Portrayed by: Steve Strait
Show: Amazon Prime’s The Expanse
As close to the definition of righteous as a man can get, Jim Holden is the kind of leader every piece of media has and needs. Mark him in the special category—the same place where captains like the Steve Rogers and Han Solos would go, and those are big, deserved words. Holden is the kind of character who grows so subtly right before the audience’s eyes, and it’s what makes him so captivating. He’s morally good throughout, but what does that mean in the face of ever-growing challenges, and how does one continue to hold the mantle while still learning to become better?
You keep fighting the good fight, but unlike The Expanse‘s Jim Holden, you try to get some sleep in the process. In the span of six years, there’s not been a single character on television who’s needed sleep more than he has and the number of perils he’s ceaselessly dealt with is something we don’t talk enough about. But we’re here to do so, and we’re here to fight for his right to rest—to live.
What equates to a good leader? What deems a man worthy of being called the captain of a ship? Quite a few elements, perhaps, but for Jim Holden, it’s the endurance—the warfare to keep going even when he was forced into a position he never wanted in the first place. The Jim Holden we meet in Season 1, Episode 1 “Dulcinea” is an entirely different man than the one we bid our farewells to in “Babylon’s Ashes.” From a hot-headed nonchalant kid who didn’t want glory or responsibilities to a man thrust into the kind of tragedy that pushed him to place the needs of others above his own.
Moreover, from the moment Holden logs the distress call on the Canterbury, he makes it clear that he’s the kind of person who can’t turn his back on people potentially needing his help. And at times, that goes to lengths that aren’t necessarily healthy, like his decision in “Force Projection,” but considering intentions is key to analyzing his character. At his core, he’s still a man wanting to do the right thing—trying to be better than he was yesterday.
Holden knew how and when to say the right thing, and so much of that is because he’s one of the few characters who comes from an extensively loving family. The nine all love him, each in their own way, perhaps too much for those looking from the outside, but it’s that very love that makes him the man that he is for his crew. Holden wants to take care of people, but he is also taken care of when need be. And to a degree, still is—he has Naomi, he has the entire Roci crew willing to be there for him, to look out for him, and to love him.
Jim Holden and The Grace in Handling Mistakes
Jim Holden understands the principle that people will always make mistakes, and thus, when he is called out on his flaws, he takes it with the kind of grace not many male characters do. And that’s probably one of the most admirable traits about him, especially as a boyfriend because so few want to be called out the way he does. But puppy-eyed Jim Holden never wants to become someone Naomi Nagata isn’t proud of. He wants her to know that she has the power to bring him back from whatever hell he ascends into, and so much of that becomes the foundation of their relationship.
Holden stands firm in his beliefs, yes, but at the same time, his willingness to listen continues to be one of the most commendable traits about him because it’s key to making him the kind of leader that he is. It’s also critical to strengthen the partnerships with everyone aboard the ship because while he makes decisions based on his gut, he listens to their concerns following, and at the very least, tries to do better by the next mission.
A large chunk of the series’ final season orbits around the thematic importance of agency in an attempt to showcase what that looks like in the face of a team trying to work together despite their differences. And when this agency is challenged, primarily by Holden, he considers his mistakes but still chooses to believe that his conscience is allowed to rest in sparing a life. Leading and questioning go hand in hand when decision-making rides on him while he relies on others’ feelings. But noting that they win the war without losing anyone on their team is the point of it all.
Isn’t the point of his true greatness tied to the attribute that he understands the fundamental importance of giving people the chance to prove what they’re capable of? Because in our books, it certainly is. He saw so much of Camina’s abilities in the short amount of time he knew her, based a majority of his trust in her because of Naomi, but decided that in the end—she was worth standing on top to unite the nations.
Jim Holden’s grace and humility have always gone together because while this role isn’t one he’s ever wanted, he took it on with the kind of heart necessary, and in the end—he let it be. At least for a moment, as much as he could because still learning to stop when you’ve been going at it for so long often proves to be a difficult feat. And it’s especially the case for him.
Vulnerability and Coping Mechanisms
There’s a specific way to cope in every great leader—a draw, a pull, something that tethers them home when everything else is too complicated and too overwhelming. And since we’ve known him, Holden’s been pulled through one wringer after another from cancer to the ring and everything with Miller plus the Free Navy—but through it all, Holden allowed himself to learn from those experiences. He consistently put one foot in front of the other and the lives of those most important to him above his own.
Throughout the challenges, he allowed himself moments of vulnerability to cope—to authenticate that even those frequently taking care of others need a shoulder to rely on too. He’s fallen for and with Naomi—he’s given her the chances to see who he truly is while simultaneously allowing others to see that there are battles greater than what he can show.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Steven Strait’s excellent work during all six seasons. The full range of emotions he ceaselessly brought to our screens allowed us to understand so much of who Jim Holden is at his core. Whatever was in writing, it’s clear as day that Strait delivered in tenfold, making it apparent that he not only understands the markers that are critical to embody the character skillfully, but his passion to honor the books was always evident.
Some people make the world a better place because their goodness provides a sense of safety for everyone around them, and no matter his mistakes or the less than perfect decisions, Jim Holden has, and will always be, one of those people. He’s the kind of character whose innate kindness and vulnerability cements his legacy in the form of a man who’s always willing to meet someone halfway despite how often they’ve wronged him. He’s a safe space.