Back to tilting windmills
By Christopher Robin Negelein
(Back to the Butcher, Rock Bottom and Windmills)
After the fourth episode, CBQ, The Expanse kicks into high gear. The slow burn of world building starts to play out in episodes 5, 6 and 7 until we get to some uncomfortable truths about Holden and Amos.
A good ear will tell you that there’s going to be trouble with the first real introduction of a new(ish) character Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman). He was in snippets of previous episode as the general contractor for a Morman generational ship out by Tycho. He also happens to be one of the head honchos of the OPA movement.
Here, we hear his voice over the comm twice, once as a UN Marine Colonel who is demanding the surrender of a protesting belters in an 11 year-old flashback. And the second time in the present as he turns out to be the mysterious sender of the message picked up by Holden’s crew after their narrow escape.
The flash back intersperses throughout Back to the Butcher until you finally see a younger Fred Johnson watching aghast at the massacre he’s done. Now we know what motivated to switch sides.
His message offers safe haven on Tycho and instructions on how to reset the Tochi’s transponder. The crew opts to rename the Martian gunship the Rocinante (bonus points if you get the reference.)
They take him up on the offer figuring that for the worst, they just still keep up their track record of breaking all the shit when they get there.
At Tycho, a tense stand off shows off how tactically smart Johnson is, but he’s no Benedict Amber and the sneaky crew of the Rocinante get to keep their ship.
As one Earther’s role in the series expands, though, it seems that another subplot with an Earther, Miller’s partner Havelock’s (Jay Hernandez), wraps up. In rewacther’s hindsight, it’s easier to see that character arc is there to tip off Miller and his closest friend that he’s onto something big enough that he can’t stop investigating it even when Havelock’s attempted murderer (mining spike to the chest, ouch!) is out lose in the streets. Even when the OPA offers the criminal as part of a Faustian deal.
Miller’s further digging on the dead data broker turns up a classic noir clue, the hint that’s hidden in plain sight. He slips the clue, a data chip, inside his hat to only be shanghaied and blindfolded at the end of the episode.
In Rock Bottom, politician Avasarala is starting to get desperate and is willing to drop her sweet grandma act even more to straight up blackmail people behind her boss in U.N Intelligence to commandeer an industrial espionage spy. Her boss isn’t happy but later, we’ll see the spy using his eye camera on the crew as they have some R&R. Sadly, there’s no old school sound effects for it.
Miller, though, is verbally sparing with Anderson Dawes (Jered Harris). Watching these two seasoned actors play off each other as cynical men with bitter feelings, is a joy. I could listen to Harris’s Belter accent all day. But when Dawes thugs try to space Miller, it doesn’t help mend fences between them.
Based on the data chip, he eventually is able to string together a theory of the OPA used the Scopul to intercept a ship of unknown ownership that contained a bioweapon. Everything after that was someone trying to clean up the mess. When Miller tells his boss, he’s fired. He now knows she’s in Dawes, and the OPA’s, pocket. Miller makes a call to an old friend, the data chip brings up the name of a new ship to look into, the Anubis. Or Anoobis, if you ask any Belter to pronounce it.
Holden’s crew is able to hold out on Johnson’s demand to turnover the Roci and even flip to into them volunteering to do Johnson’s mission for him. They need to find the last survivor of the Scopuli by going to their last known coordinates. The crew isn’t without their own problems. Amos and Kamal finally know that Holden was the one who registered the original distress call that kicked off all their troubles — and the series itself. Since Nagata knew and kept it secret, Amos feels hurt.
Amos has been set up a bit of a bully way back in episode two, but his loyalty to Nagata kept him in check. Now that he knows that even she fears him, it takes him for a loop. The crew takes off with the Roci disguised as a gas freighter on the outside but with some cold shoulders on the inside.
And again, the Expanse has their world building do some double duty.
Two down on their luck Belters on an asteroid harvester run afoul of a Martian patrol who are too eager to flex their muscles. They pretty much force the Belters to either choose between bankruptcy or suicide.
The older Belter decides to toss the younger fellow a space suit and kick him out of the airlock and then take his ship for kamikaze run on the martians. The skit keeps adding to the world detail and the escalating political pressure. It also makes every martian patrol out there nervous. Just what Holden’s crew needs right now.
Plans and lives will be tilted in this episode and it all balances on “donkey balls.”
Holden’s crew think they’ve passed by a martian patrol when they find out there’s a radio sending out coded messages. They’ve found Avasarala’s spy. Too late though, the patrol is coming for an up and closer inspection that the Roci isn’t going to pass.
With the martians coming to dock, it’s a pressure cooker that shows Amos’ and Holden’s true natures. For the readers of the books, they know that the character Amos Burton is part mechanic, part thug who can switch from likeable to sociopath like a switch. The actor for Amos Burton, Wes Chatham, hasn’t look that menacing to me. But in this episode, he portrayed enough pragmatic nihilism that you could believe that he would do whatever was necessary.
Amos flatly calls Holden on his clay-feet crusade. A man willing to demand change until someone has to get hurt. Holden doubles down with a gun to Amos head while Amos aims for the airlock the martians will use. It’s another tense standoff as the rest of the crew try to find a way to break into the ship’s command locker for secret codes that will call off the martian patrol. Codes with words like donkey balls.
When the crisis is averted, Amos is casually willing to let bygones be bygones. That level of freaks Holden out and Amos knows it. Now he knows what Nagata was afraid of.
The spy, Kenzo ( Elias Toufexis), plays that fear up with Holden but it gets him nowhere … for now.
Avasarala goes into the lion’s den. It turns out that Holden is a genengineered kid who shares the DNA of eight people as legal loophole for land rights. He was born for the convenience of a business and political concern, raised with the mission of keeping the land “free.”
While her bodyguard nervously waits at a distance Avasarala meets her match, going up against another iron matron, Holden’s birth mother (Franis Fisher.) The two characters go at in a great verbal boxing session, but by the end of it they both come clean. Holden’s mother helped the boy escape into the wide world and Avasarala admits that Holden is probably still alive.
Avasarala reports to her boss that Holden might have some issues, but being a terrorist isn’t one of them. That’s when her boss drops the news, that Kenzo’s last report had Holden crewing a disguised and stolen martian gunship.
For book readers, we know that Avasarala is a pretty salty grandma, so seeing her on basic cable is a little disappointing. SyFy, though, brought up the bar with one single word from Avasarala at the news. “Shit.” That still brings a smile to my face.
On Ceres, Miller is jobless, out of clues and not ready to hear Dawes offer up a “Now that you are lost, we can help you find the way,” speech. A call from his old friend that a shuttle from Anubis is sitting at dock on Eros racking up fees becomes his wake up call. He collects all of his cash, most of it in non-traceable casino chips, in a sock with holes in it. He cashes out to buy a ticket to Eros with just enough time to say an awkward goodbye to an old lover. He’s also got a bracelet from Julie’s apartment. Is it his good luck charm? A gift if he meets her? Knowing Miller, probably both.
Next week, we’ll wrap up with the final three episodes of our Season One Expanse rewatch. Just in time for Season Two.