You Can’t Avoid Emotional Shrapnel in The Expanse: “Remember the Cant”

The Expanse‘s third episode, “Remember the Cant” might be the best so far. It pulls off a great balancing act between its three very different threads. If it can do this every week we’ll be in for a great, taut series. When we rejoin the narrative, we see immediately that Holden’s message got out, because its blasting out from every video wall in Ceres. For a second this seems like a solid Yayyy!!!!, but on a show like this nothing is that simple. The next hour follows the shrapnel that the Cant’s sabotage has shot through each of the show’s threads.

On Ceres, Detective Miller continues his hunt for Julie Mao, this time against a backdrop of escalating tension and rioting. The Belters are eager to blame Mars for the Cant’s destruction, and are throwing the rallying cry, “Remember the Cant” at every situation, from water rationing to curfews. Since the Cant never made it back with the much-needed ice shipment, water’s even scarcer than normal now, and there’s no relief in sight. In the midst of this, Miller goes full noir, and it’s beautiful. He leaves the burgeoning riot to go sit in an apartment—I think Mao’s—to continue looking for clues on her disappearance. We get to watch him think, swiping those kinda silly Stark Tech screens around, muttering to himself… but he’s choosing to do this quietly, drink in hand, while listening to jazz. Miller, the hard ass with a soft spot for kids, also has a soft spot for music, quiet, culture—all the things he couldn’t have as a kid. He’s begun to associate this with Mao, and begun, I think, to think his way into her world. He seems as emotional as we’ve seen him when he thinks the case might be over, and it’s clear that he’s going to keep looking for her no matter what his superiors want.

It’s interesting to see how quickly “Remember the Cant” becomes iconic to the Belters. If you want to be cynical, this is a group of people who are taking the inconvenience of a destroyed water shipment and turning it into a political platform. But at the same time, the show has done a great job of showing us how desperate the Belters are, and just how used they feel by the other planets. Even when the phrase is used to justify a horrific act later on in the episode, it’s obvious that the Belters have found the fulcrum they need to push back at their oppressors.

AvaandDeGraaf

On Earth, Avasarala takes a giant chance to protect her home, and throws one of her oldest friends under the spacebus. Franklin Degraaf, Ambassador to Mars, used to play cards with her father, and has known Avasarala since she was a child. When she invites him for lunch, she waits until the husbands are safely off playing cricket on the lawn, and then drops her bombshell: Earth blames Mars for the Cant, and System-wide war is imminent. Degraaf, who may be the most genuinely nice character we’ve met so far, alerts Mars to try to stave off war, and of course when that leads to Earth learning about a couple of extra super secret Martian weapons caches, Degraaf isn’t just stripped of his diplomatic credentials, he’s banned from Mars. He and his husband have to sell their home there, and forget their dreams of retirement to the Red Planet. In what may be the most purely sad moment we’ve seen, he reminisces about playing cards games with her father, and specifically remembers the first time she played against them. Her determination to win led her to change the rules of the game, and while modern Avasarala looks proud of her younger self, Degraaf snaps the lid down on these happy memories. “I knew then that you’d do anything to win. And I can’t play with you anymore.” This could have been an unbearably cheesy line. Instead, actor Kenneth Welsh sells it as an older person telling a younger person to cut the shit. Since we’ve only seen Avasarala either (A) competent or (B) freaking terrifying, this is a startling moment. He tells her in no uncertain terms that their friendship is over, and drives home the point that her actions have exiled him from his chosen home: “You know what I love about Mars? They still dream. We gave up.”

Finally, the remaining crew of the Cant, the origin site for all this drama and misinformation, has just been taken aboard a Martian ship. And if last night’s episode was about layers being peeled back the theme came through strongest here. The five crewmembers are put in cells, where, naturally Amos taunts them, and Shed the Medic tries to placate them. “I dated a Martian once. She was beautiful and smart. I love how industrious the Martians are.”

Naomi

We see Holden and Naomi’s interrogations, and we learn as much about the Martians as we do the prisoners. The prisoners aren’t shackled in any way, simply told to keep their hands visible. They aren’t hurt or even threatened. It’s much cooler than that. The Martian takes a pill and starts asking questions. In a lesser show, the Martian would hold the pill up and say something expository, like, “See this? This is gonna tell me everything I need to know about you, Belter scum!” But just as the Belter patois is presented without comment, here he takes it and the camera zooms in on his pupils which dilate for a moment. Then he asks questions, and watches his prisoners as they fidget and twitch. It’s clear that the pill enhances the Martians senses enough that he can read Holden and Naomi’s various tells. Like they were playing cards, for instance, in a nice mirror to Avasarala’s thread. And so we learn another tiny thing about the Martians. They’re not going to torture or threaten their captives, they’re just going to watch them closely and let them torture themselves.

Naturally it works. As soon as the former Cants are all back in a holding pen they begin attacking each other. It turns out Alex flew with the Martians for twenty years, but neglected to tell any of his crewmates that. Shed isn’t a medic, he’s on the run from a drug dealer who wanted to kill him—but since he panicked and told the Martians everything, he doesn’t have anything left to hide. Holden is beginning to believe that Naomi is OPA, as the Martians keep saying. Amos is ready to rip the head off anyone who accuses her. Meanwhile, she keeps turning the Martian’s questions back on Holden. What was up with his dishonorable discharge? What do any of them really know about him? The scene ends with Alex in a headlock, Naomi screaming at Holden, and Holden telling the Captain that he’s willing to talk.

See? No torture required. Hell, maybe the pills don’t actually do anything, and they’re just for show.

The episode cuts back to Ceres for one final shock: Havelock—who has been going to a prostitute for private Belter lessons (literally, that’s not a euphemism – he’s learning patois from the prostitute we met in the first episode, so he can be a better cop) and who has rapidly become a favorite of mine—is attacked by an OPA gang. He ends up pinned like a low-gravity butterfly to one of the walls of the Medina. Apparently I’ve learned nothing from Game of Thrones, and forgot never to have a favorite character… “Remember the Cant” his murderer says, even though there is no one there to hear it.

We’re left with the Canterbury‘s legacy: a water shortage, violence in the streets of Ceres, and brinkmanship from Earth and Mars. Avasarala has once again made a hard choice to preserve Earth’s safety, a much more intimate choice that the condemnation of a terrorist last week, and she has paid for it. Miller’s obsessive pursuit of Juliet Mao may have cost his partner his life. Would they have been attacked if they were patrolling together? Or is finding the connection between Mao and the Cant more important than one man’s life in the long run? And the Cant’s remaining crew is already tearing itself apart. We know that Holden’s message was rash, short-sighted, and is rippling across the solar system in ways he can’t imagine. But he sees himself as a last line of defense for his crew. Can he be both?

Leah Schnelbach kind of wants an entire episode set in the Medina. It’s so cool! At least, when it’s not in the middle or a riot… Come tell her your Expansive thoughts on Twitter!

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