THE EXPANSE: Tilting At WINDMILLS

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THE EXPANSE -- Pictured: "The Expanse" Logo -- (Photo by: NBCUniversal)
Season 1 Episode 7: “Windmills”

The crew of the Rocinante discover they have an unexpected passenger, while ex-Det. Miller decides his future and Avasarala seeks to understand Holden’s past. It’s SPOILERS for “Windmills” all the way down…

 THE EXPANSE -- "Salvage" Episode 108 -- Pictured: Thomas Jane s Detective Josephus Miller -- (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

Our players are moving into what I suspect are critical places as we viewers move into the final episodes of this first season of The Expanse, and while one could argue that the larger things don’t actually change from where we left off at the end of “Rock Bottom”, it is in the details — as with so much of this show — where we see some shifts of pretty big significance.

On Ceres, Miller is struggling with both being kicked off the police force, and trying to tell Julie Mao’s father that she can’t be found. His wallowing takes a turn as he decides he needs to face Dawes one more time, and both men reveal that they are locked into their worldviews, whether Miller is a cop anymore or not. To Miller, Dawes is still a criminal, and to Dawes, Miller is a fool, not recognizing that his loyalties to Earth are going to either get him killed. Miller breaks into Julie’s apartment to find it reset to a deceptively normal state, but is interrupted by a call from an old friend that reveals that the Anubis — the mysterious ship that the Scopuli has a rendezvous with — has a shuttle still at the dock at Eros. This energizes Miller to make a fateful decision that will put him on a collision course with more than just the truth he is seeking.

Holden and the crew of the Rocinante continue their journey to not-Eros, but discover they have a stowaway even as they learn that the Martian Navy is on high-alert since Uncle Mateo took out one of their ships, and checking vessels along the very route they are taking. The stowaway is transmitting a signal that the crew can’t afford to have picked up by the Martians, which of course they do. What the crew doesn’t know — and the stowaway quite sensibly from his point of view doesn’t reveal — is that he saw Holden on Johnson’s station, and has digital enhancements, implying heavily that he is more than the “industrial spy” he claims to be. (He is, in fact, Kenzo, an agent of the UN, and the spy that Avasarala arranged to use earlier.) While the crew is less than willing to listen to him or consider much more than throwing him in an airlock until they can decide what to do with him, his aid becomes invaluable when the Martian Navy sends a ship to board them.

THE EXPANSE -- "Windmills" Episode 107 -- Pictured: Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala -- (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)
Yes, this is the same image as the featured image for the review, but it’s pretty awesome, so you get it again.

On Earth, Avasarala has made her way to the Montana co-op farm that Holden grew up on, going in alone against her security force’s advice. There she has a tense conversation with one of Holder’s mothers, trying to get a sense of the man whose actions seemingly have thrown the whole System into chaos. With the mother in question being Holder’s birth-mother and the co-op farm essentially an enclave of anti-government militia, the arrival of a UN Secretary asking questions about her son goes… surprisingly well. That is, aside from the instant distrust, the threats veiled and unveiled, and the jockeying for power between two strong women whose need for answers drive them to telling hidden truths to get what they want.

THE EXPANSE -- "Windmills" Episode 107 -- Pictured: (l-r) Wes Chatham as Amos, Steven Strait as Earther James Holden -- (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

More than anything, “Windmills” pulls back more layers of the people whose actions are driving the narrative, and revealing the truth of who they are. That truth is not always pretty, as we find in Wes Chatham’s Amos, who reveals that his basic worldview is so fatalistic and survival-at-any-costs based, that Holden’s drive to maintain a moral and ethical code is not only a conflict of viewpoints, but a tension that could easily erupt into fatal violence. Holden’s logging of the distress signal that began all of this is far from an act of humanity to Amos; indeed, to Amos, Holden is responsible for putting all of their lives at risk and getting their friends on The Canterbury killed. So when the Martian soldiers prepare to board the Rocinante, Amos makes it clear that he will kill them to save everyone’s lives, Holden’s calling for mercy be damned. Add this to Amos’ seemingly blind loyalty to Naomi being shattered by his realization that she’s actually frightened of him, and Amos has become the most unpredictable of Holden’s crew, at a time when such unpredictability is kinda terrifying.

