The Expanse: Gaugamela

“Too bad, so sad. It's gone, gone for good. Bye-bye!”

Wow. Just wow.

We have a strong contender here not just for the best episode of this season, but of the entire series.

This episode is named after the Battle of Gaugamela where a heavily outnumbered Alexander the Great defeated Darius III and brought about the downfall of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. In the book, Fred talks with Holden about the battle and uses it as a example of how a numerically inferior force can defeat a superior one with better tactics. We don't get that talk in this episode and we never will because FRED IS FUCKING DEAD!!! I knew Sakai was going to be revealed as a traitor, I didn't think it would be by assassinating Fred. Nice to know the show can still shock and surprise me even after I read the books.

One of the many great things this episode did was to break down the various story threads into little vignettes, each devoted to a single location and set of characters, so we could follow the progress of the disaster from various viewpoints. This allowed things to escalate with each section as the full scale of Marco's plan became clear. This was also a great way to reminded us just how isolated and apart everyone is from each other.

THE RAZORBACK SCREAMING FIREHAWK

We start off with the episode's least eventful chapter. Alex and Bobbie, in the newly rechristened Screaming Firehawk, are slowly tailing after Babbage's convoy. Because space travel is long and neither of them thought to pack a good book, they've got no choice but to talk to each other about not only losing the dream of what Mars could've been, a dream they were both willing to give their lives for, but also the corruption of what Mars used to be. Alex is still in the struggling with this, but Bobbie's had more time to deal with it and explains, via a story about the death of her pet rat (she named her Mouse), that anger and grief are exhausting emotions that will just drain you.

THE PIT

The first rock has hit Earth and everyone is...pretty much going on as normal. At least, everyone was at the Pit, a U.N. Penitentiary in the Chesapeake Conservancy Zone. The guards were still doing their rounds, the man on the desk was still making sure all the key facts were read out and Amos gave him the correct answers, nothing had changed for any of these people. The disaster was still far enough away that it didn't affect them. It was just something on the telly, not the end of the world.

Not yet.

As I'm sure everyone guessed, Amos is here to see Clarissa Mao, or Peaches as he now calls her. Their little friendship is one of those things that kinda got lost in translation. It doesn't start until the very end of the third book, where Amos shows forgiveness and lets Clarissa work as his apprentice on the long flight back to Earth from the Ring. Since the writers knew the show was probably going to be cancelled at the end of the third season it's no surprise this little development was left out. Then the show got saved and they had to shove in that out of the blue moment in 'New Terra' where she calls to thank him for all that bonding they did off screen.
Now here we are over a season later and it's still a little awkward seeing these two as friends, but I think I'm getting over that because these two actors do play well off each other. Amos wants to help Clarissa, to do something for her before he leaves Earth forever, but he clearly has no idea what. This is still very new to him. He has a very pragmatic and practical mindset and is used to just accepting things as they are and moving on. He can't quite work out what he can do for her. Luckily the universe has decided for him by dropping a great big rock on top of them. On the up side, they were both ten stories underground in a super max prison when the rock hit. On the down side, they were both ten stories underground in a super max prison when the rock hit.

LUNA

The sky is falling and no one will take Chrisjen or Delgado's calls. They're the only ones in the entire government who know what this attack is, who's responsible, and how to stop it. But they're on the naughty step and everyone is too busy with more pressing matters to take them off it. The petty politics that failed to prevent this tragedy are now enabling it to continue. Fortunately Chrisjen is smarter than the average bear and manages to get through to Gao via the chef on UN One (this is why you never forget the little people who do all the shit). Credit to Gao, she doesn't immediately shut her out and follows her advice to retask the watchtowers (which does destroy the remaining rocks). The former rivals get to have a little truce right before Goa and everyone else on UN One become ex-parrots when a third rock hits the third rock.

RIP Chef Casey. Your sacrifice and macaroons will not be forgotten.

