The Expanse 1×05 Review: Back to the Butcher

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I am a person who appreciates a good slow burn, but I must admit that I’m starting to get frustrated with how slowly The Expanse is unraveling the mystery of what happened to the Scopuli.

Every episode reveals a new piece to the puzzle, but the big picture is still just blobs of color, and as much as I’m paying attention, I still feel like I’m missing things. For example, did Lopez die last episode and it just completely didn’t register with me? Even at the beginning of the episode, when Holden glanced over at him, I didn’t realize he was dead until they talked about having a “dead Martian in the trunk”. Am I really that oblivious? (Don’t answer that.)

One thing about The Expanse is that even though I’m frustrated by the pace at which we’re moving, every episode still serves to move the plot forward. “Back to the Butcher” showed Miller still investigating Julie Mao’s disappearance, even bringing in Octavia when she confronts him about whether or not he’s planning on going after the men who attacked Havelock (short answer seems to be no, even after being provided with their location courtesy of resident OPA Anderson Dawes). Miller learns more about what Julie was like – as in the type of person who would help others at risk to herself – and also discovers a microchip hidden in Julie’s apparently robotic hamster.

Who abducts Miller at the end of the episode isn’t that much of a mystery when it’s immediately followed by a promo for next week’s episode, but I’m still left trying to connect the threads of what we’ve been given. OPA, as voiced by Anderson, wants a Ceres – indeed, an entire Belt – run by Belters because they deserve to have a home just as much as Earthers. So far, all evidence points to them being behind the Scopuli, the Canterbury, and the Donnager…but if there’s anything I have learned about television, it’s that the obvious answer isn’t always the correct one. So then what is going on?

“Back to the Butcher” also provided us with the background we need to know that we may not be able to trust Fred Johnson – the titular ‘butcher’ – while at the same time pushing our intrepid crew in his the expanse 1x5 2direction. After all, a man with the nickname “the butcher of Anderson Station” must be a vile person…unless it is this event that pushes him to join the OPA. The flashback, while seemingly unconnected, also shows us more about the situation that the Belters face, and how the other powers (Earth and Mars) feel about them – namely, that they are disposable (also, referring to them as terrorists when by all appearances it was a peaceful protest – eerily emulating current events). I also couldn’t help but wonder if Anderson Station is somehow related to Naomi and her insistence that they couldn’t trust Johnson. She didn’t claim to know him personally, just alluded to knowing men like him. (Yet Amos was still somehow able to convince her to head to Tycho Station anyway.)

There was also yet another mention of Phoebe, this time in conjunction with Julie and the Scopuli. Lopez kept interrogating the Cant survivors about Phoebe, and now we learn that what happened to the Scopuli may be related to Phoebe as well.

I think the best thing about “Back to the Butcher” was the little details that may not seem important in the grand scheme of things but inevitably help to flesh out the characters a bit more. For example, Anderson offers to buy Miller a drink and Miller refuses. Does he have a drink at all this episode? Is he seemingly sobering up in order to more fully devote himself to this investigation? What is it about Julie that has him so engrossed in her disappearance? This episode also shows us the Cant survivors just being regular people. Holden’s joy at finding coffee in the commissary of the Rocinante (previously Tachi) mirrored by Amos discovering booze in one of the bunks; Alex gazing at a picture of his family as he sets course for Tycho station, contrasted by Naomi alone in her bunk clearly concerned about their destination.

This is the first episode without Avasarala, and it didn’t suffer for it. I love Avasarala; she’s a badass, but her plotline seems to have stalled already. With her on Earth and nowhere near the action, there doesn’t seem to be much she can do to advance the story, and until she is given a little more depth, I feel like her presence won’t add much to an already stellar show. Give me a little more understanding about her motivations, though, and see how easily I change my tune.

The Expanse does well with its currently unconnected plot threads, but I can tell that once these threads intersect this show is going to be even more amazing. “Back to the Butcher” marks the halfway point for season 1, so we will soon be seeing some payoff. I absolutely can’t wait.

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.


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