With “Strange Dogs”, the final season of The Expanse has begun. This episode quickly and effectively let us know what all of the characters have been up to since we last left them at the end of season 5 while beginning to maneuver them into position for the end game. As an episode, it’s perfectly fine, but as the premiere episode for the last season, I was a little underwhelmed.
Let’s go through “Strange Dogs” piece by piece, starting with the crew of the Rocinante. They are down one crew member, and it still weighs heavily on them. Alex’s death, while clearly hastily added after the actor’s real-life issues led to his dismissal, is dealt with in a realistic and straightforward manner. Amos gazes wistfully (or as “wistfully” as Amos does anything) at a plaque with all their names on it. Naomi pauses for a moment of introspection the first time she pilots the ship, then later accuses Amos of trying to have Clarissa replace Alex. (Speaking of replacing Alex, where the hell is Bull?)
Tensions are high among the four of them. There’s no real interaction between Clarissa and Holden, so we don’t know what their relationship is like after the approximately six months they’ve been doing reconnaissance, but it’s clear that Naomi resents her presence. And it’s not unreasonable. Clarissa tried to kill them, killed a bunch of people, and tried to frame Holden for murder. Then Amos brought her onto the crew without so much as a discussion not long after Alex died. She is understandably not a fan, and that’s something that’s going to take a while to get over.
I do think that Naomi is frustrated and stretched thin and taking it out on Amos. Their argument is only a few minutes after Holden nearly died accidentally triggering a reactor and stopped it by banging on it with a wrench. But I also don’t necessarily disagree with her points. Amos has come to terms with what Clarissa has done but Naomi has not.
On the other side, Amos is tired of Holden trying to track down the protomolecule when his only concern is finding and killing Marco. Their recon mission is important, and they’ve clearly been seeing some action, since “Strange Dogs” joins them in the middle of a gunfight, but it seems that it’s been six months with no significant information and that has just got to be driving Amos crazy.
What they do find isn’t Marco but it’s potentially the next best thing. They believe they’ve managed to discover one of the ships Marco is using to continue to launch asteroids at Earth. Holden makes the decision to go after it, and the others agree… but something is off about it. Naomi is having trouble reconciling the fact that the people they are going after were once her people, that much is obvious. But I think Amos is chafing at the inaction against Marco himself. Stopping the asteroids is all well and good, but Amos wants to stop Marco, and they’re still not doing that.
Also chomping at the bit to step up and do something is Bobbie, who seems to be acting as Chrisjen’s personal aide and is clearly tired of it. She’s brusque with the reporters and not good at lying, as we can see in her interaction with Monica. But Chrisjen is also tired of inaction. All they’ve been able to do on Earth is blow up the asteroids, but even the fragments are causing casualties and effecting the climate. She wants to do something but there’s nothing she can do.
I appreciate that they are taking the time to show how badly Earth is doing after this. For a show that spends much of its time in space, “Strange Dogs” reminds us that there are still planets involved, and that there are extreme consequences. The grain silo Chrisjen and Bobbie are at is in the Mediterranean, where it’s snowing. There will be drastic changes for the future of humanity in more ways than just the catastrophic loss of life. (The news broadcasts at the beginning of the episode were a nice touch.)
I liked the little moment with Chrisjen floating weightless. She has always been the character most tied to Earth, so to see her embracing the zero gravity is a metaphor for the shifting priorities. But it also invokes the idea of a sensory deprivation tank, something used in astronaut training. The effects of a sensory deprivation tank are still being debated, but it’s been said that using one can sometimes lead to a boost in creativity, a boost in physical or mental strength, or an ease in anxiety. Chrisjen letting herself float like that could be a way for her to destress from a ridiculously stressful position, or perhaps she is trying to come up with a plan.
Meanwhile, Drummer is out in the belt doing her best to resist Marco’s growing territory and influence. I don’t know if I like the subplot with Michio. Someone clearly not being able to handle the stress of what they’re doing shouldn’t be put in charge of firing the weapon that kills people, even if it’s “simple” enough as “press this button”. I also find it a bit ridiculous that their solution is to drop her off somewhere rather than assigning her somewhere else on the ship. Are there seriously no other jobs she could be doing?
I’m not sure why the X-Ray bonus content, “One Ship”, couldn’t have been included in the episode. It does a lot to emphasize how bad things are for Drummer’s crew and also mentions some of the crew members who were missing during “Strange Dogs” (Oksana, Bertold).
Drummer continuing to be a thorn in Marco’s side is my favorite thing in the world. Because in “Strange Dogs”, you can see that while Marco is fantastic at bringing people to a frenzy, he’s an egomaniacal despot with no business leading anything. It’s easy to burn the world down, it’s less easy to raise people from the ashes. It’s obvious in his dismissal of the people of Ceres, of his lack of concern for the fact that they will soon have to ration. He is making the rookie mistake of not taking care of his people. Eventually, I feel that they will turn on him when it becomes obvious that he’s treating them the same way Earth and Mars did.
The throwaway mention of Dawes’s death was hard to stomach. Filming conflicts suck when it means that characters don’t get proper goodbyes.
We can already see the cracks in the foundation in Filip. He argues that they should take care of the people of Ceres, but with no idea of how to do it, he is easily brushed aside by his father. His behavior throughout “Strange Dogs” becomes increasingly erratic and culminates in him shooting (and killing? unclear) a friend of his for trying to talk him down during what seems to be a full-blown panic attack. Is he finally seeing Marco for who and what he is? Is Naomi still managing to get to him, even from so far away? Is he struggling under the weight of what he’s done?
For the most part, “Strange Dogs” does a good job setting up the final season. Everyone is stressed and feeling the effects of an ongoing war – even the people who are currently “winning”. Resources are stretched, and people are struggling along with inadequate sleep, doing jobs they never expected to be doing, forced to commit violent acts they don’t want to have to resort to.
But overall, as the premiere episode of the final season, “Strange Dogs” felt a bit lacking. The tension is there, and many emotional beats are there. But season 6 is only six episodes, and most of them are only 45 minutes long. How are they going to have time to wrap up everything in a satisfactory manner? How many characters are going to get the Dawes treatment? Can Marco and the protomolecule be dealt with in the time we have left?
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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