Hello Multiversity TV bingers! For this year’s Summer TV Binge, I’m tackling the first season of the SyFy/Amazon show The Expanse – – and for this, I’m enlisting a little help in the form of my boyfriend, Frank, who is a big fan of the show and its source books by James S. A. Corey. What’s going to make this fun? As I said, he’s a big fan of the show and has been watching it from the beginning, whereas I’ve never watched it before. Two people with different perspectives watching the same show, who also happen to be dating. Hilarity is bound to ensue.
We’re at the halfway point of season 1 with this episode, and Detective Miller has some concrete developments (finally!) in the Julie Mao case. Up in the stars, the Cant survivors are still floating in space, and a radio call also opens the door to some of the OPA’s past. Let’s dive into “Back to the Butcher” – – and as always, spoilers within.
Kate’s Five Thoughts
1. Hey Alexa
Of all the future technologies I’m awed by most in this show, the voice recognition technology is the one that impresses me the most – – probably because we’re already there, with devices like Siri, Google Assistant, Google Home, and Alexa. The Alexa was on the market when this first season aired, but not for too long, about a year (November 2014 for the release of Alexa versus December 2015 for The Expanse Season 1). Thus, the technology was still rather new, rather novel, and rather niche. Watching this show three years later, when voice recognition technology has moved from niche to practically normal (and as Frank and I discovered when trying to search for parking options at La Guardia Airport, quicker and more accurate), makes for a feeling of we really are living in the future. At least the devices in the 24th century don’t talk back. Gives me hope that we’re saved from Skynet for a couple more centuries at least.
2. Flashback Time
One of two main plots in this episode is a flashback to a decade prior to Anderson Station, a mining station where the workers walked off their jobs and took the station hostage in protest of the low oxygen conditions that were causing their children to fall ill. You don’t know this, however, until the final scenes of this narrative, and it’s easy to assume that those who took the station hostage were OPA types, especially when one of them looked suspiciously like Naomi, compounded by a remark she made later about not wanting to cross certain OPA types, like Fred Johnson (in case you don’t remember, he’s the one building the ship for the Space Mormons). This reveal of the workers’ true motivations for seizing control of the base doesn’t come until the very end, which makes the reaction by the U.N. Marines all the more shocking and heartbreaking – – especially when you see who carried out the order. (Hint: Space Mormons.)
Watching this thread in light of the news of families being separated at the southern U.S. border does give one pause to wonder if a repeat of the Anderson Station affair could happen in real life, given the heightened tensions and emotions. I pray this will not be the case.
3. Connecting the Dots
If It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia was still airing in the 24th century, no doubt one of Miller’s friends would have compared him to Conspiracy Charlie (you know the gif) by now.
I’ve said before Naomi is the reason that Holden, Amos, and Alex are all most likely still alive. And while she’s gone above, beyond, and beyond again with the coolest of heads in crisis situations, she’s not an Everywoman. She can’t treat the injured: “I fix ships not people.” She puts personal beliefs above the good of the group dissenting when the offer from FredJohnson invites the Tachi (the Martian ship) to Tycho Station because she knows his radical nature, or at least people like that. It’s such a turn from what was expected that Amos mentions that this is the first time he’s unsure that she’s doing the right thing, something he always trusts her to do.
I find these surface missteps for the character that we’ve come to know Naomi as to be rather endearing. She may be able to run the world, but she’s still human.
5. The Rocinante
No longer survivors of a dead ship, the Cant crew take on a new name for their ship after deciding to accept Fred Johnson’s offer: the Rocinante. Here is another Don Quixote reference; Rocinante is the name of Don Quixote’s horse. In the novel, Rocinante the horse is often described as Don Quixote’s double: awkward, past his prime, and overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of him. Time will tell if this new Rocinante will live up to the expectations of the literary character or be a complete counter to it.
The crew also finally relaxes into their new home in small ways: Alex puts up a photo of his wife and child on the bridge, Holden enjoys (and we mean enjoys) a cup of coffee, Amos takes a swig of something that’s probably an adult beverage, Naomi broods. The past of the Cant is past, and will carry with them for the rest of their days; these five persons will always “remember the Cant.” For now, we move into the future.
– Holden’s reaction upon finding the Tachi/Rocinante’s coffee stash is how we all look at coffee in the morning.
– Neville Bosch: “You never asked a girl down at the docks for some drilling work?” Fun and games with the double entendres!
