Tuesday, January 5, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Expanse' - Miller Makes Progress on His Investigation Which Puts Him in Danger in 'Back to the Butcher'

Syfy's The Expanse - Episode 1.05 "Back to the Butcher"

Holden and the crew make a deal with an unlikely ally on Tycho station. At the same time, Miller's obsession with conspiracy theories and the disappearance of Julie Mao continues to grow.

The Expanse follows up its tensest and most action heavy hour yet with an hour that is pretty lackluster and transitional. "Back to the Butcher" doesn't really have anything in it that makes this particularly exciting or engaging to watch. Holden and his crew are in a horrible holding pattern that doesn't garner any interesting discussion amongst the characters or flesh them out in believable and genuine ways. Meanwhile, Miller's investigation into Julie Mao's disappearance is given more focus than any previous episode. And yet, it still doesn't feel like the story is building towards anything. It's a story that's either defined by chaos or exposition which makes every single plot beat so very awkward. And Avasarala doesn't appear in this episode at all. So it's hard to understand what is suppose to be appealing and enticing from "Back to the Butcher."

The only reasonable thing that this hour does is establish just how dangerous this new threat from Fred Johnson actually is. Fred seems to be at the center of the disaster currently happening out in space. His introduction in the previous episode was very awkward. The show just threw the audience into a new setting and hoped that we would trust that it would all make sense eventually. It established that Fred is a major player in the current war. But he was just a non-present threat. The war was more engaging when Holden and his crew were fighting to stay alive and get off the Donnager alive. And now, there are safe. Fred reaches out to them to offer them safe haven. The show really just breezes past the question of how Fred knows where they are since all of their tracking beacons have been turned off and they are just drifting in space. No one knows they are there. So how does Fred? That doesn't seem to be a major concern to anyone of the crew which is such a frustrating detail considering they spend the rest of the hour debating whether or not to accept Fred's offer.

The show also puts in the work to show the audience the disaster that has defined Fred's reputation across the universe. A decade prior, belters from a mining project went on strike after it was revealed that the air was poisoning their children. They were easily labeled terrorists and Fred led the assault that destroyed their entire ship. That got him the name, "The Butcher of Anderson Station." He was working for the UN which refused to listen to their concerns. The miners were able to get a message out to the rest of the universe that showed their humanity. And they were killed anyway. It was probably a very effective message because the destruction of the ship was actually seen on camera. It's not as brutal as it could have been. But it also showcases just how lethal Fred is. He may be a high-ranking individual for the OPA now. But he still has a ton of control and influence. Holden's crew know of him. That should make them more hesitant to accept his help. And yet, he's really the only option they have. It's something the show wants to have a meaningful debate about. But it's all too clunky in the execution to really work at all.

Miller is also faced with a moral decision. He has to decide which is more important to him: catching the person who almost killed his partner or continuing to search for answers in Julie Mao's disappearance. It's something he doesn't question at first. He checks up on his partner. But that only leads to him learning just how naive and irresponsible Havelock really is. He doesn't approve of the actions he's been taking as of late and figures that they are the reason he almost died. That makes it easy for him to focus all of his attention onto the Julie Mao investigation. His presence isn't even missed all that much. The rest of the precinct is determined to catch this attempted murderer who has even broadcasted his actions across the station. The captain wants everyone to work hard to show these people that the police are the people in charge of this station. That can have dangerous consequences. But that aspect is never properly explored. The show is more interested in what's up with Miller who apparently is the only person who is really a great detective at the precinct.

Of course, all of this is made more complicated by the fact that Anderson Dawes returns to offer up Havelock's attacker in exchange for information on what happened to Julie. That makes this choice within Miller more questionable. But it's not at all surprising that he decides to continue to pursue the Julie investigation. That has been his primary focus all season long. He doesn't have great love or respect for Havelock and figures the rest of the precinct can continue to handle that search. Miller actually makes some progress in his investigation too. He learns how dedicated to the OPA Julie really was. She was working for Anderson after all. That's why he wants to know what happened to her and is using Havelock's attacker (who's not really committed to the cause) as leverage. It's not something Miller wants to indulge. He continues by himself. He gets some answers but the story is still shrouded in mystery. But now, he's been kidnapped. It's presumably been done by Anderson who will force answers out of Miller since he wasn't cooperative. And yet, it's a story that remains heavily plot driven and really isn't that engaging. So even with the increased focus in this episode, it doesn't seem like the show has enough momentum to make this story feel as urgent or necessary as other parts of the narrative. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Back to the Butcher" was written by Dan Nowak and directed by Rob Lieberman.
  • Naomi is really the only person on Holden's crew who doesn't want to accept Fred's offer. But it's not for any good reason. She just knows people like him who will manipulate them instead of actually helping. It should have been a much more personal reason.
  • Even though the crew has lost their doctor, it seems that the remaining crew are still capable of tending to the one with an injured leg. He's even up and walking around later on in the hour. That must be some good medicine and technology!
  • Holden's crew also learns of all the chaos they've created across the belt with their initial broadcast after the Canterbury's destruction. It would be hard to go anywhere where Holden wouldn't be recognized.
  • Miller found out where the deceased power broker did his business and came across some kind of clue. Though he's not able to find out anything because he's then taken.