If one’s good, then two should be better. That theory worked well Wednesday night as The Expanse made its return to Syfy for its second season. The double-episode season opener picked up where Season 1 left off and sent us careening towards an unanticipated final moment. (Note: There are some spoilers below, but I’ve tried to give the episodes an overview rather than a point-by-point review.)
Julie Mao is dead, a horrible disease infected a station filled with Belters, and knowing whom to trust and why seemed to be the order of the day in the opener. And it all led the crew of the Rocinante to set a course they hadn’t anticipated until they witnessed the Eros disease calamity.
There was a lot going on in the season opener, but using the double episode format allowed The Expanse to spend quality time with each of the groups in play and allow the narrative to run out nicely. We hopped around a bit, but it wasn’t done at the expense of the storytelling or moving that story along fluidly. It was a tremendously enjoyable way to get Season 2 underway.
In the opening scene we get a look at Bobbie Draper, a Martian soldier with an axe to grind against Earth and the strength and skills to use that axe effectively. She dreams of a terraformed Mars and seethes with animosity toward Earth and the hindrances she feels have been handicapping her people. She’s also a badass. We know this because later in the episode, she essentially rips the arm off a robot she’s arm-wrestling. Yes, her badassery cred was quickly and unilaterally established right then and there.
On the Rocinante, Captain Holden and Joe Miller need to deal with radiation poisoning that could lead to cancer. The treatment is on and though they crack wise, both are obviously worried. Meanwhile, Naomi and Amos unlock the cryogenic containment system and get an up-close look at what the protomolecule that devastated Eros looks like. Later, the crew replays the video-recorded lab notes about the infection and what the virus does to people. The picture is grim, indeed.
The rest of the episode is set on course – with one additional question. Is the protomolecule man-made or a sign of extra-solar life? Gotta get to the end of the episode for that little revelation.
Elsewhere in the solar system, Martian and Earth forces are in a race to Phoebe Station, each thinking the other has ulterior motives. A war footing seems to be getting closer and closer to reality despite one officer’s insistence that “we will not be led into war on a leash.”
And when the first shot is fired, what are the ramifications? War is avoided, but missiles across the bow aren’t necessarily appreciated or quench the thirst for battle. Hostilities still seem inevitable.
On Earth, we find UN politician Chrisjen Avasarala surviving an assassination attempt, then using her political acumen to set one event in motion while using her other hand to acquire some much-needed spy craft. She sees what’s happening, but senses there’s more to the situation than is being presented to the council. She also has identified a manipulating conspirator in their midst and a plot to leave her holding the bag when it all goes south. In the end, she realizes she needs to talk to Fred Johnson. He may not be the terrorist Earth authorities are portraying and may hold a key she can turn in the lock at a later date.
Once the Rocinante crew safely hides the protomolecule in space, they begin the journey to find the culprit behind the deaths on Eros and the use of the protomolecule as a weapon. Naomi sums it up best when, outside the ship with Holden, she turns off her ship-wide com system and tells the captain through their helmets that “We did not choose this, but this is our fight now. We’re the only ones who know what’s going on down there. The only ones with a chance to stop it.”
They hide the weapon on an abandoned asteroid mine in the Belt, then hone in on the signal they picked up at Eros. While Mars and Earth squabble over Phoebe Station, and political games are played elsewhere, the crew of the Rocinante flies toward a riddle that only they can solve.
But first, a stop by Tycho Station for a chat with Fred Johnson, who’s not too happy that his best laid plans for the Rocinante went south at Eros. Holden and crew draw a picture of what they witnessed in the Belt and the weapon they uncovered. They ask for Johnson’s help in attacking an abandoned communications relay station where the signal they discovered was beamed to. Overcoming a stealth ship, landing an attack force to breach the station’s walls and getting inside the station are just a few obstacles to be overcome. But that’s where the answers live.
Johnson hesitates, then is reminded of Mao’s sacrifice and what he’s supposed to be fighting for, and agrees to help. He recruits some fighters from the various OPA factions after offering his definitive thoughts on the assassination attempt against Avasarala by one of the factions. Johnson is challenged as not being a “true” Belter and dispatches his foe like a boss out the air lock. Once that’s cleared up, the mission is set in motion.
In the end, we get a firefight with the stealth ship, then a successful assault that breeches the station’s defenses thanks to some stellar work by Amos. What they find is a scientific research facility dedicated to turning the protomolecule into more than a weapon, it’s an extra-solar life form that can repurpose other life forms and evolve.
The facility’s lead scientist explains in a monologue worthy of a super villain that mastery of the protomolecule is the ultimate goal. The hypothesis is that an unknown alien enemy sent it towards earth on purpose and knowing how it works can not only keep them safe, but potentially remove limitations on man himself.
Miller, having none of it, exercised a little space justice before walking out the door.
Again, the acting is superb and it’s very easy to get invested in the characters, even if you’re new to the show. They are diverse, they sometimes don’t get along (nice little punch-up between Amos and Miller in the cafeteria that ended badly for Miller), but they are being pushed along together by what they witnessed on Eros. Not all friends, but by the end of the episode it’s obvious they are comrades-in-arms in a game they aren’t yet aware of how deeply it runs.
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