“This is only the beginning.”
A major tenant to maintaining tension in a series is keeping the characters on shaky ground. Move the goalposts, per se, having them trade one crisis for another. While temporarily safe from the ocean surrounding them, the inhabitants of Ilus (settlers and RCE folks alike) are now faced with the prospect of going blind on top of the poisonous slugs they’re sharing the water-locked ruins with them. Now, trapped in a cauldron of tension with Holden the only person unaffected by the eye-blinding infection, the difficulty of one person upholding order and calm is untenable. Though there is nothing inherently bad about this part of the narrative, there is strong progress with some individual character arcs. We finally get Murtry’s true motivations — the willingness to kill for a buck (very large sums of bucks, that is) —which emphasizes just how terrible a person he is whereas Chandra is squeezed by her loyalty to Murtry and her fellow RCE men versus her feelings for Amos. The acting, per usual, is top notch, and yet “A Shot in the Dark” lacks that extra gear, with much of its energy pressed towards anticipation of what’s to come.
The goings-on over the planet are missing that same special ingredient, though Alex and Lucia do their damned best to make things memorable. From their initial meeting, these two have shared a special bond (though not to the level Alex would have preferred), and that was strengthened when he talked Lucia from her bidding to die. This time it’s more about holding on to good moments with loved ones but not taking action to prevent regret. Because he’s so cool and collected, Alex’s pain and regret from losing his family are rarely brought to the forefront. He allows Lucia to see a glimpse of that ache, a testament to great character that seamlessly marries into furthering the story. It gives Lucia an idea—a terribly impractical and potentially dangerous one — to keep the Barbapiccola afloat. How funny then, is it that Lucia’s daughter is a major cog in getting this done. She’s still angry at her mother’s involvement with the shuttle explosion, but it’s a step in the right direction for both mother and daughter.
Unfortunately, when we shift the focus to Earth and Avasarala’s story line, “A Shot in the Dark” noticeably falters. As captivating as she is, Avasarala’s political arc has been the weaker part of Season Four thus far; it’s no doubt vital to future events but doesn’t possess the self-sustaining tension as other pieces of the narrative. Yet, there’s one thing that drags these segments down even more and that’s the changes made to Arjun. It’s not just recasting Brian George, who perfectly embodied Arjun’s yin of calm and thoughtfulness to Chrisjen’s aggressive and calculating yang. Michael Benyaer is not a bad actor but nothing about him corresponds to Arjun’s character. In application, he’s just a slightly less aggressive version of Avasarala who instead of exuding calm, strikes back at her with an almost detached indifference.
The truth is that even a good actor isn’t always the right fit for every role; Benyaer does not pull off what The Expanse needs Arjun to be. The sweet and loving chemistry between Aghdashloo and George was a tangy mix of salty and sweet but Benyaer is just not that guy. Perhaps the showrunners wanted him to have a more dominant persona to better match Avasarala’s intensity but, if that’s the case, they completely missed the dynamic of this relationship. Having Arjun as a similarly intense character completely disrupts the rhythm of their relationship to the point where it’s a distraction. Couple that with a decided lack of chemistry — he comes across as more of a trusted adviser than husband — and this story arc mars what would have been another strong installment.
It’s a difficult prospect (to the level of being nearly impossible) for a show to continual maintain the high level of excellence The Expanse has achieved thus far in the season without a dip somewhere along the way. By most series standards, “A Shot in the Dark” would have been good — perhaps very good — but we’re not comparing it with other shows, just the magnificence of this series. In that, this seventh episode is a letdown. As mentioned above, it suffers from very few interesting developments. Yes, the Ilus problem continues its evolution while Alex and Lucia have another outstanding one-on-one moment but, other than that, the rest is middling with a precipitous dip during the Avasarala arc. In an earlier review, I said that the transition from Brian George to Benyaer should not significantly impact the series. I was wrong. Yet, even as being the most disappointing episode arc this season, it’s still not enough to drag “A Shot in the Dark” down past good. That, at least is something.
Tilting at Windmills
• There is going to be some serious backlash to the failed mission to apprehend Marco. Not only do 12 marines die in the process but also a ship of mostly innocent Belters. Gao will most likely hammer Avasarala on this, let alone the Belters’ response to watching UN forces storm and kill their people. The one person that truly makes out in this is, of course, the fanatical Marco. He most definitely has other things planned and the strife this act created may hide his true machinations until it is too late.
• One thing the ground scenes on Ilus have done is give moments of respite where the characters can breathe and grow. Amos’s growth has been especially interesting to watch. Aside from his obvious attraction to Chandra that seems to go beyond just physical comfort, the care he takes with the Belter orphan is that of someone who can relate to the boy’s obvious fear and loneliness. But it’s his reaction to Holden telling him about the coming blindness that creates even more intrigue around his character. Seemingly afraid of nothing, what is it about being blinded (aside from losing such a vital sense) that drums up such fear inside him?