Stage 1: No Spoilers
Amazon continues to drip-feed Expanse addicts their weekly dose as the pivotal and phenomenal fifth season continues. This week’s episode builds on the calamitous events last week, mostly visiting characters we didn’t see or barely touched base with during the Free Navy’s audacious attack on Earth. “Down and Out” continues to showcase the series’s masterful pacing and plotting while connecting events literally millions of miles apart.
Stage 2: Episode Spoilers
Last week was what show runner Naren Shankar and others have called “the 9/11 episode.” The Expanse’s capacity to serve as a political allegory is fluid and open, but with the tightened focus on this terrorist strike on Earth, it’s easy–though perhaps overly simplistic–to reduce the warring factions of the Expanse world to modern analogues. Earth is the decadent West. Mars is the technocratic East. And the Belters are the Middle East, facing an uncertain future.
It’s interesting, then, that this episode dwells mostly with the Belters, who have become the ostensible villains of this season. We have a few scenes on Earth as Amos and Clarissa climb their way out of the pit and a couple moments with Holden at Tycho, but those moments don’t really do anything more than push the plot forward–there are no revelations at either locale that the audience doesn’t already know and the characters are not pushed in any new directions.
Our belter characters, though, have the stage. The episode opens with Drummer and her crew/family grappling with the reality post-attack. Drummer’s reemergence after leaving the corridors of power at the end of last season has seen her become a minor faction leader in her own right, but one bent on reforming local Belter pirates. Knowing that her little clan of marauders are a kinder, gentler sort of scavenger, it’s no surprise that they react with horror to Marco’s strike. But even as they shake their heads and look grim, their inner thoughts betray them. Mirroring false allegations and conspiracy theories after 9/11, they discuss how there are reports of celebrations in the halls of Ceres. Even as they dismiss these, though, they note that the survivors on Earth will likely believe such reports and realize that Marco has at the very least made life difficult for them and, more likely, has forced all Belters onto the defensive in his war.
That certainly seems to be what Drummer is thinking as she accepts Marco’s invitation to meet. In Cara Gee’s always pitch-perfect portrayal, we don’t see the steely eyed rage she couldn’t contain after discovering Ashford’s ship two episodes ago. Instead, she realizes that Marco’s offer is no offer at all. He is calling for all Belters to fall in line…or else. Drummer now faces a pragmatic choice that she must dread: her little fleet will likely be targeted by Earth’s navy no matter what and there may be safety in numbers.
But if exploring the rock and a hard place moment for Drummer was an interesting follow up to the immediacy of last week’s attack, the moments we see from Marco’s followers are even more fascinating. Sakia continues to be the most love-to-hate character this season, saying that despite shooting him in the back last week that she “kind of liked Fred.” She gets to give voice to the Belt’s resentment when Holden challenges her. It’s a window into the frustration that widens when Naomi’s old OPA buddy chastises her that they “had to do it,” but Naomi’s answer flags the show’s moral: You can’t reach justice by sailing a river of blood.
Stage 3: Book Spoilers
This episode exploring Belter sentiments so much feels like a nod to Holden’s video blogs in the book (a character and plot moment that felt supremely silly at the very least, if not horrendously insensitive). Again, it’s significant how much less atrocious the Free Navy attack is in the world of the show vs. the novels. Casualties are still being measured in the show’s version of events in millions instead of billions and Holden’s little pet project would have been forgivable in this context–though a waste of precious narrative space. But it is important for the show to follow his example and try to see the world through the enemies’ eyes.
Assorted Musings: Full Spoilers
-So, did Filip know mommy dearest was going to gut daddy like a catfish or was that just fortuitous timing? It’s interesting that she escapes from her desperate, suicide mission with renewed purpose to save Jim and the Roci from her own code. It continues to–as Shankar noted in the after show–show that she is not the weak, lost figure that Marco has portrayed her as to Filip. But it’s interesting that she still won’t challenge the narrative that she abandoned him and the details of how she separated from Marco are murkier than ever.
-I’ve got to admit that my memory of how all this plays out in the books is a bit fuzzy. I remember something about the Martian prime minister being stuffed in the Razorback, but that clearly ain’t happening (seemed a bit ludicrous, really) as the Razorback is down and out. I’m assuming that once the Roci’s computer is scrubbed clean of the malicious code, Holden’s going to be too busy on rescue duty to do any hunting. That might make this season feel very cliff hangery as I don’t think we’ll get a direct confrontation between our heroes and the Free Navy until season six. I’ve still stuck on how that will go down. In the books, as far as I remember, Marco basically had a ship like the Roci, but now his Pella is clearly a bigger ship. Of course, the Roci might be more nimble and Alex may be able to autopilot the Free Navy crew. We have seen the ship take on bigger vessels and prevail–the stealth ship in season 2 was definitely a heavy hitter (and inspired the crew to get a railgun of their very own) and she is also credited for clipping the engines off a UN cruiser.
-So the Martian/Laconians just delivered Marco two more frigates in exchange for the protomolecule and then start burning away from the sun. I’m wondering if this is showing a bit too much trust in the Free Navy keeping their end of the bargain. After all, that supply ship would be a sitting duck if Marco decided to double cross them. Or, and I suspect this to be the case, maybe they were a little more careful in the level of access they give Marco’s crews than Lieutenant Lopez was when he handed over “full operational control” to the Tachi way back in S1, E4 “CQB.”