The Expanse is a show full of plots and backstabbing, with characters who say one thing but do another. There is one exception: Amos Burton. Otherwise known as “Murder-Snuggles,” Amos is not one for platitudes, double-speak, or civility. He is tough and direct”often to a fault. He can come across as no-nonsense, or even disconnected from others around him. But as actor Wes Chatham put it: “Inside, he’s a hurricane.”
(Note: This interview contains spoilers through episode eight of The Expanse season four.)
For most of season four, Amos (Chatham) is the one constant in a sea of turmoil. The crew of the Rocinante get caught in a struggle between a group of Belter refugees who’ve colonised the planet of Ilus, and the private army of a corporation that wants control over the valuable mineral deposits on the planet. As James Holden (Steven Strait) tries to negotiate with the Belters and army leader Adolphus Murtry (things are going to end poorly and seems unfazed by the violence that ensues between the factions.
It’s an attitude that tracks, given his behaviour over previous seasons. But then, as Chatham explained to Gizmodo and other outlets during a set visit to The Expanse, something changes in him. A series of unfortunate events”both natural and not”lead to a massive wave that covers the entire planet, and the settlers are forced to take shelter inside some old alien ruins. Once down there, things continue to go downhill and Amos’s defences start to break down.
“You see that the mechanisms that I have”to be able to control my environment, control the things around me, that’s given me the kind of centre that I have. When we get into those caves and we get into those ruins, it’s already started,” he said. “All of those mechanisms really start to unravel.”
The settlers spend two episodes stuck in the ruins and end up facing a lot more than threats of starvation and mutiny. They’re forced to deal with an invasion of slugs that kill people after they’ve made skin contact. Those are tough to avoid under normal circumstances, but the task is made nearly impossible after a bacterial infection makes almost everyone blind”including Amos. This is the event that sends Amos over the edge. He struggles to focus, is obsessed with holding onto his weapon, and even attacks Holden, kicking and screaming as if he’s unable to control himself. There’s a reason for it.
Amos has briefly alluded to his past (something that was explored in James S.A. Corey’s side novel The Churn). In episode eight, following his attack on Holden, he opens up to a confidant in a way he hasn’t before, sharing a story about his childhood: “When I was five, I lived in a basement and I would have nightmares. When I woke up and opened my eyes, it was still black. That’s when they came in. I thought I was dead and there was nothing I could do about it.”
There have been indications that Amos was a victim of sex trafficking as a child. He hasn’t gone into detail, but Amos has alluded to a familiarity with the sex worker industry and growing up within that environment. While Amos doesn’t technically confirm it here, his words strongly indicate he’s a survivor of childhood sexual trauma. In an interview, Chatham shared how he’s spent years figuring out how to properly explore and portray Amos’s past”particularly the trauma he experienced as a child. This included going to a psychologist, book in hand, and asking her to explain Amos’s thought process and how he would respond in certain situations.
“I wanted to get into it with somebody that is a professional and has a lot of experience, and a lot of case studies of trauma and how trauma manifests. And so I give The Churn to the psychologist and then I sit and speak with her as if I have those circumstances,” he said. “Sitting down with the psychologist saying, “˜How would this look like? What kind of behaviour would this look like? And if I’m treating this person this way, if Naomi is this important to me, why is this here? What is this thing?'”
Chatham added that he read scientific studies and books, most notably The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by PTSD researcher Bessel van der Kolk, to understand how trauma affects people emotionally and physically. And his work comes across. According to Chatham, even though The Expanse has been vague about what happened to Amos when he was a child, there are people who come up to him and just know what Amos went through, based entirely on the character’s behaviour onscreen.
“I thought it would be very subtle and underneath. But there are people that come up to me all the time and say they know exactly what’s going on. Even though Amos’s backstory is unknown, they know exactly what happened. And it’s like, “˜Wow.’ And then you realise, you know, they have personal experience and it’s, you know, it’s pretty amazing like how connected and receptive they are to the character and the story,” he said.
Since I’m someone who goes to therapy and finds immense value in the practice, I asked Chatham if he could elaborate on the decision to include therapy as part of his acting process”especially given the stigma around mental health services. He didn’t exactly address it, but he did discuss the universality of pain and the value in breaking down a character’s layers so others can connect to his story and, if applicable, see themselves in what Amos has gone through and how he’s handled it so far.
“We all have deep fears. We have deep sensitivities. We have deep vulnerabilities. We have things that happened to us in the past that we’re like, “˜This will never fucking happen to me again.’ And we start to build a part of our ego or personality around protecting these things,” he said. “Once that gets pulled away and you see [Amos’s trauma], I think they’re going to be more deeply connected. Because it’s like, that’s true. That’s truth, that’s honesty, and that’s what I’m doing.”
The Expanse’s 10-episode season four is currently available on Amazon Prime.