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Exploring The Expanse: one quiet moment explains an entire movement

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It’s moments like this that makes the show stand out

Syfy Channel

The Expanse is a television show based on the novels by James S.A. Corey. Every week, I’ll be taking a look at one moment in each episode of the show’s second season, and what it means for the larger story.

Spoilers ahead for the seventh episode of season 2, “The Seventh Man.”

Last week, The Expanse reset itself as it geared up for its next big story arc, which started to get moving this week. Mars, Earth, and the Outer Planets Alliance are all shuffling for power in the Belt, and an attack on Ganymede brings everyone right up to the brink of war. When this episode opens, Martian Marine Bobbie Draper is recovering after the huge attack on Ganymede that closed out last week’s episode, Earth is trying to figure out how to respond, and Fred Johnson and the crew of the Rocinante are taking in refugees after the attack on Jupiter’s moon.

While there are dramatic things happening in the solar system, one of the side characters has a chance to shine this week: Anderson Dawes. In this episode, there’s a fantastic point where we see exactly where Dawes figures into the equation, and it defines how the much larger Outer Planets Alliance movement fits in. Midway through the episode, Dawes visits Diogo, a Belter teenager who’s popped up throughout the series. Dawes flatters him, hoping to recruit Diogo for a mission. It’s clear from this conversation how adept Dawes is at manipulation, which reinforces that he’s a pretty scary character. At one point, he asks how old Diogo is. It’s an innocuous question, but it’s revealing:

“Nineteen, I think.” Diogo replies.

“Even our sense of time comes from them,” Dawes tells him. “The time it takes the Earth to spin around its axis, the time it takes the Earth to go once around the sun. On Jupiter, you would be celebrating your first birthday. It’s hard to feel we matter out here, isn’t it?”

It’s a revealing moment, one that spells out the Belters’ frustration in one simple observation: they’re people who can no longer live on Earth, but are beholden to it in every way. Dawes is a political radical who understands just how this impacts his people, and uses it to his advantage to gain a foothold in the solar system.

Dawes is the leader of an OPA faction, and we’ve seen him pop up repeatedly since the first season. He’s a political figurehead for a people who have been utterly crushed by Earth and Mars, and he sees the conflict between the two planets as an opportunity to force himself into the midst of the conflict. With Eros dropped onto Venus and with a whole bunch of Earth and Martian missiles in their hands, the OPA is trying to figure out its next steps. Fred Johnson wants to negotiate with Earth, while Dawes doesn’t necessarily want to play nice. He’s a radical with a clear mission before him: the survival of those who live in the Belt, by any means necessary.

Politics are hard to do in science fiction, but its these quiet, introspective moments in The Expanse that really help the show stand out. It conveys an incredibly important motivator for the characters without exposition, but it also signals the emotional weight behind it. In this instance, the comment highlights how Earthers assume everyone thinks like them. It’s a microaggression, plain and simple, one that clearly rankles Belt inhabitants. This is why The Expanse resonates so well for me, because it’s commenting on pointed issues we see in society every day. This is one of the huge strengths of science fiction: extrapolating an everyday moment into a fantastic situation. In past episodes, we’ve seen Belters get stranded in space, choke and suffer because of predatory landlords failing to clean their air filters, and more. But this small, personal exchange feels like the first real moment where we see what they’re fighting for, at their core: to be independent not just from Earth’s politics, but from its endless heavy influences.