Tag Archives: The Expanse

The Expanse: “Home” is a one way trip to total emotional devastation

I know I complained a little last week that this week’s material wasn’t covered in that episode, but after watching “Home” I have to take most of that complaining back. This content deserved its own episode, and the execution of it—shifting between point of views, building tension, and ending with a pivotal shared moment—is truly marvelous. “Home” does a brilliant (and beautiful) job of examining the complexity of a single event, and it’s completely emotionally devastating. Well-constructed, perfectly paced, and thematically coherent and powerful, this is hands down the best episode of the show to date.

**Spoilers below!**

Every episode this season has made good use of its pre-credits scenes, but this one is my favorite. Last week’s episode ended with the Nauvoo missing Eros, and this one picks up right at that moment again, with a pre-credits montage of everyone basically trying to figure out what happens that sets the tone for most of the rest of the episode. On Eros, Miller is still busy holding down a button to keep a bomb from exploding. At the UN, Avasarala is being briefed on what is known about Eros so far, which isn’t much. And on the Rocinante, the crew is scrambling to figure out what happened and what to do next, as Eros is on a collision course straight for Earth. It’s a dramatic and effective introduction to the holding pattern that defines the episode. Earth, the Rocinante, and later Fred Johnson are made desperate and helpless by their inability to stop Eros as it becomes clear that the protomolecule won’t allow itself to be destroyed, so the episode is split between their increasingly futile actions and Miller, who goes on a journey that allows him to finally finish his quest for Julie Mao.

The UN Security Council is in disarray as they work to do something to prevent the impending apocalypse that would be caused by Eros—an asteroid three times the size of the one that killed the dinosaurs—striking the planet. The two-pronged solution is to evacuate as many people as possible while launching half of Earth’s nukes at the asteroid in the hope of destroying it before it reaches the planet. In short scenes, we see the initial chaos and disagreement slowly shift to grudging consensus, though not true unity of purpose. The divisions in Earth’s government run deep, and Errinwright will have a lot to answer for when his conspiracy with Jules-Pierre Mao eventually comes out.

In the end, however, we’re reminded that the Earth material really is Chrisjen’s story, and it’s her reactions and her emotional arc that we’re meant to follow here. Shohreh Aghdashloo has an incredible, room-filling presence, and in all the scenes in the UN situation room there’s always a sense that it’s Chrisjen who is in charge. It’s her solo scenes, however, that hold most of the power this week. Though it was her conversation with her husband, Arjun, that brought tears to my eyes (that time delay was absolutely gutting), it’s her quiet strength in choosing to stay on Earth—the classic heroism of any captain going down with their ship—that made me really cry. It’s a role and responsibility seldom given to women in fiction and perhaps never depicted with such craft. The production values and cinematography on this show have always been excellent, but the set for Avasarala’s office, her beautiful costume, the lighting, and the framing of the shot all work together to create an iconic moment for the character.

On the Rocinante, the crew starts the episode scrambling to figure out a way to rescue Miller before they’re commandeered to help target the Earth missiles that have been sent to destroy Eros. I love that the show has made Holden and Naomi into more nearly equal partners than they ever were in Leviathan Wakes, and it’s great to see the whole crew working so well together in this episode as they chase Eros sunwards. The building sense of drama works surprisingly well as the ship speeds up to keep pace with the asteroid and the crew is forced to turn to a drug cocktail that will allow them to withstand the high-G force. I do wish that more time had been dedicated to Holden working out his differences with Miller; that all has seemed somewhat glossed over in the last couple of episodes. That said, by making Naomi a better developed character and having her connect with Miller, it’s not entirely necessary for Holden and Miller to have some kind of big hug-it-out scene about things. It’s enough that Holden cares because he’s a decent guy when Naomi cares because of a genuine bond of friendship with the other Belter, and allowing these characters to share the emotional weight of dealing with this stuff is a big improvement over the way it was handled in the source material, where the whole first book was told from just Holden and Miller’s points of view.

While everyone else is trying without success to find a way to stop Eros from crashing into Earth, Miller must travel through the insides of Eros to find the heart of the protomolecule infection. The show smartly limits the other characters all to, essentially, single rooms from which to work while emphasizing Miller’s arduous physical journey, which has elements of dreamlike wonderland mixed with eldritch horror. The on-screen journey parallels what has become, for Miller, and almost spiritual journey, and the moment when he realizes that the center of the protomolecule infection is at the Blue Falcon where they found Julie in season one is only surpassed by his awestruck explanation to Holden and Naomi about what he’s seeing. The juxtaposition of Miller’s travels through Eros with the relative stillness of the rest of the cast is a perfect way of heightening the sense of epicness, and I must reiterate that I’m so glad this portion of the story was given a full hour so it has plenty of time to breathe and build up to the final scenes.

When Miller finally reaches Julie herself, she’s unconscious, covered in the protomolecule and dreaming of flying her racing ship back to Earth. He’s able to gently her, but she’s confused and disoriented, and it’s heartbreaking how all she wants is to go home. It’s melodramatic, but it’s a kind of melodrama that I love and when Miller tells her that she can’t go home anymore I about lost it completely. There’s a part of me that feels as if I ought to hate this story, and I didn’t love it in the book if I’m perfectly honest. However, Thomas Jane’s Miller is much, much better than Miller ever was in the books, and his desire to find and help Julie has always felt sweet rather than creepy. This meeting at the Blue Falcon is the final test of the show’s ability to really make this story work, and it does. Miller’s gentleness with Julie is beautiful and represents a real character development on his part, and even the way he kisses her and lays his head on her chest as they head off to eventually crash into Venus feels like a kindness that stems from feelings of true and selfless love. The moment felt truly earned by the time it had arrived, and I found that I mostly just felt glad that Julie wasn’t alone any longer.

