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.
The Rocinante crew meets up with Fred Johnson, and let’s just say that they’re not going to be office lunchtime besties anytime soon. Back on Ceres, Detective Miller’s Really Bad Day at the Office continues. Let’s dive into “Rock Bottom” – – and as always, spoilers within.
Kate’s Five Thoughts
1. The Art of the Possible (And The Personal)
We get one scene in this episode with Chrisjen, but it’s a pivotal one. While on an outing to the aquarium with her family, Chrisjen asks her ex-colleague Carlos Davila as she wants to keep an eye on Fred Johnson. Carlos isn’t budging (has word of the fallout between Chrisjen and the Martian ambassador Franklin DeGraaf spread, or is this just a case of Chrisjen’s reputation preceding her?) and Chrisjen resorts to blackmail in the form of Carlos’s imprisoned son who is conveniently up for parole. Chrisjen’s transgressions are catching up to her, and Undersecretary Errinwright lets her know this. No subtle smooth-over (“hey, I asked nicely!”) hides the Undersecretary’s anger. He addresses the elephant in the room: is all this talk of going after Fred Johnson and his OPA ties revenge for the OPA killing her son? Chrisjen knows already what Otto von Bismarck (and the musical Evita) know: Politics is the art of the possible. But it is also the art of the personal. And with the two together, Chrisjen gets her spies.
2. Survivor’s Guilt
This episode also shows us two manifestations of survivor’s guilt. On one hand, Holden is approached by his new frenemy Fred Johnson to lead a search and rescue mission for Lionel Polanski, claiming to be the last survivor of the Scopuli. The other Rocinante crew members do not want Holden to take this mission, but he insists: it was thanks to him logging that distress call that got everyone into their current situation. For him, finding this supposed survivor will help make things right with his morals, that his work was not in vain.
Anderson Dawes, on the other hand, lives with the guilt of his dead sister. Athena Dawes was born with very fragile bones, almost like chalk. The Dawes family was quite poor and could just about survive day to day living, much less the care of a chronically ill child. In order for him and his family to survive, Anderson left Athena to die, a decision he lives with daily. He finds camaraderie with the OPA now, calling them his “brothers and sisters.”
On the surface, both of these actions appear to be selfless, but there’s a deeper selfish nature as well. Anderson’s is the base need for survival, not just for his family, but for himself. Holden wants to make things right allegedly to honor his lost crewmembers, but is it more just to feel better about himself? Such simple decisions have such intricate complications.
3. Girl Power 2.0
We’ve seen Naomi rock it in the toughest of situations by just jumping in and taking action. Now it’s Octavia’s turn to show off how cool she can remain under pressure – – by killing Miller’s kidnappers and rescuing him from an airlock. The Expanse is a gloriously feminist show, and I love it for that reason. It also doesn’t shy away from showing that strong women are also people with feelings, showing Octavia breaking down in Miller’s arms when the shock that she has, in fact, committed murder, hits her. This is true feminism, the choice to rise to the occasion one moment but not bottle up your emotions regarding that decision to rise to the occasion. It is embracing your multifaceted personal nature and not being ashamed of any of it. To quote University of Oregon scholar Cheris Kramarae: feminism is the radical notion that women are people.Continued below
So by the end of this episode, not only has Miller been kidnapped, roughed up, and nearly left for dead – – but now he’s out of a job. Initially I thought Holden was the candidate for Dumbest Character, but Miller’s pretty close to taking that award himself. One has to appreciate his moxie in trying to solve the Julie Mao case, but when your note board starts to look like Conspiracy Charlie, you may just be in over your head.
Also, if I remember, Captain Shaddid wasn’t really too pleased you were pressing on with the Mao case when you uncovered the deeper government conspiracy from your look at the data broker’s files. I believe the words “out of your pay grade” were her reaction. So don’t assume your firing was because Anderson Dawes paid her off. You’re inching closer and closer to tinfoil hat territory.
5. We Are Family
They butt heads so often everyone has to have a headache by now, but in the end, the Rocinante crew is still a family. And families take care of each other. Which is why it warmed my heart to see all of the crew step up to take on the mission of finding Lionel, even after Alex and Amos were angered that Holden (and Naomi) kept the secret of Holden’s logging of the distress call from him. It wasn’t without some concessions: Naomi, Alex, and Amos had to promise Fred Johnson they would give sworn statements that the OPA was not responsible for the destruction of the Canterbury and the Donnager. Memories of their blood families remain with them (note Alex including the photo of his wife and child on the Rocinante’s dashboard) but as Supernatural teaches us, “family don’t end with blood.”
