Dan seems to think Season 6 is pretty important. You should go watch it, and feel all the feels.
Dan Winburn: Check, check. Oh sorry, I thought I’d fill in the gaps there a little bit, because, uh, Morgan is not going to be joining us today. This is a me thing. Here on The Expansing, we have been going episode by episode, but we’re, we just finished Season 1, so the show is finishing. Most of you listening, if you are listening you probably are aware of that. You should probably go watch it. There’s going to be a lot of spoilers in this. I’m going to talk about the whole season. It’s not going to take very long, but we’re going to talk about the whole season, so who knows what I might spoil for you. If you’ve got a problem with that, go watch it now. You’ll be glad you did, it’s really good, it’s the best season, in my opinion. I’m Dan Winburn by the way, I’m the host here. But usually, I have a cohost: Morgan, who is a fantastic artist and Sci-Fi fan, so if this is your first episode, go check her out. She’s @LuxNovaStudio, she’s very good. Uh, she’s on Instagram.
D: Today we have a different kind of episode, this is just going to be my personal reflections upon the final season. It’s going to be [laughs] really self-indulgent, I guess. But if you are interested to hear what I have to say, I’m not going to talk about a bunch of technical things, I’m not going to talk about the books, I really just want to talk about what it was like for me to watch this. We joke a lot on this show, but I want to be serious for a moment, because what follows is a sincere presentation of my feelings while watching Season 6 of The Expanse. I’m a life-long fan of Sci-Fi, and we often speak about it in terms of “Life Lessons,” cool tech, or commentary on society, but we don’t reflect as often on how human beings in a future world will feel, really feel, in an honest portrayal. I admit that I am more affected by art in general than some people, and sometimes my feelings will fade on subsequent viewings, but this is an account of how and why it got to me. I’m one of those people who love to not do the things they want to do, so rather than watch the final season of this show that I like so much I started a podcast as an excuse to talk about it, I instead did not do that. I normally wouldn’t mind, I, I usually would be fine watching things after the fact, I can wait. It doesn’t have to be the second it’s released, but I felt it would be kind of a failure this time, given the whole podcast thing. So, I ended up watching all of Season 6 in a single binge, all alone because my wife has a real job, and I am really glad that I did.
D: The final season of The Expanse was for me, one of the most affecting pieces of television that I have ever experienced. I know that one of the core tenets for this show is a level of irreverence, but I’m going to be playing this very straight, not only to pay homage and to congratulate everyone involved, but because it took me to some extremely emotional places in a way that no other piece of Sci-Fi, and I would say very little art has ever taken me. It’s not rare that I will shed tears over a film or show, sometimes books, but mostly it happens with music. This season had moments that touched me the way music often can, deep wordless feelings from the irretrievable parts of your past, moments of heartache and melancholy that come up in a desperate crescendo, seemingly out of nowhere but made inevitable in retrospect, drawing back curtains in your mind.
D:So, this one is going to be kind of a bummer. That’s not to say there aren’t some amazing and fun scenes throughout the whole season. There were a bunch of moments when the kid in me was just agog at the amazing spacewalks, the intense, edge of your seat ship battles, the spectacular visual effects. Phantoms from my youth pulled at me, bits of Easter Eggs and little loving touches of accuracy that made me once again believe that Sci-Fi could be true. I want to talk about all of those really awesome things, but not yet.
D: As we work through the series, Morgan and I, we will revisit the final season, and hopefully get to talk about follow up projects, in a more thorough and light hearted manner, but for now I just want to leave a record of how it made me feel.
D: I felt love, in all it’s nuance and grace, its ability to heal and bring us together as well as its destructive and corrosive effects when it has fractured. Its manifestations where everywhere throughout the story. In the aliens we learn so little about, in the families we already know on the Rocinante and the Tynan, in desperation burning its way through Filip Inaros. Love presents itself in the Belters we meet trying to save their families, and in the ones mourning them. We see what love withheld does to people and what love that has been burnished into hatred does to people in every part of society.