The episode ends with a short montage of characters watching Eros make its way to Venus, and it’s a wonderfully low-key way to wind things down after the tension and stress of the preceding hour. Miller’s protégé Diogo is getting OPA tattoos, which hopefully bodes well for his continued presence on the show. Avasarala is lying on her rooftop watching the night sky, a lovely callback to a similar scene in season one but also a great image in its own right; she was willing to die with the planet she loves, and now she can relax knowing that it’s safe, at least momentarily. Fred Johnson watches the last leg of Eros’s journey on the news feed on Tycho while the Rocinante crew watches the same coverage on their ship. Finally, as Eros silently crashes on Venus, the Rocinante crew has a drink and toasts Miller’s empty chair. The quietness and stillness of all these moments, free of dialogue as they are, is exactly the right way to have ended an episode that was split between frantic activity and a fraught journey. There’s a sense of the momentousness of it, but also the sense that life keeps going on even after such a major crisis. As a way of wrapping up the material from the first book in the series, “Home” couldn’t have been much better.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • Errinwright’s panicked, furious call to Jules-Pierre Mao is a great scene. Errinwright can be a bit of an opaque character at times, and this is probably the most emotion he’s shown about anything so far on the show.
  • Fred Johnson doesn’t get a ton of screen time this week, but he makes the most of what he gets, planting the seeds of a fragile accord with Earth, or at least with Chrisjen Avasarala. His “And so it goes” brought a tear to my eye, as all Vonnegut allusions, even much cheerier ones than this, are like to do.
  • I love Chrisjen’s conversation with Arjun, but it would have been even more heartbreaking if we’d seen even a little bit more of him in the preceding four episodes. One can easily believe the love between these two characters as portrayed by two skilled actors, but a little more showing of their relationship would not have been amiss.
  • We don’t see any Mars action, though we do hear about the Martian government. It makes me almost wish for some Mars POV analogous to Avasarala, but I must admit that it would only make the show bloated. Still, Mars is such a big part of things that it’s too bad we don’t get to see and root for them the way we do with Earth and the Belters.
  • A+ use of music this week. This show always does a great job in this department, but this episode was superb.

The Expanse: “Godspeed” doesn’t go as fast or as far as I hoped it would

After all last week’s great setup, I rather expected “Godspeed” to be a more action-packed episode and to move at a faster clip through the remainder of the story from Leviathan Wakes. Instead, this episode focuses a lot more on some compelling emotional beats and then stops just short of a major climax that I was really looking forward to seeing. So, in a way, “Godspeed” was something of a letdown. At the same time, however, the episode flows nicely for the most part; there’s some necessary character development, especially for Holden; and the CGI team really brought their A-game in bringing the space action to life. This wasn’t the episode I wanted or expected it to be, but it’s not bad, and the preview for next week’s episode looks promising enough that I’m glad that this last bit of Leviathan Wakes material is being given more room to breathe.

Book and show spoilers below.

“Godspeed” opens with Avasarala and Cotyar investigating the derelict stealth ship that Fred Johnson directed them towards last week. They’re having the wreckage explored, and the place is just dripping with evidence—an expensive warship with one of the stolen drives from the Bush shipyards, full of dead crew all of whom are found to have last worked at Protogen, which ties this all clearly to Jules-Pierre Mao and to the destruction of Phoebe. It’s not long before Avasarala has put together a significant portion of the plot between Mao and Errinwright, and she soon has both men in a room together to straighten things out. After this conversation, Mao is spooked, but Errinwright is still in denial about what Avasarala knows, which leads Mao to terminate their association. Still, plots are afoot, and Avasarala doesn’t have the full picture just yet, even if she is much cleverer than Errinwright gives her credit for being.

Sadly, though, most of this still feels like buildup to future events. I love Chrisjen Avasarala. I could watch just ten straight hours a year of her being the smartest person in every room, and the costumes, hair and makeup for this character are always exquisite. But none of what happened this week felt urgent, and none of it resolved anything. This season began Avasarala’s story with a dramatic attempt on her life, which was good. It gave us some real action on Earth and raised the personal stakes for the character, which led to her discovery of Errinwright’s plotting against her. That was good, entertaining stuff. Now, it feels as if the show is trying to send Avasarala down the rabbit hole to see how deep things go, but without much support. Mao and Errinwright might be worthy opponents for our Chrisjen, but they haven’t gotten much screen time before now, and watching the unraveling of their plans isn’t the best way to make them feel threatening. Cotyar is inscrutable, and he doesn’t seem in danger of getting a big shot of character development any time soon. Even Avasarala herself seems somewhat flat and one note so far this season, in spite of Shohreh Aghdashloo’s formidable acting chops.

Having read Caliban’s War, I expect that this is simply because there’s not a whole lot for her to do until Bobbie Draper shows up in a couple more episodes. It’s just unfortunate that in the meantime, the politicking on Earth feels less and less consequential with each scene we see. Much of what Avasarala is uncovering now is stuff that took her halfway through Caliban’s War to figure out (and then only with Bobbie’s help), which makes my concern now that by the time Bobbie Draper gets to Earth and Chrisjen meets her, they won’t have much to do together. This might make sense if somehow the show is hoping to squeeze the rest of Caliban’s War into the back half of this season, but that would make for either a lot of rushing things or a lot of cut book material. With the show being so true to the books up to this point, that seems unlikely, which could suggest invented material for the show, as with the pre-Ganymede scenes for Bobbie and her unit, but that’s been a mixed success at best. I guess we’ll find out in a couple of weeks once Bobbie gets to Ganymede and the Eros stuff is behind us.

There was, incidentally, no sign of the Martians this week, as aside from the brief scenes of Avasarala, Mao and Errinwright the rest of the episode followed through on Miller’s suggestion to Fred Johnson last week that they use the Nauvoo to ram Eros and the protomolecule into the sun. There was some great character work in these segments, especially from Chad L. Coleman as Fred Johnson and Steven Strait as Holden, two characters who had to deal with making major decisions in this episode. There’s also a great deal of fantastic CGI space action, with the launch of the Nauvoo a particular highlight and the boarding of Eros another. From a technical standpoint, the show absolutely nailed the things it needed to nail this week. When it comes to maintaining a cohesive narrative and thematic arc, “Godspeed” is somewhat less successful.

