The more I think about last night's new episode of The Expanse, the more I like it. "Cascade", written by Dan Nowak, is a timely rumination on the dangers of humanity's addiction to capitalism on large and small scales.
Spoilers after the screenshot
Last week we learned, in a seemingly off-hand bit of dialogue, that most of Earth's population is unemployed. There simply aren't enough jobs for everyone, presumably because so many things are automated and the population has expanded to a number many times greater than to-day. We learned the Martians call the unemployed Earthers "Takers" but last night Bobbie (Frankie Adams) met some of these Takers as she wandered through the slums, trying to find the ocean.
For a class I'm taking on literature and technology, I recently read an essay by Aldous Huxley called "Science and Civilisation" published in 1932. Even as early as that, Huxley noted the peculiar problem of a civilisation where "Millions are hungry, but wheat has to be thrown into the sea." In the world of The Expanse, there's no reason anyone should have to go hungry except human beings lack the willpower and imagination to allow something besides the invisible hand of the market control the allocation of resources. Prax (Terry Chen) explains to Amos (Wes Chatham) how the artificial system of plants on Ganymede can only keep supporting life if they're maintained, but everyone's too busy looking out for their own bottom line to acknowledge the situation. Real nature, Prax explains, would find ways to adapt and survive but this complex human construction, when left alone, inevitably falls apart in a cascade.
This is shortly after the group confronts the profit motive in the more immediate form of a man hoarding supplies he collects in exchange for perhaps dodgy info for people on Ganymede desperately seeking their loved ones. It feels good to see Amos beat this guy up but when one steps back one can see how this might function as propaganda for a strong man. It's not too different from the Brother gangster films from Russia from a few years ago, where one pure hearted, physically powerful man took it upon himself to wage war on all street criminals. One might also think of Dirty Harry and other popular American right wing films. But The Expanse provides a moment of circumspection where Naomi (Dominique Tipper) observes how it gets easier and easier to justify behaviour like the strong arm tactic of Amos. On the larger scale, this follows nicely into Errinwright (Shawn Doyle), the UN Undersecretary, explaining to Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) how he originally worked with Mao on developing a weapon because he was interested in peace.
This is exactly the kind of thing I've wanted Game of Thrones to give a little focus to, a show where we almost never see the lower classes. This is reflective of a real life culture that is increasingly stratified into separate bubbles and what led to things like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. I haven't seen issues like this explored on television since Deep Space Nine and I'm very glad The Expanse is around.