“So what do we got here?”
Miller’s inquisitiveness isn’t just a reminder of the show’s noir-ish roots; it’s an important framing device for “Jetsam,” an hour of The Expanse‘s characters and governments sizing each other up, poking at the edges to see what holds and what bends. And like the ancient structures Holden ends up unleashing at the end of the episode, it’s clear there is just something a little off, an unexpected wrinkle that keeps two sides of every conflict just out of arm’s reach.
Like Naomi, The Expanse is gaining density quickly; whether it will be quick enough is yet to be seen, though these first two hours leave me quite confident in both to pull through.
The ancient, towering structures sitting on Ilus prove to be a powerful metaphorical device, along with being a fascinating mystery to unlock: centered around the idea of unexpected wrinkles, everything in “Jetsam” is not exactly what it appears on first glance. Bobbie’s invitation to Avasarala’s peace-making dinner, Naomi’s slow adjustment to a new atmosphere, and Multry’s demeanor are but a few examples of the subtle shifts and turns “Jemsat” holds under its surface.
But perhaps this episode’s approach to storytelling is best exemplified by Avasarala; when we first see her sitting and holding a conversation, it is assumed she’s still on Earth somewhere. But then she stands up, grabs a pen out of mid-air, and smiles as she thinks about Amos teaching her about using mag-boots; the wrinkles are simple, and disposed of quickly, but they’re nonetheless effective narrative devices to unify its universe-traversing plot.
The disparate parts of “Jetsam” follow this basic blueprint: Klaes guiding Camina to understand their purpose outside the ring, Bobbie being dismissed by her Martian counterparts as a disgrace, Miller’s curiosity about a root obstructing the mysterious function of the ancient alien tower… everything in “Jetsam” flows through this idea of subversion, and it makes for a rewarding – if meticulously slow-paced – episode spring to life in its few truly dramatic moments.
But “Jetsam” is not just narrative winks and literary masturbation; with characters like Naomi and Bobbie, it is more than capable enough of delivering powerful personal stories among the larger ideas and stories it hints towards. Naomi and Bobbie form a strong foundation for the episode, two women whose sacrifices aren’t being rewarded by the powers that be; Bobbie is basically condoned as a traitor on Mars, while Naomi’s cardiovascular system can’t keep up with her ambitions of experiencing a terrestrial’s life.
Like Naomi, Bobbie is able to stay focused on the horizon in front of her, driven by her inherent nobility (and ability to effectively beat the shit out of anyone, physically or verbally) – but both are being rejected by the places they’re trying to settle in, abstracting The Expanse‘s everlasting fascination with the various sociopolitical and biological forces that drive us as a species.
The rest of “Jetsam” is no slouch, an hour particularly focused on the women of The Expanse, only occasionally wandering to let its audience marinate in the Miller/Holden dynamic, moments of supernatural noir that coalesce with the episode’s smaller moments in brilliant ways. Another great parallel can be found in Camina and Avasarala’s attempts to forge forward in their respective duties, struggling to find positive ways to assess the dire situations in front of them.
With ships of refugee belters stranded around the ring, violent pirates are having their way picking through the easy targets waiting on the intergalactic shores; the UNN, as it is often want to do, stagnates on making a decision on what to do with both the refugees, their own disillusioned society – and now, the settlers of Ilus, claiming a planet as their own right under the government’s noses.
Though I don’t expect Kaels to walk off the job like Avasarala’s Home Secretary did, there is definitely a shared uncertainty between them, the gnawing sensation that their pessimistic instincts are leading them in the right direction; a direction ripe with moral conflict, that may find them both fighting against their own people to keep the stalemate going long enough to figure out what’s really going on.
So what is really going on? Besides Amos immediately… well, settling in with an Ilus local, “Jetsam” continues to keep the larger picture a bit fuzzy. A few things are made clear: Murtry’s landing was a work of sabotage, and the ancient tower’s inoperable state was due to nature playing the saboteur; in short, everything in Ilus already appears to be pretty fucked, and Earth and Mars haven’t even started claiming their space rights on it yet (how many episodes until someone utters the phrase “manifest destiny”?).
Another way to look at “Jetsam” through its strange opening sequence is where “Miller” frustratingly details its attempt to “see if something clicks”; outside of the crew of the Rocinante, most characters are just running around trying to shove squares into circular pegs to see if something sparks. The aptly-named Sojourner, after spending 13 weeks waiting patiently in space, falls victim to these ambitious attempts to find connection: they make it through the ring, but as corpses floating through the core of the ring, reduced to a byproduct of UNN’s attempts to establish space domination in a place it doesn’t understand, and is too afraid to actually explore.
Given that it’s a ten episode season, it’s not surprising to see The Expanse already linking together its many strands of story and character spread across its vast universe; it is an impressive balancing act, one that’s able to ebb and flow between the personal and political – and at times, even veer sharply into violence, whether it be Murtry’s murder of an aggressive belter or Naomi’s body rejecting her attempts to speedily acclimate to living on a planet, instead of a rock spinning through space. Like Naomi, The Expanse is gaining density quickly; whether it will be quick enough is yet to be seen, though these first two hours leave me quite confident in both to pull through.
a few other ‘unexpected wrinkles’ in “Jetsam” I enjoyed: Amos letting someone take his drink, Alex’s crush turning out to be married, and Avasarala’s job offer to Bobbie (the Get Bobbie Back in Fuckin’ Space campaign is looking strong this week, folks!).
Even though the black feather shuireken weapons were made of proto-molecule material, the infection didn’t spread to anyone injured by then. Important – maybe?
I’m willing to bet we see Avasarala’s former colleague show up somewhere this season.
Fred Johnson? Fred Johnson? Fred Johnson??!!
Bobbie fucking up a bunch of drug dealers reminds me of season one adventures with Miller, getting into fights wherever he went.
The different aspect ratios for Ilus and everything else is jarring, though it does give the Ilus scenes a particular cinematic flair I can’t help but enjoy.
Avasarala remembering Amos teaching her how to use mag boots is a great little moment.
“I like the things you see, better than the ones I do.”
Where the hell is the Reverend Doctor? Did I miss that detail somewhere?