Things start out well enough on the Tycho with a pre-credits introductory scene in which Miller and Fred Johnson bring Holden and Naomi in on their plan for the Nauvoo and Eros. Holden, self-righteous as ever, is still sore about Miller killing Dresden, but he quickly sees the necessity of dealing with Eros as soon as possible and agrees to help with relatively little fuss. The scene is good, but the sudden end of Holden’s antipathy towards Miller after this final short display of it is too abrupt and feels unearned. It’s only Naomi who is willing to talk to Miller before they go back to Eros, but later in the episode when Miller is in danger, Holden seems to have forgotten their disagreement entirely. Any kind of short interaction between Holden and Miller to resolve their argument would have made a difference here, and we surely could have given up a few seconds of CGI spaceship porn to make room for it.

The standout scenes of the episode showed the commandeering and launch of the Nauvoo, but here the sheer CGI gorgeousness of it almost overshadowed the rest of what was happening. The scenes of the Mormons being evacuated from the Nauvoo, which also serves as their temple, are heart wrenching, but again this is material that feels somewhat rushed over. Jeff Clarke is perfectly cast as Elder McCann and imbues the Mormon leader with a humane earnestness that makes him a surprisingly likable minor character, and he deserved a little more consideration than he got. On the other hand, the final scene of Fred Johnson ordering the launch is perfectly executed, and Chad L. Coleman makes the most of his own limited on screen time to effectively convey Fred’s conflicted feelings about what they’re doing.

When Holden and company reach Eros, they find a small ship docked with the station full of doctors on a humanitarian mission to help the people trapped inside. Deciding how to deal with this might be the hardest thing Holden has had to do to date, and it’s certainly Holden at his most compelling so far. When the doctors on the Marasmus mistake the Rocinante for Martian ship, Holden plays along, hoping to scare them away from Eros without violence, but before the Marasmus can make their escape it’s discovered that they have already been inside the station and in contact with the protomolecule. The captain of the Marasmus intends to broadcast their Eros findings to the rest of the solar system, which could only add to the chaos and misinformation that has been fueling many of the events that have taken place since Holden’s own ill-advised broadcast about the destruction of the Canterbury. Holden has been through a lot since then, and circumstances have continually forced him to compromise his ideals and adapt to unfamiliar situations, which has made him far more circumspect about spreading information. In the end, Holden is forced to destroy the Marasmus, a symbolic killing of his own old self that should have interesting repercussions for the character down the road.

The pacing of the episode is strange throughout the hour, and the ending feels both sudden and anticlimactic. It’s not that it’s particularly telegraphed earlier on or anything, but the news that it’s Eros that is changing course and heading towards Earth just isn’t at all surprising when it happens. The voices coming from the station all this time have been a clear hint that something there might be sentient, and it prevents the ending of “Godspeed” from functioning as a proper cliffhanger, especially since we already know that Naomi can remotely disable the detonator that Miller has his finger on. It’s pretty obvious where this is going, and I just wish it would hurry up and get there so it can move on to whatever comes next.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • “The Mormons are gonna be pissed.”
  • I loved the quick scene of Mao watching the news and finding out that his assets are frozen. François Chau has these amazing subtle facial expressions that make him perfect for this role and highly entertaining to watch. I’ll never not get a kick out of seeing wealthy business tycoon villains get the wind taken out of their sails.
  • Andrew Rotilio continues to be all charm as Diogo.
  • Not enough Alex and Amos, to be honest.
  • Even a weak episode of The Expanse has a lot of things going for it.

The Expanse: “Static” is a solid set-up for major events coming next week

After last week’s action-packed season premiere, “Static” is a fairly quiet interlude that splits its time between character development moments—as various people deal with fallout from last week’s events—and exposition and set up for another major event (or two) next week that should wrap up the end of Leviathan Wakes material and put us into Caliban’s War in episode five. The Expanse has always laid out its episodes in this sort of cyclical pattern, alternating between action and exposition, punctuating the flow of its overall story with periods of calm and excitement, but with mixed success. The show’s quieter episodes have had a tendency to feel like wheel-spinning, and there’s some of that here, but there’s also copious evidence that the show’s writers have taken some of the common criticisms of season one to heart and found a much better balance between exposition and events. To be sure, there are a few clunky moments in “Static,” but it was never boring, and there’s plenty going on the keep viewers excited for next week’s episode.

Spoilers below for the episode and books.

“Static” starts with an event leftover from last week, the destruction of Deimos by the Earth navy, which comes even before the opening credits. The opening shot of Earth’s missiles zooming towards Deimos quickly cuts to Bobbie Draper and her squad of Martian marines watching the news, which details the tiny moon’s complete obliteration and the deaths of all seventeen of its residents. We then get a short scene of Avasarala and Errinwright discussing the possible war with Mars, which turns to a voiceover on top of scenes of the Martian marines training. It’s a smart use of a couple of minutes that further sets up the rivalry between the Avasarala and Errinwright philosophies and highlights the seriousness of the situation. This whole opening sequence also resonates thematically with the rest of the episode (and, I expect, much of this season of the show), which deals heavily with ideas about the value of human life, whose lives matter, and the ease and difficulty with which different characters treat different lives as disposable. Sadly, Chrisjen doesn’t get much to do the rest of the episode, though her “What the fuck is that?” when she finally gets a message back from Fred Johnson near the end of the hour promises that she’ll have plenty to do in the next episode or two.

Similarly, Bobbie and the rest of the Martian marines are subjected to a somewhat boring and, frankly, redundant subplot this week. We get to see the way that the three native-born Martians single out and pick on the Earth born Private Travis, which was already touched upon in the first episode of the season. In the end, this relatively minor personnel issue is resolved and Bobbie and company are sent on to Ganymede, which book readers will recognize as the place where we first meet Bobbie in Caliban’s War. I suspect that all this time spent with Bobbie’s team is meant to help viewers connect with her and them before the Ganymede incident, but all these characters struggle with likability—probably because they spend so much time on petty bickering. It’s an interesting adaptational dilemma, though, if you think about it. On the one hand, I’m glad that the show didn’t work too hard to paint Bobbie and her team as overly soft and lovable. Bobbie’s not, in general, a super likable character, and the show is portraying her pretty much how she appeared in the book. On the other hand, they’re going to a lot of trouble to try and make the viewer care about this team of people and it’s, one, not working very well and, two, strongly telegraphing that this group of characters is marked for tragedy. The ominous way that Sutton pronounces “Ganymede” is a dead giveaway.

