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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A plan finally comes together on The Expanse

Illustration for article titled A plan finally comes together on The Expanse
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Finally—after nearly eight episodes and a whole lot of build up, Holden and his crew meet ex-detective Miller, and the show’s two biggest storylines intersect. It’s a point we’ve been heading towards since the pilot, and while the result isn’t exactly fireworks, there’s a thrill in how Miller makes his entrance into Holden’s life: popping up mid-firefight to give the Rocinante’s crew a much needed edge against some Earth sponsored thugs. They then make the horrible discovery that Julie Mao is, in fact, dead, the victim of the strange life form and possible bio-weapon we saw way back in the cold open of the first episode. After all the time Miller’s spent tracking Julie down, and essentially trashing his old life for the sake of a woman he’s never met, it’s deflating to see she’s been cold this whole time.

Still, Miller and Holden! Together! More than anything, it’s just a relief, the delivery of a long delayed promise that proves once and for all that the writers really do know what they’re doing, and that they really haven’t just been jerking us around for the past seven hours. Not that there was serious doubt on this point, given that the show has a pre-existing source material, but that doesn’t make it less satisfying to see threads finally woven together. The Expanse has, so far at least, been a series that depends on low-key pleasures; even it’s most thrilling action set-pieces have failed to get under the skin. The emotional weight is present, but at a remove, and the result is something that’s intriguing without ever quite becoming gripping.

Hopefully bringing Miller and the others together will help to change that. It’s hard to say exactly why the show feels so bloodless, despite the numerous deaths. Maybe it’s the way so much of it is designed to hold the real story back from us, feeding small bits and pieces of information that keep boredom away, but rarely serve to inspire or excite the imagination. This is good storytelling, give or take a few iffy spots, but it’s not great; great storytelling takes risks and finds energy by moving in directions we don’t expect. The entire first season so far has been, at heart, a quest to find out what happened aboard the Scopuli. There have been distractions and subplots and many lives lost, but that one main question has remained, and it’s hard to shake the impression that the story won’t really start until we know what the real threat is.

It could be that this is the real problem, then: the information that matters the most is being dangled just beyond our grasp. It’s a problem mystery shows often run into, and the best ones (like Lost) know that the secret is to find smaller questions to answer inside of larger ones, to give a feeling of progress without ever completely giving away the game. The Expanse’s version of this has been the struggles of Holden and his crew, as they bounce from crisis to crisis in their efforts to find out who destroyed their original ship, and just what the hell is going on.

That’s worked, more or less. Their discovery of the stealth ship that blew up the Canterbury (and which was actually the ship we saw Julie in during the first episode’s cold open, sorry for my confusion there) means at least one minor mystery solved, and it also gets us a little closer to the creepy glowing blue stuff we saw devouring people in “Dulcinea.” “Salvage” has two solid suspense sequences, and the first is aboard the silent Anubis, as we watch our heroes stumble across a deadly menace they have no idea exists. It’s a relief to see that blue stuff back again, because it finally feels like the characters are catching up to things the audience already knows; it’s also fun to watch them poke and prod and wonder when the shit is going to hit in the fan.

It doesn’t, which is sort of a disappointment (while the scenes on the Anubis have some plot value, they also feel too close to retread of the last time Holden and the others explored a derelict ship; and the threat of the blue stuff never comes into focus strongly enough to be more than foreshadowing). Thankfully, the hour’s other setpiece, the assault in the lobby of the Blue Falcon Hotel, delivers. The build-up is excellent. We know that Holden has been marked for assassination by the U.N., set up to be killed some random “street crime” that will shut him up permanently. As Holden waits in line to talk to a desk clerk, Amos and Kenzo watch suspicious strangers filtering into the room. Kenzo knows what’s coming; Amos doesn’t, but clearly suspects something is up. The result is marvellously effective example of suspense building, drawing out the inevitable until the wait becomes nearly intolerable.


Then the shooting starts, and Miller shows up, and it’s kind of awesome? Nothing mindblowing, but for the first time in a while something on the show happens that’s actually pretty delightful and cool, because the structural status quo is changing. Unless they immediately split up, Miller isn’t going to be stuck learning the same few meager facts about Julie over and over, and with multiple governments gunning for him, Holden has an even stronger need to learn the truth about what’s going on. Avasarala remains at the fringes, and it’s harder and harder to shake the suspicion that she’s going to be stuck there for the duration. But hey, at least we’ve had the two biggest narrative sections streamlined. I can see that fireworks factory getting closer by the minute!

Stray Observations

  • Johnson has one of his techs decode the chip he took off Lopez. It gives some info, although nothing we haven’t already heard before.
  • Oh hey, the Mormons are still around. One of them has a slightly awkward chat with Miller on the flight to Eros. I wonder if the Mormons will be behind everything somehow?
  • Miller tries some aggressive tactics on Eros, gets arrested, gets sprung by an old friend. Ah, adventures.
  • “I believe in her.” -Miller