Sunday 22 December 2019

The Expanse - We were both in impossible positions.

The Expanse: 4x08 The One-Eyed Man.

Imagine that in an episode where a group of people, who have gone blind, are trapped in a confined space with slugs that fall off the roof and emit an instantly lethal neurotoxin, that big shock moment comes not from their fate, but from Chrisjen Avasarala proving what a consummate political animal she truly is. Following the death of the twelve Marines she sent to retrieve Marco Inaros, everything seems to be going downhill for her: Her General resigns in protest of her using the lives of his soldiers for electoral gain, Nancy Gao threatens an investigation. She gives a speech, seemingly going off-script, in which she relates the death of her own son, who was a Marine killed by Belters, to the loved ones of the dead soldiers. She shows regret, and tells them that she is to blame. It appears to be a concession speech, ultimately, a moment of triumph for Nancy Gao. Except, as Nancy and Avasarala's husband are soon to find out, it was all a game to change the narrative: because seconds after this story comes out, another one overshadows it. Avasarala has leaked images of the nuclear explosion on Ilus, which falls right into her narrative about the dangers that lie beyond the ring gates, and the caution that is necessary in crossing over. It underlines her point of waiting for ships to cross, and undermines Nancy Gao's platform which is built on colonisation. It's a dirty game - nobody was meant to see these images - and it horrifies Avasarala's husband that she would have used the death of their son for political game, and is now playing a game of fear with the voters, but on the other side (to be fair to Avasarala) - what Holden and the settlers are going through on Ilus/New Terra should make everyone cautious about what kind of dream colonisation is. As much as Avasarala is scoring these points because of her fear of the unknown, the fear of not being in charge of the future of mankind, she is right that what lies beyond the ring gates poses threats that humans at this stage can't even imagine. 

The counterpoint to that argument is that in spite of the deadly slugs, the blindness, the flood, the unknown alien machines waking up beyond the surface of Ilus, human resourcefulness and imagination still wins, somehow. At the beginning of the episode, Holden is the titular One-Eyed Man, someone with perfect eye-sight but perhaps as always carrying a load to heavy for his shoulders, a responsibility for every single blind settler and RCE personnel in the ruins. He has to guide them, dispose of their bodies, find them when they wander off, take them to the latrines in groups. He has to wipe out every single slug that makes it through the barricade, and does so with growing frustration and anger. The feeling in the books - of a Holden who gets more and more tired the longer the horror drags on - is absent here, but it is clear that this situation is utterly hopeless. Except - somehow, there is always hope. There is Amos sitting in the dark with all the demons of his childhood, a man who feels like he is dying when he doesn't have the option of fighting his way out, a man close to death, whose friend knows that he has to do something to save him. And he does save him, because Elvi realises that the reason why Holden is immune to the blindness is the radiation drugs he has been receiving ever since being exposed on Eros. All she needs to do is synthesise those drugs to restore everyone's eyesight. And the water has receded enough so that everyone can go back. It's a great triumph, and an unlikely one, one of human ingenuity, matched only by Alex, Naomi, Lucia and Falcia's success in towing the descending Barb higher into orbit in a space manoeuvre for the history books.  As much as Avasarala fears the unknown, perhaps there is nobody better equipped than humans. 
Except, the downside to the equation will always be humanity's endless ability to be its own wolf at the gates. Faced with the prospect of the Belter settlers returning to the surface, Murtry checks in on the progress of his wired-up shuttle, ready to make him claim on this planet that was never his to begin with. 

In a way, the two other storylines fit in perfectly with what is happening on Ilus. Bobbie with her newfound riches learns that her next job is better paid than any of the previous ones, but she won't be told what it is she is stealing, suspecting rightfully that it may be weapons or other technology that can cause harm - which would be crossing the moral line she has drawn in the sand. She also hears from Esai what we have known all along, that the Martian dream has died with the opening of the Gates, because all the great minds of Mars previously engaged in making the generational dream of terraforming possible will soon be crossing those gates to planets that area already habitable rather than investing a lifetime into a dream that won't become reality until generations later. It's hard to really state what a massive shock this is for Mars, a planet built on the idea of a generational investment in a future that nobody will see within their lifetime. Bobbie realises the truth to the extent that she begins to look down on anyone who still believes in that dream, and continues to play the game, in spite of how hard it has become (her nephew making the cut, her lover taking a job on Europa). Bobbie needs a purpose, and at the moment, she is without one, which is a dangerous proposition for someone who is usually idealistic. 

And on Medina Station, the fall-out of the UN's failed mission to capture Marco Inaros plays out. Fred Johnson, leader of the OPA, comes to visit, and is met first with Drummer's fist, who is furious that he shared sensitive information with the UN that ultimately led to the death of all the Belters on the ship. Drummer is fed up with the Belt playing the same political game that Earth and Mars have engaged in for decades, one that costs the lives of people who never had much to begin with. She resigns from her post, and in one of the best moments this show has ever had, explains to Ashford that she cannot bear a future in which the Belt becomes like the Inners that it has always despised: a force that invades homelands and plunders, like those images in her office on the Mormon's generation ship - colonisers and imperialists. What she has always feared has come true: after the peace treaty, the Belters are now complicit in the destruction of their own people, and she no longer wants to play that political game. Ashford offers her the position of an XO on his ship, because he wants to hunt down Marco Inaros and float him - but Drummer turns down that proposition too. Like Bobbie, she's an idealist without a cause, and we'll see where that goes. 

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