Most of “Static” takes place at Tycho Station, to which the Rocinante and Fred Johnson have returned with prisoners from Thoth. While the crippled ship is being repaired, its crew is fractured. After shooting Dresden last week, Miller is out, banished from the Rocinante by a furious, self-righteous Holden and from Tycho by Fred Johnson, who is himself struggling to figure out next steps in how to deal with Eros and the conflict between Earth and Mars that is sure to spill over into the Belt and Outer Planets. Holden and Naomi have a disagreement about Miller and Dresden, which sends Naomi off the Rocinante for some girl time with Fred Johnson’s assistant, Samara, and leads Holden to focus on interrogating their most important prisoner, a scientist named Paolo Cortazar. Amos starts the episode by having a commiserating drink with Miller but turns out to be instrumental in getting Cortazar to talk. Meanwhile, Alex is eaten up with guilt over the deaths of the twenty-five Belters on the second boarding pod at Thoth, and he spends the whole episode running and rerunning simulations of the fight in order to figure out a way that he could have saved them. All of this works together to produce a strange effect that is probably not quite exactly what the writers hoped for. The idea of breaking up the crew and then putting them back together at the end of the episode is a solid one, and it ought to be enough to fuel an episode, but the truth is that not all the conflicts here really work. There aren’t always clear consequences for characters’ actions, and the interpersonal stakes feel low when compared to the major events happening in the story.

This is probably most glaring in Miller’s storyline this week. In his first appearance of the episode, Miller is assaulted and berated by Holden, who is outraged at Miller’s extrajudicial killing of the unarmed Dresden. Fred is more quietly angry at Miller, perhaps angry less at Miller’s action and more at Miller’s usurping of Fred’s authority in the situation, perhaps for some other complex reason. It’s not always easy to tell with Fred Johnson, who is still a somewhat mysterious character in the show. In any case, Fred orders Miller off Tycho ASAP and sends Miller off to, presumably, find a ship to take him off. However, this isn’t what Miller does at all. It turns out that almost no one is actually that upset with Miller. In fact, some of the Belters on Tycho seem almost to hero worship the ex-cop, and Miller loafs around the station for somewhere between a day or so and a couple of weeks. The timeline is confusing. He has a drink with Amos, then goes to the Mormon temple on Tycho and lets some poor nice Mormon waste time giving Miller the whole spiel about the generation ship, the Nauvoo, parked outside Tycho. Miller is also having visions of Julie Mao, who seems to be beckoning him back to Eros, so he decides Eros needs to be destroyed and goes back to Fred Johnson to suggest that they use the Nauvoo to do it, and Fred agrees with no real argument. It’s a weird storyline because it feels important and somewhat dramatic during the watching, but its internal logic doesn’t actually hold up to much scrutiny. It’s Fred’s easy agreement at the end that really killed my suspension of disbelief, but this plot overall relies a little too heavily on the ability of viewers to fill in blanks and imagine character motivations and rationalizations that aren’t adequately supported by what is shown on screen.

The disagreement between Holden and Naomi is an obvious one. Holden, self-righteous prig that he is, hates that Miller shot Dresden, who was unarmed and not obviously presenting any imminent threat to the people who were in the room with him on Thoth. Naomi, however, sees the wisdom of Miller’s decision, though she isn’t entirely approving of it being so unilaterally decided and carried out, and she urges Holden towards forgiveness and clemency or at least pragmatism. This argument sends the two apart for most of the remainder of the episode, with Holden working with Fred and Amos to get information out of the scientist, Cortazar, while Naomi drinks and plays and dances with her new friend Samara. Before the end of the episode, Holden and Naomi have one more conversation where they reconcile, and this puts them right with each other in time for whatever comes next for them. The thing is, this is the first test of their relationship, but it never feels truly consequential. When they aren’t in the same room, it’s as if the two characters don’t even exist to each other, and their reconciliation feels too easily accomplished at the end after such a significant philosophical disagreement.

Still, “Static” is a good episode that does a lot of necessary ground laying for next week’s major events. The Nauvoo exposition was nice and not too clunky, the use of the Eros noises as a soundtrack was mostly well-done, and while quieter than the first two episodes of the season, this one didn’t feel slower or less interesting. I’m happy to see that we’re on track to finish Leviathan Wakes by the end of episode four, though. I cannot wait to get deeper into Caliban’s War material. The back half of this season should be awesome for female characters, and that is definitely relevant to my interests.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • I love Errinwright’s line at the end of the opening sequence, where he turns Avasarala’s own words against her: “It’s like you always said; Earth must come first.” This is a great way of pointing out Chrisjen’s own hypocrisy in using rhetoric that can be easily interpreted in ways she doesn’t intend but probably should have been able to foresee.
  • I noticed that “Nauvoo” doesn’t set off spellcheck, so I googled it and learned an interesting bit of Mormon history that I was previously unaware of, so that was neat.
  • It’s interesting how Amos is used this week to relate to both Miller and Cortazar. One man has a rough exterior but an excess of empathy, while the other has been altered to feel none, yet Amos connects with both of them. I’m not always sure that the writers are sure what they want Amos to be.
  • I would have loved to see Alex’s story given more time this week, as well as some more interaction with other characters. He felt very alone and adrift in his pain, but it seemed as if this mini-storyline was almost an afterthought.
  • I genuinely hated the short EDM montage with the music made from the Eros recording. I’m not big on montages in general, but this one in particular was egregiously bad. It communicated nothing that hadn’t already been conveyed in the previous scenes, and it was heavy handed way of making a thematic connection between disparate storylines.