Frank’s Five Thoughts
1. Anderson Station
We get another example of the hard life lived by the Belters as we are introduced to Anderson Station in a flashback. Similar to the scummy landlord we met in the first episode, the corporation that owned and operated Anderson Station cut corners to squeeze out a wee bit more profit. Regrettably, this cost cutting led to widespread illness and brain damage for the station workers’ children. There was little to no avenue for justice for the workers, and even their sad story was not enough to sway Fred Johnson from his duty with the UN Navy.
I do feel that this flashback is a little out of place, as we know very little of Johnson at this time, with him only appearing very slight in an earlier episode (played by Chad Coleman from The Walking Dead and The Wire). It gives us a sense of why Holden is conflicted about accepting help from Johnson, though we don’t know fully what enmity Naomi has against him, but I feel that it would have been more impactful once we spent more time with Johnson’s character.
2. Above Your Pay Grade
In both of the main stories this episode covers, the Canterbury crew and Miller’s investigation, we get the sense that our scrappy heroes are punching above their weight class. In Holden’s situation, he just survived an attack that destroyed one of the most powerful ships in the system. He notes to the other survivors that being the only survivors of both the Canterbury and the Donnager really makes them look like terrorists, rather than just unlucky folks that were in the wrong place again and again. And now they have the governments of Earth and Mars gunning for them, as well as whoever is behind the stealth ships.
Miller is finding himself ever deeper in his investigation of Juliet Mao’s disappearance. Using information recovered from the dead data broker, he literally connects the dots of ship trajectories and realizes that the ill-fated Scopuli was set to intercept another mysterious ship (and I think we already have a good enough sense of what’s happened there). He has already been told by his chief to drop this case, but now his colleague is beginning to question whether the powers-that-be should be informed of Miller’s findings and take over the investigation.Continued below
3. Objects in Mirror May Not Be What They Seem
There are a couple of points where Miller learns that his cynicism might be too skewed and the world is not exactly what he thinks it is. The first comes when he visits the recovering Havelock in the hospital and finds the sign language teaching prostitute is there. He warns Havelock that she is just interested in his money and that he should not let himself get attached or risk a broken heart. This causes Miller to be thrown out of the room by his partner, and when he looks back he catches a tender moment between the woman and Havelock. Maybe there is something more in that relationship than Miller thinks.
The same blindspot rears up when Miller chases down a lead on Julie and talks to a young man that used to have a relationship with her when they flew together. Miller has been under the impression that Julie is merely a rich girl that was slumming it to get back at her powerful father. But he learns from this encounter that she really did care about what was happening in the Belt, and may have been a true believer in the OPA’s cause.
In the role-playing game designed around the film Serenity (and technically the Firefly TV show, but they couldn’t say that because of licensing) they build a strong point that the crew’s ship is just as much a character as the player characters. In that fashion, we have finally been introduced to another of the major characters in The Expanse, the gunship Rocinante nee Tachi. This also means that I can finally begin referring to them as the crew of the Rocinante, rather than the survivors of the Canterbury. So yeah, we finally get to know the Rocinante and we also get the opportunity to see a little more of our crew when they’re not struggling for their lives.
5. Cracks are showing
As the Rocinante crew gets settled on their new home they have to deal with the invitation from Fred Johnson. This starts to test the dynamic forming between them as they have different notions of how to respond. Holden, backed up by Alex, realize that Johnson’s offer is the only safe berth they may have in the whole system. Naomi is extremely reluctant to trust the man, and of course Amos supports her, through there is a bit of a hesitation before he does so. This hesitation becomes a full-blown press on his part to convince Naomi to see that Holden might be right. We are beginning to see how the shape of this crew is forming up.
– One of the science fiction tropes that The Expanse notably does not explore is that of artificial intelligence or robotics (which would make much better sense mining the belt than humans). We see one of the very few examples of machine intelligence in this episode when Naomi speaks to the Rocinante’s computer, and it recognizes her as an engineer.
– There were a couple of really cute character defining moments:
- Holden discovering the coffee maker in the Rocinante’s mess. In the books and the show they make it clear how much Holden loves his coffee.
- Naomi’s frustation at how functional everything on the Rocinante is. She complains to Amos that there is nothing to fix!
We’ll see you next week for “Rock Bottom” (now that’s a prophetic title if there ever was one)!