If the last installment of “The Expanse” was concerned with reckoning the collateral damage morally acceptable for the greater good, “Cascade” (March ) is all about the unholy alliance.
A second cousin to collateral damage, the unholy alliance is a compromise just as necessary for any campaign’s long term success, and just as difficult to reconcile personally, let alone defend to others — a hard truth of which Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams), and James Holden (Steven Strait) are all reminded this week.
Finally safe and back on Ganymede, Prax (Terry Chen) and the Rocinante’s crew (minus Alex) have begun the search for his daughter, Mei — and through her, information about the mysterious protomolecule signal picked up by the surgically-sociopathic Cortazar (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio) before the OPA kidnapped him. Despite having footage of Mei being rushed away by her pediatrician before the place was destroyed, the team finds only dead ends. Ganymede is still reeling from the destruction caused by the accidental Mars/Earth/something battle — and the few officials, medical or otherwise, they do interrogate are too busy trying to triage and save the dying station to be any help.
The party’s luck changes when they come across a man whose son had the same genetic disease as Mei, and is also missing. He’s delirious — the survivors have been left to starve, as their remaining crops are shipped off to other parts of the Belt — and his son could just as well be dead as missing, but the ghost of a pattern suggested by the children’s connection is enough to send Prax et al. after a sleazoid deep in the moon’s black market — who has been promising, in return for canned chicken, to scour CCTV recordings for the faces of the missing.
The fact that this black marketeer hasn’t come through on any of his promises thus far should have been clue enough that he wasn’t on the side of good, but just in case Holden was thinking he could get away with ignoring that detail, the team arrives just as the man’s kicking a half-naked woman out into the streets for not keeping up her end of some deal. Inside, they find their profiteer a little too familiar with the ins and outs of Ganymede’s sex economy, as well as a horde of canned chicken and other resources that the rest of the moon could really use.
My dude: you just found the exact wrong group of people to make that first horrific impression on. Insincerely good luck to you.
Holden is so disgusted that when the dude mouths off and Amos (Wes Canvar) leaps to emotionlessly pummel him into paste, he actively holds Naomi (Dominique Tipper) back rather than intervene. Only when Prax screams at Amos — they can’t find Mei if the dude is dead, and what is wrong with you!? — that Amos and Holden are jolted from their trances, reminded just what’s at stake in even this unholiest of necessary alliances.
They let the sleazoid live. He finally winnows out the last known sighting of Mei, entering a no-camera zone at the very outermost reaches of the moon’s colonized territory. It is a hollow victory — but a revealing one. The picture we’re forming of Amos’s childhood was already pretty complete, and certainly awful, but a heart-to-heart with his new friend Prax illustrates just how seriously — and personally — Amos took that whiff of child trafficking. Bonding over that barely-there admission, and Prax’s own failures as a parent, cements the men firmly enough that once Prax starts to deduce how quickly Ganymede is going to fail, Amos is right there at his heels, listening and paying attention. We still feel a darkness pulling on Amos, but this new allegiance seems anything but unholy — and he needs all the support he can get right now.
Back on Earth, peace talks between Mars and the UN are still wrapping up. Mars offered the UN Bobby’s armor for inspection — which Sadavir Errinwright (Shawn Doyle) knows damn well has been scrubbed clean of any clues first. Unfortunately for Mars, Errinwright is the last person they want leading this particular investigation — he has enough history with Mao’s Protogen company (which both he and Avasarala suspect might also be behind this monster on Ganymede) to know not only how deep to keep digging for any organic matter the Martians might have missed, but also what kind of organic matter to be looking for in the first place.
He finds the molecules he’s looking for — and with them, a newfound sense of honor and responsibility to humanity. It is perhaps not the most beautiful moment in the episode — Bobbie beats everyone soundly in that department — but is the most shocking, and in the most delightful way. Slinking into Avasarala’s office like a man untethered (and knowing none of this will be a surprise), the Undersecretary officially comes clean: As Chrisjen and her bestie/spy Cotyar (Nick E. Tarabay) have assumed, he’s Mao’s inside man. And he knows he deserves court martial for it, or worse.
But: Sadavir also knows Mao needs to be stopped. As he says, “If Ganymede was a test, it was just the beginning” — and so Avasarala strikes a bargain that bemuses (and quietly worries) Cotyar: Keep Errinwright’s treasonous secret, and hope his ties to Mao can stop an apocalypse.