The Expanse: “Safe” and “Doors & Corners” are a thrillingly ambitious start to Season Two

Season two of The Expanse isn’t wasting time with handholding or revisiting last season’s material, so I hope everyone has been paying attention. “Safe” is a whirlwind of fresh exposition and new character introductions that moves through the aftermath of the Eros massacre at a blistering pace to set the stage for the Battle of Thoth Station that takes place in “Doors & Corners.” It’s a good thing these two episodes were aired together because they would each have been frustrating to write about separately, one being a huge helping of infodumping mixed with survivor’s guilt and the other being dominated by the lengthy battle sequence that overshadows its first half. As a pair, these episodes work well as an introduction to the themes and conflicts of the show’s second season. Apart, not so much.

Spoilers ahead for the episodes and the first two books of the series!

Having read Leviathan Wakes last year and Caliban’s War in preparation for this season, I wasn’t expecting to see Bobbie Draper (newcomer Frankie Adams) so soon, but “Safe” opens with her introduction. It’s a smart transition into the new season, immediately adding an additional layer of complexity to the story by starting with a new character, kicking off a dialogue-heavy episode with some action, and showing the audience Mars for the first time. Chronologically, this scene takes place before the start of Caliban’s War, and by the end of “Doors & Corners” we’re still pretty firmly in Leviathan Wakes territory, which makes me curious about how far into the second book we can reasonably expect the show to get this year. My guess is not nearly as far as I’d like, especially in Bobbie’s story, but I like this opening scene so much and Bobbie’s viewpoint is utilized so well in “Safe” that I can’t be upset about it.

It’s great to see Mars at last, and they do a good job here of communicating to the audience what the dream of Mars is—a terraformed paradise as we see in Bobbie’s snapshot of the future Mariner Valley—and what that means to young people like Bobbie. She and the rest of the Martian military get a good amount of screen time in these episodes as they work, possibly in vain, to avoid war with Earth. If the show is planning on following the course of the books, the groundwork being laid here is essential to getting viewers invested in these characters, their conflicts and their fates. So far, they’re nailing it, following up the initial action scene with some more domestic scenes of military camaraderie and using Bobbie’s interactions with Lieutenant Sutton (Hugh Dillon) to give us a ton of exposition about Mars and their goals in the solar system while also deftly painting Bobbie as a tough, passionately opinionated woman who often seems to only be barely held in check by her military training and discipline. When Bobbie ends “Safe” with the observation that war with Earth may be necessary and inevitable, she looks like she might be willing (and certainly seems capable) of waging that war all by herself.

On the Rocinante, “Safe” picks up with them having just left doomed Eros. Kicking off this first Roci segment with Holden’s nightmare that they may all be infected by protomolecule was a touch melodramatic—it’s very obviously a dream, and the ongoing fears Holden and the rest of the crew have after the trauma of their experiences on Eros are better communicated elsewhere—but in the broader context of two solid episodes that work in such excellent harmony, it’s practically forgettable and definitely forgivable. I suppose it serves as a reminder of what the protomolecule looks like so that we recognize it when Amos opens up a canister of it a couple minutes later, but I’m not sure it’s truly necessary, especially when the canister is confirmed by others to be the same stuff that they saw on Eros and they also have recorded scientific notes on the substance that explain more about it. Still, the fact that everything in “Safe” happens so quickly and in so many short scenes that it’s easy to lose this tiny dream sequence in the crush of information being thrown at the viewer almost makes it worse and more silly to have included it in the first place. In any case, the protomolecule canister is soon safely (hopefully) hidden near an asteroid, and the Rocinante is on its way back to Tycho and Fred Johnson with the other evidence found on Eros.

Much of the time spent with the Roci crew in “Safe” as well as parts of the first half of “Doors & Corners” is dedicated to the characters’ various reactions to trauma and survivor’s guilt. Alex (Cas Anvar) in particular struggles with his feelings of guilt and shame over not having rescued more of the Belter population of Eros, and it’s nice to see him getting more to do and the beginnings of a more distinct character arc this season. Meanwhile, Miller and Holden are still recovering from the massive dose of radiation they were subjected to on Eros. Miller is still angry at Amos for killing Miller’s friend Sematimba, while Holden is still unsure if he has what it takes to lead the crew. The resolution of the conflict between Miller and Amos works for the characters even if it is somewhat expected. It’s Alex, incidentally, whose basic decency sets the stage at the end of “Safe” for Miller and Amos to finally let bygones be bygones, and the cheese story is definitely in the running for my favorite scene from either of these episodes. It’s a great scene of domestic bliss on the Rocinante before they return to Tycho and get back into the shit.

Even more expected than the conflict and resolution between Miller and Amos, and somewhat spoiled by the season previews, is the start of the romance between Holden and Naomi, which I was surprised to not hate nearly as much here as I did when I read Leviathan Wakes. I mean, there’s still no way that Holden could ever possibly deserve Naomi Nagata, who is an actual perfect angel, and I still feel like things are very one-sided, with Naomi as the primary provider of emotional support. With Naomi also being responsible for Amos and whatever his deal is, it doesn’t seem quite fair. Still, Steven Strait and Dominique Tipper are both hot, and they have a nice chemistry that makes it fun to watch them squish their bodies together. It also helps that there’s nothing overwrought about the relationship and it doesn’t take up much screen time so it hasn’t completely outstayed its welcome yet.

The Rocinante material is dialogue heavy for all of “Safe” and this continues through the first half of “Doors & Corners” after they arrive at Tycho to report in with OPA leader Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman). There’s a lot of sly exposition in these first few minutes that helps to give us a much better understanding of the OPA, its factions, and how the events at Eros have changed things in the Belt. Fred Johnson gets nearly as much screen time in this one episode as he did all last season, and we see a new depth to his character now that he’s playing a larger role in the story. Coleman brings a decent gravitas to the role, and this week we get to see a lot of Fred Johnson’s complexity as he finds himself pushed back into a martial role that is far different than the politicking that he wants to be doing.

