The Expanse Review: "Retrograde" (Season 4, Episode 4)


“Some are fighters, and some are not. You can’t know which until the fight happen.”

Not wasting time with pleasantries, “Retrograde” picks up immediately after Murtry’s (Burn Gorman, Pacific Rim, Turn, Game of Thrones) execution of the Belter conspirators. Though his hate-on is directed towards the Ilus Belters, Naomi puts herself in harm’s way when she helps Lucia escape the security chief’s wrath. Already complicated by Naomi’s deteriorating health, their escape is further compromised when Murtry wounds Lucia and has the two pinned down, all within sight of the Roci. 

One could argue that, at least for Naomi, there’s no real danger here. But it’s not the sense of worry for her safety, rather in the execution of forcing Naomi to overcome her own fears and tap into her renown Belter ingenuity to stay Murtry’s advance. It also emphasizes the type of person Naomi has been; in some ways, she is the conscience of our ragtag Roci family and risking her life for Lucia is absolutely a Naomi thing to do.

Holden also is true to himself when, after he and Alex get the two women to safety, the furious Holden confronts Murtry about the latter’s reckless and brutal tactics. As scary as Amos is, Holden has his own moments of terrifying resolve and it plays out here beautifully. Whether it’s due to Holden’s focused rage, his position as Avasarala’s envoy, or a combination of the two, Murtry’s reaction to Holden’s decree, “This ends now. You’re not in charge anymore”, lacks the proud resolve displayed when Amos warned the security officer. Holden’s strength lies not in his martial abilities which, while greater than most on Ilus, fall short of someone like Amos. Holden’s power lies in his conviction of mind and action, the ability to put every ounce of his will towards a specific goal. That sort of laser focus can be even more frightening than a sociopathic titan like Amos.

Meanwhile, on Mars, Bobbie’s world continues to spiral further down into frustration. In an attempt to regain her integrity, she tells the dock foreman about the break-in and her role in the theft. When he doesn’t terminate or reprimand her but instead suggests they could make money selling the now-obsolete military wares for interested parties, it’s a harsh reminder that not everyone on Mars shares her personal code of honor. After being arrested for her role in the theft (thanks to the foreman) Bobbie reaches out to the only person she can think of: Esai Martin. With no good options on the table and the bitterness of the situation wearing on even her resolute spirit, Bobbie accepts Martin’s offer to work with him full-time. Considering the first job involved the OPA, chances are high she’ll come across the Belter organization soon enough. The beauty in The Expanse lies in the show’s ability to fashion narratives that are so relatable, even in such a far-off future. Bobbie’s struggle (and those of countless MCRN marines) on finding purpose after her life as a soldier is fundamental to her character and is no better example to the changes going on in that world.

Drummer and Ashford continue the difficult task of keeping the Belter OPA factions in line, a task made  more difficult by her releasing the charismatic Marco Inaros. (Photo: Amazon Prime)

Bobbie’s OPA experience leads to what is, save for maybe the Builders’ goings-on on Ilus, the biggest development in the season thus far. Using their myriad of connections, Ashford and Drummer successfully apprehend Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander, Impulse, Tyrant), Naomi’s ex and a leader of an OPA faction that doesn’t recognize the scriptures of the convention. Joined by leaders of the Black Sky, Golden Bough, and Mater Kibileya factions, Ashford and Drummer put Marco’s fate to a vote. But their mistake was allowing him to speak beforehand.

In his first appearance on the show, Alexander embodies Marco’s silvery tongue and wanton charisma; he ends up changing the minds of two of the faction leaders. Drummer, though not affected by his impassioned defense, votes to keep him alive as a way to prevent a civil war/retaliation from his Free Navy cohorts. Ashford understands, perhaps better than Drummer, that people like Marco are cancers of the body. A fanatic, delusional in his own righteous ideals, Marco’s most dangerous trait is in weaving snippets of truth into his own self-serving motivations and molding that into a brilliant weapon against those who would go against him. In that way, he’s the devil, providing just enough of the truth to make many hesitate long enough to be ensnared by his charismatic eloquence. That skill to influence, to entrance, is every bit as dangerous as the military hardware he subtlety hints is at his disposal. To have Marco and his followers out in the system with no way to reliably catch back up with him…the damage will be done before people will even have a chance to blink.

According to Webster’s, the term retrograde, as an adjective, means “directed or moving backward” while its noun form is that of “a degenerate person”. There could not have been a more apropos title to give this episode than “Retrograde”. From Bobbie’s descent towards an unsavory lifestyle to the deterioration of order on Ilus, the entire narrative is one where, despite the advances on tech or the opportunities that have arisen thanks to the Ring, humankind continues to find itself succumbing to its baser instincts. There is no better example of that than with Marco Inaros. Marco’s archaic beliefs—shared by the more militant members of the OPA—are an embodiment to long-standing ideologies present throughout history. Tribalism is a natural state of humanity, ingrained since man could walk as a way to protect from greater threats. But when the way of the tribe forsakes its duties to further the society it is a part of and instead refuses to adapt to change, it becomes a dangerous thing.

In its genius, The Expanse has given our protagonists their most deadly enemy yet; one whose motivations are not alien designs to make us something greater, rather it’s the very human urge to wipe out those they hate, sowing fear and chaos in their wake. And that is more frightening than even the Builders’ incalculable purpose.


Tilting at Windmills

• As the Builders’ tech on Ilus begins to wake up, Elvi and her husband, Fayez Sarkis (Zach Smadu, Cardinal, A Simple Favor), are slowly building a picture of how the ‘awakening’ is affecting the planet. Even constrained by Murtry’s irresponsible orders, the pair will be a vital cog in discovering how far the Builders have interwoven themselves into this planet’s biosphere.

• Though Drummer’s explanation to Ashford on why she spared Marco is sound—preventing retribution from his OPA faction, she’s too focused on the short term. That’s not all her fault, after all, no one really knows just how organized Marco’s faction is (though Ashford, with a bit experience with men like Marco, surmises it’s much more than some thrown together cadre of stolen ships). Even in her resolve, Drummer couldn’t quite rein in the doubt that, perhaps she made a grave mistake.