The Expanse delivered the penultimate episode of its second season, “The Monster and the Rocket.” Once again, it was quite a ride.
We open seeing Errinwright walking his son to school and effectively trying to say goodbye. He also writes a letter to his other child.
On Ganymede, Naomi offers help to the lady from Somnambulist, who tries to refuse her. Naomi doesn’t take no for an answer, however, and insists on fixing her ship. Since it proves the guy who was doing it until then knew jack about fixing ships, it’s probably a good thing. Maybe.
Jim fanatically follows the zombie terminator into the ruins of a dome, where the Rocinante can barely fit. He does so in spite of all Alex’s warnings to the contrary.
Errinwright has a talk with Chrisjen. She tells him Mao contacted her and she was going to speak to him. He is worried about his children, and gives her his medal to give to his son if it goes badly with him at the hearing.
Jim insists on shooting at the zombie terminator, even though Dr. Meng points out it could be his daughter.
Bobbie is taken to the rendez-vous with Mao. Chrisjen goes with just her and her spy.
The Somnambulist lady finds out that they won’t be able to refill the ship with air, and so they only have enough for fifty-two people. There is over a hundred waiting outside, hoping to escape Ganymede on the ship.
Alex tries to argue with Jim, and Jim pulls rank at him.
Chrisjen and Bobbie arrive to the appointed place, and meet with Mao.
Errinwright has a drink with the Martian Prime Minister. He poisons the drink with some particular kind of poison he himself is immune to. It causes a heart attack, too, so no traces. He also somehow manages to shoot down the Martian black op ship that was flying for the protomolecule scientists. You know, the dead ones.
The Somnambulist lady wants to simply fly away, saying that if they open the door, the refugees will all rush in. Naomi refuses to listen. Amos tries to stop her from going out, but she sedates him and goes anyway. Since there are double doors, the people don’t get in immediately, but she’s almost beaten to a pulp. She manages to convince the guy beating her, however, to help her organise the people. In exchange, she trades places with him. She says she’s motivated by guilt over Eros. She feels sorry she didn’t do more to save the people.
Errinwright’s call interrupts Mao’s talk with Chrisjen. It wasn’t going anywhere anyway, so no great loss. Errinwright tells them he shot down the Martian ship. He announces to Mao that he’s his only friend now, and so Mao will have to cooperate. Then he accuses Chrisjen of grovelling to Mars, and says she’s the real traitor. Guns are drawn, and Mao retreats.
The Somnambulist is flying out, but the Martian quarantine is still effect. They are warned against continuing, otherwise they’d be fired upon. Alex hears that, and tells Jim Naomi and their family needs their help. We get a tense shot of Jim’s face.
The Martians fire a torpedo at the Somnambulist. At the last moment, that torpedo is shot down by the Rocinante. Jim opens a channel to the Martian ships and warns them he’ll shoot them down if they try to hurt them or the Somnambulist. Since, as he says, they’re saving bullets for Earth in this tense atmosphere, he’s not worth the trouble and they let him go.
So, let’s talk about Errinwright.
I have to admit, I thought of (book) Jaime Lannister when I saw that scene, even though their character trajectory is very different. Because Jaime is the character I have most connected with “limits of redemption.”
The thing is, Errinwright is a guy who, at the beginning of this season, effectively condoned genocide. I will not say it is impossible for him to have a complete change of heart and become wholly good by its end. If nothing else, my religious convictions forces me to say everything is possible in this respect. But I will say it was pretty damn unlikely. And Chrisjen asked a lot of him.
Now, to be clear, I’m not trying to shift the blame on her. Errinwright is the bad guy here, without a doubt. But Chrisjen is the naive gal in this situation, or the stupid gal if I am less kind. And that grates.
I said in my review of “Cascade” that she was being pretty hard on him, but that I supposed she knew him well enough for that. I wanted to give both her and the writers the benefit of the doubt. Well, guess what? She didn’t.
But Chrisjen isn’t Naomi, or Alex, or Jim from the first season. She is not naive, and she is certainly not stupid. She doesn’t believe in the good in people, not in the way those above named do. Realpolitik is her daily bread. She should have known—she would have known—that if she pushed Errinwright too hard, he would break.
Morality is formed by habit as much as by choice. The vast majority of people would find it difficult, after thinking only of themselves and their profit for years, to do such a thing as publicly admit their mistake, humble themselves before all the world and accept the punishment, knowing all their friends will turn away from them and that their children will suffer for their mistake, and live their lives knowing their parents were the villains. I know I probably couldn’t do that, and while I’m not an especially good person, I should hope I’m also leagues away from “condoning genocide.” So unless she had particular knowledge to the contrary, expecting Errinwright to go along with what she told him to do was naive and stupid of Chrisjen. And she is not a naive or stupid character. So I take issue with that.