On Earth, we’re already starting to dig into some of Chrisjen Avasarala’s Caliban’s War content, and it’s interesting to see how this material is being adapted to try and keep it from getting too far ahead of the Rocinante plot, which still has probably two more episodes worth of Leviathan’s Wake material to cover. Avasarala’s story this season starts with an assassination attempt right after she’s given a public statement blaming Fred Johnson and the OPA for the Eros incident and the attack on the Donnager. She contacts an old friend of her son’s, Cotyar, to join her security team and work as a spy, though it’s still not clear by the end of “Doors & Corners” exactly what Cotyar is for. Avasarala herself splits her time between working to prevent all-out war between Earth, Mars and the Belt and trying to puzzle out Errinwright’s plot against her so she can keep working to prevent the war without getting herself murdered in the process. Shohreh Aghdashloo is always a commanding presence as Avasarala, and I generally find her to be the most fascinating character on the show. Unfortunately, much of her story in these first couple of episodes feels repetitive, as if it’s just spinning its wheels until the other plots catch up.

That said, even while spinning its wheels, the Avasarala plot manages to be compelling enough to mostly hold its own, especially in “Safe” though Avasarala also gets a great scene with Admiral Souther in “Doors & Corners.” There are several scenes of actual UN meetings which are entertaining if you appreciate that sort of peeking into the workings of government, and it appears that several other characters are going to play larger roles here as the season continues. Having read the first two books of the source material, I’m glad to see so much of it showing up here, and I’m hopeful that this means we’ll get significantly far into Caliban’s War later this season. My only concern is that by starting to dig into the conspiracy against Avasarala this early, it could be redundant to do it all over again later if the show decides to hew too closely to the source material. So far, however, the show has mostly made smart adaptational choices, seeming both cautious about huge changes and appropriately reverent of the books. I don’t think there’s much to really worry about on that score.

Overall, these two episodes are a pitch perfect start to the new season. There’s a certain amount of risk-taking going on with introducing some completely new characters and expanding the roles of some others requiring more skillful juggling to do everyone justice, and the show so far is pulling it off. Thematically, these episodes are solidly ambitious, but in a way that grows organically out of the previous season. The exploration of various forms of survivor’s guilt in “Safe” and the journey of the Roci crew towards something like healing (but that, ultimately, turns out to be political awakening) was particularly well done. Bobbie’s point of view offers an important new perspective on Mars that rounds out the viewer’s understanding of the major factions in the solar system, and by the end of “Doors & Corners” we have a much better idea of what the protomolecule is and some inklings of what that might mean to the warring factions. Visually, the show is a marvel, with gorgeous costumes and props, excellent sets and practical effects, and slick, polished CGI to enhance great photography.

The Expanse continues to be the most exciting thing on television, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • I know that “I don’t use sex as a weapon, little ones; I use weapons as weapons” is sort of the Bobbie Draper pull quote of the night, but I actually don’t love it. I am still feeling pumped from Bobbie’s speech at Phoebe, though.
  • A line I do love: Naomi saying “I’m not scared. I’m angry.”
  • I liked the scene with Mao and Errinwright plotting together, but it felt somewhat derivative. The roses made Mao feel a little bit President Snow-ish, and the location they used looks very similar to one I’ve seen in a couple of other SyFy productions. I might be wrong about the specifics, but either way it all seemed a little too paint-by-numbers for me. I’d have liked to see something more visually distinctive and memorable.
  • I’ve never been wholly on board, in the books or on the show, with Miller’s creepy obsession with Julie Mao, but it seems like that has been wound down now. Here’s hoping.
  • On the one hand, Holden and Naomi banging in the airlock is hot as hell. On the other hand, if that airlock was open to space for them to come in, wouldn’t that hard ass wall be cold as shit?
  • The FedEx branding on the boarding pods was a nice touch.
  • Loved the ending of “Doors & Corners.” I love that scene in the book, and it was deployed here for maximum “Oh, shit!” effect. Good job, show.

All the SDCC Trailers I Care About, Part Three: Television

Most years, SDCC adds a ton of new shows to my watchlist, but this year was mostly recaps of some shows I already watch (like iZombie), recaps and trailers for shows that I don’t watch (The Walking DeadGothamAgents of Shield, etc.), and just a handful of trailers for actual new shows that look good. As with the super hero stuff and movies, these trailers also have a woeful lack of women, with not a single new woman-led show being promoted, which likely accounts for my general apathy towards most of this year’s offerings. Still, there are a couple of shows coming up that I’m looking forward to, even if none of them are quite what I really want to see.

American Gods

American Gods looks amazing, you guys. Ricky Whittle is perfectly cast as Shadow, and the rest of the supporting cast is also excellent. I’m a little disappointed/concerned that there’s been no casting news for Sam Black Crow, who figures much larger in the narrative than Bilquis or Easter or the Djinn–all of whom have already been cast–but I’m hoping they’re just saving her as a surprise for when the show finally airs next year.

Star Trek: Discovery

It’s not much, but I’m glad we got something Trek-related. I’m super stoked about this show, and I can’t wait to see the new crew and have some idea of the plot. I’ve always love DS9 best of the shows, though, so I’m slightly skeptical of this being another ship series. Those always struggled with getting preachy and feeling very after-school-special-y or just with being too episodic without a strong overarching story. That said, it’s not 1995, and I have a lot of hope that this new show is going to reflect the best of some of the newer trends in TV storytelling.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is among the Douglas Adams books that I haven’t ever gotten around to reading, though I am vaguely familiar with the concept of it, so this show wasn’t even on my radar before SDCC, to be honest. In a largely lackluster year for new shows, this one stands out as a quirky adaptation of a work by one of the great humorists of the genre, and it looks hugely entertaining if you enjoy madcap adventures (which I do).

