THE EXPANSE Review: “Paradigm Shift”

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delivers a somewhat messy but ultimately satisfying episode with “Paradigm Shift,” featuring technology, social strife, and interplanetary warmongering. The episode generates plenty of conflict within the character groups allowing everyone to demonstrate where they stand on moral issues and international politics with bonus incorporation of commentary on how technology drives social change.

The bit of this episode that I found most off-putting was actually the flashbacks of the guy testing/inventing the Epstein drive which is the technological advance that opened up colonization of the solar system. I liked the background information but I both have no idea what relevance it has to the rest of the story we were told in this episode and I found the voice-over narration hackneyed. It was a good way to mention how technology is often the cause of a huge paradigm shift, as the title of the episode calls out. But beyond that it suggested something about the Epstein drives would have a much larger role to play in this installment of the story. It may later. We shall see. The voiceover was just ick, though. I could have gotten pretty much all the information that the guy was telling me just from watching what was happening. It only gave mildly further insight into his thoughts. That part I could have done without.

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One thing I thought was a particularly nice touch was the antagonism between Martians and Earthers threaded through every storyline. For the characters who are actually on Earth or in the Martian military that animosity is a given, but it even extended to the Rocinante crew. The UN briefings were trying to put Eros’ erratic behavior down to a new Martian technology because that would be the easy and expected solution. Mars is known for revolutionary technology and the UN, of course, would be antsy to find a reason to be belligerent towards them. Chrisjen is wonderful, as ever, in that she refuses to take presumed Martian aggression at face value. The Martian Marine crew are always griping about Earth, but in this case the griping was functional because it set up the wild firefight between the Martian and UN forces on Ganymede at the end of the episode. Also, they made that monster beautifully creepy. Like, holy crap. What I thought was the best display of how deep planetary loyalty goes was the ruffled feathers between Amos and Alex. Amos is an Earther, Alex is a Martian, and their inherent prejudices and grudges rankle to the surface when intersolar tensions get heated. I liked that conflict amongst the Roci crew because their reactions and philosophies felt true to each character while still highlighting the larger cultural differences between them.

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Speaking of the Roci crew, they had two issues to deal with here: the first was figuring out where the UN’s missing nukes had gotten to and the second was deciding what to do with their sample of the protomolecule. They brought the nuclear missile issue to their shaky ally Fred Johnson, while the protomolecule was a crew secret. Brief aside, but since I’ve mentioned him: I enjoy Fred because he’s not simply a one-dimensional antagonist. Sometimes he helps and sometimes he hinders depending on what serves his agenda. I also enjoy that he forces Holden’s idealism to confront reality. Fred is constructed well enough as a character that, as leader of the OPA, he’s an excellent foil for Chrisjen on Earth. They’re both ruthless but also seekers of the truth. They aim to protect their people but also mistrust each other’s institutions. Mars is really the only player left where we don’t get to see the machinations of power.

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I was particularly fond of Naomi’s decisions in this episode. She’s always the conscience of the group and she’s excellent in that role, but it’s nice to see her serving her own purposes rather than keeping a bunch of men from killing each other. Naomi pretends to launch the protomolecule into the sun but instead keeps it in her hiding spot, making her the only person in the universe who knows where it is. She also helps the OPA work on the missiles that they stole from the UN. You’d think with her moral compass that she’d be against weapons of mass destruction, but she understands the political game between Mars, Earth, and the Belt far better than Holden does. Giving Naomi secrets and independent actions both strengthens her character integrity and shows us where she personally stands on all of these weighty issues.

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I can honestly never decide if Amos or Chrisjen is my favorite part of this show. They are both character types that I adore and they fulfill such unconventional roles in the narrative that, for me, they’re equally fun to watch. Chrisjen is an honest and extremely powerful politician and Amos is simple but sensible and follows his own personal code. In this episode, though, I think Chrisjen’s completely boss manifesto against corporate corruption of politics wins out. First she stops the UN from basically declaring war on Mars. Then she brings in her own scientific expert who is desperate to be her eyes and ears at the UN exploration of the Eros crash site on Venus. Best of all, she confronts Errinwright about Jules-Pierre Mao, indicating both that she knows Errinwright is in the industrialist’s pocket and that she has no problem whatsoever “raining hellfire” down on all of the Maos if they don’t cooperate. Specifically, in that situation, she calls out that governments are infinitely more powerful than corporations and corporations only think they can get away with anything because politicians can often be so easily bought. Chrisjen can’t be bought. I love her so much. She’s an excellent diplomat and equally adept at controlling her public image.

All told, this episode provided strong character and intriguing confrontations that allowed both the characters and the narrative to move forward. I’ll forgive it for being a bit messy because it had a lot to do in setting up a new chapter of this story. Overall, an excellent watch. I never feel cheated when I spend my time indulging in The Expanse.

TB-TV-Grade-A-

Season 2, Episode 06 (S02E06)
The Expanse airs Wednesday at 10PM on SyFy

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Dana is a digitization archivist by day and a masked pop culture avenger by night. She spreads the gospel of science fiction and fantasy wherever she goes.
Follow Dana on Twitter: @DanaLeighBrand
Keep up with all of Dana’s reviews here.

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