Sunday 15 December 2019

The Expanse - to reach out and reach out and reach out

The Expanse: 4x02 Jetsam.

On Mars, Bobbie, who we find out in the following interrogation has been dishonourably discharged from the Martian Navy and is now a Third Class Demolition Tech, is being framed for a murder, and is generally suffering from the kind of treatment that you would receive in a highly militarised and nationalistic society after following your conscience against official orders. She also finds out that her nephew (the son of her brother whom she lives with at the moment, trying to find a place of her own) is involved in a drug-making operation in which he synthesises the same focus drugs that make Martian interrogators so successful at their job. In true Bobbie manner, she smashes some heads to get him out of there, not really considering that it might not be as easy as that. She also attends an excruciatingly awkward dinner, thrown by Martian leadership and Chrisjen, to celebrate the peace accord between Mars and the U.N., in which she is reminded that the only people willing to speak to her are Chrisjen husband's and the woman herself, who, after considering her unfortunate position on Mars, offers her a job in true Chrisjen manner ("If they don't see how glorious you are, they don't deserve you"). Bobbie doesn't seem like the kind of person who would sit on the sidelines for too long, and Bobbie's loyalty to Mars may be strong, but Chrisjen has always been excellent at co-opting people's loyalties for something for herself. 

At the gates, Drummer and Ashford investigate pirates, specifically the heinous actions of a group of pirates who have spaced prospective colonists who were trapped on the wrong side of the Gates for weeks, without being allowed to go through. As expected, the old mistrust between the Inners and the Belt is alive and well, and Drummer understands the political pressure of presenting someone as being responsible here, and the fact that if she doesn't, she'll be suspected of covering up Belter's actions. She also finds out that the responsible party is led by Marco Inaros - whom we don't know much about at this point of the tv series, except that he is the father of Naomi's child and that he held her emotionally and physically captive long enough to cause deep trauma. Drummer goes through her political options to create an alliance against him, but he will be very important going forward (as will Drummer's personal rage regarding his treatment of her friend Naomi). 

And on Ilus, whatever can go wrong, does go wrong. Amos and Murtry discover that the shuttle did not crash because of the native, metal-based organisms whose acquaintance our team has made after its landing, but that the landing pad was blown up by human-made explosives. Amos, as is his way, takes quiet note, and keeps a solid eye on Murtry, who turns out to be exactly what Amos expects: a violent man with too much power at the edge of civilisation. He is a ticking time bomb, one that goes off at the end of the episode when he kills one of the settlers for speaking up against him. 
This year, I read Becky Chamber's excellent novella To Be Taught, If Fortunate, which is a departure from her Wayfarer series - it follows a group of explorers who land on alien planets to investigate the life they find there, conscious of the fact that any interaction with alien life holds the potential for violence, and eager to remain a gentle spectator, driven by scientific curiosity and wonder. The most memorable sequences of the book show our team of scientists charting the life that they have discovered, making sense of the diversity of life by finding analogues, yet always being conscious of the fact that any attempt to comprehend this life from a human-centric perspective, one that does not account for the essential otherness of this life, will fail to capture its uniqueness. It's a deeply positive and optimistic take on discovery, one that I was thinking of eagerly in looking The Expanse's very realistic take on what it may actually look like if space discovery happens through the same lens of resource extraction and competition that every other aspect of human exploration has taken place in. Take For All Mankind - which exists exactly at the rift between geo-political competition and scientific curiosity - but only lasted nine episodes without a murder that will, without doubt, have massive political consequences in the cold war context it takes place in. Naomi, whose body is failing under the strain of this non-zero-gravity environment, approached the idea of planetary life with hope and fascination, with terror but wonder, but with how things are turning out, Amos may be right: with his ability to churn out endless munition in his Rocinante machine room, he could be rich in this new world. 

Talking about approaching things that we do not understand and accidentally causing harm: here's Jim Holden again, helping his old friend Miller to solve his existential question of who killed the and his Makers (he just flips switches to see what lights come in, except he is no longer physically capable of switching things himself, which is where Jim comes in): After not finding a way into the massive alien structures when he investigates them with the scientist from the landing team and Naomi, Miller calls him back because he has managed to find an opening - he takes Jim down there and asks him to cut away a bunch of roots, which the genius makers of the structure wouldn't have expected, since nothing existed on the planet when they arrived. Once this is done, something happens - Jim almost gets trapped in the structure, and once he's out, massive lightning start to appear in the skies over Ilus. Almost as if he's accidentally turned on some massive kind of terraforming machine, built by the same people who made the proto-molecule. As per usual, James Holden has placed himself and his family at the centre of a new catastrophe. 

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