Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Expanse S1 E3: Remember The Cant

"Earth and Mars been stepping on the necks of the Belters out here for over a hundred years and I didn't want to be the boot.
I stopped playing."
- James Holden-

"You know what I love most about Mars?
They still dream. We gave up.
They're an entire culture dedicated to a common goal working together as one to turn a lifeless rock into a garden.
We had a garden and we paved it."
-Earth Ambassador to Mars Ambassador-

The sheer level of sophistication in the production design for The Expanse is nothing shy of astounding. The opening frames of the latest entry, The Expanse, Season One, Episode 3, Remember The Cant, displays a tremendous amount of care and thought in its attempt at world building and more precisely space station and space ship building. It's clear every effort was made to produce a high grade take on James S.A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes (Corey being a pen name for Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) and bringing that story to life. It's mythology and characters are meticulously chosen and painstakingly placed on the small screen.

The episode's title itself speaks to the very heart of the authors' efforts. Remember the Cant immediately positions the tale with a kind of legendary ethic through a title befitting a battle cry of the people. The Cant to be remembered in space folklore if you will.

The hand terminal, a piece of Corey tech, is often cited and plays a crucial role in communications throughout the book on which The Expanse (2015-) is based.

The hand terminals are brought to beautiful life throughout the series and are utilized as a kind of next generation iPhone perhaps just a few generations out. This is a leap into the future but the not-so-distant future.

The opening scenes witness a teeming Ceres station and the receipt of an urgent video transmission from one James Holden. His message decrying the destruction of the Canterbury plays throughout the station on large screens and on those at-the-ready little hand terminals. We simply cannot live without them.

The message too is indeed lifted straight from the final paragraphs of Chapter 5 in the book.

The Expanse is quite faithful to the book, but must flexibly hop time in adapting the material for television thus the series isn't entirely in book sequence, but the substance is there in place coupled with some new ideas.

Captain Shaddid briefs the men and women of Star Helix Security tasked with keeping order on Ceres (a la Babylon 5). Straight from the pages of the books, the series and the book tap into the radical elements of today's volatile world and the fragile balance of civility in a melting pot of Belters, Earthers and Martians that pass through Ceres and live in the Belt. The terror arm of the Belt is often referred to as the OPA. The job of Star Helix Security, an Earth corporation, is to remain impartial. In other words, as is often the case with American armed forces, the hands of the security forces are tied. Peace is what is sought, but enforcement of the law, preventing violence or handling actual crimes is another story.

Case in point, Shaddid's assignment to the missing girl case that is Juliette Andromeda Mao. It's an assignment, but don't place too much effort or focus upon it.

Of course, the Mao case becomes an awakening for Detective Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane) as evidenced in significant moments in the closing frames of Ep1, Dulcinea here.

Shaddid makes it clear she, and the mission of Star Helix Security, apparently place no value on Mao or the losses aboard The Scopuli.

Turning the story to the Donnager, where Holden and crew were taken prisoner, we are introduced to the critical players aboard the Donnager, like Martian navy officer Lopez, colorfully written for the book and equally brought to life here.

On Earth U.N. Deputy Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala believes the events in the Belt may be the work of Mars. The belief is efforts to destroy the Canterbury, starve the Belter water supply, destabilize Ceres station with a restless OPA will give the Martians cause to fill a void.

The Earth-Mars-Belter politics of The Expanse are complex and fascinating damn near impenetrable it has been written by some. J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) would certainly endorse the series on a substantive level. Paying attention to the details is important. Reading the published work wouldn't be a detriment.

Much debate ensues on Earth. Is Mars behind the Canterbury's destruction? The word of James Holden, a former Naval officer, is still in question. But ultimately Ceres is the Earth link to the Belt as much as Israel is considered the sole true United States' ally and gateway into the Middle East. Tensions are easily running as high. Relations between the Belt, Mars and Earth are akin to those between the Centauri and the Narn in Babylon 5 (1993-1998). They are tenuous at best.

It is believed by Earth that the OPA are working with the Martians to take Ceres.

Miller, Dmitri Havelock and Octavia Muss are busy squelching unrest and keeping the peace on Ceres.

On the Donnager Holden is questioned by Martian naval officer Lopez, expertly played by Greg Bryk in a tense, outstanding sequence. Lopez accuses Holden of stopping at Phoebe Station, a restricted station. He also names Naomi Nagata (portrayed by the exceptional Dominique Tipper) an OPA operative to Holden, but Holden refuses to believe it. Nevertheless, it's clear loyalties are a bit murky out in the Belt.

