In Space, No One Can Hear You Abuse Refugees. The Expanse: “Pyre”

If last week’s episode of The Expanse was all about how “important” people deal with the aftermath of trauma, this week’s was all about trauma on the ground. We get to see the Ganymede refugee crisis from a different angle, as well as the Belters’ perspective on Fred Johnson’s rule of Tycho Station.

We don’t go to Earth or Mars this time, but remain in the Belt for the whole heartbreaking episode. I’ve recapped the highlights below—join me, won’t you?

Remember last week, when the tragedy of Ganymede was made into a political football by Earth and Mars, and Bobbie Draper’s testimony was demanded? And how, out in the Belt, we saw scenes of Tycho Station welcoming refugees, with Alex even taking the time to perform magic tricks for the kids?

This week we get the refugees’ side, and it’s horrific. A group from Ganymede is packed into a cargo ship, huddled together on a bare floor. A botanist named Praxideke Meng wakes up from an induced coma. He was dreaming of his daughter, Mei, and he begins calling for her as he wakes up. His one friend on the ship, another scientist named Doris, has to tell him that she didn’t make it. Mei was at a doctor’s appointment across the station, and that section was completely destroyed—no survivors. He is lost and in agony. He opens a small glowing thermos, but quickly hides it again before anyone else can see what he has.

refugees

Each time we cut back to the refugees their status is more tenuous. There’s no money in transporting them, so the Belters resent having them on the ship. There are few supplies, but when squabbles break out the guard just kicks at whoever’s making noise until they submit. There is no help, no safety net, no comfort. No one cares that people have lost loved ones. It’s a terrible limbo.

And then it gets worse, far worse. The refugees are told that a ship has come to transport the “Inners” back to Earth and Mars. Doris tells Meng that he can come with her to Mars—they’re looking for botanists, so there will be work, and she can help him as he deals with his grief. For a moment there is hope. But the same guard stops Meng at the door to the airlock. Only Inners are allowed through, no Belters. He was born and raised on Ganymede. She’s pushed through the door and it closes in front of him. He calls that he’ll join her later, after he’s been processed at Tycho.

They cut the gravity so the Inners can float over to the other ship, and for a moment Meng and Doris float on their respective sides of the door, giddy with weightlessness despite everything. It’s a lovely, quiet moment.

doris

And then the airlock opens and they’re all spaced.

The camera shows us Meng’s shock and horror as he realizes what’s happening, but then it follows Doris out into the void as her air runs out.

expansespaced

The guard tells him he’s a lucky Belter and leads him back into the holding pen. So the show runs us through the horror of being stopped at a border and separated from family and friends, only to top it with the ultimate horror of being at the mercy of an indifferent or hostile force.

The refugees have no recourse, no justice, no planet, no country to advocate for their rights. They’re not truly people, as far as their captors are concerned, and they’re treated as objects.

This is complicated further when Meng finally gets to Tycho. He tries to report the crime but since he was knocked out when they brought him onboard, he doesn’t have the ship’s name. He (obviously) didn’t ask the guard for any ID after he watched the man murder an airlock full of people. He has lost everything, and rather than being allowed to grieve his daughter in dignity and peace, cannot even bring his friend justice. Alex hands him a comm device and pats him on the shoulder in welcome, but this is an empty gesture. It means nothing to Meng.

I thought this was all brilliant. A perfect way to talk about the plight of a refugee in a foreign, uncaring land. I’m of two minds about the resolution of this arc. For a few minutes, I hoped that that was it. Tycho has set up a memorial wall for the people of Ganymede, and we see Meng add Mei’s picture.

Mei

 

She is part of the wall:

expansememorialwall

 

And his mourning process is able to begin.

expansegrief

And part of me hoped that the show would leave us here, with this moment. But this is sci-fi, and of course there’s a larger plot to unfold. It turns out that Meng is connected with Dr. Strickland… who is also connected to the protomolecule… which has just been traced to—you guessed it—Ganymede. And when Meng checks a security feed he sees that Strickland left his office with Mei.

Mei might still be alive.

So now Meng is going to be at least a semi-regular as he joins the Roci crew to search for his daughter, and the Roci crew is no longer welcome at Tycho, because Fred Johnson is taking their search for more proto-molecule on Ganymede as a personal affront.

The other plot threads are good, but somewhat less compelling. Something’s happened to Amos, whether he went through some sort of mind-altering procedure, or if he’s just had a mental break of some sort we don’t know, but he once again almost kills Alex.

More disturbingly, a coup builds up and nearly overthrows Fred Johnson. This is tense enough, but it comes as a culmination of so many tensions that the coup actually works as character development. The Belters have begun questioning Fred Johnson’s authority; Dawes has riled many of them up; Dawes’ own hunger for power is framed as being a “true” Belter, where Fred Johnson is an Earther, and thinks like an Earther. Finally, Fred Johnson’s second-in-command, Drummer, has to actively choose Johnson over Dawes. She tries to stop the coup when the insurrectionists burst into the command room. She refuses to give them the codes so they can take control of Tycho’s nukes, and then she takes a bullet when they don’t want to take no for an answer. After a lot of build-up, this episode shows the true steel core that makes her stand up to them, and it’s fantastic.

Best of all? After the Roci crew saves the day, Alex bandages Drummer’s gunshot wound and starts helping her to the medic. She pushes away from him, grabs his gun, and calmly shoots the insurrectionists without even breaking stride, then walks to the medic under her own power.

That’s character development.

drummer

Random Thoughts Floating the in Void of Space

  • OK, show. I like you. I like you a lot. But we’ve had the conversation about how much I hate watching people get spaced, and then you give me a goddamn five-minute long BALLET of people getting spaced.
  • Can I take another moment to talk about how much I loved Drummer? Her whole arc, that feint the show pulled where it seemed like maybe she had turned on Fred Johnson, all to culminate in her capping those two idiots at the end.
  • I appreciated that this week the show stuck with the view from the Belt, rather than hopping all over the system.
  • I was hoping that Miller wouldn’t be replaced quite so soon, but I do like Meng already.
  • What the hell, Amos?
  • Ugh.

soybean

  • And finally, my favorite moment from this week: How great was the reveal of Meng’s soybean?

So what did everyone think? Why is it always the nice people who get spaced?

Leah Schnelbach may never forgive this show, yet she is still compelled to watch. Come talk to her on Twitter!

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