D: I experienced the loss that affected everyone. Lost places, lost love, lost lives. The destruction and misery on Earth would be beyond imagining, and I think it would have been a mistake to dwell on the incalculable, but we get to see the species-wide consequences of what Marco has done through Avasarala and her epitaph for the corn. I thought of our own impending catastrophe and imagined myself in her place as an old man, seeing only the loss of what once was, and what could have been.
D: I empathized with the guilt that plagued so many characters. Naomi Nagata has become in my mind one of the most tragic characters in fiction because of all the guilt she carries, layers and layers of hideously destructive guilt, over things she’s done or blames herself for. Some of it is not misplaced. While with Marco, her actions helped kill many people. He and her son may have doomed humanity with their actions. Even in victory, she is unable to escape guilt. She has killed her son.
D: Filip himself is ravaged by the praise of those around him. Deep down, he is more like his mother. He finds no solace in the justifications and the glories because he is slowly realizing the depth of his own crimes. The dissonance inside him leads him to kill his own friend but also to begin to see the truth behind his father’s love. The conditional nature of it. And that his father does not feel the guilt that is consuming him. He was raised by this man and he has been a true believer. Marco is cruel and lusts for power, but he loves Filip in his own way and made him love the Belt. Marco doesn’t realize that when he betrayed the Belters on Ceres he betrayed his son as well. He betrayed Filip as much as he betrayed poor Tadeo.
D: One of the most difficult scenes was the moment of Tadeo’s unraveling in his cell. After risking his own status to help bring him news of his brother, Filip is stunned when Tadeo, and as I was stunned, I allowed myself to not see what was coming, when Tadeo reveals his role in the bombing of Ceres and the death of his own brother. Filip is gutted. It is his first real exposure to the human, collateral consequences of his own actions. In Tadeo, Filip sees his own inner turmoil. Tadeo has no illusions of grand purpose or destiny from his father. He doesn’t even have a father anymore. He crumples immediately under the weight of his actions and blames himself. For me, this was the heart of Filip’s transformation and the cause of his change of heart. He finally sees the complexity and tragedy in the situation. So much death for nothing. He breaks his father’s grasp and doesn’t really act with blame, anger, but compassion. It really hurt to watch, but it felt cleansing, cathartic.
D: Duarte. Now here was a performance I wasn’t ready for. As Kara watches her brothers wake, blaming herself no doubt, for not having him along when he wanted to come with her, a man we don’t know comes to speak with her. He knows all about her and her family because he’s the one in charge. He brought them here. It’s his fault. He feels deeply about what they are doing and the future of humanity. He cares. He tries idle conversation, then says, “Whatever you feel, it’s okay” and something about the way he said it went through me like a crack through glass. It brought back all the best interactions I’ve had with paternal figures in my life, besides just my father: coaches, doctors, pastors, teachers. The ones who cared, the ones who wanted you to be all right. His voice ripples with compassion and strength and when she acknowledges sadness, you can see the hurt on his face when he realizes she doesn’t fully understand. Maybe it’s his own hurt and his own grief, but he speaks to this child in her most fragile state and exposes his own vulnerability, his own doubts. He uses it to teach her how to find the resilience she must find, and he does it effortlessly.
D: He explains sacrifice to her. It’s how he manages to keep going. All the losses they endure might prove bearable if they succeed. It will not have been in vain.
D: ”Grief is strange” he says, and he is right. I think this scene conjured up a good deal of unresolved grief for me, thanks in large part to the flawless execution by the actor Dylan Taylor. It’s not every day you get introduced to a villain, right at the end of a story, who has the depth of humanity portrayed here in such a simple scene. His leadership seems natural and earnest, you can see that his concern is genuine, and that he does not necessarily feel comfortable with the responsibility. Duarte has acted with purpose for others and for the future. His love for Mars, and humanity, led him to this moment. He seems to have little guilt, but instead has converted it to grief and will.
