Science fiction has always been a means to reflect our own society through a fantastic lens, giving just enough shimmer to events to make them easier to view and, hopefully, absorb. The Expanse isn’t doing much to disguise its social commentary, but nonetheless, it’s telling its story so masterfully that even though you’re well aware of the lessons being taught, you’re happy to be taken to school.
The protomolecule may be the catalyst that’s got Earth, Mars and the Belt on edge, but resentments have been brewing for a long time. Earth has the wealth and privilege, Mars has the confidence borne from pulling itself up by its bootstraps, and the Belt...well, the Belt doesn’t have much of anything. Belters have always been at the mercy of the Inner planets, where any resistance they might muster will get their air switched off or their water rationed. They are marginalized and powerless, their needs regularly ignored by those for whom they work so very hard. Like I said, the subtext isn’t exactly subtle, but when Anderson Dawes snatches protomolecule scientist Cortazar away from Fred Johnson and announces that he’s going to give him to the Belt, it starts a chain of events that’s both disastrous and utterly understandable.
Belters are fed up, and rightly so, but they don’t have an ambassador, or a bunch of marines, so they use what they can to fight back. A Belter cargo ship bringing refugees from Ganymede promises to hand off Inners to ships that can take them home...only to shove them out an airlock instead. You don’t see it coming at all. Prax Meng, a botanist born and raised on Ganymede, is tagging along with his Martian friend Doris when the Belter crewman stops him. At first it seems like a small bureaucratic hangup, the kind that’s inevitable when relocating hundreds of displaced people. He looks through the window as the Inners float in zero-G, only to watch horrified as the airlock doors open and they’re pulled to their doom. Meng was saved for no other reason than where he was born, just as Doris was killed for no other reason than where she was born. Doris’ last few gasps for air are chilling, tragic, and a reminder that Belters get their air switched off all the time.
Back on Tycho, Belter leader Staz storms the control deck, demanding control of the nukes Fred Johnson swiped when Earth tried to shoot down Eros. When Johnson is less than forthcoming, Staz shoots Drummer and a few other people for good measure. After Dawes revealed that Fred Johnson had been keeping Cortazar secret, the Belters of Tycho wanted to take matters into their own hands, even if they didn’t really have the first idea of what they should actually do. Get the nukes, great, and...then what? Well, fire them at Earth, and if that gets Tycho blown up - and them with it - meh, whatever...it’s all fuel for the great Belter widlfire. These are terrible ideas, but even terrible ideas are appealing when they make you feel like you have some control over your own life, which Belters don’t get all that often.
Here’s hoping they don’t find out that Naomi has been keeping her own secret, namely that she’s hidden a torpedo full of protomolecule out there somewhere. Interestingly, that’s not the blue goo that Cortezar heard calling to him; the shouty protomolecule is actually somewhere on Ganymede, and probably has something to do with a ex-Protogen employee working there as a pediatrician. Belter revolution stymied for the time being, the crew of the Roci heads off to check it out with Meng, who not only knows the pediatrician they’re looking for, but whose daughter was with him when the base was attacked.
In between all the secrets and lies (and bullets) being slung around Tycho is something just as unsettling: Amos is coming a wee bit unglued. He understands that he’s not wired quite like other people, and while normally he’s totally cool with that, it’s started to bother him. He spoke frequently with Cortazar, who’d had his ability to feel empathy literally burned out of his brain, and related to him a bit too easily. Alex, aware that Amos is acting strangely but misunderstanding why, confronts him about it, which leads to Amos nearly killing Alex. He relents at the last minute, and asks Alex not to push it, because if they fight, “Who’ll pilot the ship?” It’s clear that Amos doesn’t want to kill Alex, but will if pushed - it’s equally clear that he’s not happy about what that says about him. Amos is a subtly complex character, perhaps the most complex character on the Rocinante, and it’s a pleasure to watch his story spin out slowly over several episodes, as opposed to in one big info dump.
So, let’s see: we have a geneticist on Ganymede doing lord knows what with protomolecule and a little girl; we have Fred Johnson who, let’s be honest, has next to no chance of maintaining control of Tycho; we have Naomi keeping a massive secret from Holden; and we have the leader of the Belter rebellion in control of a protomolecule scientist who’d be happy to let it loose on, I dunno, say Earth because that would be of high scientific value. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: space kind of sucks.