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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Have your code phrase ready when you travel The Expanse

Illustration for article titled Have your code phrase ready when you travel iThe Expanse/i
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Well, now we know why James Holden named the ship the “Rocinante.” We also know a little about what drives him, and about what might have inspired him to log the distress signal that set this whole chain of events into motion. Giving a character a troubled childhood can be a cliched way to explain or justify their choices, but Avasarala’s visit to Holden’s mother manages to clarify without resolving. Up until now, Holden has been a mildly likable if somewhat generic hero type, a do-gooder in a world full of potentially more interesting archetypes. But now we know he has a reason to behave the way he does, and that reason makes his decisions more compelling (and potentially tragic) to watch.

I’ll admit to not completely understanding the political background of Holden’s family (they live on a co-op in Montana, Holden is the product of eight different parents’ worth of genetic material, he was intended as a way to maintain citizenship/landrights and at this point my grasp on the material is already starting to slip), but the underlying message is clear enough. Alice Holden explains how her son Jimmy was raised to fight in a battle he couldn’t possibly win, and taught to believe the entire fate of the world was resting on his shoulders. When she finally told him to leave home, hoping to save him from a lifetime of failure and disappointment, she wasn’t able to take his burden away. The Holden we know is a man with a potentially misguided hero complex—not a villain, and not an idiot, but someone who needs so badly to do the right thing that he sometimes leaps to conclusions about what that bad thing is.

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This is a nifty turn, because while it doesn’t give us any immediate plot information, it does reframe every scene with Holden. And we get a clear example of that later in the episode, when Holden confronts Amos about the latter’s willingness to shoot any Martian officers who try and board the ship. Holden keeps mentioning all the Martians who died to save them, and he even goes so far as to draw gun himself, pointing it at Amos and demanding the other man stand down. It’s a decent scene in and of itself, but knowing Holden’s backstory makes his desperation into something almost sad; he’s less a self-righteous do-gooder than someone lost and broken and trying to figure things out. By giving more reasons for the character’s behavior than a simple “he’s doing the right thing,” the show allows room for a more complicated world.

This is aided by the discovery of a stowaway on board the Rocinante: the spy we saw last week keeping an eye on Holden. Being an idiot, I didn’t make the obvious connection that he was the same spy Avasarala arranged to use in one of her two scenes in that episode, but we get a chance to get to know him this week, and he’s a desperate manipulator in the vein of Michael Emerson from Lost, at least in Emerson’s first story arc on that show. (Holden reminds me a bit of Jack, too. Maybe I should rewatch.) Given how Emerson high Emerson set the bar for this particular type, this guy can’t help but pale in comparison; it’s also a little frustrating for the show to introduce this kind of figure right after the episode where the Rocinante crew solidified their relationship with one another. A wild card is useful for testing strong bonds, but none of the connections with this group are even close to “strong,” which makes it harder to care if they’ll break.

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Still, he helps keep the pressure on, and the knowledge that he’s more resourceful than Holden and the others realize adds a welcome layer of suspense to the Rocinante’s travels. “Windmills” is, on a plot level, a stalling episode; the crisis our heroes face is self-contained, Avasarala gets some information, but has no direct effect on the narrative, and the most important decision Miller makes is something that won’t really matter until next week. But serialized TV is built, to some degree, on stalling—it’s less a flaw in the system than an essential part of it. I wouldn’t say “Windmills” is a classic of the genre, but it comes up with creative ways to fill in the situation without really resolving anything. The spy is still alive, the Rocinante is still moving forward (the crisis that gives the hour its hook—the threat of boarding by a Martian patrol—is sort of a paper tiger, but it provides an anxious minute or two), and Avasarala is still more less concerned about everything, but our time doesn’t feel wasted, which is, on a basic level, one of the fundamental goals of narrative.

As for Miller, I have feeling his story is going to get a lot more interesting once he starts being more immediately involved in everything. Getting fired has given him the determination to dive into Julie Mao case headfirst, but he doesn’t make the final step until the very end, when we see him on a transport ship to Eros. The possibility of him making contact with the crew of the Rocinante is almost as exciting as learning a little more about just what the hell is going on here.

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Stray observations

  • The spy is resourceful, but you’d think he’d be a little more circumspect about getting his message out on a ship which keeps track of outgoing messages.
  • I realized about halfway through the episode that Elias Toufexis, who plays the spy (the IMDB calls him “Kenzo”) also did the voice of David Jensen in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Which is only a big deal if you’ve played the game, but hey, that’s what stray observations are for.
  • Goodbye, Miller’s hat. You were loved.
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