D: The other side of this is when too much loss or suffering turns instead into anger and fear. They blind us to truths that could free us, cause us to doubt even those closest to us. Despite everything, Drummer still questions Naomi’s loyalty because of her fraternization with the enemy. Michio has difficulty convincing her family that there are innocent Earthers too, who didn’t deserve the death and misery Marco sent them. Chrissy still has difficulty with the idea that she might be wrong about Belters, even when confronted by Monica’s video. Poor, pitiable Tadeo doesn’t see until too late that “just killing Earthers” might hurt those he cared about, might take everything from him.
D: I felt pent up rage at nothing and everything that Filip harbored inside him. Unresolved anger turns people into loaded weapons, and in Filip’s case it is almost literal. His own friend is dead because he couldn’t figure out who to be angry with, when he really needed to look inward. Marco’s obsessive, manic hatred for Holden costs him everything. When his surprise attack backfires, he loses multiple crew members, his ships are wrecked and disabled, his relationship with his son is damaged, and he is put on the path to his own demise.
D: The balance to all of this grief and misery is redemption. A show like this has to make a play at tying up loose ends, but that doesn’t mean there’s always meaning imbued therein. But, they gave us so much depth to how these characters each grow throughout the season. One of the central interpersonal conflicts in this season is between the remaining members of the Tynan family. Michio can’t handle the pressure of combat and isn’t meant for the role she is forced to fill. So often, especially it seems, right now, we are ready to write off those who do not fit perfectly into an operational mold. But the problem with averages, is that no one is really average. Michio demonstrates her value as a member of the crew when she dramatically has to perform an emergency amputation on Josep. That scene, [laughs] oh man, that scene was so painful, emotionally and viscerally, that even on a second viewing I flinched. Michio loves Josep, but she knows what has to be done and she doesn’t hesitate. She cuts off his arm, but unlike so many others, she shows little sign of guilt. She saved him, she found her way.
D: Avasarala meets directly with her enemies and confronts her previous sins, Holden pulls a fast one and gives the presidency to a Drummer, Clarissa sticks her neck out for the crew and also cooks them a mean dinner. Not only do we see these direct redemptive acts, but in my view, this season can reflect a truth about redemption in the eyes of others and how we can find that shared humanity. And that’s perspective. The books, chapter by chapter, genuinely change perspective, one character to another. It’s one of the few things that I find a little bit irritating about them because it’s hard to keep track of which chapter you are on, and like, how far along in the book you are because there’s multiple chapters named “Holden.” But, that’s mirrored here a little bit, it’s echoed in the series this season with these dramatic shifts from one character to another with a real concentration on their motivations and their emotional state. Another great Sci-Fi franchise once spoke of a “certain point of view” and I think that is reflected is how many different eyes we get to see through. I’m not sure that there was a single main character that the audience did not sympathize with in any way. Even Marco caught my attention as he grappled wit his own failures as a father and as a leader. His own history made him as much as his willpower, though he’s unwilling to admit it.
D: Tadeo is perhaps the most sympathetic character, yet he is still, by any measure, a terrorist and a war criminal. But I shed tears for him, without reserve. Clarissa is a murderer (although at this point, pretty much all of the main characters have killed a bunch of people) but the show managed to make me believe her guilt over Ren. Filip’s inner turmoil is on display constantly and we feel it with him. But, if you removed that perspective, his actions would seem genuinely psychotic. But we are all human, we have these flaws and failures inside of us and so do other people. We need more art that’s willing to explore that.
D: That last step toward redemption requires humility in one way or another. Whether it is the humility to say you were wrong, to ask for help, or to say thank you and mean it, like so many characters did this season. so, that’s how I’m going to finish this. I have so much more to say, and we’ll get to it as we slowly work our way through the series, but for now I’ll just want to say thank you. Thank you to the writers, and the actors, and the showrunners and everyone else responsible for bringing this show to life. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Sci-Fi series end so strongly, so honestly, and with so much to say about us, our times, and our humanity. Thank you.