Tuesday, January 19, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Expanse' - The Rocinante Runs Into New Danger While Avasarala Learns More About Holden in 'Windmills'

Syfy's The Expanse - Episode 1.07 "Windmills"

Holden and crew come to realize that they're not alone on the Rocinante and end up facing a Martian Marine blockade. At his bleakest point, Miller finds a new reason to keep going. Avasarala visits Holden's family in Montana.

All season long, The Expanse has enjoyed keeping its various stories separated. That has been its structure for the season. All of the characters are being affected by the same grand conspiracy at the heart of the season. The destruction of the Canterbury and the Donnager have consequences for the entire universe. Holden and his crew narrowly escape both ships while Avasarala offers a government response and Miller tries to put the various pieces of this conspiracy together. Not everything about these individual stories has worked. In fact, the stuff happening with Holden has consistently been the most engaging story of the season. The stuff with Avasarala and Miller is largely the show going through the motions and hitting every requisite plot beat. And yet, it always seemed unlikely that these different narrative threads would remain separate. As things unravel, they were bound to bring all of these players together. And now, it's become more clear how that is going to happen - even though it's still not there yet.

The thing connecting all of them together is Eros station. It's the reported destination for the Rocinante - even though they have a much more meaningful covert operation. It's where Avasarala and the Earth government know Holden will be. They are preparing a team to take him out of the picture permanently as soon as he arrives on the station. Moreover, Miller is heading there as well to finally confront the one person who may have answers - a sole member of the Anubis team who is still docked at the station. All of these threads coming together is pretty obvious throughout this episode. But it's never actually what this hour is about. Instead, the focus is once again driven by stalling techniques to keep the plot from moving too quickly. That has been a defining quality of this season. It has really dragged things down as a result.

Holden and his crew are on a mission. Fred Johnson wants them to recover one of his men. That guy may be able to provide many of the answers the characters have been searching for all season long. But the show instead decides to take its time getting to those revelations. There isn't even confirmation that this guy even exists and it's not just a trap by Johnson. But that's a concern for later. Right now, it's all about actually getting there. The drama of this episode comes from the Rocinante being unable to avoid the Martian border patrol and the crew desperately trying to find a way out of the situation. It's honestly pretty bad. It's established early on that the border patrol agents are stopping basically every freighter. The Rocinante can't hold up under close inspection. That's why the crew needs to stop these agents from boarding - by doing whatever they have to do. It largely serves as a showcase for Amos who takes a really murderous turn. He has often been the muscle of the crew. Everyone else thinks before they act. Amos largely hits first. But here, he actually boasts about wanting to kill several people. That stands in dark contrast to everything that Holden and Naomi are working for. They don't want this conflict to lead to any more bodies. They just want to get the truth out there and get justice for their friends' deaths. All Amos sees is a battle for survival. It illuminates just how far he is willing to go to survive. But it's not all that interesting because he is such a one note character. Plus, the conflict doesn't even go for all that darkness. It instead finds a last minute safe that is able to prevent bloodshed. That's not interesting. Seeing how Holden would react to Amos killing two more Martians would have been. So, it was such a missed opportunity on the show's part. It makes it even clearer how much of a transitional hour this was. So much of the drama was unnecessary and didn't inform the characters in the slightest.

The same can also be said of the Avasarala corner of this universe. She travels all the way to Montana just to talk to Holden's mother. She wants a better understanding of this man who the Earth government is promoting as a terrorist. Holden comes from a radical family. That information had already been told to the audience. And yet, there really isn't a whole lot of value in seeing where he came from. It largely amounts to an interesting conversation between Shohreh Aghdashloo and Frances Fisher. It somewhat works too because of the gravitas the two actresses bring to the material. But it's still completely pointless. Does the audience need to know that Holden carries such immense love for his mother? That doesn't seem like it is going to inform the story moving forward as it becomes more intense. It establishes a family presence which could keep Holden from killing the prisoner aboard the Rocinante. But it does nothing interesting for Avasarala. It shows how far she is willing to go without appropriate government supervision. But hasn't that already been apparent? Plus, her actions and the insight she gains doesn't stop the government from making plans to kill Holden. So again, what's the point?

And lastly, Miller is starting to spiral after losing all of his clearance at the precinct simply for unearthing the truth. He still hasn't put all of the pieces together. It's gotten much bigger than he ever imagined. But it's still not all that interesting watching as he mopes around Julie's apartment and actually takes some of her items. The show really has done a poor job explaining why Miller cares so much about Julie. Honestly, this spiral really isn't that engaging either. It largely results in him getting to throw one punch at one of Anderson's goons. He makes plans to travel to Eros to continue investigating this case and perhaps get more justice. But he's not on that ship until the end of the hour. It is thrilling to see him travel off to parts where he can run into Holden and his crew. But it still doesn't make Miller's grand goodbye to Detective Muss all that compelling. It was meaningful that she saved him when he faced death by airlock. But that didn't establish this grand romantic dynamic that the show is obviously playing into. She is upset that he wanted to say goodbye via a creepy and depressing video message. The in-person one isn't a whole lot better. But that's largely becomes it isn't important at all. It doesn't stop him from going to Eros alone. In fact, her joining him probably wouldn't have added a whole lot to the situation either - except probably getting her killed. So, she's probably saver away from Miller as he heads towards more complications - and possibly answers - than he ever expected. That's exciting. But the show really needs to offer clarity as it heads into its final few hours.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Windmills" was written by Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck and directed by Bill Johnson.
  • Hey, that's Art from Orphan Black (aka Kevin Hanchard) as Miller's friend on Eros station who informs him about a ship from Anubis still being there. Hopefully, he pops up again.
  • The stowaway aboard the Rocinante turns out to be the spy that Avasarala was using to get intel about Fred Johnson and Holden. He does prove himself by getting the crew out of their messy situation with the border patrol. But he's not that much of a compelling presence. The technology in his eye is pretty impressive though.
  • Holden tells Naomi that she needs to reign Amos in before he does something including dangerous and stupid that could harm the rest of the crew. It's so disappointing that the show expects the sole female character in this corner of the universe to use her charms to influence a man's actions. That's so contrived and cliche - especially since she has proven herself as a capable and smart engineer.
  • Apparently, in the future, eight people can be the biological parents of one child. It doesn't seem that popular. But it's a stance that greatly informs Holden's perspective of the world - as well as how people like Avasarala see him.