TYCHO STATION

Now this is where the shit really hits the fast spinning thing. Earth getting Roland Emmeriched was just the warm up act. This is the episode's main event. In rapid succession we saw Bull and his team nearly get blasted by missiles from the ship they were trying to take. Enemy forces attacked the station reactor, keeping security busy and forcing it to be shut down. Seemingly nice Sakai showed her true colours and good aim by shooting her boss in the back. Then a bloody robot blasts into station, knocks Holden around and makes off with the protomolecule. Sakai might not have escaped with it, but she wastes no time in taunting her enemies. They've lost, and they've lost spectacularly.
In one day Marco Inaros has crippled all his enemies. His rocks have devastated Earth, killing millions including the Secretary General and most of her cabinet, leaving the government in chaos (fingers crossed they see sense and put Chrisjen in charge again). He's attacked the Martian parliament. We don't know how bad things are there, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if a certain admiral had to step in and take control of the government to restore order. He's assassinated Fred, one of the few people who could've rallied the rest of the OPA against him. And now he has the last sample of protomolecule and has shown the entire system that he has the will to use it, preventing Earth and Mars from retaliating against him. He has essentially made his Free Navy the only nuclear power in the system. Like Alexander before him, Marco stood with his small force against the world's mightiest empire and, with a little ingenuity (and some stolen Martian stealth tech), emerged victorious.

And now it time for him gloat.

THE PELLA

Marco Inaros has made himself the biggest mass murderer in human history, and yet he's clearly also got his sights set on being the worst father and ex-boyfriend in human history. He wasted no time rubbing in Naomi's face that he raised their son, and implying that she was selfish for abandoning them. He was practically giddy with excitement when he showed Naomi the full scope of what he'd done, what he'd made their son an accomplice to. He wanted her to know, in the cruellest way possible, that Filip was in every way his son, not hers.

And he made sure Filip knew that as well.

Marco obviously wasn't happy that his son had done something on his own without asking for his permission first, but he didn't tell Filip off or punish him for it. No, he did something far worse. He mocked him. He called him a little boy crying out for his mummy. If he'd kicked Filip in the balls it probably wouldn't have hurt as much. Filip wanted his father's approval and got called names instead. Marco wanted to bring his son down, stop him thinking for himself, and to drive a further wedge between him and Naomi by implying she makes him weak.
Once he was done gaslighting his relatives, Marco got up on stage, took responsibility for today's atrocities, declared his Free Navy the military arm of the Belt and claimed ownership of the Rings and the worlds beyond them. The new galactic empire the Inners were building now belongs to the Belt, and by the Belt he of course means Marco Inaros. He's effectively declared himself the new lord and master of the system, but Marco is obviously a student of public relations and didn't present himself as some genocidal madman building an empire. He came across as a charismatic and passionate revolutionary fighting to free his oppressed people from decades of cruelty and exploration. Even I found it stirring and I detest the fucker and his ridiculously perfect hair.

What he conveniently leaves out of his big speech is that his entire campaign is being funded by elements of the Martian military. That billowing OPA flag behind him isn't just for dramatic effect, he doesn't want anyone to know his Free Navy is made up of Martian ships. Marco paints himself as a man of the people and his victory needs to be seen as a victory for Belters by Belters. He'd lose a lot of credibility if it looks like he's just a puppet in a proxy war between Earth and Mars.

Ch-Ch-Changes

--So the biggest change is obviously Fred's death. He does not during the attack on Tycho and makes it to the end of Nemesis Games in one piece. This creates a power vacuum on Tycho and in the OPA. Neither Holden or Bull is really ideal to fill in since they're both Earthers (and Bull's pretty much a racist). If they hope to unite other factions of the OPA against Marco they'll need a Belter in charge. And there's only one candidate I can think of for the job.

--Sakai is exposed as working for Marco prior to the attack on the station and in a less dramatic fashion.

--The first rock hit Dakar, the second hit 40 kilometres above Philadelphia, and the third somewhere in South Asia. In the book the first hits Laghouat in Algeria, the second hits the Atlantic, and the third hits near Bethlehem in the Carolina Admin District.

Notes and Quotes

--Fred literally had the protomolecule hidden under his bed.

