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The Expanse: Rock Bottom (2016)
A new mission
A great episode with lots of developments, too many to list here.
This series is not for the easily distracted or those who are looking for everything to be nicely wrapped up in a bow by episode's end. This is like a four course meal with a huge delicious steak as the main course. You do not rush it, you sink your teeth into it. And in this episode there was a LOT to sink our teeth into.
Perhaps the best and most poignant moment in this episode is the one event that almost no one knows about (yet): the suicide run by the Belter asteroid prospector on the Martian patrol ship. We also catch up with the Belter kid who stole the water on Ceres a few episodes back, as he is dumped out into space (in a suit) by his prospector uncle before his uncle starts the run. We watch him float helplessly, calling for his uncle, and then, reflected in his visor, we see the distant explosion...his uncle and the patrol ship are gone. We really get a feel for how desperate the Belters are, and how poorly treated they are by the Martians and Earthers, and how all of this is pushing the situation in the belt to the brink of war.
The Expanse (2015)
A great mystery awaits
It's been a while since there was a good arcing science fiction series on TV, and with The Expanse, it's about time. The background and story is captivating in my opinion. We get a real honest look at what Earth and the rest of the solar system might be like in the next century or two.
The Earth has survived the environmental crisis now facing us and the United Nations evolved into a true world government. Great sea walls hold back the swollen oceans from the coastlines. This has saved New York City from certain destruction, which is now the Earth capital. Earth is all about pragmatism and entitlement; do what must be done to safeguard the UN and the ancestral home of Humanity. The moon has been heavily colonized by Earth, and is apparently a major hub for solar system shipping.
Mars was colonized and declared independence from the UN. Mars technology appears advanced compared to Earth and the Martians toil endlessly to terraform their barren world into a garden. They have a very low opinion of Earth and Earthers.
The UN and Martian cultures are locked in a cold war with each other. Stuck in the middle are the Belters, the lanky people who colonized the low-gravity worlds in the asteroid belt and the moons of the outer planets Jupiter and Saturn, used and abused by Earth and Mars who are yearning to stake their own claim in the solar system and drive off the 'dirtsiders'.
And something is stirring out there in the outer planets...a mystery and a crisis unlike Human civilization has ever seen.
I find the story gripping so far, and the characters well written and portrayed. Thomas Jane deserves special mention for really pulling out all the stops in his portrayal of Miller, the Belter detective trying to figure out the mystery at the heart of this story. He even cut his hair and apparently lost a lot of weight to be more in character as a Belter.
The Expanse: Back to the Butcher (2016)
The plot thickens
This is going to be a long one. The plot thickens nicely in this episode.
Miller discovers more clues about Julie Mao. She was selfless and she toured the belt a few years ago. A ship called the Anubis was headed from Phoebe station to asteroid Eros. The Scopuli, which Julie was on, was apparently intended to intercept the Anubis, and take what it possessed. At that point, everything started going crazy in the outer worlds. Miller's theory is that the Anubis picked up something at Phoebe station that was incredibly valuable, valuable enough to kill a lot of people over. Where is the Anubis? And how and why did a fleet of advanced warships show up in the outer planets and start wrecking ships left and right? Also the apparent 'plan' by these strange forces to frame Mars is starting to work, as news programs suggest that popular opinion is beginning to pile up against Mars.
The chemistry between the four Canterbury survivors is pretty good, I like it. Not-sure-if-I-want-to-lead/a-bit-full-of-myself Holden, I'm-in-charge-with-a-full-head-of-steam Nagata, whatever-Nagata-says Amos, and quirky-unlucky Kamal who's fond of saying "Crap." when things go south.
We find out more about Fred Johnson, the director of Tycho station, with a checkered past that saw him massacre Belters on Anderson station (earning him the name The Butcher of Anderson Station). Now it appears that he is hard-core OPA, perhaps trying his best to atone for his past. He messages the Cant survivors, offering them safe haven, and the episode ends with them taking him up on his offer as they head for Tycho. Johnson is portrayed by the excellent Chad Coleman, who many will fondly remember as Tyrese from The Walking Dead.
There's a funny scene where Nagata has a run in with the Tachi's computer. Being a front-line ship, the central computer is so smart that it recognizes her as the engineering-type and displays the ship's engineering readouts to her without even being asked, which are perfectly right down the middle of course. This just frustrates her more. "There's nothing to fix." she complains. She pulls away a small patch of wall covering in defiance of the perfect Martian ship.
Coffee comes up a few times during the episode. Miller brews some up, and his friend comments that he's never done that before. It also comes up with the Cant survivors. If we recall, Holden has been pining for real coffee for a while now. In an earlier episode, we saw him flashback when he first met the Canterbury's navigator, whom he had a relationship with before she died on the Cant. The scene revolved around making a close coffee analog. He quickly brews some up in the Martian galley and sips it, and judging by his reaction it has to be pretty good.
We find out that Havlock survived his near-fatal encounter with local thug Kothari and a bolt-driver. Miller's reaction is quite odd. Usually, if a mentor's junior partner is nearly killed, the mentor takes it kind of personal and usually makes it his prime goal to find the scumbag responsible and deal with them. Miller doesn't, even with OPA big shot Dawes practically hands Kothari to him on a silver platter. Is there something in Miller's past that is influencing this odd behavior? Does he resent Havlock because he's an Earther? The episode ends with a nice cliffhanger and I'm certainly on the edge of my seat to find out what happens next.
One final note, I don't know if it's intended as an homage, but the shop that Miller visits near the end of the episode is called Tech Noir, which is also the name of the bar that Sarah Connor goes to in the original Terminator.
