The Expanse – Season 6 Episode 3
The Expanse pays homage to the past while still looking forwards, as the action and tension both continue to mount.
The events of the past have always played a major significance throughout The Expanse’s run, be it directly with the repercussions of characters’ choices coming back to haunt them, or more gradually with the two-century history of the Solar System’s colonisation and the inequality it bred bearing poisoned fruit. There are several moments this week that directly or indirectly reference this, but first the present is immediately pressing.
Avasarala’s side of things is taken up dealing with Ceres, discovered to have been abandoned by Inaros and the Free Navy, and the plight of its populace being relayed by its administrator Sanjrani (Joanne Vannicola), whose contempt for the dire straits their supposed saviour has left them in is more than apparent.
After the warlord made such a big deal about his plans for the station’s place in his Belter nation it makes him seem more than a little hypocritical. It also clearly demonstrates that for all his professed desire for the Belt to be free of the Inners’ subjugation, he doesn’t really care about the welfare of the people living there. To him, their freedom is merely a by-product of his victory, and if they need to be sacrificed for the greater good of his campaign of militaristic jingoism then so be it. Nevertheless, his tactic is clear even before it’s spelled out as Avasarala navigates the situation and attempts to organise relief aid. Inaros is using the compassion of his enemies against them, forcing them to divert resources to help the asteroid’s populace lest they come across as the unfeeling oppressors they have been characterized as.
It also suggests a curious dichotomy to exist within Inaros; for the tactic to have been successful it first requires his enemies, whose professed uncaring attitude towards the Belt and its populace is the cornerstone of his rallying cries, to display the empathy he has declared them to be absent of, while simultaneously failing to show that same basic consideration for the people he claims as his own, perceiving their lives as being just as anonymously disposable as those on the planet he has been wantonly slaughtering with meteor strikes.
Things come to a head when a series of explosions result in the loss of the station’s already sparse supply of water, but it remains to be seen whether this was a trap set by Inaros’ forces to stretch the limited resources of Earth even further if they want to save the asteroid’s citizens, or a loyalist agitator desperate to strike against the forces of the pale blue dot whatever the cost. Either way, it plays into the episode’s title that thankfully (or sadly, depending on your perspective) does not refer to the characters of a hard sci-fi story suddenly developing the ability to astrally travel halfway across a galaxy like the legacy hero of a certain popular franchise, but rather refers to how effectively a nation can deploy and maintain military strength beyond the established borders of its own controlled territory.
Aboard the Tynan, Drummer’s plotline is starting to stagnate a little. Aside from an argument between Michio and Josep about how much sympathy the suffering people of Earth deserve that demonstrates the differing levels of empathy on display even between people ostensibly sharing the same goals, not much takes place aside from more ships dissatisfied with Inaros’ leadership joining her cabal of soon-to-be-rebels. Hopefully it won’t be long before she gets to join the fight, as having one of the most confrontational characters in the entire series sit on the sidelines is getting more than a bit frustrating.
Meanwhile on the Rocinante, things are almost settled. Holden trusts Clarissa with taking a shift on watch, which further cements her status as a full crew member and leads to some stark honesty about her past hostility towards him and the kind of person her vendetta turned her into. She specifically brings up Ren, the repair technician she killed in season 3 when he discovered her planting a bomb as part of her plan to frame Holden, but who was just a decent person who happened to be in the wrong place and the wrong time, and whose death it’s now clear she genuinely regrets. Her almost-smile at her continued acceptance shows her daring herself to hope that here among the merry band of misfits she’s found somewhere she might actually belong after now being unable to return to the life she once had.
Reflections of the past continue with Bobbie and Amos bringing up memories of the ice hauler Canterbury and the Martian battle cruiser Donnager, season 1 ships that were highly important despite being short-lived and now barely more than lingering memories. The pair’s conversation observes that despite initial affiliations that would have placed them at odds with one another the characters have become a makeshift family, and cements just how far they’ve progressed from their inauspicious beginnings.
A familiar face shows up in the form of Prax Meng (Terry Chen), not seen since season 3 when the crew rescued his daughter Mei from the human experimentation of a ruthless geneticist. Here he relays his research of producing food with very little in the way of resource outlay, the secrecy of which is a payoff to the throwaway reference to the execution of a spy earlier in the episode, who it turns out was a scientist trying to get the information out.
His appearance, along with Anna Volovodov (Elizabeth Mitchell) showing up earlier in one of Monica’s reports speaking in the practiced inflections of her preacher calling of how difficult life on Earth has become, reminds us that people still have lives of their own that carry on even after they’ve left the main narrative, and checking back in with them allows them to have a small part in these final proceedings. It’s a common occurrence for a TV series in its closing season to bring back previous characters for cameos, and this lets them play a final role despite their everyday lives no longer being directly related to the war of attrition raging across the Solar System and brewing beyond. The brevity of their appearances is a result of this season’s truncated episode count, as full stories had been planned for each of them that would have culminated with the featured events, but their scant flashes of depiction still present the plot-specific aspects while we can easily accept and imagine the rest of their stories happening off-screen. However, regardless of how things might have progressed from there, more pressing matters once again rear their head.
