Historically, space politics in science fiction are notoriously difficult to make exciting, but on The Expanse, U.N. undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is arguably a bigger badass than anyone on the show who wields a gun. In the latest episode, “Weeping Somnambulist,” Avasarala’s words are weapons, and she’s not taking any shit.
Spoilers ahead for The Expanse Season 2, Episode 9: “Weeping Somnambulist.”
Previously, case studies for space politics moving the plot forward in mainstream sci-fi are mostly failures: boring conversations between Palpatine and Natalie Portman in Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, drawn-out conference room action in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and hokey hair-dos on Babylon 5. Prior to The Expanse, these kinds of sequences weren’t bad ideas per se, but never had quite the urgency they could have. But, the space politics stuff on The Expanse pops partially because the stakes don’t involve weird made-up aliens and also because Avasarala Chrisjen is such a formidable character. In the latest episode, a Martian delegation comes to Earth to basically cover up why Bobbie Draper’s squad was all-but wiped out on Ganymede. Avasarala can tell a lot of shit is being obscured, and she quickly wants to get to the bottom of it.
“Whoever the fuck you are, stand down and let her speak,” Avasarala says, snapping at a Martian political stooge who is trying to prevent Bobbie Draper from delivering real testimony. Avasarala doesn’t get the answers she wants in this episode, but she’s getting closer. In the book version of this story, Caliban’s War, Avasarala ends up controversially hiring Bobbie as her personal assistant, a fate which seems to be hinted at in this episode.
Elsewhere in this episode, Holden, Naomi, and Amos hijack a relief vessel with the hopes of sneaking into Ganymede station undetected. In an interesting counterbalance to the Avasarala/Bobbie space politics stuff, the gunplay cowboy diplomacy served up by Amos and Holden backfires in almost every way imaginable. By stealing this ship, one of its civilian pilots ends up dead, which is totally Holden’s fault.
A running theme of The Expanse novels deals with characters like Holden and Avasarala struggling with living with the far-reaching impact of their actions, which is definitely on display in this episode as Holden is clearly shaken by the collateral damage he and his crew have caused. He, Naomi, and Amos may be badasses, but they make a lot of mistakes that could cause them to second-guess themselves. Meanwhile, on Earth, in the halls of power, Avasarala wrestles with her conscience too, but maybe not as much as the people out their in space. With makes Avasarala probably the most formidable, and potentially ruthless, character in the Solar System.
The Expanse airs on Syfy on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EST.