The Expanse: Plots, Rescues & A New Face — Review

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If the season-opener of The Expanse was a hearty sci-fi meal, then episode 2, “IFF,” was a well-earned and ample desert. Once again, it was an on-point example of what makes this show one of the leaders in the genre right now. I’m sure for you, the enthusiastic consumer of “The Expanse,” there have been episodes you liked better, but for my money this was one of those that answered a lot of questions about what’s going on and why – and did so with gritty style. Those are my kinds of episodes.

First and foremost, we got some answers about the protomolecule and how Mei and the other kids are involved. Ah, Dr. Strickland, you are the kind of ice cold, science-first, all-for-the-cause kind of bad guy that I will ultimately enjoy watch die down the road. But for now, the bed you’ve made with Jules-Pierre Mao is one that simply makes one shudder at the thought of what you might be doing to Mei and the other children.

‘You’re a rotter, Dr.  Stickland. Your heart is filled with gunk.” Sorry, a little Grinch tangent there.

Fortunately, we now know that the genetic mutation within each of these children could be a key to controlling the protomolecule, something that we learn has been rather hard to do up to now. Strickland, of course, is practically giggling at the possibilities, while Mao must be convinced to continue the work. In the end, the protomolecule subjects are what many suspected they were — a devastating weapons system that could “lay waste to Mars.”

THE EXPANSE — “Iff” Episode 302 — Pictured: François Chau as Jules-Pierre Mao — (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

Ted Atherton’s turn as Dr. Strickland has been an evil joy to behold. He is just icy cold in pursuit of exploring the possibilities of the protomolecule. His interaction with Mei in this episode is a great example of the Jekyll-Hyde persona he can bring to the role. I detest Dr. Strickland, but applaud Atherton’s work in making me feel this way. I look forward to his gruesome death with eager anticipation.

The kid with the blue in his arm? Oh, the possibilities.

So, there we have it. The protomolecule, at least in the hands of Mao, Strickland, and to some extent Sadavir Errinwright, is being developed as a weapon. We kind of knew it via previous clues, but now it’s confirmed. At least we know the end game for that little trio. What The Belt, Mars and others will do with the protomolecule remains to be seen. And don’t get me started about the luxury protomolecule hotel being built on Venus. I’ll leave that to Joe Miller, Julie Mao, and our fan-driven imaginations.

Speaking of Errinwright, it would seem a new antagonist has arrived on his doorstep. At least that’s the impression I got from his facial expressions when we were introduced to the Reverend Doctor Annushka “Anna” Volovodov.

In a show with a bevy of strong female characters, Elizabeth Mitchell has already served notice that Reverend Doctor Anna is going to be something to contend with for Errinwright and others who cross her path, including the secretary general. The two obviously have a history together and judging by her reticence to join his speech writing team, as well as some side comments, that history has some jagged edges.

THE EXPANSE — “Iff” Episode 302 — Pictured: Elizabeth Mitchell as Anna Volovodov — (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

I like the fact she leveraged the secretary general for funding for her medical clinic and demonstrated a willingness to mix it up on the front lines without regard to herself (Note billy club to the forehead). She’s going to be an interesting character to watch moving forward and, as noted, you could see Sadavir trying to gauge her in the few moments of conversation they had together. A thorn in his side, you say? Oh, I think there will be some pricking going on between those two. Did you note the “war crimes” comment? Nice little flick of the ears, that.

As I’ve said before, “The Expanse” does a stellar job of mixing a dramatic vibe with the sci-fi realm — perhaps as well as just about anyone has to this point. And when they infuse that drama with just a little bit of humor, it makes it that much more effective. I think “The Expanse” really thrives on accentuating the “less is more” creative style and that’s a credit to the show runner, writers and the actors who put their own little creative style on things.

A case-in-point for me was the “flying tools of death” scene with Prax and Amos as the Rocinante….er, Contorta races to save Bobbie and Chrisjen. I’ve stated since late last year that the relationship that is growing between Prax and Amos is a subtle thing of beauty.

Each is taking a little something from the other and this episode was no different. Each character had a moment where they listened, then reflected on something the other said. The fact that Amos is getting into the Botany action with Prax is a nice, unexpected touch. And it’s official, Prax is now a member of the Contorta crew (thanks, Captain Holden). I think it has already proven to be a good addition to the team (Plants to help with air quality aboard ship? Brilliant! “Amos, where did you put the potting soil?”).

THE EXPANSE — “Iff” Episode 302 — Pictured: Frankie Adams as Bobbie Draper — (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

But I loved the scene where the tools were flying around. There was an overt element of danger as drills and saws flew from end to end, but we were treated to a demonstration of how Amos values Prax — values him enough to put his own life in harm’s way to save the newest member of the crew.

The little “let me snatch this drill out of the air before it skewers Prax in the face” moment was a nice light touch. Death narrowly averted, a friendship intact. At least that’s how I read it.

Make no mistake, as much as this is a gritty sci-fi offering,  “The Expanse” is also about relationships. Holden-Naomi, Prax-Amos, Fred Johnson-Drummer, Chrisjen-Cotyar and on we go. They interact on more than a simple surface level. That was demonstrated powerfully as Chrisjen said goodbye to Cotyar in the last episode, and then as she flew to (relative) safety with Bobbie Draper aboard the Razorback. Gotta say, the Razorback chase was tense and lively. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Honestly, even when people are trying to save her ass, Chrisjen can be a caustic, snarling, one-liner delivering piece of craftsmanship that is fun to behold. Her back-and-forth with Bobbie aboard the Razorback was sharp-tongued at times, but also demonstrated a wonderful nuance. Chrisjen gives a damn.

THE EXPANSE — “Iff” Episode 302 — Pictured: Cas Anvar as Alex Kamal — (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

I liked their prolonged storyline together. It showed a relationship that was building beyond the pale of employer-employee. For as much as Chrisjen can be disarmingly direct and seemingly dismissive at times, her heart remains in the right place even as she tried to stay alive – and potentially avert a war of annihilation.

There’s virtually nothing I don’t enjoy about the Chrisjen-Bobbie-Cotyar troika. Even their body language around each other offers hints about the real meaning behind their words. So let’s hear it for acting. Frankie Adams, Nick Tarabay and Shohreh Aghdashloo just keep delivering good stuff every time they are on screen. Thanks, guys.

So, the Contorta saves the Razorback, Chrisjen may have stroked out, and we have no idea where Cotyar and his new buddy have gotten to. Sounds like a perfect segue into episode 3, right? How will Anna impact things? And what in the hell will The Belt ultimately get up to. And you know who we haven’t really heard from yet? Mars. What are their plans?

I have to admit that if the rest of this season of “The Expanse” is as satisfying as the first two episodes, this could be quite the season. Questions have been answered, new missions are underway, and the bad guys are still out there doing their “baddie” thing. I’ve enjoyed it all so far, but await one last little peak behind the curtain – what’s going on with Venus?

One last thing, the work of Cas Anvar as Alex sometimes doesn’t get the attention it deserves, but I’m a fan. The character has developed into something of a moral compass on the show. I’ve liked the development of Alex very much. More, please.

Expanse writers, show runners, directors and actors, you’re off to a great start. Keep it going, please.

Follow The Expanse on these social media sites: Facebook and on Twitter @ExpanseSyfy.

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John Baker