poignant even without that, however. Having her own words thrown into her face in such a way is never pleasant. It also shows how context can change the meaning. Chrisjen never intended them in any context that would lead to an all-out war. Still, she has come a long way from the first episode, where we saw her torturing a Belter. Not that I think she would not do something like that anymore. If she believed it was necessary, she likely would. But her priorities have sifted significantly. So have her main concerns.

Her scene with the spy was perfect, too. His genuine worry that she will be tried for treason for this, and her willingness to accept that. It was, again, that quiet heroism for which I love her character so much.

As for the Martian storyline, I think The Expanse needs to make them more relatable, and soon. “Static” did a decent job of showing their inner tensions and dark sides of the society. But if Bobbie is to become the fourth protagonist, we need an actual reason to like her. The sooner we get it, the better.

The question of why exactly is she kept in the position of command when she has such obvious issues is becoming more and more pressing, too. She is now beginning to vent them on her subordinates. That should set off alarm bells in any commanding officer’s head. I really hope that we will not find out that she is only kept in the position because her lieutenant is in love with her, as her team suggested. The last thing we need is a woman getting a position of authority only because a man wants to sleep with her.

I have a lot of complicated thoughts about the ethnic composition of the Martian team vis a vis the racism we see there. However, I don’t quite feel qualified to talk about that. So let me just say that I think it was an conscious choice to have it pan out this way. I do not know if that choice was made by the author of the original books or by The Expanse showrunners, but it was made.

The original instigator of the racist attacks on the ‘Earther’ is a blonde, blue-eyed woman. At the same time, the one who utters the final offensive remark that leads to a physical conflict is a black man, just as the ‘Earther.’ I suppose the intention here was to make it clear the divisions do not run along the same lines they do in our society, while at the same time tie it into some of our issues to make the scene more powerful. I will leave the evaluation of that to someone else.

Miller’s story did a good job of showing that he’s not completely without conscience. He has issues with having shot the Human Experimenter, but he also has no plans to go apologising about it. I was almost worried they were going to have him have a religious conversion, but fortunately, that went differently. Not that I’d be against a well-done conversion on TV, rather the contrary, but I just can’t see Miller being convinced by the suited-up Mormon missionary.

Miller’s scenes with Diogo were a nice bit of comic relief with the bitter undercurrent of tragedy.

Alex just might be my favourite secondary character. Because of that, I am rather worried about where his path of constant guilt will take him. “Static” seems to imply it won’t be a nice place.

Amos is treated as the just the tank more often than not, so it was nice to see that the way to get information out of the scientist prisoner was his idea. Frankly, when they found out the scientist only cared about his own well-being and Jim asked how could they reach him then, I expected Amos to go and physically threaten him. It was interesting to see him take a different road this time.

(As an aside, I was rather uncomfortable with his comparison to paedophilia. Paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder. Not all people who suffer from it are child rapists, and not all child rapists are paedophiles. This show can do better than make this kind of simplifications.)

As for Jim and Naomi, I’m very curious about where their romance is headed. Their final conversation felt much more like referring back to their friendship than to their relationship. So is that over? Or was it just one disagreement? Naomi says they are okay, but does she mean as friends, or as lovers? So many questions.

The main plot is moving in a very interesting direction, too. One thread is the danger of war, naturally, but more intriguing is the evolution taking place on Eros. For that reason, I rather don’t expect that Fred and Miller’s plan is going to be successful, or not immediately at least, not until something manages to get away from Eros. Alternately, the protmolecule could occupy the Mormon ship. At any rate, I certainly expect we’ll see what it is going to evolve into.

I very much appreciated the parallel between Chrisjen and Fred Johnson, a very bitter one considering her tragic experience with the OPA. They are both leaders who have to make hard choices they keep secret from their own people. The more like Chrisjen Frank turns out to be, the more I like him, surprising probably no one at all.

The slight foreshadowing made me wonder if Fred’s deputy is going to betray him. Hopefully not. I get rather tired of the most trusted advisers turning out to be traitors, and one UN Undersecretary is quite enough.

It was wonderful seeing the range of reactions to what is happening on Eros, from the complete refusal of Miller and Naomi to something that’s closer to negotiating acceptance in the sense of “let’s make use of it”, displayed by Jim and Fred at times. To repeat myself, this show is brilliant with morally grey characters, and with moral dilemmas that have no clear right answer.

It’s equally interesting to see the different approaches to the looming war, though there I insist that Bobbie needs better handling or more background to make her approach more relatable.

And finally, the guilt. A whole plethora of characters displays it: Jim, Alex, Miller, Fred. Each of them deals with it differently, and Amos is remarkable in that he shows no signs of doing so (neither does Chrisjen for that matter, but she might just be a good actor). That, too, is excellently handled. We can see where each of them are coming from.

Each of the characters is a distinct personality and their interactions are built on that. That is why they work. As a final example of this, let me mention the moment when Jim’s white saviour complex was called out by Naomi. Where do you get the right to pronounce moral judgement over everyone, Jim? Where?

All images courtesy of SyFy.

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