The Expanse S6E1: “Strange Dogs” and Petty People

Marco raises a cup of coffee, looking at Rosenfeld

The following contains spoilers for The Expanse S6E1, “Strange Dogs” (written by Naren Shankar and directed by Breck Eisner) and assumes knowledge of all preceding episodes and seasons of The Expanse, but contains no book spoilers.

Coming into its sixth and final season, The Expanse has two main questions driving it, the first being how to resolve the Marco Inaros situation, and the second something to do with the protomolecule.

This latter question would be the larger, and clearly the one that could give a narrative coherence to the series as a whole, but I do find myself wondering to what extent The Expanse aims to offer us closure in Season 6. Obviously the books (which I have not read) offer far more source material that could be explored, and given how the series has already moved from its first home to a second, there are surely those who hope that it will find a third and continue.

Regardless, I think The Expanse owes us something with regard to the protomolecule this season, after treating it as a MacGuffin more than anything in Season 5, and given that this may well be the end of the TV series. I’m not looking for all the answers to be spelled out, to be clear—part of what fascinates about the protomolecule is in the way it eludes human comprehension. Still, more than anything else in The Expanse at this point, I want to know what the Martians are up to with it.

A strange doglike animal peeks out from the bushes on Laconia in The Expanse S6E1

S6E1 offers very little in this regard. Its opening scene on Ring #637 Planet 2 (“Laconia”) introduces us to some strange flora and fauna, and indicates a looming threat, but that’s about it. Holden is worried about the flashes from when the Martian ship passed through the Ring in S5E10, which he is apparently just now seeing footage of, but that doesn’t go much of anywhere at the moment either.

We do get some indication of a question I asked in my write-up on the Season 5 finale, about whether the government of Mars was involved in the deal with Inaros or if it was just some rogue actors, when Bobbie tells Avasarala they should have another ship ready soon to help in the fight. I guess that means Sauveterre and Babbage were getting this all together under the radar of the higher-ups, which is a bit disappointing. I mean, I’m disappointed in Mars insofar as they’ve always seemed to have it together more than Earth in previous seasons of The Expanse. Now the whole thing seems to be falling apart.

Avasarala wears a fur good while an advisor talks to her

The Free Navy is bombarding Earth with asteroids, though they’ve all apparently been destroyed for the past six months. That doesn’t stop them from wrecking the biosphere, though, and the planet seems to be in dire straits. As S6E1 ends, Avasarala tells Bobbie they need a big win, and that she has something in mind, but it lands as a cliffhanger (presuming she doesn’t mean what the Rocinante is getting into, which seems like a fair presumption in context).

As for the Rocinante, we’re told they’ve been at it fighting Marco for 187 days (so, OK, six months have past since the end of Season 5, basically). They find a drive on an asteroid and figure out how the Free Navy is launching them by sending a code from a spotter ship Naomi thinks is named the Azure Dragon, and so they’re off to go destroy that.

Perhaps I would feel more invested in all of this if I didn’t continue to have such ambivalent feelings about Marco. I kind of want to be on his side, actually, or on the side of his cause at least. The Belters are a powerful symbol of the oppressed, as their very existence stems from exploitation. That isn’t subtext in The Expanse—it’s basically the text. And so to see them unite to throw off the shackles of their oppressors is exhilarating, even if it involves the causing of mass death and destruction. There could be some kind of defense of Marco as the one they need to make revolution, even if he shouldn’t be leading afterwards, and a poignant question as to whether his actions are justifiable in light of their ultimate aim.

Marco Inaros stands before assembled Belters on Ceres

The Expanse continues to undermine that line of thought at every turn, however. “Strange Dogs” sees Inaros privately admitting, even, to his lack of regard for the people of Ceres, or those of the Belt more broadly, suggesting that he only cares about his ego and an inner circle that is perhaps as wide as Medina, but not really any wider than that.

Even more to the point, his mind is still set on killing the people we care about in this story, even as the tactical reasons for desiring to do so become more tenuous. Monica asks Avasarala about the possibility of negotiating with Marco, which she isn’t interested in doing and that’s understandable enough, but it seems to me Marco should be at this point jockeying for a peace that secures the power he’s won for the Belt. Instead he just wants to keep killing people.

At moments in S6E1, I fantasized about Filip possibly taking over the mantle and doing better, but that gets undermined too as he shoots his friend in a fit of anger, leading us to think he’s more of a petulant child than anything.

Filip and his friend talk in a hallway on Ceres

Who are the adults in the room? Well, Holden and Avasarala most of all, of course (along with their compatriots). At least, this is how they are presented in The Expanse, as the ones who can rise above adolescent bickering and so on. Even when Holden loses his cool in S6E1 and starts smashing at the reactor with his wrench, it has more of the vibe of Dad losing his temper because he’s stepped on one too many Legos than anything.

What’s troubling is the extent to which this can start to feel like an apologia for the status quo, exploitation included. Holden got fairly explicit about this talking to Sakai in Season 5, and Avasarala’s speech in “Nemesis Games” brought it home—it’s those of us here at a fancy cocktail party who can save the world (solar system). The real grievances of the Belt slip away, and it can start to seem as though there is some message at play that being a grownup involves reconciling oneself to the existence of some oppression.

So I’m worried about the politics of this show more than the politics in this show at this point, which is a strange place to be. I’m sure not everyone shares my concerns, and most fans will find themselves rallying around the characters we’ve become invested in since The Expanse began, but there was a real edge to the dynamics of the Roci crew in the early seasons, which seems to be increasingly fading. Naomi has no uncertainty about Marco being very, very bad, for example, even if it pains her to fight against Belters.

Josep and Drummer stand beside each other

Drummer is in a similar situation, with a target on her back as well. The reason seems to be little more than a petty desire for revenge. But then it’s not entirely clear what Drummer and her crew are up to, other than simply trying to survive. And I don’t begrudge that, of course, it’s just not terribly interesting.

Overall The Expanse S6E1 seems to spend a lot of time laying groundwork for what is to come in the rest of the season, which I mostly lament because this wasn’t necessary. We’re picking up where we left off at the end of last season, even if six months of narrative time have passed, and with only five episodes to go after this one, I have to admit I’d hoped they’d get right to it a bit quicker.

Alas, this wasn’t the case. “Strange Dogs” serves to remind us of where we are in the story more than it does anything to move that story forward. And above all it wants to remind us that Marco Inaros is a no good very bad man who does very, very, very bad things. So, OK.

I’m glad to have new episodes of The Expanse back in my life, and I look forward to next week.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos

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