Following two fairly disappointing episodes, ‘The Expanse’ came back this week with a much stronger entry. Considering that we only have a few more episodes left in the season, I hope the show can keep up the momentum.
That seemingly-pointless storyline last week about the drunken asteroid miner has a tiny amount of payoff this week, in that his attack on the Martian Navy ship has resulted in increased patrols through the area. This is bad news for the crew of the disguised Rocinante, who were hoping to slip through Martian territory without rousing any suspicion. The problem is further compounded when Naomi detects a mysterious radio transmission coming from their ship’s own hull, which will only serve to bring Martian attention their way.
Suspecting that Fred Johnson may have placed a secret transmitter on board the ship to keep tabs on them, Amos goes to check it out. Instead, he finds a stowaway. It’s Kenzo, the corporate spy from Tycho Station. He admits to being a corporate spy, and says that he hitched a ride because things were getting too hot for him on Tycho and he needed to get out of there before Johnson caught him. (He conveniently leaves out the part about working for the U.N.) He claims that the signal he transmitted was a message to friends to pick him up at Eros Station, which is technically where the Rocinante’s flight plan says they’re heading. Holden and the others are inclined to distrust anything he says, and lock him in an airlock for safe keeping until they figure out what to do with him. Amos makes no bones about telling him that they’ll most likely eject him into space.
As feared, a Martian Navy vessel flags the Rocinante for inspection and sends a shuttle with a boarding party. Kenzo begs to be let out of the airlock and insists that he can help. He warns Holden that as soon as the Martians set foot inside the ship, they’ll recognize the interior as one of their own vessels, but says he knows a way to convince them to turn around before boarding. After much pleading, Holden agrees to let him come back to the bridge.
Kenzo’s plan is this: Rather than continue pretending to be a simple gas freighter, the crew should pretend to be a Martian black ops unit pretending to be a simple gas freighter. Apparently, Martians send undercover vessels like that all through the system. Each ship has a code book that contains a secret pass phrase that will identify it to other Martian ships. This jibes with something Alex remembers about his time as a Martian Navy pilot. During one mission, his ship was set to board another vessel until hearing the phrase “donkey balls,” at which point his captain immediately backed off without explanation.
Holden and crew search the bridge until they find a locked safe that must contain the code book. As the Martian shuttle approaches, they race against time to break into the safe while Alex jabbers on the comms to stall the boarding party with friendly patter.
Expecting that plan to fail, Amos grabs a rifle and heads down to the airlock for a “Plan B,” which will be to shoot the hell out of any Martians who try to board. Holden says that’s a terrible idea that will only get them all killed and orders him to stand down, but Amos doesn’t recognize his authority to make him do anything.
Finally, just as the Martians are on the verge of entering the ship, Naomi gets the safe open and gives Alex the code book. The pass phrase contains three words: “ubiquitous,” “mendacious” and “polyglottal.” Alex struggles for a moment to figure out how to work those words into a sentence, but then just blurts them out. He throws in a “donkey balls” too for good measure. After pausing for a beat, the Martians withdraw.
As the Rocinante continues on its way, Holden tells Naomi that she needs to figure out a way to get Amos under control.
Fired from his job, Miller sinks into a drunken depression. He records a video message to Julie Mao’s father telling him that the powers-that-be don’t want his daughter found, but then decides that he’s not quite done with the case after all. He heads to the station’s docks and confronts Anderson Dawes, the man who’d just tried to have him killed. Dawes tells him not to take things like that too personally.
Miller breaks back into Julie Mao’s apartment one more time. He puts some more pieces of the puzzle together regarding a ship called the Anubis which was last seen at Eros Station. He makes up his mind to go to Eros and see this thing through. On his way out the door, he leaves his trademark hat in the apartment. That part of his life is done.
Octavia finds Miller and wants to go with him, but he convinces her to stay behind. At episode’s end, Miller is seen riding dirty public transportation to Eros.
Wearing a fabulous winter coat with a bit of a Red Riding Hood vibe going on, Chrisjen Avasarala walks through the Montana snow toward a farmhouse in the distance. An armed gunship hovers ominously behind her, and a voice on the radio warns her that this is a bad idea. What could be in this farmhouse?
Chrisjen continues on until reaching the farmhouse door, and is greeted by a skeptical woman (Frances Fisher). She looks normal enough, even harmless. Chrisjen introduces herself, and the woman asks what she wants. Chrisjen says that she has come to learn about the woman’s son, Jim Holden.
Chrisjen and Mrs. Holden develop an immediate animosity. It seems that Jim was raised in a “family co-op” with multiple parents, but this is the woman who carried him and considers herself his true mother. She’s been told that her son is dead and distrusts the government. (Her “farming collective” appears to be some sort of radical anti-government group to start with – hence the nervous gunship.) She wants to cut through the pleasantries and bullshit and get Chrisjen out of her house as soon as possible.
Nonetheless, Chrisjen persists in asking the woman questions about her son. As she leaves afterwards, Chrisjen radios her superior, Undersecretary Sadavir Errinwright, to tell him she’s satisfied that Holden is not a terrorist. Despite this, Errinwright informs her that he’s decided to err on the side of caution and has already authorized a black ops team to take Holden out. I expect that Kenzo the spy is part of that plan.
I’ve read some fan reaction that expressed disappointment in this episode for “spinning its wheels” and using the storyline on board the Rocinante to fill time during the crew’s long travel between Tycho and Eros. I didn’t feel that way about it at all. I actually found those scenes pretty suspenseful, and I think this episode has some really interesting character work all around. For me, this was a big improvement from the last couple episodes and I’m eager to see what happens when the plot threads converge on Eros.