Honesty Pays and Conspiracy Comes to Light in The Expanse: “Rock Bottom”

Well, it had to happen eventually. We finally had the first fairly clunky episode of The Expanse. There were still a lot of good moments, though! Plus, we got to see the true birth of the Rocinante, and the show once again took a moment to show us another perspective on the plight of the Belters.

First to get the clunkiness out of the way: there was simply too much expository dialogue in this episode, and too many scenes where important backstory is told to another character, and thus the audience, rather than being shown. Now, on Game of Thrones this is usually handled by having naked women cavort across the screen to make the exposition almost subliminal, but here you pretty much just have to sit there and listen. (Maybe they could have some sexy ship refueling scenes in the future? Something?) However, when the show focused on the present, and allowed their characters to go into new emotional territory, it kicked into a higher gear. Holden’s people particularly shone this week, with Amos giving us a glimpse of his past, and Naomi finally allowing herself to soften up for a nanosecond.

Once again I’ll pull each thread apart to look at each one. We finally check in with Earth, but only for two brief scenes of Avaserala bullying negotiating with another Earther. She wants a spy at Tycho station to keep an eye on Fred Johnson. She believes he’s building a massive ship. We see again that she’s ruthless, as she brings her informant’s brother’s prison sentence into play almost immediately.

The Expanse Anderson Dawes

Miller spent this episode getting beaten up in various ways. He quickly learns that Dawes is behind his kidnapping—the man seems a little annoyed that Miller rejected his bribe. The goons search him, Dawes beats him up, and it suddenly dawns on him that Miller has fallen in love with Julie Mao. The beating stops, and the two men sit across from each other to talk.

Miller: She put herself in your hands cause she couldn’t see the blood on ‘em. Just like your sister. Wasn’t she 15 when you let her die on the belt?

Dawes: My sister Athena was touched by the hand of God. The most beautiful child in all the belt. But her bones were like chalk from living in zero gravity. When she became to ill even to travel… I had three other sisters to think about. Our family was starving.

Miller: So you killed her.

Dawes waves Miller’s easy morality away, asking if he’s ever cried so hard that the tears turn to blood. Then he says that his sister’s death made him realize that all Belters were his brothers and sisters, and he began working to gain their freedom. Miller seems to crack. “Just tell me the truth about Julie. Tell me she’s alive.” Dawes replies that if she was here, “she’d spit in your face. A Belter who betrayed his own kind.” He gets up and leaves, ordering that Miller die as he lived. I assumed that meant the goons were supposed to take him to a bar and feed him shot until his liver gave up, but no. The next we see, he’s being thrown into an airlock to be choked. This gives us an interesting mirror of the first episode, when Miller’s only truly noble act was to choke a slumlord who’s carelessness caused an oxygen deficiency in his sector. For a second I thought we were going full Game of Thrones, and a main character was about to die onscreen, but then Olivia showed up and shot the two goons. Miller wasn’t in the clear yet, though: he retrieves Julie Mao’s chip from his hat brim (the goons’ search was not that thorough), shows it to his chief, traces a conspiracy all the way to the top, and promptly gets fired by the chief, who is in Dawes’ pocket. So was Havelock’s near-murder a diversion? Are the cops all OPA, or just the chief?

The conspiracy seems pretty compelling. People have created some sort of bio-weapon at Phoebe Station, the OPA crewed up a big ship to go get it, which obviously went wrong, and now someone very powerful is trying to cover up all evidence. Of course, in grand noir tradition, the only person who knows the truth is a boozy fuck-up detective whom no one will ever believe. So that should go well.