--The robot was built by Savage Industries. This is almost certainly a shout out to Mythbusters co-host Adam Savage, who is a big fan of the show and even cameoed back in season two.
--How Holden of Holden to shoot at the robot carrying the protomolecule.

--Despite all their successes in this episode, Marco's people again failed to capture Monica. She even managed to record where they are going. Who'd have thought Monica Stuart would end up being Marco Inaros' kryptonite?

--Is Fred the only OPA leader Marco went after or will we find out about other assassinations in the next episode? It would be the best way to explain why Jared Harris can't come back.

--Screaming Firehawk was one of the potential names Alex came up for the Roci and has since become the name for the fandom.

--Alex continues to make me hate him, which is probably good because if they do kill him off I won't be too sad about it now. This week he was blaming the navy for the collapse of his marriage. Dude, you abandoned your family. And that was long after you left the navy. Own your shit.

--I wouldn't put money on Arjun's survival. Holden's lucky none of the rocks hit Montana.

Bobbie: “No matter how traumatic the loss is, you only have so much emotional stamina. Even grief can get used up,”

Chef Casey: “Ma'am, this is Chef Casey on UN One.”
Chrisjen: “I know who I fucking called! You fattened me up for years on macaroons.”

Bull: “I repeat: Go fuck yourself.”

Holden: “He deserved to finish what he was building.”

Chrisjen: “Misery loves company.”
Delgado: “So does hope.”

Naomi: “There are better ways to protect Belters than with warships.”
Marco: “Says the one Belter who already has her own warship.”

Five out of four macaroons.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Enjoyed your review, Mark, of an amazing episode.

-- Not Fred! Nooooo! It seems like an episode that really needed the unexpected death of a long running character, but I liked Fred, dammit.

-- I absolutely loved Avasarala getting word to Gao because she knew the chef. But these days, I like every scene with Avasarala.

-- It sounded like the second rock hit exactly where I'm currently living, which is a hop, skip and a jump from Philadelphia. :)

NomadUK said...

I love The Expanse, but the writers really botched the numbers at the beginning of this episode. Twice.

First, the physicist that Avasarala is asking for advice estimates an impact energy of 1 - 4 megatons of TNT given an asteroid diameter at 10-30 metres and assumes a nickel-iron core (which seems unlikely given the way it broke up around Venus, but let's go with it). Assume a diameter of 20m, or a radius of 10m. Density of iron is about 7g/cm^3, and the densities of Pallas and Vesta are around 4.3, so let's assume 5g/cm^3, or 5,000Kg/m^3. He then mutters something about the velocity at impact of either 3,000 or 30,000 kilometres per hour — I can't quite tell, and 'kilometres per hour' is not a unit a physicist would use, but, again, let's go with it. Minimum entry velocity at Earth is actually 11 kilometres per second, which is 39,600Kph, so let's assume that.

Volume (V) = (4/3)pi*r^3 = 4,188m^3
Density (d) = 5,000Kg/m^3
Mass (m) = d*V = 2.094x10^7Kg
Velocity (v) = 11,000m/s
Kinetic energy at atmospheric entry (Ke) = (1/2)mv^2 = 1.26687x10^15J

That translates to an explosive yield at impact (assuming an impact angle of 90° and negligible loss of velocity) of about 300KT of TNT, which isn't that much — okay, it's about 10 Hiroshimas, but that's peanuts (it's basically the yield of a single Minuteman III ICBM warhead). It's nowhere near 3-4 megatons, a yield 10 times larger. In comparison, the Tsar Bomba device detonated by the USSR — the largest nuclear detonation in history — had a yield of 50 megatons.

Secondly, the visual that Alex and Bobbie are watching aboard the Screaming Firehawk shows a blast expanding out of the atmosphere and a shock wave spreading across a vast region of Earth's surface, and the announcer states that the estimated yield is 300 to 400 kilotons. That image is no 300 kiloton blast, nor are those of any of the other impacts shown during the episode.

300KT is puny by even today's standards. The warheads thrown around by Earth and Mars on The Expanse are enormously more powerful, and Marco Inaros is going to have to lob far bigger rocks if he's going to teach the Inners a lesson.