While Inaros soars away from Ceres there’s more discussion of his decision to abandon the place, and it’s a little surprising that he freely admits he was just using the station and its people, as we’ve come to expect explanations for his actions to at least have the pretence of nuance. His justification comes via an invocation of ‘us and them,’ and that apparently the only proper way to live is as a guerrilla rebel. It makes you wonder if there is anyone he won’t ultimately screw over for his own benefit, forever narrowing the definition of what it means to be a “true” Belter so that those he discards can always after the fact be decreed of being unworthy of his aegis.
As his ship stumbles across the location of the Rocinante, his eyes light up like a small child discovering their parents’ Christmas stash of chocolate boxes and immediately commands pursuit. That doing so is of no tactical use is pointed out, but his growing obsession with his chosen nemesis prompts him to attempt the destruction of the living records of his previous defeats and representations of those who would defy him. That he’s backed up by two other of his vessels makes him ever surer of victory, but when you spend several years at the epicentre of galaxy-spanning events and with it people constantly trying to kill you, you learn how to defy the odds stacked against you.
Like last week’s battle between the Rocinante and the Azure Dragon, this bout again offers some variation on space fights, this time having shots tracking the flight of missiles as though followed by a supersonic camera and through arcs of glowing tracer rounds spinning across the inky blackness like a neon kaleidoscope. True to their experience, Holden and his crew hold their own despite being outnumbered and massively outgunned, and with some skilled manoeuvring and Bobbie’s practiced trigger finger the perpetual underdogs manage to come out on top and disable the Pella, but the drama doesn’t stop there.
Although we finally receive some interaction between the main villain and the nominal hero, the former invoking the latter’s name like he’s some elusive phantom only now sighted, the greater point of focus is Naomi. Having only just managed to verbally acknowledge the PTSD she’s enduring, she’s now poised for a whole new trauma in potentially being about to see Filip be killed.
You can barely image the turmoil going on in her mind. On one hand, she knows that Inaros’ demise would create a power vacuum within the Free Navy that would give the Inner forces the opportunity to press their advantage, but at the same time having to watch Filip die to achieve this might have been more than she could bear. As it turns out it isn’t something she needs to deal with, as Holden disarms the missile sailing down their enemy’s throat right before impact, clearly not wishing to achieve victory at the cost of Naomi’s son. Logically, it was a poor decision when weighing the cost of one life and the emotional devastation of another against the countless thousands that stood to be saved, but if these characters functioned on logic alone they wouldn’t be nearly as compelling. However, that there’s evidently a log showing the missile was deactivated on Holden’s authorisation means there’s zero chance the fact won’t be discovered and the consequences swiftly making themselves known.
Filip’s growth continues in his finally standing up to his father after one unwarranted browbeating too many, pointing out that the engagement, and by extension the defeat, was entirely unnecessary and driven by nothing by Inaros’ pride stoked by his need to take down the man upon whom he’s projected all his failures.
On one hand, Filip is a soldier being insubordinate to a superior officer, which would warrant the banishment from the bridge he receives, but on the other, everything he says is a valid point. The tacit takeaway is that Inaros is perfectly happy for Filip to be in the spotlight when he can claim the boy’s victories as a reflection of himself, but any setbacks are apparently entirely his son’s own fault, as only then can his actions be perceived as those of an individual. Although nothing is said, it’s apparent that most, if not all, in the immediate vicinity feel the same, and that cracks are beginning to appear in their faith in their leader’s command.
Perhaps sensing this Inaros disappears to his own quarters, and we get one of the rare moments where he’s truly lone and not putting on some kind of show for those around him, as he silently tries to figure out how what seemed a certain victory resulted in a loss that undermined his authority. He might very well have stayed in a state of malaise had a cryptic message not informed him of a delivery through the Ring Gate, which, although not identified in any way that would mean anything to the viewers, might well be results in experimentation in weaponising the protomolecule, which will not end well for anyone involved.
“Force Projection” is another excellent episode in a seeming unbroken run of them. It delivers possibly the most exciting space battle yet, while the invocation of previous events acknowledges the role the past has played in how present events have formed, as well as how far characters have come.
- the surprise abandonment of Ceres
- Clarissa’s continued acceptance
- the battle between the Rocinante and the Pella
- the acknowledgement of the importance of the past
- Filip’s growing independence
- Drummer’s plotline beginning to stagnate
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