Character Analysis: James Holden
Note: I am taking both the character from both book and the television series into account, so if some of the facts are a little mixed up and does not match the TV show, this is why. This also might contain spoilers for future seasons of the Expanse.
Born on Earth in a family of four men and four women, James Holden was the only child on this genetic collective. Earth has at this point 30 billion inhabitants and needs strict control over the birth rate, so they had to apply to get to have the child. One can imagine what kind of love a child like that might get from the parents when he is the only one. James, or Jim as he is sometimes called, joined Earth’s Navy at the age of 18, after one of his parents told him that he had been raised to fight for them to keep the farm in one of the few areas of Montana that was still undeveloped.
For seven years he served in the UN Navy until he wound up as a First Lieutenant on board the UNN Zheng Fei. It was here that he first displayed his confrontational side and tried to punch a superior officer. This resulted in him getting dishonorably discharged and joined up with the company that owned the Canterbury, an ice freighter where he served as second officer. This is where both the show and the series start off.
Holden is enjoying the fruits of being close to command, but he also enjoys that he does not have any responsibility. He appears in the show to be a bit of a flirt and has an affair with at least one of the crewmates. You could say that he acts like your typical frat boy, but there seems to be a serious side to him as well when the ice freighter runs into the abandoned ship, the Scopuli. In space the maritime customs seem to apply, because when a ship is in need, the closest ship to them responds and tries to help.
Five people set out to help the Scopuli, while the rest of the ice freighter’s crew wait for them. In addition to Holden, there are four, Naomi Nagata, Alex Kamal, Shed Garvey and Amos Burton. While these five are trying to fix the Scopuli, the Canterbury is attacked by a stealth ship, seemingly of Martian origin. Holden with the others manages to rescue themselves, but the ice freighter is destroyed. In desperation, Holden releases a video with himself explaining the attack on the Canterbury. This results in the five being rescued by the Martian Navy (MCRN.)
The naiveté of Holden in releasing this video to the public, even though many would say it was the right thing to do, shows a little bit what sheltered life he had led. James Holden has several times in the books and show chosen the very noble road, but that road has always had very unintended consequences. The video manages to start a riotous atmosphere among already disgruntled Belters, the term used for humans born in the asteroid belt beyond Mars and the other inner planets. The Belters often feel like the Inners, their term for anyone born on Mars, Earth or Luna, take advantage of the hard work of the people of the Belt, and in fact a political faction called Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) has long fought for the independence of the Belt. Now this is not a political view of The Expanse, so I’ll leave that to others.
Other times that Holden’s goodwill and noble ideas gets him into trouble, is when he decides to rescue the daughter of a botanist. This daughter has a rare genetic disorder which makes her perfect for experimentation with the protomolecule, a biological entity that first appears to be a weapon, but after a while reveals itself to have great potential. This is the typical hero’s arch. Everyone around him, even his girlfriend, Naomi, tells him that he needs to wise up, but his inner sense of fairness guides him to make bold choices.
The protomolecule reveals itself to be a gateway to the unknown, which is something that Jordan Peterson often talks about. The idea that what can seem scary can lead to have great value to you. James Holden discovers this when once again he gets into hot water by the daughter of one of his former adversaries, hires a man to hack his ship and make it appear like he is a terrorist. The choice he then makes is to dive head first into the gateway formed by the protomolecule. And in there more treasures can be found.
The later version of James Holden is still a noble man, but he becomes more withholding of his good nature as he has been burnt so many times. He is however still a good man and always seem to do what his heart tells him. James Holden is a good role model for people who may have been a little naïve in life and been burnt a few times, but that does not mean that you should stop being just and fair, only a little more cautious.
Please let me know if there anyone you would like me to cover in a later hero analysis in the comments below.