Frank’s Five Thoughts
1. You Must Gather Your Party Before Venturing Forth
These are the words you hear incessantly in the classic Bioware RPG Baldur’s Gate when you try to leave an area without all the characters in your party. As I have read through the Expanse novels (technically listened to the audiobooks, but it’s still reading!), one major impression that has stuck with me through it all is that we are following the adventures of a party of player characters (PCs) in their space-based roleplaying game. During these 6 episodes, all the bits featuring the crew of the Rocinante neatly fit into the idea of assembling a party of characters. They are all rather arbitrarily thrown together on the Knight to investigate the Scopuli, and then plot circumstances have kept them together up to this point. This is all a typical MO for a GM, though it can seem a little heavy-handed. At the end of this episode, we see the moment when the thrown together crew makes the decision to actually become a crew and stick together for their own reasons. So the party has been gathered and they can now venture forth on their next mission.
2. Hey Guys, We’re on the Same Side! Right?
This week we get a couple of situations where it seems like everyone should be on the same side, but they are all pointing guns or punching each other. When the Rocinante gets to Tycho Station, the crew is still unsure of what sort of reception they are going to receive. Holden decides to play it cautiously and bluff Johnson into thinking he is traveling with a whole platoon of Martian marines. The Butcher of Anderson Station quickly sees through this, and after a tense standoff the crew of the Roci is invited on board and set up on Johnson’s tab.
At the same time on Ceres, Miller is getting the crap kicked out of him by Anderson Dawes’ thugs because he kept nosing around the Julie Mao case. He has made some conclusions that make Dawes believe Miller knows just a little too much, so Miller is dropped into an airlock, but is saved by his coworker Octavia, who he certainly does not appreciate enough. Miller’s encounter with Dawes is enough to push him to report his findings to his chief, hoping to find an ally and protection. This is when he finds out that Dawes pretty much owns Ceres Station and he gets fired.Continued below
Dawes realizes something when he is having his session with Miller – Miller has fallen in love with his imagined Julie Mao. This is an important reveal for the audience because it does a lot to explain Miller’s fascination with this case and the motivation for his actions in the rest of the season.
4. Martians are Jerks
A brief history on Mars in the Expanse. Once upon a time, a bunch of REALLY smart people were sent to Mars to begin terraforming it. Along with them came a bunch of settlers from all around Earth (in the books Alex, our favorite Martian, is described as being of Indian descent but has a major Texan drawl). After a while, these settlers and the REALLY smart people get tired of Earth lording over them, so they declare their independence (which Earth never quite recognizes). All those REALLY smart people mean that Mars has a significant edge over Earth when it comes to brainpower and the nascent Martian nation (planet?) quickly develops a technological edge over the rest of the system. So despite having fewer resources than Earth, they have an edge when it comes to tech. What this all comes down to is that Martians are a group of folks that see themselves still living a hard-scrabble life on the frontiers of Mars, but they also have bigger and better guns – which leads to them having major egos. Hence Martians are jerks (except for our favorite Martian Alex, he’s okay. And Bobbi later on, but you don’t know about her yet).
5. Your Mission, if you Choose to Take it
Finally, the episode dives a little bit into techno-spy thriller territory bit in order to start setting up the end of the season. We get some brief time with Avasarala where she reaches out to an old colleague in the private sector and asks to borrow the spy he has managed to infiltrate on Tycho Station. The colleague refuses, and in her typical fashion, the illustrious Under-Secretary holds his son’s parole hostage. She gets her spy, but burns that bridge quite spectacularly. We get a quick glimpse of this spy near the end showing a cybernetic eye recording Holden and Naomi having a drink.
Holden and the Rocinante crew are also drafted into an intelligence gathering mission. As payment for his incredible largesse, Fred Johnson asks them to find one of his spies that has not reported in. The Rocinante is perfectly poised for this mission, as it is a wildcard on the solar system’s playing board. The ship gets a disguise as a gas freighter and is giving a flight path to the spy’s last known location. This is the mission that brings all the members of the crew together properly and starts setting the scene for the season’s confusion.
– Holden continues his coffee as community thing by bringing everyone a coffee at the end to signify they are a crew now. Amos’ hesitation before finally taking it was nice. (Kate: I know this made Frank smile because Frank’s a tea drinker through and through. I think the nicest thing he’s ever said about coffee is that it’s “foul mud.”)
– This episode slows things down a little, and we get a chance to dig a little deeper into the backgrounds of our characters. We learn that Amos had an unusual and rough childhood and that Alex carries a little chip on his shoulder about not being allowed to fly Martian gunships.
We’ll see you next week for “Windmills!”