The Expanse Executive producer Mark Fergus on Episode 3: Belter-speak, pace, and planetary politics

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Dec 23, 2015

So, it looks like things are starting to move on The Expanse. Episode 3, "Remember the Cant," still worked in a lot of world-building, but we're also seeing the plot get into motion, with Avasarala's political machinations coming into stark relief and the situation on Ceres seemingly deteriorating...and, on top of it all, Holden's crew about to get a visit from an unwelcome guest. 

We broke down some of the key points of the episode with Executive Producer Mark Fergus. Check out the Q&A below, and let us know in the comments how you're feeling about where the show stands as the dominoes start to fall.

While the destruction of the Canterbury is the event that kicked things off, Holden's transmission is really the catalyst that gets the political plot moving. How quickly can we expect things to unfold, now?

We always felt it would take roughly three episodes for the audience to find its feet in this rich and complex world.   Holden’s broadcast is the spark in the political tinderbox, and the ‘fire’ will now spread quite swiftly through our three story-lines.  

As stated, we see Season 1 as a 10 hour movie, so we have just crossed into act two and the pace will ramp up. 
We start to get more into Belter culture with Havelock's language lessons. Can you talk a bit about the development of the Belter patois and gesture language? How much of that can we expect to see moving forward?

 Oy, Pampaw!  Brilliant linguist Nick Farmer was hired to essentially create an entirely new language, operating on the idea (from the novels) that Belters were working-class people from all Earth nations, who toiled in a vast melting pot in order to bring humanity to the stars.  It’s quite a percussive and catchy language, and on set many of us began tossing around Belter words and phrases in our daily speak. 

About those Belter hand-gestures; early space suits had terrible comms that would often crap out, leaving teams working in dangerous environments with only one way to communicate — their hands/ limbs.    These gestures became an essential part of their work-routine,  and seeped into the general Belter culture.  

We defined the sort of things Belters would communicate using hand-signals, then hired a wonderful choreographer, Roberto Campanella, to create them.  Using gestures from various present-day cultures as a starting point, he developed a comprehensive video-dictionary of Belter hand-speak for the  actors and producers.

Going forward, we use the Belter Creole sparingly and only when it is essential, so as not to over-tax the audience.  It should add authenticity, but not become a distraction. Coyos!  

Julie Mao is really getting under Miller's skin. For a cop that doesn't seem to care very much about anything, what is it about this case that's making him get so invested so quickly? 

When he’s given the mission to find Julie Mao, Miller couldn’t care less about her.   It’s a side job he spins over a drink at the bar.  He assumes Julie is a stuck-up, spoiled brat and he’s happy to toss on her on a flight home.  However,  while digging deeper into her life, a picture emerges of a firebrand young woman, who has turned her back on staggering wealth and privilege in order to fight for downtrodden Belters.  And to Miller, Julie’s altruism doesn’t appear to be a liberal fashion statement, but a genuine desire to help his people.  The same people Miller, a belter,  should care about, but doesn’t.    

  We’re introduced to the Martian navy in this episode. Tell us a bit about Mars' military and its relationship to the rest of the solar system.

Mars has the most modern military in the system, and their ships are superior to Earth’s aging fleet.  However, Earth posses more ships and so military parity exists between two,  but it’s gradually leaning in Mars’ favor.

Think of Mars as China, and Earth as the U.S. in our current world environment.   Earth’s glory days are fading and Mars is rising, driven by a collective dream and unshakable discipline to turn a barren rock into an oasis.  Mars deeply distrusts Earth, and is convinced its greedy corporations and politicians, will inevitably make a play to put the red rock under the U.N. flag.  

On the other hand, Earth politicians fear the rise of Mars, and some believe a hot war is inevitable.   Such a war would likely start over competition for critical resources in the system.   

Belters don’t like Martians any more than Earthers,  and the feeling is mutual.  Mars’ navy patrols the outer planets and in certain economic zones, collects taxes from poor belter miners, who are already struggling to feed their families.   

It seems like Martian stealth technology is a real ace in the hole, militarily-speaking. What's keeping them in detente with Earth when there's already obvious tension, there?

Mars and the Belt are still dependent on Earth for food and other critical supplies, but that ‘need’ is shrinking year-by-year, and everyone wonders what will happen the day Mars becomes self-sustaining.   A great shift in the pecking order of the solar system holds the specter of a costly and bloody interplanetary war.

Sure, stealth technology represents a leg up for Mars’ fleet, but is prohibitively expensive and is only effective as a first strike weapon.   The ‘detente’ between the two powers is still preserved by the knowledge that a war will lead to mutually assured destruction.

Avasarala’s political savvy and ruthlessness is on pretty clear display in this episode with her handling of DeGraaf. Can we expect to see more of this kind of thing from her? What are the lines she won't cross? 

Avasarala would never harm or dishonor her grandson or her husband, but any other friend or foe is fair game in the blood-sport that is interplanetary politics.    You can expect to see Avasarala continuing to impose her will on those who stand in her way to keep Earth safe.   And along the way she may also reveal a softer, vulnerable person under that hard shell. 
What's the deal with the pill the Martian interrogator takes before talking to the Cant crew members?

It’s a focus pill.  It heightens the senses to the point of being able to hear your subject’s heart-beat and discern the micro-twitches in their face and eyes, indicating whether they are lying or telling the truth.  The focus pill is lifted straight from the novel.  
If they didn't destroy the Cant or set that fake distress signal,what's Mars's play here? Why accuse Naomi?

It’s straight up damage control.  Holden’s broadcast put a bullseye on Mars and they need to deflect that blame until they can figure out what the hell is going on.  The best card Mars can play is to pin the whole thing on the O.P.A., and Naomi provides the perfect narrative. 
Alex is an ex-naval officer, Holden is an ex-naval officer, none of them have been incredibly forthcoming about their own backgrounds, yet they're all pissed at each other for the very thing they're doing. Why all the secrets and hypocrisy?

In the heat of the moment, everyone is scrambling to figure out what’s going on, and the things they don’t know about each other suddenly feel threatening.  The reveal that Alex served in the Martian Navy is a bad omen for Holden, as he believes Alex might ‘turn’ on the others and change the truth to serve Mars’ wishes.   

 Miller and Naomi are Belters born and raised, but don't seem attached to OPA politics. What would you say makes for a good mark for OPA recruitment? What separates OPA members from unaffiliated Belters?

There are many, many factions of the OPA.  You have radicals who believe the only way to forward their cause is through violence and subterfuge, like Anderson Dawes (from the books).  Then you have the disciples of Fred Johnson (a big character from the novels), who believes diplomacy, not blood, is the only path to Belter emancipation.  

Naomi and Miller have both turned their back on the OPA for reasons we’ll get into later.  But generally, a good 'radical OPA candidate' is a poor Belter who carries the scars of asteroid mining.   They have watched family and friends perish for basic scraps, or be yoked to a bleak existence of menial toil until the day they drop dead.   At the end of the day, a belter knows their life expectancy is about half that of an Earther or Martian. 

The attack on, and apparent murder of, Havelock is a pretty big departure from the books. 

It sure seems that way.

Can you talk about the decision to include it and what it might mean for the political situation on Ceres?

It’s not going to help Earth...

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