Tuesday, January 12, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Expanse' - Miller and Holden Face Off with Some Serious Members of the OPA in 'Retrofit'

Syfy's The Expanse - Episode 1.06 "Retrofit"

Miller comes across revealing information on a hidden data cube. At the same time, Holden and the crew are surprised by their host's secret agenda.

"Retrofit" is a more tense episode than the previous one. That largely comes from Miller and Holden coming into conflict with OPA members Anderson Dawes and Fred Johnson. It creates stakes and urgency in those stories that is more enriching than the type of wandering storytelling on display in the previous hour. The stories are still largely just filled with rising action as the plot continues to overwhelm the characters. But it is engaging to watch. However, that also makes it that much more frustrating once the show cuts to a different storytelling beat that destroys any sense of momentum. This is an episode that tries to suggest romantic pairings between Miller and his former partner and Holden with Naomi. Neither of those beats play too well. It proves once again that when the show is in expositional mode, it's really boring and lackluster. And not enough tension and action takes place for this episode to overcome those very awkward moments.

Miller's investigation into Julie Mao's disappearance really hasn't been that interesting. It's largely been dominated by plot contrivances designed to keep Miller from finding out too much information too quickly. And yet, it didn't make any of the story actually entertaining or character driven. It was something that's important to the overall narrative of the show. Julie is an important piece of the puzzle. However, very little has happened to suggest just how crucial she actually is. The show isn't anywhere close to explaining it's big mystery and why all of this destruction and chaos is happening right now. That's somewhat problematic because the mystery is starting to wear thin. It would become really exciting once the characters know what's going on and actually do something about it. Right now, it's all just mysterious with the story driven by the characters' needs to make sense of what's happening. Of course, that is only occasionally entertaining.

It is meaningful that Anderson tortures Miller in order to find out what he knows about Julie's case. It's character building for this antagonistic figure that was very needed. The audience hears about the pain of his life as a belter being unable to provide for his family and killing his sister just so the rest of them could live. It's a fantastic moment for Jared Harris. He really sells it well. It defines his character in a meaningful way. Miller attempts to get under Anderson's skin but to no avail. However, Anderson's friends aren't able to uncover the crucial piece of data that Miller has discovered. It's yet another contrivance. They don't think to look in his hat for some reason. It's very odd because the direction brings so much attention to the hat but the bad guys are too busy talking to actually look. Moreover, the threat of Miller's death really isn't that effective because he's not that great of a character. Well, it's more so that he's been poorly defined. He's been so focused on this investigation. This episode wants to introduce the thread that he's actually in love with Julie Mao. But that's a horrible explanation for his actions. But nothing else is even vaguely introduced. Not even his rescue by his former partner is all that interesting. Nor is the betrayal of his captain who is secretly working with Anderson. Again, it feels like plot contrivances meant to hinder his investigation. It's making it painfully clear that Miller won't get any meaningful answers until the end of the season. And now, he's even more of a rogue than he has been this whole season.

After skipping last week, Avasarala returns in order to continue pushing her own agenda in the hopes of understanding who this mysterious new player in the world is. It's not a story that amounts to much. She simply threatens a guy in the hopes of using his spy on Fred's station to get more information. But it's never abundantly clear how she knows to look at Fred in the first place. She knows that the OPA is most likely responsible for all of these attacks. Plus, Fred's history in the universe is enough to get suspicion thrown his way. Well, that plus the massive ship he is building. But it's never all that engaging. It's just so much talk that doesn't amount to anything. Avasarala may know that Holden is aboard Fred's station as well - which could complicate the mission he's about to embark on. But it's played as nothing more than a tease that continues to show just how cutthroat and manipulative Avasarala can be. But it's all suppose to be okay because she lost her son in this battle with the OPA.

And lastly, Holden and his crew docking on Fred's station is at its most interesting when it comes to Holden and Fred interacting face-to-face doing whatever it takes to protect their crews. They have to work together. There is no where else for Holden to turn to. None of his crew trust the guy but this is the only option they have left. Fred proves himself to be very capable and crafty. He knows just how small this crew is and just how willing they might be in pushing his agenda forward. That agenda is still very much shrouded in mystery. Previous episodes teased that he may be the person behind all of these devastating attacks. If that's true, it will have to wait until a future episode to be revealed. Fred is simply someone that Holden and company have to deal with. This encounter forces the hard truth to come out regarding Holden being responsible for registering the distress call of the Scopuli in the first place. It means everyone in this crew has to find their own reason to reunite for this mission to find Fred's friend who may have answers to this big conspiracy. It largely means the audience gets more backstory for Amos and Alex. It's not all that interesting. But it does mean Holden and Naomi get to honor the people they've lost on this journey. However, it's largely just marking time until they can all head out onto this journey together - uncertain of what's out there waiting for them. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Retrofit" was written by Jason Ning and directed by Rob Lieberman.
  • The subplot with the two guys out in the belt being busted by the Martian border patrol and the uncle forcing his nephew to fend for himself in the middle of space was a very weird story. It was just so disconnecting from everything else going on in the hour. Plus, how is it going to connect with the rest of the narrative?
  • Miller's former partner - who I'm sure has a name, I just don't care enough to look it up - kills two people in order to save Miller. That forces a moment between them that is more awkward than romantic. Miller does have a good monologue about the time he killed someone though. It was just a tad too little for character building though.
  • The twist with the police captain would have been much more engaging and shocking if she was actually a character. Until now, she's just been an exposition device with no personality whatsoever.
  • Again, that scene with Amos and Alex at a club was very weird. The audience learns just how perceptive Amos can really be while Alex was actually married once but ruined it due to his desire to be a pilot.