There was certainly some betrayal in the air in this week’s Episode 208 of “The Expanse.” Twists and turns are nice, but there’s just something about naked, unrepentant self-serving opportunism that really makes an episode hum. And this week’s offering, “Pyre,” had some very nice examples of that. The event that brought so many people together only a few episodes before is now the igniter of various forms of self-interest. It’s an interesting twist “The Expanse” has taken in only a couple weeks.
And at the center of it all is the protomolecule. What it is, what it does, what it might offer are all questions that people are seeking answers to in various ways. And it seems that it’s a search that the opportunistic are enjoying taking advantage of.
We open with a group of Ganymede survivors packed into a Belter cargo ship, ostensibly being taken to Tycho Station for safety, medical treatment and care. It is here we meet Dr. Meng and a colleague named Doris. Together, they will show us just how cruel hope can be when it’s dashed right before our eyes.
Meng finds out he’s lost his daughter when things came crashing down at Ganymede and is helped through the grief by Doris. They talk about long-range plans and he decides that joining her on Mars to start over might be a good thing. They’ve got a little understated “like” for each other, but it’s not overplayed in the episode. There’s respect and enjoyment of each other and, in that, the sense there’s some hope in the midst of the tragedy. Not so fast, my friends.
One of the things that makes “The Expanse” enjoyable for me is the spot-on creative writing for characters that really stick with you. They may pop in and out a bit, but they take on a life as a character that you enjoy and remember. Belter Anderson Dawes is one such character. He’s all-in, but not in a crazy way – just intensely committed to making life better for The Belt. And, when he saw opportunity, he snatched it. If you remember, he’s stolen our protomolecule (PMC) scientist Paolo Cortazar from Tycho Station. When he finally makes contact with Fred Johnson, he lays out his plans. Now, from a Belter perspective, I see where he’s going with this one, though Fred is, as you might expect, pissed off a bit. He and Dawes have a relationship forged in the fires of recovery and renewal. Dawes is the one who found a broken and beaten Johnson in a bar and set his feet back on the path he now treads. So, there’s history there and, I’m sure, a bit of affection.
Dawes tells Johnson that while he respects what he’s done for The Belt to this point, it’s time the two parted ways. Dawes calls Johnson out about the scientist and about the PMC still being in existence and sees this as a perfect opportunity to lift The Belt from under the heel of Earth and Mars. “I have stolen your secret, Fred Johnson, and I am giving it to The Belt,” he announces.
Johnson must finally confess that he learned there was PMC “talking” to Cortazar. This realization that there’s more out there finally hits home for everyone. Naomi suspects it’s the sample she didn’t destroy earlier when she was supposed to send the missile carrying it into the sun. Turns out that may not be the case. We find out that Ganymede may be home to some PMC as well. Protomolecules are pesky entities, aren’t they? Naomi’s conflicted emotions continue to bubble just beneath the surface.
So, we’ve got Dawes turning the tables on Johnson in a nice bait-and-switch gambit, and we soon find our Dr. Meng witnessing another. The vessel he and Doris are traveling on is supposed to be docking with another vessel for further transport for some of the refugees. Meng is going to go with Doris, but is stopped at the door. The two have a moment through the glass – then he watches in horror as the airlock opens and Doris joins a host of other people flushed out into space. Humanitarian aid is not what is used to be in The Belt.
So far we’ve got Naomi worrying about her double-cross of Holden concerning the PMC, we’ve got Dawes stealing from Johnson and then letting him know how he’s going to use Cortazar, and now we’ve got some innocent refugees “spaced” for no reason other than they were disliked by the Belter ship’s crew. But it doesn’t stop there.
A group of disgruntled Belters have been looking for an excuse to cause trouble for a while and they get it when they are shown a replay of Dawes’ message to Johnson. Is that opportunity they hear knocking? Indeed. Emboldened by Dawes fiery message, they hatch a fun little plot of their own. We get a good old-fashioned coup d’etat of the Tycho Station control room with a few deaths, a bunch of threats and the desire of our Belters to unleash those missiles Johnson purloined from Earth a few episode back, on Earth.
They want to give them back in a fiery, destructive way and in so doing signal a Belter revolution. In the process, they wound Drummer, Johnson’s second-in-command and go about trying to get the launch codes. For the record, the second our baddie shot Drummer in the stomach I knew he was doomed. I don’t think this is a woman you want to screw with. She’s very attractive that way.
The plan is foiled when Alex and Amos, in the middle of an intense discussion about family that gets a bit physical aboard the Rocinante, discover the attempt to get the launch codes. Turns out Naomi had been monitoring the loading dock where the nukes were being stored. After some work by Amos and the Rocinante crew that shuts off the oxygen to the command center, the plot is broken up. And here’s where my favorite scene in the episode takes place – Drummer, with a bloody hole in her abdomen, is being helped out by Alex when she snags his gun and, cool as you please, puts a round into the head of the lead Belter conspirators – then just keeps walking. It was sweet justice and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Lest you think Meng is a loose thread, fear not. His real purpose is revealed later when Naomi and Holden start to piece the Ganymede-Protogen connection together. They find a link in a Dr. Steiner, who was serving as a pediatrician on Ganymede. Turns out, he was the doctor for Meng’s daughter. Meng, newly arrived on Tycho, is identified and questioned by Holden and Naomi. You know where this is leading, right? The Rocinante crew will head back to Ganymede to find out what Dr. Steiner knows (or has) and how it relates to Meng’s daughter – who appears to be alive and the key in this whole story. It’s a twist and turn that offers hope to Meng and a dark, ominous cloud to Holden who just can’t seem to get the PMC out of his life. Little does he know, right?
There are still plenty of questions to be answered, but that seems to always be the case, doesn’t it? What will Dawes eventually do with the scientist and his information about the PMC? Fred Johnson essentially told Holden that if he didn’t bring any PMC he may discover on Ganymede back to Tycho, he would be cut off from the station, so where’s that relationship going? Johnson may be leading the Belt on some levels, but he’s inherently a decent man. With his hold on Tycho seemingly weakened, what’s his next play?
And while we wonder what awaits the Rocinante on Ganymede, I keep wondering what might be stirring on Venus. Miller and Julie Mao, are we truly done with them? And if not, what the heck does that mean for the all of our favorites.
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