Over these two seasons, “The Expanse” has never been shy about asking us to question how much collateral damage is morally acceptable when struggling to drag humanity to greater peace: That’s literally — via intensive Montanan nurture — James Holden’s (Steven Strait) whole thing.
In “The Weeping Somnambulist” (March 22), the show makes subtext text: While an Earth/Mars peace summit that’s been in development since the pilot is taking place on Earth, the titular vessel is commandeered by the crew of the Rocinante, to take precise account of the physical and economic destruction on Ganymede (something they ignored after both the Nauvoo and Eros Station) — and to calculate what (and who) they could all afford to lose to prevent anything worse from happening anytime soon.
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For the Martians, the cost is great: They take full blame for the first shot that set off the Ganymede ground battle, and will pay nearly the entire cost of rebuilding the destroyed settlement. And for one specific Martian, the cost is even greater: Sgt. Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) has to give up her own internal moral compass to lie about what she remembered — and to let her superiors smear the reputation of her fallen teammate, the Earth-born Travis (Mpho Koaho), who is offered up as a convenient first-shooter scapegoat… And thus responsible for the slaughter of both teams, for which we know (and Bobbie knows) isn’t actually on any human’s ledger.
Chrisjen Avasarala (Shoreh Aghdashloo) is too good at her job to let either of those losses go unnoticed, however: Seeing Bobbie’s shock at Travis’s skills and patriotism dragged through the mud, Avasarala calls her back in once the talks have nearly finished. Using the same snake-in-the-grass stealth she employed with Errinwright (Shawn Doyle) when she connected him to Mao’s likely treason, Avasarala lulls Bobbie into a false safety by finding common ground in their family’s shared tradition of voluntary military and civil service… Then, when Bobbie admits Travis was one of the best soldiers she’d ever known, shifts the conversation into such a high gear that she alone can keep up with all its sharp turns:
“Do you really believe, after all of that sacrifice, and all his training, the training that, as you said, made him one of your best soldiers, after all that hard work, that Travis would jeopardize the life of his soldiers by foolishly jumping the gun?”
“No!? Then why did he open fire without orders? Did he panic?”
“I don’t know, he…”
“Then why did he fire?”
“What was the reason?”
“We were under attack…”
“Under attack? So you were fired upon?”
“No! He was trying to kill the enemy! I didn’t even know what it was, nobody did, he wasn’t wearing a vac suit!”
…And scene. All laurels as usual to Avasarala, everyone else just quit your jobs before she embarrasses you even further.
Bobbie’s superiors shut her down before she can smudge their careful lie any more — but even as she follows her commanding officer’s orders to “do as she was told,” staring straight ahead and repeating the party line about Travis panicking at the UN’s practice maneuvers and firing first, Avasarala and Errinwright and everyone else in the room know the game has changed — not only have the Martians lost funds and reputation, but also their only upper hand. It’s not just battles that create collateral damage.
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The Rocinante’s upper hand — i.e., Holden’s sense of moral surety and superiority as they trace the protomolecule’s last ping from Ganymede station — is also jeopardized this week, as his scheme to sneak the crew onto Ganymede by seizing a rusty relief barge on its way to the moon with emergency supplies hits a violent and fatal snag: Half the ship’s two-person married crew is gunned down in the crossfire when opportunistic port authorities try to pirate their relief cargo.
It’s a loss that’s heavily foreshadowed: Before they even reach Ganymede, the pissed-as-heck captain of the Weeping Somnabulist tells Holden point-blank that he’s going to get them all killed, no matter how convinced Holden is that he can protect them. While he is offering their services to help them not have to deal with any port corruption at all, she tells him just as directly, “I know your type; you’re on a crusade. So go save the world, if you think you can. I’ll settle for helping a few of the poor souls who have to live in it” — making the meaning behind the eventual loss of her husband equally clear: Holden has chosen a path paved with the accidental but inevitable deaths of innocent outsiders.
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Holden’s known this to be his story since he had to shoot down the Doctors Without Borders ship, back before Eros crashed into Venus — but he still hasn’t quite accepted the implications of being a hero in a world where black and white routinely swap places, merge, or shift into blue alien goo. Whether he can eventually transcend this inner turmoil, or shatter from it, that’s still up in the air.
Which, speaking of alien blue goo: Not nearly so dead and gone as anyone in the clued-in solar system might have hoped. The UN’s scientific research vessel, the Arbogast, has finally reached Venus, and found not only a stealth Martian ship waiting in orbit, but a scientifically impossible reading of organic material at the heart of the Eros’ impact crater. We’re guessing it’s more than just Miller’s (Thomas Jane) bones and whatever Julie Mao 2.0 (Florence Faivre) was made of…
Add that knowledge (leaked to Avasarala by her horny Australian astrophysicist aboard the Arbogast) to Bobbie’s aliens and, well… All that collateral damage, from Eros Station to the Nauvoo to the sad Somnambulist, could be just the start…
“The Expanse” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Syfy. Four episodes remain.
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