“Civilization has a lag delay…”
After an extended absence, Miller returns in “Saeculum”, giving Holden some heavy news while Naomi, Alex, and Lucia have to face their own battle of survival on the Roci as the ever devious Murtry tries to take advantage of everyone’s situational distractions.
Curiously enough, the first thing Holden notices about Miller—aside from the banshee-like scream we left off in “The One-Eyed Man”—is his missing hat. As it turns out, the hat-wearing version was not the Miller Holden knew, rather it was the ‘Investigator’, a part of the detective commandeered by the protomolecule. The hat-less version is the real Miller who’s finally broken away from the Builders’ control. Free of his “jailer”, Miller works with Holden to deactivate the Builders’ tech on Ilus and help Holden and the other humans a chance to survive. What follows is a trippy ride through the core of the planet and the massive structures built belowground. Though it’s not our first peek at the sophistication of the Builders (the protomolecule and the Venus incident did that), it’s a tangible remnant of a long-dead civilization that makes you wonder just what else is out there.
While Holden searches for Miller’s ‘magic bomb’, Murtry takes advantage of the confusion and makes his move to eliminate the most irksome of problems from his potential windfall: Jim Holden. Whether it’s for loyalty’s sake or ignorance, Chandra continues to support her boss, a decision that gets her killed when she puts Amos up against the wall, forcing him to choose to kill her or putting Holden in danger. With the way Amos has grown this season, it’s not clear whether killing Chandra will continue to push him towards finding his own conscience or set him back a few steps to the easy-going sociopath we’ve known all these years.
On the subject of killers, Murtry’s insightful conversation with Holden puts a lens on the issues that will inevitably rise up in colonization. Like the Wild West, untamed lands, while ripe for growth, lack the structures of civilization. Murtry notes this, citing that “civilization has a lag delay”, meaning that men like him are necessary to pave the way before the intellectual aspects of society can plant its seeds and grow. Though he’s not wrong — in some regards, he’s uncomfortably right — he sees the baser levels of humanity and not those like Holden who do what they can to hold others to a higher standard. It’s just another example of this series, giving credence to the motivations of an antagonist that, while not acceptable, can be understood… from a certain point of view.
Though Holden doesn’t complete the steps laid out by Miller — he goes back to check on Amos, taking down Murtry in the process — Elvi is there to do just that. In a series steeped in realism, it’s startling to watch an animated golem of alien metal and possessed by the remnants of a man dead for years lurch towards a portal of energy. But the crazy nature of these events is tempered by the more grounded nature of calamity in orbit. Acting as a tugboat to keep the Barbapiccola from burning up in the planet’s atmosphere, the Roci is attacked by Murtry’s shuttle bomb, narrowly avoiding destruction in large part thanks to Fayez’s warning from the Edward Israel. This entire scene plays out with the familiar Expanse intensity, particularly when Naomi must rescue Lucia, on the float after being knocked out of the Roci and hurling uncontrollably through space. The unexpected attack has crippled the Roci and made it nigh impossible to maintain its orbit as well as the Barb’s…until Alex uses the railgun as a nice little boost. It works for a time but there’s only so much battery life left on the Roci without its fusion engines, thus the daring events taking place on Ilus will be the deciding factor on whether everyone lives or dies.
No matter the circumstance, The Expanse is so spectacular in maintaining (and altering) its levels of tension. Whether it’s of the personal variety — as demonstrated between Holden, Amos, and Murtry — or the more situational kind as seen on the Roci¸ it’s seamlessly woven into the narrative and not an artificial concoction there solely to initiate drama. “Saeculum” has a lot going on and focuses all its attention on Ilus. In that, the tone remains constant and though slight shifts that provide more balance to other aspects of a season’s narrative is usually more ideal, there’s so much to get through here that the finale can be better used to wrap up the other individual arcs. On an individual level, “Saeculum” is a complete episode but its strength truly lies in the bridge it creates between an already phenomenal season and the anticipations that await us in the finale. On Ilus at least, all the bad seeds have been excised from the mix, now it’s just a wait-and-see to determine if that’ll be the case for the rest of the story.
Tilting at Windmills
• Amos has one of the best lines this season when he told Wei that “Just because someone’s good to you doesn’t mean you can trust ‘em”. Knowing a little about Amos’s past and his experience with people like Murtry, it was a thoughtful bit of dialogue from a character who’s known more for his physicality than words of wisdom. Though Amos’s feelings for Wei seemed genuine and surprisingly deep, they couldn’t hope to match the love and connection he has for his Roci One of my favorite things about Amos is his ability to act without hesitation, a necessary trait when it comes to decisions of life-or-death.
• Though I mistakenly noted (in the “Retrograde” review) that Elvi and Fayez were married—one of those cross-up moments when separating the more recent installments of the book series from the show—they are not. But there is obviously something between the two thus, I can only guess that if the pair return in a future season that marital union will be a thing.