“One way or another, we all answer for what we’ve done.”
A lasting lesson present in The Expanse since Season One and that has been further emphasized in Season Four is that, no matter the technological advances or passage of time, humanity tends to fall into making the same tired mistakes as its’ progenitors. Take, for instance, Avasarala’s arc in “Oppressor”. Even when terrifyingly powerful ancient alien artifacts are coming alive and the tenuous peace that, if maintained, could usher in an unparalleled unity of the system, OPA factions in the shadows work to sabotage such a potential boon. It’s that example of human selfishness, one that says, no matter what the other side gives to us or tries to broker, we refuse to let go of our hate.
This twisted ideology is why Ashford hinted to Drummer that her decision to spare Marco’s life would have future consequences. On Earth, Avasarala and Gao’s debate are so very much like something we’d see today, jabbing the other’s weaknesses in the hopes of garnering applause. And when Avasarala gives the order to destroy the inbound Sojourner — the same ship Marco and his Free Navy hijacked, Gao uses it as an opportunity to gain points in the race to with the UN Secretary General appointment. As frustrating as this type of tactic is, particularly in the political climate of the 21st century, it’s just another reason why The Expanse holds such power over its viewers. The situations it creates are those that resonate with people, even if the idea of routine travel to the outer planets (let alone a Ring Gate providing access to 1300 worlds) is an unbelievable thought.
The same BS developing in Avasarala’s race to retain her position is happening on Ilus to an even greater level. Not long after returning to the town and fresh off throwing down the gauntlet to Murtry (in a manner of speaking), Holden realizes just how out of control the situation is getting. It’s bad enough that Murtry’s ordered everyone to be contained in their quarters but the colonists further escalate things by taken two RCE guards hostage in an effort to thwart Holden’s declaration that everyone needs to get off-world.
Even in their stubbornness, I understand the Belters point of view. After Ganymede, they’ve been searching for a home but were never provided one by Earth, Mars, or the Belt. There’s only so much someone can take and Ilus provided that second chance. Belters are as hardcore as a people can get — a necessity considering the dangers of living your entire life in space — and facing potential death (as Holden lays it out) is better than being without a place to call home.
Similarly, Murtry may be a prick who enjoys a killing, he wasn’t wrong in dealing with the Belters the way he did. Thanks to Lucia’s flashback, we’re given more information on the Israel’s drop ship crash. Coop was ringleader to it and enjoyed the idea of killing Inners just for the sake of doing so. He’s more at fault for the strife going down on Ilus than even Murtry and while the latter’s actions would have been at home in the Wild West, killing someone without trial is a no-no in the civilized world. Of course, as the first of the Ring planet to be settled, Ilus, for all intents, is the Wild West. “Oppressor” runs with that idea when the Belters and RCE face-off in a stand-off that would have been at home at the O-K Corral. Holden does his best to temper the pressure-cooking tension, telling the gathered crowd the truth about Miller, the protomolecule, and the ruins. Predictably, both sides find his story incredulous and got back to shouting one another down. His line to Naomi before braving the standoff on people “still playing out the old squabbles” couldn’t have been more accurate. No matter what he says, Murtry, with his RCE, and the Belters are so ensconced in their own righteous indignation that they refuse to even hear the other talk. Only their opinion counts and if you have a dissenting point-of-view, you’re against them. It’s this type of idiocy that is so frustrating to witness, in both life and art. But where “Oppressor” excels is its ability to shed truth in the fact that both sides have, to a certain extent, legitimate points. Their actions are so beyond the civilized response we’d like to see that it muddies the truth on how this is far from a black and white affair.
We’ve arrived at the halfway point and though “Oppressor” isn’t the best episode of Season Four, it may be the most classically timeless installment. From the political maneuvering of Avasarala and Gao to the crapfest taking place on Ilus — two sides trying to drown out the other’s argument — it hits home in a way the previous four episodes for the simple fact that the narrative is paired down to only two sides. If Season Four was a roller coaster, the first four episodes consisted of that first turn and long, slow ascent to the coaster’s highest point. “Oppressor” is that first downhill plunge, the one that, more than any other point in the ride causes that precipitous drop in the pit of your stomach. And like any coaster, there are some twists, breakneck turns, and loops inevitably waiting to shock us. And like your first time on a ride, it’s anyone’s guess as to where those surprise turns will be.
Tilting at Windmills
• Lucia is a character that, despite my initial reaction to her, has really grown on me. Her arc in “Oppressor” is masterful writing synchronized with a fantastic performance from Rosa Gilmore. Her despair as she lay close to death after Jakob ripping into her for her role in the RCE attack on top of their daughter’s disappearance is heartbreaking. Cas Anvar is a perfect complement to Gilmore here. Alex manages to reach Lucia at her lowest point, keeping an ember of her dying will to live alive just long enough for until Lucia to find her inner strength and fully reignite it. It’s a scene that, in the grand scheme of season four, may go unnoticed but, as character moments go, it’s as powerful as any.
• The continually evolving relationship between Naomi and Holden is about as good as I’ve seen in a show. So often shows can only maintain that type of drama between prospective couples, those stuck in the “will they/won’t they” loop or introducing a third potential love interest. None of those tricks are needed here. These two are rock-solid but that does not mean there’s no tension between them. In season 4 it’s distance and circumstance but also their continued evolutions as human beings apart from one another.
The Expanse: “Oppressor”
8 out of 10