Some great writing and acting, especially Miller. Miller's "That's the LAST STUPID THING you get to say to me during this interview." or "I saw him in the morgue. He's mushroom food now....wanna join him?" were memorable.
The Expanse: CQB (2015)
Great pacing leading to an excellent cliffhanger
Forty three minutes of excellent science fiction. This episode is one long battle between the Martian space navy flagship Donnager and an armada of six unknown ships (with a few scenes where we cut away to the asteroid belt and Earth, but I'm going to focus on the battle here).
The battle begins with Martian arrogance that they have everything under control. As the episode and the battle progresses, that arrogance erodes as it increasingly becomes obvious that the Donnager is outmatched. She manages to destroy 4 of the 6 enemy ships, but by that point she's crippled. The remaining 2 ships start a boarding action against the now-toothless flagship. During the boarding action, we find out that these are Humans aboard these strange ships, but not much more than that.
After ensuring that the remaining survivors of the Canterbury are safely away in the Donnager's armed shuttle Hitachi, the crippled flagship self-destructs. It's unclear if the explosion takes out the remaining enemy ships.
During all this, Martian officer Lopez reveals that they were dispatched to investigate a loss of communications with their base on Saturn's moon Phoebe. The Donnager found the base destroyed, everyone was dead, apparently an accident until they found that the computers on the base had been purposely smashed. The Donnager was on its way back to Mars when it picked up the distress call from the Canterbury survivors.
There's also some potentially dark foreshadowing with respect to the mention of asteroid impacts and the extinction of the dinosaurs. There's also the suggestion that a faction of belters might be responsible for the strange enemy ships.
We are faced with many questions: How will Mars respond to losing its flagship? Might they blame Earth? Earth has deployed the Orinoco to the area. Will they find the Donnager's shuttle? Will they be ambushed like their Martian counterpart? Why was Martian base on Saturn's moon Phoebe destroyed?
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
A tight, focused, crazy, visceral action masterpiece
After watching this movie I was like "That is exactly what an action movie should be.". When did action movies forget how to have fun, or be completely mad and crazy? Or have a deep subtext without lots of boring exposition? This masterpiece pulls you in, and for two hours it never lets you go, save for a moment here and there that are perfectly timed to let you catch your breath.
As the movie went on, and to my delighted surprise, this turned out to not only be a story about Furiosa, Max, and Joe's wives, but this was also the story of Nux, of transformation. A crazed brainwashed thug who rediscovers his humanity through the kindness of Capable, one of the fugitives he was tasked with hunting down. He makes good, helping them, even being grudgingly befriended by Max, who obtains a boot for him in one of the battles, replacing the one Max 'borrowed' from him earlier in the movie.
At the beginning of the movie, Nux tells Slit how he wants to die historic on the Fury Road, that he was destined for something great. Ironically he achieves his goal, not as a brainwashed suicide bomber as he originally envisioned, but as a true hero. In laying down his life, he saves his new friends. As a result he also brings freedom to the people of the Citadel.
I imagine that in the new Citadel, they will sing songs and tell tales of the Warboy who defied Immortan Joe...who died historic on the Fury Road...and gave Citadel the hope of a better future...the Warboy Nux, who rides forever in Valhalla, shiny and chrome.
Please Like Me (2013)
In one word, this show is fun.
From the teaser, to the entertaining title credits where Josh dances a funny little jig while he cooks up the name of the episode (Spanish Eggs for example), to the final scene, this show is all about the humor to be found in our own quirks and our quirky relationships with others...Josh and his first boyfriend Geoffrey, his dad and his Thai girlfriend Mae, his mom and his aunt, Josh and his aunt, Josh and Claire, Ted and Nev, etc.
The other thing that makes this a joy to watch is that the cast clearly enjoys what they're doing...it shines through their portrayals. There are also a few scenes where I swear they improvised, and improvised really well. Think 'Arrested Development meets generation Y'.
I am struck by the timeless quality of this cautionary tale. I don't think it's about politics or religion, I think it's about a more general human failing and a redeeming human quality. It's about ignorance versus reason, survival at any cost versus pragmatism.
I see this as people abandoning science for a quick fix because they are tired or they are frustrated beyond reason, and commit communal suicide.
The same is happening today in slow motion. When the 'old man' helps the community, this help is taken for granted. People are more frustrated that the 'old man' (i.e. science) is right, rather than the fact that they paid for their own ignorance of his knowledge. When the 'young man', thug (i.e. ignorant politicians/religious leaders), shows up and says everything is okay, everyone falls in (what an apt expression) and conforms to authority.
The authority figure even mocks the old man with the false death...the fact that death from radioactive food takes days is ignored...ignorance again.
It's easier and less frustrating with the young man than dealing with the old man...the community doesn't need to worry about listening to advice or facts. In their ignorance, their abandonment of reason, and their primitive pecking-order faith in the young man, the community runs straight over a cliff.
Wow...now that's a payoff
After what I considered to be a ponderous episode 4, I find that it was all a build up to an incredible payoff in an amazing episode 5. Incredible performances, showdowns, and cliffhangers are everywhere.
Sean Bean and Mark Addy require special mention for their scenes together in this episode, their first together since episode 2 (and one realizes that episode 3 and 4 were weaker for the lack of them). Excellent performers on their own, together they achieve an incredible dramatic synergy.
Lena Headey and Mark Addy also require special mention for their scene together in this episode. Very telling and frank.
Last but not least, if you are squeamish about sex, nudity, violence, or blood...this is not the series for you, and definitely not this episode. :)