The Exorcist

On the one hand, I’m not sure why anyone thought The Exorcist needed to be revisited. On the other hand, Geena Davis.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

I am unabashedly excited for this, just like I have been about most of the recent spate of TV productions of musicals. Laverne Cox looks amazing, and Tim Curry is the Criminologist. The inclusion of the audience participation stuff seems iffy, but I like that they’re taking some chances on incorporating some different things into the production so I’ll reserve judgement on it. I’m not expecting great things from this Rocky Horror, but I think it’s going to be fun to watch once.

Lucifer Season Two

There’s not a ton of new footage here, but it’s enough to keep me interested. Season one of Lucifer was inconsistent, to say the least, but I ended up really enjoying the show overall. Tom Ellis often carries the show with just his considerable charisma and excellent good looks, but it’s enough to keep me coming back.

Sherlock Series Four

I generally prefer Elementary to Sherlock, but I’ll watch three or four more episodes of this.

The Expanse Season Two

There are no words for how thrilled I am by The Expanse. It’s the best sci-fi show since Battlestar Galactica in my opinion, and I have every reason to expect season two is going to continue the excellence that characterized the first season of the show. Now I just need them to give us a firm air date for the series so I know how long I have left to get around to reading the second book, Caliban’s War.

(Part One HERE)

(Part Two HERE)

The Expanse: “Critical Mass/Leviathan Wakes” deliver exactly the payoff we deserve

Well, that was a wild ride. Which I’m sure I’ve said more than once already this season, but I really, really mean it this time. The Expanse has been a captivating show from day one, but “Critical Mass/Leviathan Wakes” was an exhilarating experience. While I have at times felt that the show spent too much time on set-up and world building, it definitely paid off this week with several big reveals and a major ratcheting up of the stakes in preparation for the show’s second season—in 2017, a long wait which was probably the most devastating revelation of the day. Considering all that happened in the finale, that’s saying a lot.

“Critical Mass” opens with an extended flashback that tells Julie Mao’s story from Julie’s point of view. It’s a great way to elevate her from being essentially an object in a narrative that revolves around the stories of men—Holden and Miller in particular, but to a lesser extent Dawes and Johnson—to being a real character who we can empathize with and care about. By dedicating nearly a full half episode to showing us who Julie was, the show forces us to think of her as an active agent in her own right, driving her own narrative, which only intersects with Holden’s and Miller’s. What I most appreciated about the time we spend with Julie this week is how much of that is dedicated to showing us who she was as a person, not just what she did. At the same time, this material gives us a much better understanding of what Miller and Holden have gotten themselves into—even as it highlights that there is still a ton of stuff that they (and we) don’t know.

And can we all stop to appreciate that Julie Mao’s death isn’t sexualized? Her body isn’t posed in any kind of titillating fashion, and her illness is filmed in a way that invites the viewer to identify with her rather than simply observing her. It’s done in a way that is almost viscerally affecting, as we’re able to almost experience her increasing sickness, her rising desperation as her attempts to contact Anderson Dawes go unanswered, her panic as she realizes what is happening to her, and her final despair as she succumbs to whatever the blue space goo is. Still, she’s given a sort of sad dignity through all of it, and I was happy to see that her death is framed as tragic for her sake more than for Miller’s like it was in the book.

The second half of “Critical Mass” and all of “Leviathan Wakes” are dedicated to the present day, where things are getting very scary extremely quickly. Miller and the Rocinante crew manage to escape from the motel, only to find the whole station on lockdown due to a supposed emergency. As Eros residents are herded into radiation shelters, Miller, Holden, and the rest try to get their bearings. Eventually, they split up—Miller and Holden to find out what’s going on and Naomi leading the rest back to the Rocinante. What follows is a fast-moving series of tense, high stakes sequences as the two groups try to find their way off the doomed space station. It’s definitely the best work of this type that the show has delivered so far, and the danger they’re in, especially Holden and Miller, feels very real.

All of the events on Eros this week made me a little regretful that I read Leviathan Wakes before the show aired. The show is a pretty faithful adaptation of the book, and I think it would have been cool to see it with fresh eyes. Even knowing how things would turn out, I felt real worry for Holden and Miller, so I can only imagine how harrowing their scenes must have been for non-readers.

One thing that wasn’t in the books, though? Naomi’s journey back to the Rocinante, which I loved. It’s nice to see her get a chance to really be in a leadership position, even if she does decide before the end of the episode that she doesn’t really want that responsibility after all. I haven’t always been completely happy with the way the show dealt with the situation between Naomi and Holden as they jockeyed for primacy on the Roci, but I liked the way it ended here. Her struggle to lead felt real and human; her decision to defer to Holden felt honest; and the final tender moment they share together hints at a possible romance that feels genuine and earned. It’s a brief moment of sweetness in an overall extremely dark episode.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Chrisjen is going to pay her respects to her old friend, Franklin DeGraaf. She finds his husband very angry with her, but he lets her in regardless. It’s impressive how much convincing feeling Shohreh Aghdashloo can produce in this role, and this is a standout episode for her character. She’s definitely grieving for her friend, but she’s also trying to piece together more pieces of a mystery—in this case, a proper conspiracy. When Fred Johnson makes an announcement regarding the destruction of the Donnager and broadcasts some of the same information that Chrisjen found in her dead friend’s desk, things start to become clearer. When she reconnects with Errinwright, Chrisjen immediately sees that he’s in on it, whatever it is, and she smiles and plays her part. Then she goes home and takes steps to keep her family safe from whatever storm is about to hit.

Avasarala’s story line this season has been perhaps the show’s most consistently weak link, but it finally starts to pay off in “Leviathan Wakes.” As an enormous Chrisjen fan, I can’t wait to see how this develops next season. Most of the season, her role seemed largely to function as a way to further understand the events in the Belt, but her uncovering of a conspiracy, combined with her introduction to Jules-Pierre Mao, finally gives her a proper story of her own. She’s still stuck on Earth, where most of the action isn’t, but now she’s in some real peril that she’ll have to face next year.

