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Tragedy abounds on a violent The Expanse

“As long as we’re livin’ and breathin’, there’s more we can do.”

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The Expanse

"Pyre"

Season 2 , Episode 8

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What the hell is going on with Amos? There’s a story there that we don’t have all the pieces of; something to do with his parents, and a woman named Lydia Maalouf. With Miller gone, Amos is arguably the most interesting member of the Rocinante’s crew. He’s unpredictable, and his sudden swerves of intention reveal something boiling underneath the surface—a temper that’s motivated by some distant betrayal or tragedy. Sometimes I wonder if someone messed with his brain ala Dr. Cortazar. Amos isn’t nearly as detached as the empath-free scientist, but he’s moving to a different rhythm than everyone else. That makes him useful when he agrees with you, and dangerous when he doesn’t.

“Pyre” doesn’t give us any concrete answers on what’s driving him, but it does give us more evidence that something’s wrong. Ever since that kid stared at him like he was a monster last week, Amos has been spiraling towards… something. Tonight, he refuses to help Alex with the latest influx of Ganymede refugees, and then nearly beats the shit out of the pilot when the guy accuses him of being selfish. There’s a secret here, and it definitely has something to do with Lydia (who we briefly see him looking up on the ship’s computers), but we don’t know much more than that, unless I missed something.

The hour introduces one other secret as well, and this one will probably be more painful for everyone involved. We meet a new character, Dr. Praxideke Meng, a botanist from Ganymede who barely escaped with his life when the station fell. At first, his story seems like just another of the show’s occasional footnotes, a way to humanize the tragedy at Ganymede by showing the cost. He wakes up confused and injured on a refugee ship, and the only friend he meets gets jettisoned out an airlock by a vengeful Belter. (The friend was Martian, and the Belter, presumably the captain of the ship, blames Mars for the attack, killing all the Martians on his ship by way of revenge.)

Once Meng arrives on Tycho, though, it becomes evident that he’s more a part of this than it initially appeared. After some digging, Naomi and Drummer learn that the signal Dr. Cortazar was tracking is from Ganymede (and not, as I think we were supposed to assume, the torpedo Naomi still hasn’t destroyed). Holden and Naomi find the name of a Protogen employee who was working on the station: Dr. Lawrence Strickland. It turns out Dr. Strickland was Meng’s daughter Mei’s pediatrician. And Strickland took Mei away just an hour before the attack.

So now Holden is determined to take the Rocinante to Ganymede, and Dr. Meng is determined to go with them, on the chance that his daughter might still be alive. (Given that Strickland was possibly working with the protomolecule, there are a lot of truly horribly possibilities to contemplate here.) But before that happens, Fred Johnson has to deal with some Belter shenanigans, in a nifty one-off plot that helps fill out the episode while also driving Fred to make some harsh decisions in regards to our heroes.

The Expanse has gotten very good at television storytelling, and one of its strengths is a solid understanding of the best ways to use the format. This is a heavily serialized show, but that serialization doesn’t stop the writers from making sure each entry feels like a distinct unit; not entirely satisfying in its own right, but with a clear beginning, middle, and end, enough to give viewers a sense of progress as we move through the season. This week, we get Dawes sending a message back to Fred that basically cuts ties with him, making his criticisms of Fred’s Earther origins so explicit as to drive a group of Belters still on the station to action. That leads to a hostage situation, which eventually pulls the Rocinante’s crew in; and that allows our heroes to come up with a clever way to save the day.

It all manages to feel very real and tense in the moment, even if the immediate problem is wrapped up before the end credits roll. That’s a clever trick, and a useful one—one of the big reasons people got frustrated with non-serialized shows, outside of comedies where the essentially unchanging nature of life is part of the appeal, is how airless that lack of week-to-week connection could feel. It was hard to get too worked about anything when you knew that by the time the next episode rolled around, nothing you were watching now would have any lingering effect whatsoever.

It’s possible to go too far the other way, and make a show where events only matter in a larger context—shows like that rely on the binge model, with audiences who take in multiple hours in one sitting. I suspect The Expanse would work quite nicely in a marathon, but it’s effective as it is because it manages to pull us forward while still making each separate entry matter for its own reasons.

So Fred and Drummer both survive the encounter, and the quick thinking of our heroes (they tamper with the air supply, which is a great trick) manages to keep the nuclear missiles out of the hands of the rogue Belters. But the missiles are still there, which means this remains a danger. We’ve seen the guys who try and take over the station before, and the fact that Drummer shoots the two leaders in the head on her way to the infirmary means that the event wasn’t without consequence. Two minor recurring characters are killed, and we know a bit more about how little Drummer is willing to tolerate enemies.

And while the connection isn’t made explicit, the odds are that what happened also drives Fred to lay down the law to Holden: if Holden goes to Ganymede and destroys the protomolecule there, he’s no longer welcome at Tycho. Fred now knows exactly how tenuous his position is, which means he can’t afford to play nice anymore. Shifting loyalties can make for fantastic drama, and the realism here—the fact that these two men had formed an uneasy peace, but not a lasting one—maintains the show’s high standards for character conflict. The stakes are high for everyone. Here’s hoping Amos gets his shit together before he makes everything worse.

Stray observations

  • Is Naomi actually hoping Anderson Dawes gets his hands on the protomolecule? The fact that she keeps not destroying the sample is interesting.
  • I love how Mae’s backpack has holograms on it. It’s such a small touch, but it just feels like something that isn’t that far off in our world.
  • “You don’t get to tell me who to kill.” -Naomi to Alex
  • “Naomi said you’re coming with us to find your little girl? That’s a good reason.” -Amos to Dr. Meng.