The Expanse Nephew

Building on the Anderson Station Massacre from last week, this week we meet the tiny crew of the Scipio, and uncle and nephew who mine rocks by netting asteroids and exploding them into smaller chunks. They’re boarded by Martians, harassed for a few minor bureaucratic infractions, and finally ordered to fly around a Restricted Zone, which will almost guarantee that they run out of water before they make it home. The uncle snaps, chuck his nephew out into the void of space, and (I think?) flies after the Martians with then intent of crashing into their ship. Once again we see the larger system: the Inner Planet bureaucrats crushing the spirits of Belters, and Belters finally snapping from the pressure. I really hope the show keeps taking the time to give us these little pebbles of oppression and resistance—it puts everything else in perspective. Oh, and confession time: my worst irrational fear is of floating off alone into space (yes, seeing Gravity and The Martian were nightmares come to cinematic life, thank you for asking) so the fact that we’ve now had two episodes in a row where that happens to someone is really doing a number on your humble recapper. But in both cases, they were among the best elements of their respective episodes. It’s such an elegant, terrifying way to encapsulate The Expanse‘s larger theme of the need for community in the face of the harsh neutrality of space. But it still makes my skin crawl.

The Expanse Fred Johnson

Finally, in what I thought was the strongest thread this week, the crew of Rocinante finally came together as a team. I thought the dialogue between Holden and Fred Johnson was the weakest part, which is unfortunate because I like both of these actors—I think the dialogue was simply too expository and almost devolved into “’You’re out of order!’ ‘No, you’re out of order!’”-style histrionics. But it quickly rights itself, and Holden negotiates with Johnson to go off to investigate the Scopuli, and pick up the things Johnson needs for his own mission, in exchange for his people’s safety on Tycho. “You and I both want the same thing: to do right by our people. Let me do this.” Johnson also agrees to give Lopez’ body back to the Martians, with Holden emphasizing that he gave his life so they could escape, but Johnson does take the time to remove some sort of chip from Lopez’ suit….but we don’t have time to dwell on that because Holden has confessed. Now the last crew of the Canterbury know that it was Holden, their would-be leader, who logged the distress call that led to disaster. And Naomi does the honorable thing and tells Amos and Alex she knew. Now one secret is out in the open, how many more are left to uncover? Amos and Alex storm off, furious and hurt. This allows us to see the crew in a different configuration than before, and leads to new depth.

The scene between Amos and Alex, where we learn that Amos grew up in a space red light district, was fantastic. How great was it to see Amos looking out for a prostitute, and scanning the room for signs of trouble? And we got another hint of Alex’s backstory, and his motivation: “Flying the Rocinante back there—that’s just about the best feeling I’ve ever had.” But best of all was Holden and Naomi bonding over shots, and drinking to the memory of those who have helped them, including Shed the Medic: “Wherever you are, I hope no one there needs medical attention” and to “those brave crazy bastards who got us off the Donager.” Nomi asks why Holden came back for them, and assures him that she would not have done the same. Then we see that someone at the bar is recording them, and has sent information of Holden’s whereabouts out, but to whom? Who will be chasing the Rocinante next?

Despite some clunkiness, the themes of the show were quite strong. The events on the Scipio act as a handy echo of Dawes’ heartbreaking decision to murder one sister so the other might live. Holden’s innate goodness comes through, and is appreciated by his people, as everyone realizes that he’s the one who logged the initial distress signal (which was technically the right thing to do) and also that he came back for them during the battle on the Martian ship, and that he tried to trade his own labor for their safety on Tycho. I was really pleased to see the crew come together and accept him—it was one of the few heartwarming moments on this show so far.

This to me is the key strength of the show. No matter how cynical the politics gets, and how brutal some of the violence is, the show is shot through with people who are trying to do the right thing. And even better, sometimes doing the right thing turns out to end in tragedy. Holden, having caused the destruction of the Canterbury and the deaths of thousands of people, is now trying to navigate this new universe as well as he can, keeping to some kind of moral throughline even though it might mean his own death. Miller, when he talks about his first time killing someone on the job, focuses on the fact that it wasn’t the murder that still haunts him, but the fact that the perp’s young daughter witnessed the death. The captain of the Scipio, deciding in his rage to lash out, throws his nephew out into space to keep him clear of the violence.

However, none of these moments were my favorite. That was when Naomi took the time to apologize to Amos, and Holden walked through the Roci passing out cups of freshly-brewed space coffee to his newly unified crew. When Amos accepts his cup, I got the sense that Holden has been forgiven and accepted, and now he and his people can start off fresh on an adventure.

Leah Schnelbach would seriously like a break from all the “floating endlessly through the void” moments, show. Come float endlessly through the void of Twitter with her!


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