Combined with her going to see Mao with only her spy and Bobbie (whom she hardly knows) as a guard, as well as telling only Errinwright of all people where she was going, I have to ask: what are you doing, writers? This is not the veteran politician I know. A woman who made this kind of mistakes wouldn’t have made it to the UN Deputy Undersecretary. She wouldn’t have survived as long as she has. Give me back the top player from the first half of this season.
Back to Errinwright, though; his part was done beautifully. I know I keep singing praises to Shawn Doyle’s acting, but I can’t help it, he’s perfect. He was perfect every step of the journey he took in “The Monster and The Rocket.” I might prefer to watch him when he’s struggling with his conscience and it’s winning, but he doesn’t do the bad guy moments any worse.
It was written to brilliance, too, to showcase what I’ve just been talking about. Errinwright isn’t a cold-hearted villain at this point. He’s a man who felt pushed into a corner, and so he took what seemed to him like the only possible way out. He probably started a war by doing that, too. But even that was preferable to him than what Chrisjen had lined up. He simply couldn’t take it, because he wasn’t brave enough to face such a complete fall. He was unable to let go of everything that had ever been his life. In this, at least, he is actually very like Jamie. It’s wrong, certainly, but on another level it’s understandable, which is what makes it so brilliant.
Additionally, he didn’t only kill the Martian PM to save himself. He was also saving Earth at the same time, or so he honestly believes. That adds another layer to it, and we could analyse the ways people justify their vile acts to themselves all day. The point is, this had layers within layers, and everything about the execution was great. Except, that is, the part Chrisjen played.
(Well, there is one more little nitpick. I could have done without the villainous monologue when the PM’s seizures started. Errinwright, to my mind, should have simply pretended it was an actual accident, in case the PM somehow survived. But I suppose they needed to make sure the viewers understood what happened.)
In contrast to that stands Jim’s plotline. His fall continued on the same trajectory it started many episodes ago. It’s been clearly shown to be caused by the trauma from Eros. Jim becomes obsessed, and ignores Dr. Meng’s wishes to try and save his own daughter. He has no experience with the zombie terminators, yet assumes they are all killing machines and there’s no trace of the original people left in them. His only goal is to kill them. He becomes what he assumes them to be.
And then Alex tells him that his family is in distress—his family by choice, Amos and Naomi—and Jim throws all that away and goes to save them. Because just as it is hard for a truly bad person to become truly good, so it isn’t so easy for a truly good one to fall all the way down at once.
It was a well done parallel. Jim is not in the straightforward hero territory anymore. He showed very little compassion to Dr. Meng. But he still cares for his friends enough to help them, at least, and that does count for something.
It was also very much in tone with Jim’s original character as the most straightforward hero to be the knight in shining armour who comes swooping in at the last moment.
Of course, it does paint Naomi as a bit of a damsel in distress that needs to be saved by him, but given that she’s on a ship full of refugees, I think it’s not so bad. The focus wasn’t on her surviving, at least not from her point of view. I also appreciated that Alex, when he motivated Jim, said “our family is in danger”, not just “your girlfriend is”. It gives Jim both motivations at once, which is good. For his character arc, it’s better that the reason not be primarily the romantic one. For Naomi and her story, though, it would be better if it was. So they gave us both.
As for said Naomi’s story, she’s the one who’s being the straightforward hero in this tale. She can also be a contrast to Chrisjen in that she made the choice to trust someone, too, bu in her case it paid off.
I would have liked it more had they included something that indicated she realised the very real possibility that she would be killed by the frantic mass of people. Because there was one. When she stood in front of the shut door behind which all those refugees were, I thought of the end of Hyperion, actually. But there, when the lady steps in among the crowds, they tear her to pieces. Literally.
So when Amos tells Naomi that she’ll be killed, I’d have liked her to say something along the lines of “I very well might be, yes.” I don’t mind them scripting the scene differently and more optimistically, but I do mind scripting it so that it doesn’t acknowledge the possibility of it going the other way. I suppose her being beaten before she was listened to served that purpose, but it somehow wasn’t enough for me.
There is also the ethical issue of her risking the life of the Somnambulist lady in this way. They already caused the death of her husband. Didn’t she deserve to be left alone? I know there were the refugees to think of, but I believe this wasn’t so ethically clear cut, and I would have liked the show to acknowledge that much.
We go into the finale next week with “Caliban’s War.” Something tells me it’s not going to be a particularly happy episode.