Naomi, by the way, joins the Montgomery Scott Society by proving herself to be somewhat frighteningly close to being a miracle-worker here, both reprogramming the Rocinante‘s targeting systems to consider Martian ships as hostiles and making the ships systems perform in ways that shouldn’t be possible so that the crew can break into to the security safe that guards the verbal codes that will make the Martians think they are on their side. She tells Holden that she “failed upwards”, but like so many of the people whose lives have become intrinsically involved since the Scopuli embarked on its fatal mission, she’s clearly hiding something.

As played by Dominique Tipper, Naomi is an intriguing character, and her interactions with Amos and Steven Strait’s Holden are some of the real pleasures of this show. Cas Avar’s Alex gets to riff on more of the comic angle — as he has throughout the show’s run — especially once they have retrieved the security codes that send the Martian Navy on its way. Honestly, if I were a Martian security patrol, I’m pretty sure that his throwing all the code words at them in some half-jumbled mess would have set off my alarms, but… OK. Sure.

THE EXPANSE -- "Windmills" Episode 107 -- Pictured: (l-r) Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala, Frances Fisher as Elise Holden -- (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

More interesting to me — and I suppose that’s my fascination with politics rearing its ugly head — is the lengths that Avasarala will go to, trying to make sense of a situation where no one has anywhere near the information they need about what the hell is going on. Shutting out her security to try and connect with Holden’s family could be a death-sentence if she’s wrong, but she strolls right in and pushes hard against Holden’s mother to get answers. And Holden’s mom is played by Francis Fisher, which gives Shohreh Aghdashloo more than a significant acting partner to play off of here. The two women really are playing power games until Avasarala reveals that she lost a son to the UN, too, and that she knows that Holden is still alive. Then, Holden’s mother is willing to open up and reveal that her son has been essentially trained since birth to be a noble crusader for good, but as we’ve seen since the first episode, that drive has unintended consequences. So to does Avasarala’s attempt to make sense of all of this, as she learns when her superiors at the UN have moved her plans off the board and have decided to take Holden out with a black-ops team when he arrives on Eros.

As for Miller, Thomas Jane continues to take the Noir route, hitting almost his breaking point before he finds a new avenue to find the answers he’s seeking. Of course he loses the girl who is in front of him for the ideal of a woman, as Muss confronts him before he leaves Ceres and offers to go with him, but as every student of Noir knows, the Woman the Detective is chasing is not the Woman he needs. Usually this gets the Private Dick killed, by the way, so barring something extraordinary — which a cursory search about the books the show is based on will reveal is… likely? Yeah, let’s go with likely — Miller is on his way to tragedy greater than turning his back on the woman who actually does love him.

If there’s one problem here with this episode aside from the fact that, again, stepping back reveals that not much has really changed in the larger story here, it’s the kinda dumb way that Holden & Co don’t actually interrogate their stowaway, and ignore the pretty sensible options he tries to give them. Yes, this gives the audience a chance to see what Amos really believes and shows off some of the resourcefulness of our spy, but as I watched them ignore him when he was offering to make their tenuous situation something a little more stable, I actually rolled my eyes and felt the Hand of the Writer smack down on the script a bit too hard. Readers of the books may point out that this sequence is true to the page, but not having read them yet, all I can do is look at those scenes and groan, because it just didn’t feel realistic. And considering how good this show has been overall in making these characters interact with their world and the shifting situations, allegiances, and growing threats in a believable manner, it stands out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Still! The Expanse is getting pretty much everything else right, and as we rush to our final three episodes of this first season, I’m engaged with all of our characters and our storylines and dying to see where we end up in three weeks time.

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Timothy Harvey

Timothy Harvey is a Kansas City based writer, director, actor and editor, with a passion for film noir movies. He was the art director for the horror film "American Maniacs", and serves on the board of directors for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and the Kansas City Film Commission.

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