Three episodes in, and it’s clear (if it wasn’t already) that The Expanse is not going to be much concerned with episodic structure. From the pilot on, the show has been pushing forward, building a larger plot piece by piece, and when side stories (or characters) don’t immediately connect to our main focus, there’s a clear impression that they’ll eventually be relevant, which makes them easier to watch. Each episode tries to tell something like a contained story (in the pilot, there was the investigation of the freighter that led to the destruction of the Canterbury; in “The Big Empty,” it was the survivors of the Canterbury struggling to, um, survive; and in “Remember The Cant,” I’d say it’s Avasarala manipulating the Martian ambassador to learn the truth about Mars’s involvement with the OPA), but those stories aren’t entirely satisfying on their own. For better or worse, we won’t know what to make of The Expanse before it’s finished, and we can see where everything fits.

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That said, it’s still possible to judge the experience of watching these individual hours. “Remember The Cant” is a slight step up from last week, featuring a more even screentime balance between the three storylines, and finally giving Avasarala something more interesting to do than be grimly concerned. For the first time, Holden’s story, while important, doesn’t feel like the most vital element of the show, and that’s appropriate. Holden’s message about the Canterbury, and his assumption that a Martian ship is responsible for the Cant’s destruction, got out. Everyone on Ceres is watching it, and Earth knows about it too, which means that what’s happening to Holden, Naomi, and the others isn’t just about them anymore. Things are in danger of spinning out of control, and the wider focus is starting to pay off.

The irony here is that Avasarala, who spent the first two episodes warning of the danger of a possible OPA/Mars collaboration, actually turns out to be the voice of reason, at least for now. She manipulates the Martian ambassador, an old family friend, into spreading word back home about the possible leaked stealth technology. The Martian response suggests that they haven’t been sharing their tech with anyone, which leads Avasarala to conclude that they aren’t responsible for the Canterbury’s destruction. This fits in, more or less, with what we see aboard the M.C.R.N. Donnager. After seeing her pressure the U.N. to go on guard, it’s a good bit of character development to show Avasarala advising caution. It’s consistent with what we’ve seen of her—she’s very sharp—but also suggests that she isn’t one to rush into a situation with guns blazing.

The best development, though, comes through her relationship with Frank, the Martian ambassador she mournfully betrays. (There’s something brutal about someone who will, as Frank puts it, stab you in the chest, and then offer you a bottle of wine as you bleed out.) Frank tells an innocuous story about Avasarala’s youth, when she “won” a game of cards by changing the parameters of the game. To Frank, this is indicative of Avasarala’s need to win at all costs, a trait she inherited from her father. It’s a suggestion that puts her canny deduction about Mars into greater context. Avasarala doesn’t want peace above all else. She wants victory, and to her, victory means protecting Earth’s interests. Given how volatile the current situation is, that makes her both an asset and a liability.

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On Ceres, word of the Canterbury’s destruction, and of Mars’s potential involvement, has led to further civil unrest. The security force is on alert as local revolutionaries start preaching on the streets, but Miller is still doing his damnedest to try and solve the Case Of The Missing Angsty Rich Girl, even after his boss tells him to let it go. Not a lot of progress is made this week with Miller’s story, as we’re once again hitting some familiar beats: someone (this time it’s Jared Harris as the mysterious Anderson Dawes) tells him he’s really a Belter at heart, Miller scoffs, finds some small piece of the puzzle about Julie (this time, that she can take care of herself, and also that the collection of men on her dating profile might have OPA contacts—at least one of them dies in the riots), and that’s about it.

This is more or less marking time, reminding us who Miller is and what his interests are until he becomes more directly relevant to events. Still, the Ceres’ section does have the episode’s biggest surprise: the sudden death of Havelock, Miller’s wet-behind-the-ears partner. Havelock, an Earther (and thus a target for rioters), had been taking lessons in Belter speak from a prostitute, in a scene which gave us just enough of a sense of him as a decent guy to make his death regrettable. The show has not been shy about bumping people off, although Havelock’s death isn’t as unexpected as the destruction of the Canterbury; he was partnered to one of the main characters, after all, and partners have a habit of getting killed.

Meanwhile, the remaining crew of the Canterbury is struggling to keep its shit together, even as various secrets are revealed. The interrogation scenes, in which a Martian soldier uses a strange drug to look into the minds of his subjects (or else focus his perceptions to remember all the information he’s collected about them), are tense and well-done, off-kilter enough to distinguish them from a hundred other similar scenes, even if they still aren’t completely fresh. Which is really this show in a nutshell so far. Resolutely genre, it uses any number of standard tropes but consistently find ways to distinguish those tropes from what’s gone on in the past. The pill the interrogator swallows, the painful effect of fast travel, even Miller’s goofy haircut—it’s not new, but it’s new enough.

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Holden’s assumption that Mars was responsible for the missiles that destroyed the Cant is looking more and more like bullshit, but the captain of the Donnager demands he release another message putting the blame on Naomi, which… well, it seems like that’s also too simple, but it’s hard to be sure. Right now, The Expanse’s greatest success is in creating a scenario which is becoming increasingly unstable in entirely understandable ways. Tensions are rising organically, which makes it all the more upsetting when violence explodes. And as things get worse, the need to know what really happened becomes all the more pressing.

Stray observations

  • Alex, one of the Cantebury survivors, served in the Martian navy; they get him suited and cleaned up while the others are stuck in holding cells. While we don’t learn much about Mars, we do learn how good they are at manipulating people into yelling at one another.
  • The medic continues to be a delight. “I dated a Martian once” is great, as is his casual confession that he faked his records to avoid being killed by his drug dealer.

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