“The Weeping Somnambulist” sounds like the title of a good mystery—maybe something by Raymond Chandler, where the mood matters more than the plot—and we do get a decent mystery in the latest entry of The Expanse. It’s just not a mystery that has anything to do with the episode’s title, which is a reference to the ship that the Rocinante crew take over in order to sneak past the Martian cordon around Ganymede. Bad things happen on the Somnambulist, but the cause and effect relationships are pretty clear, right up until the end.

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The real mystery of the entry, then, is one we’ve been dealing with for a few weeks now: just what the hell happened on Ganymede? And is there anything left of Eros? I didn’t time it out exactly, but it feels as though the first question is what takes up the bulk of our time here. At the very least, we’re focused more on Bobbie Draper, her UN testimony, and Avasarala’s reaction to that testimony, than we are on anything else. The balance isn’t as evident as it would be in an episode that stayed entirely on Earth, but for once, it feels like a storyline that’s been kept mostly on the sidelines until now is finally taking center focus.

Which doesn’t mean a ton of things happen, exactly. The biggest events are in b-story about the Rocinante’s efforts to get into Ganymede, and that’s really more an object lesson in how trying to do what’s right doesn’t always work out the way you want it to. (Someone needs to tattoo this in reverse on Holden’s chest.) Event-wise, this is a set-up hour, an episode designed to bring some characters together and start building towards the next major calamity.

As such, it’s not quite the emotional gauntlet or suspense thrill ride of some previous entries—which is entirely fine, because everything here feels more or less necessary. TV critics (myself included) spend a lot of time talking about how “piece-moving” episodes, hours that serve primarily to shift people around and arrange story elements so that everything’s in place for the big set-piece moments. Such discussion can often come across as critical, because part of storytelling is hiding the actual “telling” part as much as possible. We want to be invested in the worlds and the people living in them, not thinking of them as figures on a chess board being arranged for our pleasure.

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But with a story like this, one originally written as a novel, you’re going to have a structure that includes episodes that don’t hugely stand out on their own, simply because most books aren’t written with “episodes” in mind. “The Weeping Somnambulist” offers one standalone plot with the titular ship, and the tragic fate of that ship’s owners, but in weaker hands, that could’ve just been window-dressing, a distraction to offer the illusion of a beginning-middle-end where none really existed.

I mean, it still is basically that, and this is, in the grand scheme of things, a fairly minor event (albeit not minor for the Suputayaporns). But the texture of it is just about perfect. It’s the little things: the grimy, lived in life of the married couple that owns the ship; the way the cold open uses perspective to force us to see how Holden’s efforts, necessary though they may be, don’t always work so well for other people; the fact that the ship is delivering vital relief supplies to the station, reminding us that the attack wasn’t just something to set off a plot but an event that had serious, on-going ramifications; and of course, the miserable ending when Holden and Amos’s efforts to take care of a group of asshole Belters ends with Santichai Suputayaporn dead.

I don’t even blame Holden for this—as he says, if they’d stayed out of it, the Belters would’ve likely killed both husband and wife instead of just the husband, and the couple’s arrangement was already in place before the Rocinante hijacked them. Mostly this is just another reminder that guns aren’t a great solution for anyone, and that the situation is a bad one, with everyone at each other’s throats in a way that’s not likely to improve any time soon.

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This is evident even way back on Earth, where the Martian contingent arrives and is quickly mocked for their struggles with Earth’s gravity. This is another small, but brilliant touch: the way Earthers, in their arrogance and their insecurity, will seize on anything to belittle an enemy, even something as ultimately irrelevant as bone density. The Martians don’t suffer on Earth because they’re weak, they suffer because of biology, a biology that will be pretty much meaningless in the long run if this conflict turns heated. (It would give Earth an edge on any planet-bound battles, but I’m guessing there are ways around this.)

For whatever reason—I’m guess budgetary, but it might also just be time—The Expanse doesn’t always do a great job at selling the scope of its conflicts. Sometimes the universe feels a little small. But it compensates for this by making the nuances that define these conflicts, the way the science influences the politics and vice versa, at once fascinating and entirely plausible. The basics of what happens to Draper here are straightforward enough: she tells the story they told her to tell, briefly goes off script when Avasarala pushes her, but ultimately holds the line. But it’s the details surrounding those basics that make this feel vital, and specific.

It doesn’t hurt that we get to see Avasarala kicking some ass. Her refusal to take shit from either of the Martian men who try to forestall her questioning Draper is a sight to see, and easily an episode highlight. It also serves as a reminder that her politeness is as much a tactic as her infrequent (but glorious) displays of temper; she probably has the best grasp of politics of any character on the show, and the best chance Earth (and really, the universe as a whole) has of a sane authoritative response to the protomolecule crisis. The unfortunate fact being that she still doesn’t know there is any such crisis.

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Draper comes close to spilling the beans when Avasarala question her more closely, but while she lets slip that her unit was attacked by someone who wasn’t wearing a spacesuit, she jumps right back to the party line almost immediately. It’s hard to blame her, given how little proof she has of what she saw, and how determined her superiors are to push the cover story, but the lie is eating at her. In particular, turning one of her squadmates into the scapegoat for the attack—the guy we saw getting mocked by the others for his Earther origins—is a betrayal that requires her to turn her back on everything about herself she’s come to believe.

Given that Avasarala knows at least a little of what Draper actually saw, and believes her, and given that Draper is still struggling with her conscience, there’s a chance the Martian version of events won’t last much longer. And seeing as how the expedition to Venus has already uncovered signs of biological life at the crash site, the protomolecule is one step closer to becoming public knowledge. Nothing much definitive happens in “The Weeping Somnambulist,” but the headlights of the oncoming train just got a lot clearer.

Stray observations

  • Dr. Meng is not a huge fan of the Rocinante’s strategy skills, and for good reason.
  • “With all due respect, Madame, where are you going with this?” “Wherever I goddamn like!”
  • “Whoever the fuck you are, stand down and let her speak.” Avasarala: not tolerating fools this, or any other, week.
  • Alex makes lasagna for Amos and the others, then settles down to wait for them in the Roci. Alex is great.

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