It’s hard to be surprised when you watch a lot of television, particularly when a show hinges upon a mystery. So often a series takes twists and turns that are patently obvious, which removes some of the tension. Afterall, it’s hard to get excited when the entire plot is telegraphed before a show hits episode 5, but The Expanse does no such thing. “Remember The Cant” is defiant about exploding conventional theories about exactly what is going on and it marks the first episode where the show finds some teeth.
The crew of the Canterbury are in quite a bit of trouble after their broken ship is picked up by the Mars battlecruiser Donagger. Everybody is so certain Mars is the enemy that it’s hard not to believe that to be true. All signs point to Mars being the definitive villain. They seem to be the ones responsible for blowing up the Canterbury and the fake distress beacon that led the crew there. They also have motive for blowing up the Canterbury, as it would inflame civil unrest on Ceres station. This would give Martians just cause to seize it, which would start an intergalactic war with earth.
Jim Holden (Steven Strait) certainly feeds that theory after a video of him speaking the “truth” is broadcast all over Ceres station all of a sudden making him a symbol for a revolution. He’s set up to be an unknowing and unwilling pawn in political skullduggery. Things get complicated when the Canterbury’s surviving crew are interrogated aboard the Donnager. All of a sudden, none of the characters aren’t what they seem and have to be viewed with a bit of suspicion. Holden is a naval officer that was kicked out for insubordination and sympathizer with the belters, Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) is suspected of being an Outer Planets Alliance and Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) is now wearing the uniform of a Martian officer. The biggest twist comes though when it becomes obvious that Mars isn’t responsible and is just as clueless about what is going on here as the Canterbury crew.
The Donnager Captain Teresa Yao (Jean Yoon) is primarily concerned about absolving Mars of any responsibility as she tries to strong-arm Holden into recanting the statements in his video and placing blame upon Naomi. It’s at this point where the prevailing theory about what is going on suddenly seems too simple, too obvious to be true. This mystery is bigger and deeper than initially thought and that realization makes this episode and the show so much more exciting.
Events on earth drive this point home as we see Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo). She is ruthless as a political operator leveraging her dear friend and Mars ambassador Franklin Degraaf (Kenneth Welsh) to test the theory that Mars is behind the Canterbury attack. She successfully exploits that theory, but not before crushing her friend’s dreams and career in the process. It’s absolutely cold despite her genuine feelings of remorse, but her willingness to do whatever it takes also makes for a compelling character.
The plight of Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane) deepens as we see the result of Holden’s video at Ceres station. There is unrest on the station as belters start to get angry about water shortages and being caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between Mars and earth. It also becomes clear that Julie Mao is also involved, but even after being presented with an easy way out of this investigation he chooses to dig deeper. The case has its hooks in him after learning that Mao was on the ship Holden went to investigate and he refuses to let go.
“Remember the Cant” is a pivot point in the series. It’s an episode where an otherwise simple premise and one-dimensional mystery suddenly turns into something more. Suddenly, the questions of who is responsible for all of this affords no easy answers leaving whomever is watching wondering and yearning to find them right along with these characters.