Depending on which episode guide you look at, this week’s episode of ‘The Expanse’ is either titled ‘Retrofit’ or ‘Rock Bottom’. Either apply, but unfortunately that indecisiveness extends to some of the episode’s plotting, which goes off on weird tangents that don’t entirely pay off (at least, not yet).
Very little happens on Earth this week, so we’ll just get that part out of the way first. Chrisjen meets with a former colleague named Carlos, who used to work in intelligence but has now moved to the private sector. She knows that he has a corporate spy on Tycho Station and asks to borrow him to collect intel for her. Carlos resists, but she has leverage over him involving a son in jail she can get an early release for.
Later, Chrisjen meets with Sadavir (her boss), who’s wary of this plan but eventually signs off on it. What’s notable here is that we learn that Chrisjen had a son who was killed by the OPA. That helps to explain some of her distrust of the organization.
The newly-christened ship Rocinante docks at Tycho. Holden and Amos exit first and make their introductions to Fred Johnson, who quickly calls Holden’s bluff about having a platoon of Martian soldiers on board. He knows exactly who Holden is (since he’s been all over the news) and calls him “the luckiest dipshit in the solar system.”
Johnson wants Holden to testify to the U.N. Security Council that the OPA had nothing to do with the attacks on either the Canterbury or the Donnager. Holden has no interest in doing that. This leads to a short-lived armed standoff between the two parties that I fail to see the point of and results in nothing except both sides standing down anyway.
Johnson informs Holden that the Scopuli (the vessel that set off this chain of events) was one of his ships working on an OPA recon mission. He says there’s still a lone survivor (he identifies with the codename “Lionel Polanski” but must be Julie Mao) on board the ship, and he needs to commandeer the Rocinante to go rescue him/her. Apparently, none of his other ships have the right weapons or are fast enough or something. The whole reason for offering Holden sanctuary was to get his hands on the ship. Holden agrees on the condition that he can go on this rescue mission. He’ll take a team of Johnson’s men and leave the rest of his own crew behind for the purposes of testifying to the U.N. After all, they saw everything he saw.
Johnson works on retrofitting the Rocinante to look like a gas freighter so that it can slip through Martian space without rousing suspicion. In the meantime, the Roci crew has some down time. As explanation for why he’d want to go back to the Scopuli, Holden confesses to his crew about logging the distress call. He feels responsible for getting them into this mess and needs to see it through.
Everybody goes drinking at a bar on the station. Alex and Amos bond a little over drinks. (Am I reading the implication right that Amos used to be a sex worker??) Holden is spotted at the bar by the corporate spy, who gets video of him being there using a fancy camera built into a contact lens.
Holden tells Johnson about Lt. Lopez’s body in storage on the Rocinante. Johnson promises to return it to Mars for a proper funeral. However, he gets to the body as soon as possible and pulls a data card out of Lopez’s uniform.
As Holden boards the Rocinante for his mission, he finds Naomi and Alex waiting for him. Amos is outside painting a bombshell pin-up on the hull, but he’ll be in shortly. They struck a deal with Johnson and gave him recorded statements of their testimony. (If that’s all he needed, what was all the fuss about?)
The last we saw Miller, he was grabbed by some assailants after leaving the dead data broker’s hideout. The thugs work for Anderson Dawes (Jared Harris), who spends most of the episode interrogating Miller and trying to beat some answers out of him. He wants to know what Miller found at the data broker’s and what he knows about Julie Mao. Miller is evasive but worries that Dawes will find the data card hidden in the band of his hat. Fortunately, for as much as Dawes plays with the hat, he doesn’t search it.
Dawes thinks that Miller is in love with Julie Mao, and taunts him that he’s everything she hates. In the midst of their conversations, Dawes tells a disturbing story about leaving his sickly sister to die for the greater good of the rest of his family. Hard decisions like that have informed his world view.
Eventually, Dawes tires of Miller and comes to the conclusion that he won’t get anything else out of him. He orders his thugs to eject Miller out of one of the station’s airlocks. They drag him to one and toss him in, but fortunately Octavia turns up at just the right moment to rescue him. (How did she know where he’d be or that he was in trouble?) She has to shoot both the thugs. This was her first time killing other human beings, and it leaves her sickened afterwards. He consoles her with a story about how he felt after his first kill. Then he plays the data card.
Miller brings the card to his boss, Capt. Shaddid, and fills her in on everything he’s learned. He lays out a vast conspiracy theory about how he believes a bio-weapon of some sort was stolen from a research facility called Phoebe Station (we’ve heard that mentioned a few times before) and Julie Mao stumbled across it. Shaddid takes the card from him, puts it in a safe, and tells Miller he’s fired. As security guards haul him out, Miller acuses Shaddid of being in Dawes’ pocket.
The most frustrating storyline in the episode seems like a total non sequitur to everything else going on. Out in the asteroid belt, a small scavenger vessel captures a rock that housed an abandoned mine. The ship is crewed by only two people, and old drunk named Matteo and his nephew Diogo. I didn’t catch this at all while watching the episode, but apparently Diogo was the punk that Miller caught stealing water in previous episode. Is that somehow important?
In a really weird moment, Matteo is doing an EVA when he gets annoyed by something inside his space helmet, so he opens the visor and pulls the thing out, then closes the visor again. This happens in the void of space, mind you. My first instinct here was to cry that this is bullshit, but I looked it up, and it turns out that a human can indeed survive for up to 30 seconds in a vacuum so long as you exhale all the air out of your lungs first. Still, what was the point of showing this? It’s a bizarre distraction that only served to take me out of the scene.
The scavengers are approached by an MCRN border patrol vessel called the Scipio Africanus and boarded by two fat, lazy, corrupt cop stereotype stock characters. The cops roust them and give them an exorbitant fine and, just to really be dicks, tell them that they can’t return back through Martian space. Matteo protests that they don’t have enough fuel or air to go the long way around and this is surely a death sentence, but the cops don’t give a crap.
A little later, Matteo gets really drunk and tosses Diogo into an airlock with a spacesuit, then ejects him out into space. Diogo totally freaks out and begs his uncle to let him back in. Instead, Matteo tells Diogo that somebody will come along to pick him up eventually. Muttering something about how “A man must stand up,” Matteo then races on a suicide mission in the direction of the Scipio Africanus and unleashes his cargo of rocks at the ship. Diogo sees an explosion, which I suppose is meant to suggest that the Martians turned around and blew Matteo up.
I simply don’t buy into the storyline about how Fred Johnson lets Holden and his crew take the Rocinante on the rescue mission for Julie Mao without any of his own people on board. Why would he do that and how does that serve his purposes? They’re more valuable to him on board Tycho, and he really ought to send people who know what’s going on out to rescue Julie. Letting the team stay together seems like a really lazy narrative excuse to make them into a band of space-faring rogues having adventures through the solar system, a la ‘Firefly’. I realize that we’re only six episodes in, but I expected something more complex than that from this show.
I also don’t understand the purpose of the Matteo/Diogo storyline. Why should we care about these characters or what happens to them? If Diogo really does get saved by some random spaceship that just happens to be passing by in his area, that will be an incredibly lame copout. How much air could his spacesuit possibly hold? He’s not even wearing a life support backback. He should be dead in ten minutes. And frankly, good riddance, because he’s annoying.