Still Working on That Whole Trying-Something-Other-Than-Violence Thing in The Expanse’s “Redoubt”

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Merriam-Webster says redoubt has three possible definitions: “a small usually temporary enclosed defensive work,” “a defended position : protective barrier,” and “a secure retreat : STRONGHOLD.” 

There are no strongholds to be found here. But there are a lot of defensive positions—most of which I hope are temporary.

As always, spoilers for everything up to and including this week’s episode!

But first: Laconia. I had fully forgotten that Admiral Duarte (Dylan Taylor) shows up in Strange Dogs, but his conversation in the novella is a bit less pointed than the one he has here, which reveals a lot of himself to a little kid who doesn’t yet know how to read between the lines. The adults in the room quietly drop hints about the kind of world the admiral is creating, muttering about what will happen to the driver who accidentally killed Xan. But even when speaking gently to a grieving child, Winston Duarte can’t be anything other than what he is: a man who’s decided it’s his job to protect everyone, and who is willing to do anything and everything possible to that end. If he can’t do that, he tells Cara, nothing matters anyway.

This fuckin’ guy. (Screenshot: Prime Video)

What is a kid who just lost her brother—and who’s also found strangely powerful creatures in the forest—going to do with that idea? What do you think? She doesn’t want to sacrifice her brother. She wants to fix him. Everything in this story is pointing at the protomolecule, from the blue propeller on the fixed drone to the things Cortazar says when he (extremely rudely, not that he cares) bursts in on Xan’s wake. We know Duarte has it. We just don’t know exactly what he thinks he’s going to do with it.

“Redoubt” is a striking episode of television that looks at conflict among allies. It’s there from the opening scene, with the grumbling about how mistakes are handled on Laconia; it’s there on the Zenobia, when Avasarala refuses to throw all the joint fleet’s forces at Marco (she thinks it’s exactly what he wants, and she’s not wrong), so the Martians start discussing taking the fight to Inaros on their own. It’s there on Ceres, where Nico Sanjrani gives a speech about how the Belters mustn’t give in to the Inners, that they have to keep viewing the Earthers as their enemies. “If we lose faith, we can defeat ourselves,” the station administrator says. But if the Belt were united in scorning the Inners, Sanjrani wouldn’t need to give that speech.

This discord among friends is at its strongest on the Rocinante. Holden, when he disarmed the torpedo Bobbie fired at the Pella, made a decision for everyone—not just everyone on the ship, but everyone caught up in Marco’s war. But the immediate fallout comes from his crew: from Amos, who offers to lock him out of fire control and demands that Holden explain himself; from Bobbie, who’s angry as hell and has nowhere to direct her anger; and from Naomi, when Holden explains what he did.

Screenshot: Prime Video

Their argument—crisply written; the episode is by Jeff Nowak—is a distillation of the conflicts that fuel this season. They’re both right, and they’re both wrong, and they’re both projecting and protecting each other in ways that are messy and tangled. It is just not possible for people to remove our feelings, our needs and desires and wishes and loves, from the situations in which we find ourselves. Naomi made her own choices where Filip and Marco are concerned, and she feels like Holden’s decision has put all of Marco’s future actions on her. That by acting out of concern for her feelings, he’s made whatever comes next her fault.

But Holden wasn’t trying to protect Naomi, and this is what he can’t explain to Amos. He can’t say he did it for Naomi, because he didn’t (and there’s already enough tension between Amos and Naomi). “I can’t be the one that kills your son,” he says to Naomi, as he tries so hard to explain that this isn’t about her, but about him.

This is what I said last week: That James Holden couldn’t have made any other choice in that moment. It’s not who he is, and in a crunch, Holden is always going to Holden all over the place. But no one else is Naomi’s partner. Anyone else could have made that choice. It wasn’t right, but was it fully wrong, even if Marco gets to keep fighting and killing? Holden made the moral choice for himself, and yet it’s not ethically tidy. Can you kill one person to save countless more? (What would Holden do in Omelas?) Would killing Marco stop the war? No one can actually know that. No one knows what new power might rise in the Belt if they just end this conflict with more violence and not something approaching peace. But Amos speaks for a lot of people when he says, “We had a chance to end Marco. And you pulled the punch. I keep trying, but I can’t see how that’s the right thing.”

The episode does a lot to show all the ways that maybe Holden was wrong. Mars’s enthusiasm for kicking the whole war up a notch. Monica telling the stories of people who died on Ceres. Marco’s casual willingness to space his officers when they aren’t perfect. The entire agonizing sequence with Josep and the crate, and the cold rage that Drummer wears like a heavy cape when she delivers her message to Marco—and lets the whole system listen in. The mysterious ship from the end of the last episode, which is almost certainly a threat, or Marco wouldn’t be smiling while he looks at the ship’s plans. 

Screenshot: Prime Video

The only person on the Roci who isn’t mad at Holden is, unexpectedly, Clarissa, who isn’t done telling Holden stories from her past. This time, she tells him about the moment she decided not to kill him: when he and Naomi were on the Behemoth, and he said that maybe they could try something other than violence for once. “Here we are, still trying to kill our way to a better tomorrow. Clearly didn’t make my case,” he says, wryly.

But Clarissa still makes her point: “Don’t ever feel bad about not killing someone.”

Clarissa is, in a way, the poster child for peaceful relations between former enemies. She wanted to kill Holden, and now she’s a trusted member of his crew. She was a rich Earther who’s now making herself useful, working with her hands in a salvaged Martian ship. She tried to destroy the people she now lives and works beside. And all of that is possible because Amos showed her his own particular version of grace. Which is absolutely a case of trying something other than violence.  

