We’re all Lost in the Churn in The Expanse: “Windmills”

This week’s episode of The Expanse featured a whole bunch of talking and almost zero action. And yet I think it was one of the most tense episodes they’ve given us yet. We were introduced to some figures from Holden’s past, saw a new side of Avaserala, and finally got to see the crew of the Rocinante working together as a team.

Miller’s storyline is in limbo. He trashes Julie’s apartment looking for clues, when gets word from a contact that a suspicious ship is docked on Areus. He grabs Julie’s necklace, before he leaves, though, so I guess I was wrong and he has actually fallen for her, and it wasn’t just an act for Dawes? Miller literally cashes in all of his chips and bolts off to Aerus, ticking off each bead on the necklace.

The Expanse, Windmills

Avaserala visits Holden’s family. We meet his birth mother, Elise, and the two share a slightly cliched conversation of “You don’t understand my motherly pain!” “No, you don’t understand my motherly pain!” Once they agree that motherhood = pain, they literally sit in front of a fire and cradle mugs of tea while they talk. Both actors sell the crap out of it, though, and it was nice to see a side of Avaserala that isn’t quite so harsh. Of course, it’s all for naught, because over in Holden’s storyline, he’s inadvertently given the UN reason to think he’s a terrorist again, and now they’re going over Avaserala’s head to send in Black Ops. Which sounds very very bad.

So Holden. Tries so hard to do good, and just keeps finding himself in impossible situations. He running this errand for Fred Johnson, and trying to honor the sacrifices of the Martians that smuggled him and his people to safety. But now they’ve been intercepted by a Martian vessel that will assume terrorism if they board them, and they’ve found a stowaway! We know he’s Avaserala’s spy, but obviously they don’t. He cons them by saying hat he’s on the run from Fred Johnson, helps them get out of the Martian-boarding-situation, and then cons Holden once again with a speech about how he isn’t an animal. But all the while he’s taking photos with his space Google glass, and his disappearance is the reason the UN has moved Holden back up their enemies list.

There is also some great stuff with Amos, who has a whole philosophy about “the Churn”—the idea that life is a thing that happens to all of us, that while survival is the only thing that matters to an individual, whether an individual lives or dies doesn’t, ultimately, mean anything. It’s a chilling outlook on life, and adding that to Amos’ revelation about growing up in a red light district last episode, we now have a more complex view of a fascinating character. The only problem is that the “Churn” concept should have been introduced a few episodes ago rather than twice in one 40-minute show. I also love that Amos calls Holden on his do-gooder nature. Holden, seriously man: you need to commit.

This episode of The Expanse is punctuated by three emotional conversations that deal in varying levels of bullshit.

The Expanse, Windmills

The one between Avaserala and Elise is long-ranging, and goes all the way from open hostility to, well, openness. Holden’s mother thinks her son is dead, and that the UN rep has shown up to pry secrets from her. In fact, Avaserala seems to actually want to help. She wants to understand Holden better in order to figure out his next move, because she doesn’t believe he’s guilty. Watching them each try to outwit the other is fantastic, but things really get interesting when each calls the other on it. Avaserala shows a streak of dark humor: when Mrs. Holden asks her when she’s going to cut the bullshit, Avaserala deadpans that she has one line left about the loveliness of Elise’s home. I both enjoyed and bristled at this scene. I liked that we were getting two women from vastly different walks of life, essentially arguing ideals. Elise loves the land, she’s anti-government, and she wanted to build a nature-based utopia. Avaserala is a hardened government schemer. They each pushed their sons, one to become an almost Fisher King figure, tied to his land and his sense of honor; the other into a military career meant to prepare him for government, but instead ended up getting him killed. My frustration is that it came down to Avaserala revealing that her son died in an insurrection for Elise to flip the mom-switch in her brain and go full nurturer. Not that it wouldn’t happen—hell, I’m not a mom but I’d still at least offer someone tea if they started confiding in me about a death. It’s more that I hoped the conversation would go in a more surprising direction. This was a fabulous opportunity to see Holden’s childhood home, though, and to see the communal atmosphere he was raised in. I wish we’d met more of his mothers—this isn’t a life that is shown on US television too often (and when it is it’s usually for shock value) so it would have been cool to spend more time with it. Maybe we’ll get flashbacks?

The other, far weaker conversation was the one between Miller and Octavia. I’m still not sure if they’re exes, or if she just wants a relationship? And this whole thing feels like “otherwise tough woman is repeatedly attracted by unsuitable man” or “noir hero needs a lifeline that only a hot woman can throw him” and either way I don’t like the trope in the first place, and I don’t think it works with these two, in particular. Especially that she seems annoyed by seeing Julie Mao’s necklace because again, I was waiting for that, and then it happened.

The third conversation is the best, because it’s the conversation between Amos and the rest of the world. This character has rapidly gone from being my least favorite to my… uh, he’s OK I guess? I’m certainly not saying he’s the best ever, or anything, show. First in his confrontation with the stowaway from Tycho Station, and later with Holden, he showed that he has an utterly fatalistic, rational worldview that is fucking terrifying when he says it while softly blinking his giant friendly-deer eyes. Later, when he’s waiting for the potential Martian boarding team, and Holden has a gun trained on his head, his chill remains untouched. He tells Holden where to shoot him, and advises him to take the shot if he needs to. I was worried that we were going to get a confrontation later, but Amos seems to understand that Holden had to aim that gun on him, the same way he had to be ready to defend Roci if the Martian came on board. Holden, of course, thinks it’s monstrous, but I think it’s a fascinating dynamic.

The Expanse, Windmills

Finally, all the conversations with Kenzo the Spy were hilarious, because he’s trying to do the typical fast-talking con man thing, and it just isn’t working for him. We see that he’s completely capable of re-engineering the door commands when he has to, as well as knowing about the secret Martian codes that will get them out of being boarded. He also figures out that he needs to turn Holden on Amos, and that the way to crack Holden is to go for what appears to be heartfelt earnestness.

I also loved the reveal of the Holden family’s enormous, Biblical copy of Don Quixote, and Elise’s aside that she never told Holden the story was a tragedy. I could see that some viewers might consider this too on-the-nose, but it worked for me. I like the idea that the misinterpretation of a difficult novel is at the heart of The Expanse‘s story. I’m also always interested in the way far future stories treat current culture. Why has Don Quixote survived through the centuries? What in that story is meaningful to space travelers? In-depth literary discussions are the best action sequences.

So what did everyone think? Does everyone love Amos as much as I do? Is Alex’s accent OK or off-putting? How is Miller going to crack this case without a weekly paycheck? So many questions!

Leah Schnelbach loves Don Quixote, but how cool would it be if, like, a Jackie Collins novel or something was the big cultural text of the future? Come tilt at Twitter with her!

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