The Expanse: Back to the Butcher Review

The conspiracy creeps forward with intriguing subtlety, but it’s the characters that keep The Expanse strong.

This The Expanse review contains spoilers.

The Expanse Season 1 Episode 5

Incremental progress can either be torturously slow or maddeningly enticing. Fortunately, the puzzle in The Expanse is of the latter variety. None of the episodes so far have given Miller more than a morsel to chew on in the Julie Mao disappearance, and the survivors of the Canterbury (and now the Donnager) explosion are no closer to finding out what happened to their ship or why it was targeted. Nevertheless, the characters and the world they inhabit provide endless fascination for fans of space drama.

That’s not to say all of the characters are likable. Miller is certainly a gruff if tenacious detective, and viewers usually like their investigators a little rough around the edges. Although his attitude towards Havelock’s arrangement with the Belter prostitute seemed unfair (it’s actually quite endearing), he obviously was feeling protective towards his partner who had just survived a brutal attack. Who can blame him for mistrusting the motives of his partner’s supposed language tutor?

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And speaking of feelings, Miller seems to be motivated to find Julie Mao not just out of respect but perhaps because he has a little crush on the rich girl turned OPA agent. The small progress he was able to make in this episode had, as usual, a very subtle payoff, but its unexpected nature really sold it. A memory chip inside a mechanical mouse? Not your average hiding spot! And not a word was spoken during his discoveries; it was all visually communicated to great effect.

But it’s the remaining crew of the ice hauler that continues to anchor the show. With their cushy new Martian shuttle, it’s easy to wish they could escape to Ganymede or Callisto or some other inhabited moon. Despite Naomi being bored at having nothing to fix, most viewers can get behind Holden’s joy at discovering a cache of coffee aboard the MCRN Corvette class Tachi. Of course, now it’s called Rocinante, thanks to Fred Johnson; the crew interprets this new transponder name as “work horse,” but the fact that it’s also the name of Don Quixote’s horse should not be lost on literary viewers.

Is Fred Johnson to be trusted? The flashback sequences in this episode dub him the “Butcher of Anderson Station,” and the massacre of striking miners concerned about the health conditions of their families certainly was shockingly cruel. If Johnson is now working for the OPA out of remorse for his actions a decade ago, perhaps he’s uniquely positioned to understand the politics involved. It’s unclear how his work on the Mormon’s generation ship in last week’s episode applies here, but Johnson is an interesting character nonetheless.

Chrisjen Avasarala, the stoic U.N. manipulator, was notably absent this week as the voice of those on Earth, and because of the despicable actions of the U.N. Navy under Colonel Fred Johnson eleven years ago, the home planet doesn’t garner much sympathy. The question is whether the audience will side with the Belters, the OPA, the Martians, or just whomever they like. Choosing sides hasn’t been easy.

Nevertheless, here at the halfway point in the season, the people in the story are sympathetic and enjoyable to watch. Whether it’s the OPA operative on Ceres helping Miller find Havelock’s would-be assassin or the Martian interrogator who turned the Tachi over to his own prisoners, everyone is believable and contributes to the world depicted in The Expanse, and with a season two now assured by the recent renewal announcement, viewers will luckily get to see a lot more of it.


4.5 out of 5