Marco, in this episode, is almost a nonentity, a cartoonishly petulant villain who is pitching fits (in the form of spacing people) because he didn’t get his way, and whose son is doing much of the same. (When Filip fucks up doing repairs and tries to make it Tadeo’s fault—”You distracted me!”—he is extremely his father’s son.) Much of the power on the Pella, at this moment, is in Rosenfeld’s hands: She shames Filip for his guilty actions after Yoan’s death and refuses Marco’s shitty commands, explaining what he is too self-centered to see. Marco’s actions affect his crew. We’ve seen this before, and we see it again when everyone in the galley looks sideways at Filip after they hear Drummer’s message. 

Coincidentally, this is also the face I make when Filip talks. (Screenshot: Prime Video)

Filip, for all his failings, at least recognizes the moment for what it is: people having their faith shaken. Marco would probably just space them all for daring to doubt him. But Filip is being influenced by Rosenfeld, too, and her influence makes him more aware of how other people perceive his actions. So rather than just retreating, he goes full Space George W. Bush, yelling about how Drummer is their enemy and anyone who isn’t with them is against them. 

Marco has one good moment, and it’s when he asks Rosenfeld what she wants in victory. The answer—governorship of Medina Station—seems to surprise him a little. Is he just feeling her out, trying to figure out if her ambitions are too big, maybe a little threatening? Or is he actually appreciative of how she’s willing to push back on him, since, as she observes, no one else will? She’s clearly a better general than he is, which may make her a threat. 

Every captain is on their heels in some way. Marco’s son is pouting, and his second in command is challenging his decisions. Holden’s crewmates and friends are doubting his decisions. And Drummer runs right up against the reality of war with Marco when her supply depot raid goes awry. 

As Walker says when Michio goes to work on Josep’s arm: “Oh fucking hell.” The raid is brief and taut, a compact sequence that brings together the threads of Drummer’s rebellion and Marco’s secrets. That depot is large. We don’t even know what it’s full of, but it’s a lot of stuff that’s not being used to keep the Belters on Ceres alive. You can see Drummer’s anger start to spike when they’re on board, and then it boils over in the aftermath, when one of her beloveds has lost an arm, when her hurt and rage makes her want to fight back. And she fights smart and dirty: First, sow doubt and dissent. Second? We’ll have to see what comes next.

But while I’m talking about Drummer’s crew: Michio and Josep (Vanessa Smythe and Samer Salem) have both gotten a lot more screen time this season, after the crew split, and the actors have stepped up beautifully. Salem gives Josep a simmering anger that contrasts with Michio’s hurt and worry—but Smythe flips an incredible switch when Michio has to take control in the crisis. The way she steps in, fast and efficient and brutal, when she sees Josep stuck under a crate? I couldn’t breathe and I could barely watch, that scene was so good. Some people are good in the calm, and some blossom when the pressure is on. Last season we got a hint of Michio’s backbone when she was key to Drummer’s mutiny. This, though, was next level.

Screenshot: Prime Video

Avasarala is not a captain, exactly, but she too is facing dissent in the ranks, primarily from her Martian counterparts but also from her own generals. I wish there was more room for her this season, but when we do get to spend time with the sec-gen, Shohreh Aghdashloo knocks every scene out of the park. In her second scene with Monica, you can see her blinking furiously as she watches the journalist’s heartstring-tugging report, but when she turns back to the younger woman, she’s all business: “This makes us look weak.”

And it’s Monica, of all people, who gets the thesis statement: “This makes us all look weak,” she replies, and she means it in a good way. What does it mean for everyone to look weak? What does it say about us if compassion reads as weakness to our leaders? Everyone on every side has to be willing to see their enemies as human. It isn’t just the Belters who fail in that regard. But how can you win if you aren’t willing to be as hard, as cold, as aggressive as your enemies? What different thing is there to try? 

We only have two more hours in which to find out.

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM

I kind of can’t stop thinking about Duarte’s intense sense of entitlement: he lost Mars, and he talks about it like this was a loss that only hurt him, not an entirely society. But you have to be pretty self-obsessed to set yourself up as the protector of all humanity, same as you have to be self-obsessed to set yourself up as lord of the Belters.
Amos and Bobbie having a little singalong to Alex’s sad country music was another nice callback to a character we didn’t need to lose so soon. Sigh.
There’s so much packed into the little bit of backstory we get about Tadeo, Filip’s repair buddy: about his brother, a Belter who could never go outside; about the abrupt loss of his parents; and about how without his brother, Tadeo thinks he would’ve wound up on a prison barge. It’s hard to square that statement with the seemingly gentle, worried guy we see on screen, but there’s a lot of stress and tragedy in him, and in the way he worries about his brother, and it goes a long way to explain why someone who seems so milk might sign up with Marco Inaros.
Sometimes I just love the little details, like how you hear the Roci‘s engine kick on and then Naomi catches her coffee mug without even looking.
Drummer’s full message is fire: “This is Camina Drummer. And this message is for the traitor, the coward Marco Inaros. You hunted me and mine and still we are here, unbent, unbroken, unbowed. And you? You are nothing. You stole from your own. You abandoned Ceres to the Inners and left Belters to starve. You called yourself our champion and then you ran. So go and raise your bounty. Track me down and kill me if you can. It doesn’t matter anymore. I will always be the one who took back what you stole. Camina Drummer did this to you. Live shamed. Die empty.”
Everything everyone has ever done on this show matters and is relevant and Clarissa going back to it being Holden himself who made her not want to kill Holden is just extremely wonderful.
I still need to know if Lucky Earther the cat is okay!!!

[Please note that comments will be temporarily closed over the holiday break, but will be open for discussion on Monday, January 3rd.]

Molly Templeton lives and writes in Oregon, and spends as much time as possible in the woods. Sometimes she talks about books on Twitter.

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