Across the UN compound, Bobbie is coming to her own conclusions about who should or shouldn’t be trusted — and not least because her superior officer, a CHAPLAIN, shouts that “truth and fact are not the same thing” before locking her in her quarters, refusing her single request to see the ocean before being shipped back to Mars for unspecified but definitely unpleasant therapies. Bobbie’s neither a fool nor a coward — so she forthwith pitches herself out the window, bouncing about off about ten different buttresses and terraces before hitting the ground, and then just sprinting the hell off into the city.
Bobbie’s earthly travels — searching for the ocean, knowing eventually she’ll be found and brought back — are dispiriting in ways she might not even fully understand, given the two-way propaganda and cultural differences at play. Earth is in a sad state and the shantytowners aren’t in the mood to help a stiff stranger with only the clothes on her back — but she does eventually meet Nico (Milton Barnes), a beautiful soul who trades her directions to the sea for some of her standard-issue MCRN bone meds to barter for medical supplies.
He also gives her something else: Unsolicited advice on how to expand her self-imposed Earth-acclimation training beyond just staring at the sun whenever she can. In a meditative, quiet — and moving — scene, Nico slowly demonstrates how to readjust her center of gravity and eventually inner ear to Earth’s gravity. Watching Bobbie Draper gingerly raise her eyes to the horizon — surrounded by garbage, the urban stink of a planet well-used — is to watch a person come to life in a completely new way, and it’s a moment we won’t soon forget.
Bobbie’s been such a Martian since we met her — duty-bound, deliberately unthinking, born to the corps — that it’s been hard to feel much more for her than pity, even as the walls close in around her. But this week, we see something beautiful. Those bloody-minded, disobedient impulses she keeps so firmly under wraps aren’t about control, they’re about her capacity for wholeness. We were only seeing one feisty branch of an exquisitely beautiful tree with very, very deep roots.
It’s so rare, in stories, to see someone lose their innocence and embrace it: Relax into growing, excited and curious. The fact that the nominal cause for all this insubordination was the ocean is a strong, perhaps central fact. Martians came from Earth, but Earth is not really their mother. Like all of us, we come from the sea — and even in that dry red place, where there is little water to be found, the only thing Bobbie’s ever explicitly wanted before now was to make Mars a garden world. She has been trying to get back to the ocean since before we ever met her — it just took her, and us, a while to figure it out. And when she finally does see it… Well. She’s never been lacking in faith, but this is clearly a whole different kind of communion, and the show treats it as such.
Avasarala and Cotyar hoof it to find Draper at the seaside, once she’s dipped her feet and found a new way to think about, and be in, the world. Bobbie’s so thrown by the last few days that it seems likely she might finally let Chrisjen offer her the comfort (and purpose, of course) that she’s been desperate to give Bobbie since minute one… But by constructing the whole thing at once, confirming Bobbie’s memory of the monster with physical images, then explaining that Mars is the one “testing” these things, and therefore used Bobbie’s squad as guinea pigs… It’s too much. Bobbie’s indoctrinated, raised military in a military culture, and anyway — she’s just been given proof that she can, after all this time, trust herself. And that includes her intuition that Chrisjen is nobody to mess with, even when she’s smiling.
She shouts them away, avoiding one unholy alliance just in time for the Chaplain’s men to come find her — and drag her back into his.
Ultimately, while the “cascade” in this episode’s title refers to the complex but limited life support systems on Ganymede which have been compromised beyond hope by battle between Earth and Mars — the moon, as Prax tells Amos ominously, is already dead, even if no one else knows it yet — it serves equally well as a warning for what might happen for our heroes in the future, should any small decision they make in the eye of the storm now trigger consequences from which they will not be able to escape.
For Avasarala, this might be her career of careful diplomacy going up in flames because she has tied her survival to Errinwright, a known traitor; for Bobbie, this might be her allegiance to Mars disintegrating, now that she knows too much about the world and herself; for Holden, this might be his own sense of self evaporating, or his team losing respect for him, or both. And the rest of the Roci crew aren’t exactly exempt, either… As Naomi says, “Every sh*tty thing we do makes the next one that much easier.”
Only time — and the final three episodes of Season 2 — will tell. But if we had to bet on anybody… After this week, we’re Team Draper all the way.
“The Expanse” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Syfy.