The Expanse is hands-down SyFy’s best production since Battlestar Galactica, and this finale only continues to prove the series’ strengths. It’s a perfect mix of personal stories and epic scale plots, and it ends with an iconic and ominous shot that promises that shit is going to get very real in season two.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • “Everyone’s a winner on Eros!” Indeed.
  • I feel like people would have been rioting in the streets if we’d had to wait a week between the end of “Critical Mass” and the beginning of “Leviathan Wakes.”
  • Those pencil-shaped data sticks are awesome.
  • “Half the system thinks you’re some kind of outlaw hero, but you’re really kind of clueless, aren’t you?”
  • I’m not entirely sure why Sematimba had to die. I suppose he’s just a loose end or perhaps this is going to lead to conflict between Miller and the Roci crew next season, but I didn’t love the way this went down. I’d have preferred it if he just disappeared in the chaos on Eros.
  • “You guys look like shit.”
  • One could almost feel bad for Kenzo. Only almost, though.

 

The Expanse: “Salvage” finally (and gloriously) unites the show’s two biggest plots

The Expanse up to this point has been highly entertaining, turning out consistently high quality, if not superb, episodes week after week. However, a common complaint and the show’s single biggest problem has been its tendency to get mired in exposition and distracted by filler material that prevents forward movement on the main plot lines. This has been largely due to the show’s trying to keep Miller’s and the Cant survivors’ storylines where they needed to be while still giving time to more tangentially related plots and characters. The end result, though, has been some unevenness from week to week and a couple of episodes that even felt slightly stagnant. At times, it felt as if the various plots the show has been juggling were never going to come together. This week, though, in “Salvage,” all of the patient waiting pays off in a big way.

On Earth, Chrisjen is informed by Errinwright that he’s activated a black ops team to investigate whatever Fred Johnson is up to on Tycho Station. She’s not thrilled, and she’s concerned about making a martyr of James Holden, but there’s nothing she can do to stop it. We also learn this week that Chrisjen’s old friend, Franklin DeGraaf, has killed himself. In a beautifully subtle moment, we get to see Chrisjen react to this sad news and then continue working through her grief. It’s a legitimately great character building moment, smack dab in the middle of a scene that shows that the U.N. on Earth has no idea what they’re dealing with in the Belt and might in fact be only compounding problems that they don’t understand. Avasarala’s scenes have felt somewhat disconnected all season from the events in the Belt, and it would be easy to write this scene off as unimportant or unnecessary, but there’s actually quite a lot going on here.

Miller’s flight to Eros is mostly uneventful, but there’s a great scene on the transport where he meets a Mormon man who is preparing to board the Nauvoo generation ship. It’s a nice, quiet interlude that deftly weaves together Miller’s character development with some exposition about the Mormons and their ship that seems like it will be important sometime down the road. When Miller arrives at Eros, he wastes no time in trying to locate Julie Mao, who has been traveling under the name Lionel Polanski, but his efforts only end up with him arrested and needing to be bailed out by his friend Sematimba, who wants to know what Miller has gotten himself involved with. Without being completely forthright, Miller convinces Sematimba to tell him the last place “Lionel Polanski” was known to be—a flophouse called the Blue Falcon.

The largest amount of time this week is spent with the crew of the Rocinante. When they reach the asteroid where the Anubis is supposed to be, they at first think they’ve been misdirected before they finally discover a stealth ship hidden in a crevasse on one side of the giant rock. Though the ship appears to be dead, Naomi points out that the intact hull suggests that there could still be air (and possibly survivors) inside. As everyone but Alex slowly explores the Anubis, they realize that the ship is not damaged at all, but has been deliberately turned off and vented—and a short range shuttle is missing. The most significant discoveries on the Anubis, however, are that it was at Phoebe Station and that there’s some kind of mysterious blue, glowing space goo that seems to be alive and gunking up the ship’s reactor. Fully freaked out, everyone hightails it back to the Rocinante so they can continue on towards Eros in search of the missing shuttle and Lionel Polanski, but not before destroying the stealth ship.

As a great lover of the mysterious space goo trope in science fiction, I have a deep appreciation for this segment, but I would have loved to see it portrayed more as it was in the books, with recognizable human parts embedded in the goo. In hindsight, however, I’m forced to admit that showing it that way on screen would have definitely spoiled the next big revelation of the episode. When the Rocinante arrives at Eros, Holden and company are able to relatively quickly make their way to the Blue Falcon, where Lionel Polanski is booked into room 22. Avasarala’s spy has set them up to be murdered, presumably on Errinwright’s instructions, but they are saved from that fate by the timely arrival of Miller.

The now-ex-cop recognizes Holden right away, but he’s more concerned with finding Julie as soon as possible. Unfortunately, when they all finally make it to Julie’s room, it’s clear right away that things are not right. All of the devices and lights in the room have been turned off, and it smells of “sweat, sick, and ozone” (a wonderfully evocative phrase that helps to convey the horror that the characters are experiencing). When they finally find Julie, she’s in the shower, covered all over with—you guessed it—space goo, which seems to have been fatal.

It’s a great way to end the episode, and perhaps the best possible lead-in to next week’s two-hour finale. “Salvage” manages to squeeze a lot of story into its running time, but it’s still an episode that is capable of pausing for interesting moments and continuing world building. It’s a wildly fast-paced episode that only builds momentum as it goes on, but it never feels rushed. Now it just remains to be seen how much story is going to be crammed into the finale, since this episode managed to somehow push all the way to the moment where I thought the show was going to be at the end of episode ten. I didn’t think it was going to be possible, but it now seems rather likely that this first season is going to make it to the end the source material in Leviathan Wakes, or very nearly so.

I can’t wait.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • The broad shot of the Nauvoo, with the trumpeting angel in gold, is incredible. Like, yes, of course that’s what a bunch of religious whackos are going to drive out into space. It’s gorgeous.
  • Fred Johnson is surprised by something in the data from the Donnager, but we don’t learn yet what it is.
  • “I kinda wanna blast it.” Good instincts, Amos.
  • The music at the Blue Falcon is amazing.
  • “Shit just follows you around, don’t it, kid?” Pretty much.