Unlike last week’s episode, which had a bit more of an even split, “Tribes” focuses heavily on Amos and Clarissa traipsing through the woods and Marco’s attempts to consolidate power in the Belt. What both of these subplots do exceptionally well is highlight the duality of human nature. In this episode, our “good guys” do bad things, and our “bad guys” do good things. As much as we might like to assign “good” and “evil” roles, the reality is often not so black and white.
First off, despite my prediction after last week, Chrisjen did not feature primarily in “Tribes”, but I believe that having her be the focus of the cold open was amazing, and Shohreh Aghdashloo did a phenomenal job. We are used to seeing Chrisjen be HBIC; even after her loss in the election, she was strutting around and getting things done. But now she is adrift. She still hasn’t been able to get in touch with her husband, and she was on the phone watching as most of the government leaders were killed in a military attack. I liked the simple highlight of her putting on her necklace, taking the moment to compose herself before putting on the armor. She’s taken her time to grieve, but now stuff needs to get done.
I also like how they portray the new Acting Secretary-General. He isn’t incompetent, he’s just out of his depth and he knows it. I have to wonder if one of the reasons he asked Chrisjen to be in his cabinet is so she would be in the line of succession and he could resign and let someone who knows what they’re doing lead. I also think it says a lot about Chrisjen that she didn’t simply seize power, even though she could have; even after everything, she still respects the chain of command.
(Side note: check out who’s been sending Chrisjen’s messages. The Mountain? The Doctor?)
Now then, let’s talk about our two main plotlines, which contrast each other nicely. Amos and Clarissa search for shelter after the destruction of the prison, and wisely avoid a UN refugee camp because they would likely detain or shoot Clarissa, as she’s an escaped prisoner. Even on the brink of society’s collapse, there would still be an effort to maintain order, even though Clarissa would be the least of everyone’s worries.
Their search leads them to a random man stopped in the woods, sitting by a fire, who lets them join him and even offers them booze. Amos, distrustful by nature (though there is speculation that this guy killed the man Amos and Clarissa stumbled across earlier), assumes the worst and shoos Clarissa along, later explaining his reasoning. His speech about the tribality of humans is where the episode gets its title, and it’s apt. Humans, Amos says, are only civil because civilization exists. Remove civilization and there’s no guarantee of what will happen. This pandemic is a perfect example of how humans will cluster in tribes; the more society is flourishing, the bigger the tribe is. We can afford to care about other people because our own needs are met. Take that away, however, and you have people hoarding toilet paper for themselves or selling hand sanitizer at a ridiculous markup.
But the biggest demonstration in “Tribes” comes when they track down the doomsday prepper (about whom they were specifically warned by the dude with the campfire) and essentially conspire to kill him and steal his supplies. Clarissa feels awful that they killed a man just to take his stuff, while Amos doesn’t see the issue with doing what they need to in order to survive. These differing viewpoints are likely due to their vastly different upbringings. Clarissa has never really known what it’s like to struggle, and that’s essentially all Amos has ever known. Not to mention, Amos has always relied on someone else to be his moral compass; it’s hard to care about morality when you need to fight just to live.
This is why Amos states that he needs to get back to his crew. Clarissa’s “prayer” (about killers being monsters and monsters not being afraid) makes him realize that he needs someone else to lead.
Meanwhile, in the Free Navy, things are obviously not what they seem. Marco is angry that Naomi’s warning to Holden prevented the destruction of Tycho, thus defeating the whole purpose of their attack. Tycho blowing up was meant to signal that the Belt was united, even though they are clearly not, and send a message to Earth and Mars. The first cracks in the armor come when Marco orders Filip and Cyn to space Naomi, and both of them are unwilling to do so. Filip says that he will just keep Naomi confined in her cell, and Cyn declares that if Marco wants Naomi dead, he will have to do it himself. Marco backs down, insisting he has more important things to do.
Marco is quite compelling as a character; he has all the hallmarks of a cult leader, but one who absolutely believes what he is selling. I haven’t read the books, so I don’t know what’s coming, and I really enjoy genuinely not knowing how he’s going to react to things. I thought for sure he would descend into a rage when he lost face, especially with both Cyn and Filip standing up to him. I didn’t expect Cyn to survive the conflict, and I still suspect he isn’t safe on the Pella. Kudos to Keon Alexander for his purposely over-the-top performance. He’s like an evil Captain Kirk; everything is big and dramatic.
These cracks in the armor will likely be widening as Filip comes to know more about his mother. He’s only been exposed to Marco, and no doubt Marco has been filling his head with lies. As he meets more people (like Drummer) who knew his mother after she defected, he starts to realize the picture that’s been painted for him may not be entirely accurate. I loved both of their scenes together in “Tribes”, but especially at the end when he goes to ask her about the Behemoth.
In having Drummer’s crew meet with Marco, they’ve inserted some nuance into Marco’s plan. For one, they openly wonder where Marco was able to get the Martian ships; without knowing that Mars has devolved into chaos and its own people are selling off its equipment, it might make him seem more powerful than he is. For another, they ask about agriculture; this helps flesh out the idea that Marco has actually put thought into this plan, rather than just destruction for the sake of it.
However, it also highlights the flaws in Marco’s plan as well. This is emphasized quite nicely in the scene in “Tribes” where Drummer’s crew discusses Marco’s offer. As it’s pointed out, they don’t have a choice; it was presented as a choice, but there really is no option. This happens a lot with megalomaniacs. With Marco self-appointing himself as a spokesperson for the entire Belt, he is dragging all Belters into the war with him whether they want to or not. It doesn’t matter if Drummer and her crew disagree; they will be seen as being with him just by virtue of being Belters.
But also, Marco’s vision of the future is highly optimistic. It relies heavily on unproven science and seems to discount the fact they will have to divert resources to agriculture while fighting a war with both Earth and Mars. Marco has attempted to level the playing field by acquiring Martian ships, but when it comes down to it, the combined might of Earth and Mars have superior manpower and technology. This does not appear to be a fight that the Belt can win.
On the plus side, Drummer now knows that Naomi is on the Pella, and Karal, the crew member that seems to hate Naomi the most, is on Drummer’s ship.
I feel like I have to mention Bobbie and Alex’s bits. Last week’s episode ended on such a cliffhanger for them, but in “Tribes” they have suffered no ill-effects from their hasty maneuver and in fact, have had time to plan how to bring down their pursuers. Bobbie should just go after every ship in the Free Navy in her power armor because damn, that was badass.
The pace has been a bit slower since all of the action at the beginning of the season, but slower-paced episodes like “Tribes” allow for some stellar character development and give the opportunity for The Expanse to flesh out its side characters. Everything can’t always be about Holden, after all.
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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