Following isolated interrogation the remaining crew members of the now legendary Cant are deposited into a single holding room. Holden and Alex Kamal, pilot of the Canterbury, are alone. Dressed in Martian clothes, Holden discovers Kamal once flew for the Martian navy for twenty years. Holden is less than pleased at this discovery of the honorably discharged Kamal.

Kamal questions the logic of Martian involvement. He inquires who is to gain? And what of Naomi? Seeds of discontent are in play but will it tear these crewmen apart?

On Ceres Station, amidst Miller's Mao operations on the docks he meets OPA operative Anderson Dawes, played by the always impressive Jared Harris (Fringe, Mad Men). Tensions are heating up between Belters, OPA and the Martians on Ceres and Dawes steps in to quell emotions and aid Miller urging his OPA brothers to behave not like "animals."

Two thespians square off over drink in the form of Jane and Harris as they discuss the whereabouts of Juliette Mao as well as the swirling politics around them. The Ceres-born Miller works for Earth's Star Helix Security but is personally invested in finding the missing Mao.

On The Donnager, Lopez questions Naomi. Once again he inquires if the crew of the Canterbury visited research station Phoebe.

The Expanse also plays on communal threats like guilt by association. Is Naomi OPA or simply someone who has had contact?

Lopez presses Naomi to offer information on why her team answered the distressed. Such an act is often known to be the work of pirates, but Naomi refuses to relinquish information preferring to protect her crew mates.

The crew is reunited in the holding room. Naomi and Amos Burton (Wes Chatham excellent in the role)share a strong bond of sibling -like loyalty. Medical technician Shed Garvey (well-played by Paulo Costanzo) has an opportunity to allow his character to shine a bit here in Remember The Cant which makes the fate that awaits him aboard the Donnager doubly cruel. You really like Shed.

A dramatic, gripping exchange occurs between the five members of the Cant. Tensions flare and ultimately Holden agrees to speak with the Donnager's captain.

A ploy by Earth through the Mars ambassador forcing Mars to assess its stealth tech by Avasarala determines that Mars is not working with the OPA after all and is not attempting to take Ceres. Nor does it appear that Mars destroyed the Cant. The question remains who? As Avasarala notes, "someone who is trying to start a war." For now Earth may have prevented one.

Holden meets with the captain of the Donnager who informs Holden his message that Mars destroyed the Cant is a lie and that he must recant his statement.

The captain requests Holden send a message implicating Naomi Nagata as an OPA sleeper agent of the Cant's destruction.

The captain informs Holden of an incoming vessel at full burn. It is not of Mars or Earth origin and will not receive the Donnager's hails. It is headed straight for the Donnager.

On Ceres Miller attempts to determine the Scopuli's flight path and other data pertinent to his investigation. Meanwhile, a full on riot is forming on Ceres and things are getting out of control as the OPA stirs up a hornet's nest.

Another beauty of a moment occurs between Avasarala and the Mars ambassador that is quite sobering and speaks to Chrisjen's character and her desire to win at any cost.

"Remember The Cant" ends with those words as the OPA makes a statement and gravely injures Miller's Earth partner Havelock.

Remember The Cant draws upon Leviathan Wakes and essentially draws on sections through Chapter 11.

Visually, Jeff Woolnough (Battlestar Galactica, The Vikings) takes the reins of the two part Donnager affair in episodes three and four and continues to draw upon and draw out the visually striking universe of The Expanse.

The Expanse moves the mystery forward while also giving pause to moments that allow the viewer to color in the characters a bit more including scenes not found in the book.

But like the book what Remember The Cant does, like the series in general, is give us a pause. Misinformation and incorrect perceptions can be destructive. Consider a powerful film like The Hunt (2012; the Danish film Jagten) and the snowball effect of an event based on lies, misinformation and falsities can lead to chaos, hatred, violence and even death.

The remaining members of the Cant continue to eek out existence through survival instinct. For those who have read the book things come to a thrilling head for them in CQB while aboard the Donnager. Strap in because The Expanse continues to heat up modulating between equal parts drama and action. What The Expanse lacks in character development for some parts it more than compensates for with its dense story machinery.

Writer: Robon Veith (Mad Men). Director: Jeff Woolnough (Battlestar Galactica)

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