At this point, I think it would only be a surprise if an episode of THE EXPANSE was even mildly below par. “Pyre” continues the trend of excellent, relevant, conscientious storytelling I’ve come to expect from this show, portraying the human face of large scale events with aplomb.
I continue to be in awe of what an excellent adaptation this is. The TV show doesn’t slavishly adhere to every bit of the novels, but it manages to get in everything important while adding so much depth to every character. More importantly, and the part I happen to think is the most fun, is that The Expanse is an excellent lesson in the narrative structure of television storytelling. Each episode is a piece of the story with the right pacing, tension, and narrative beats to be a self-contained unit. If you needed a primer in episodic structure, look no further than basically any episode of The Expanse. In addition, the show also has a well-defined serialized arc that spans the length of each season and the series as a whole. It’s well-planned, well-executed, and just well-done all around.
The Ganymede botanist Prax and his daughter Mei are the last piece of anything that I know from reading the novel and a half that I read. Already in one appearance they’ve straightened out so much of that part of the story that dragged for me. This episode effortlessly gives Prax pathos, ethics, and expertise. He loses his home, his work, and his daughter all at once, and then he loses his only surviving friend to Belter extremists. I loved that the sample of protomolecule the scientist was “hearing” was on Ganymede rather than Naomi’s sample because it absolves her of complicity but also forces her to keep her secret. Additionally, it provides the reason that Holden and Naomi find Prax in an expositionally straightforward way rather than traipsing all over the solar system on random missions. I like it. The whole thing is clean and well-orchestrated. The causality tracks well through every plotline it touches.
I love the portrayal of the Belters in this series. They’re social radicals in such a way that one admires their resistance and even their methods, but at the same time the fragmented nature of their organization threatens the fragile social cohesion of the solar system. And should that power structure be toppled? Yeah, probably. Belters deserve to have control over their own lives. The situation is colonialism on a galactic scale. Exploitation of the Belt is a great injustice, but the Belt also has access to more powerful means of retaliation than historical colonies. If they attack the Inner Planets the escalation of conflict would be catastrophic for everyone. So, on the one hand, hell yeah! Go Belt! You get your freedom! On the other, holy crap, chill out guys, you’re gonna get everyone killed. While they have a point that Fred is an Earther and is locked into his Earther ways, that also makes him an excellent person to negotiate with Earth. He understands Earth culture and also the oppression of the Belt. That said, no Belter is ever going to trust him.
Except, of course, his security chief who tends to steal every scene that she’s in. I even had to look up her name because I didn’t recall ever hearing it (it’s Drummer.) Over all of her appearances so far, she’s well-written and intriguing as I was never sure if she was trustworthy or not. She works for Fred but is clearly a Belter through and through. She also follows her own conscience and best judgment. It’s not that she’s exceedingly loyal to him in all things, but that their goals and points-of-view generally align. Then again, it’s easy to swagger into my heart if you’ve been shot in the gut but still manage to steal a gun and shoot your captors point blanke in the head before storming off to the medical bay. I have types. I’m well aware.
Speaking of types: how about Amos? I have a well-known proclivity for broken people, especially the ones who are sweet in spite of their pain (and also possibly a little brutal.) Amos is that to a T. This episode he got to moon about in his brokenness which I enjoyed. It’s not too heavy-handed, but just enough malaise and apathy that you understand there is something deeply amiss at his core. Amos and Alex have played well off each other over the past few episodes. Neither of them is much at the forefront of the system-wide political plot the way that Holden and Naomi are and it would be easy to relegate them to logistical support in the background. Instead they both are dealing with their various issues and are representative of both Earth/Mars and of Inner Planets folks who were chewed up by the system and got spit out in the Belt. They take turns looking after each other in taciturn and even antagonistic ways but truly mean well. Even better, they both have had their issues but when there’s a crisis they suit up immediately and get the job done.
Really, the only complaint I have about this episode is that there was absolutely no Chrisjen. In recompense, I expect to have an entire episode at some point that’s 100% Chrisjen and Bobbie playing Earth/Mars politics at the UN. I think that’s only fair if I have to keep putting up with Holden.
All in all, “Pyre” is adequate. Everything and everyone moved forward in a satisfactory way. “Adequate” for The Expanse is basically “excellent” by any other metric. This series sets its own bar and it sets it high.
Season 2, Episode 08 (S02E08)
The Expanse airs Wednesday at 10PM on SyFy
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.
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Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor