The Expanse returned last night with an action-packed double episode. Season Two picked up the threads from last season’s finale, with Chrisjen Avasarala investigating the corruption within the UN, the crew of the Rocinante trying to learn the truth about what they witnessed on Eros Station, and Miller…well, Miller leans against walls spitting out sarcasm like he’s in some sort of noir-one-liner competition.
I’m recapping the highlights of the episode below, join me in space!
One of the best things about The Expanse is that it’s a sprawling story with a large, multi-faceted cast. Of course, this also make recapping it a bit of a challenge, since there are a lot of moving parts here. I’ll try to sum up the ending of Season One and set the stage for Season Two, to make sure we’re all looking at the same screen, as it were. I’ve also decided not to read the books yet—I’d rather focus on how the show works as sci-fi television rather than pulling apart how the show is as an adaptation. (Although obviously feel free to keep doing that in the comments, book readers!). I am planning to read the first two books at least after this season, though.
For those of you who are joining us with Season Two, already in progress: The Expanse is set about 300 years in the future. People have mastered some space travel, but there is no FTL, so space exploration is hard and taxing on the human body. Earth is united under the leadership of the UN. For decades they have been locked in a cold war with the newly-colonized, appropriately warlike Mars. Caught between the two superpowers is The Belt—the Asteroid Belt beyond Mars, whose people, called Belters, work in extreme conditions to mine ice for the larger planets. Most Belters live in poverty, exploited by richer forces, and attempts at striking or protesting their harsh labor conditions have been violently suppressed by Earthers. Mars was colonized by immigrants from Earth, and generally speaking, Earthers and Martians hate each other. But there is one thing they agree on, and that’s their mutual hatred of Belters. Belters have their own patois that is indecipherable to non-Belters, and to the show’s credit it uses the patois without translation or subtitles.
Because Season One followed three main threads, The Expanse is also kind of a multi-pack for sci-fi fans. You got Earth-based political intrigue in Chrisjen Avasarala’s plotline, scrappy spacefarers on the Rocinante plotline, and a hardboiled noir detective story (innnn! spaaaace!) in Detective Miller’s plotline. The three (mostly) converged in the finale:
Avasarala found evidence of a larger plot against the Belt, and began trying to investigate it, as she fears it will be used to start a real war with Mars. She came to believe the Outer Planet Alliance leader, Fred Johnson, and figured out that one of her UN bosses is in league with Julie Mao’s father, who runs a Luna-based business called Mao-Kwikowski Mercantile. She knows there’s a plot, and that innocent people are being murdered, but she can’t do anything about it…yet.
Miller and the crew of the Roci converged on Eros Station, where they finally found Julie Mao. Unfortunately, she was dead, and her body had been largely destroyed by the horrifying glowing blue crystals called the proto-molecule. Miller and Holden went off to investigate the station for evidence of the proto-molecule while the rest of the Roci crew began an impromptu rescue mission, trying to save as many Belters as they could as the station bosses began sealing off corridors, blasting radiation, and intentionally infecting people. Miller’s childhood best friend, Semitamba, tried to force the Roci to take off, but Amos shot him for threatening Naomi. She held the ship in the dock just long enough for Amos to go out and rescue Miller and Holden, who had been irradiated, and the ship escaped as the proto-molecule began to fester and spread through Eros.
So that’s caught us up for Season Two, which began last night with a two-hour premiere. (Spoilers ahead)
We meet Bobbie Draper during a training exercise. She’s a badass Martian, and at least in this episode seems far more militant than her commanders. She believes in the dream of a terraformed Mars. We get several scenes of her gazing at an app on her phone that shows a green and bountiful valley instead of swirling red dust. The terraforming project was derailed because of fights with Earth, and she knows she won’t live long enough to see a green Mars. Because of this, she seems to genuinely hate Earthers.
She leads her people on a mission to Phoebe Station, thinking they’re going to get into a ground battle, but this is later revealed to be posturing by Mars. This annoys Bobbie Draper.
Miller and the Roci crew head back to tell Fred Johnson about what went down on Eros. Miller and Holden are both half-dead from the radiation poisoning in the season one finale, and Holden hallucinates that he’s been infected with the proto-molecule. Alex checks on the handful of Belters they managed to save from Eros, and one of them accuses him of not doing enough to save more people. Alex takes this hard, and tries to vent to Amos later at a bar. Amos does the Most Amos Thing, and buys a girl a drink so she’ll sit there and listen. Fred Johnson hears them out, absorbs the news about the proto-molecule, and begins gathering some muscle to send to the Super Secret Science Station. Meanwhile, in a plot twist that I didn’t see coming, Holden and Naomi hook up. In a plot twist that I did see coming, Naomi seems to be completely cool about it, but Holden immediately gets clingy and starts worrying that Amos is going to murder him.
But Amos is too busy trying to murder Miller, who, quite understandably, hasn’t forgiven him for shooting his childhood friend Sematimba, He and the former detective get into it, and Amos nearly kills him before Naomi intervenes.
The premiere gave us a whole new host of political shenanigans—the council of earth thinks that the martians are going to attack them en route to Eros, but Chrisjen Avasarala talks them down, and then they don’t immediately get into war. Avasarala is nearly blown up in a terrorist attack, so she hires a personal spy to try to stay ahead of both Mars and the OPA. She shares a drink with one of Earth’s top military brass to get the true story of The Butcher of Anderson Station: Fred Johnson was sent in to repress the Anderson protest, but his higher-ups didn’t tell him that the Belters had already surrendered. Only later Johnson learned that, apart from his own beliefs about the Belters’ working conditions, he had just been ordered to massacre people who had given up. “The powers that be wanted to send a message to the Belt: defy us, we wipe you out. Message sent.” Johnson didn’t try to explain what had happened, or clear his name—he simply left. “He’s an honorable man who kept his soul, and that is a tough thing to do in this line of work,” the general tells her.
Avasarala watches him leave, and then tells her spy that she wants to speak directly to Fred Johnson.
“That’s treason, isn’t it?” he asks.
“It certainly is.”
Speaking of Fred Johnson… we get a fantastic scene with Fred Johnson who wants to rally troops for the Eros mission. Another Belter comes up and challenges him. Why does he show up and expect everyone to kowtow to him, and treat him like he’s the Belter messiah? Johnson’s answer is succinct: he hits the door lock and spaces the guy. Oddly enough, the other Belter leaders agree to find him troops after that. I was pleased that the episode balanced bad-ass Johnson with willing-to-listen Johnson. It’s nice to have characters who aren’t always blustery alphas.
After rescuing him from Amos, Naomi has a chat with Miller in his quarters. He tells her about his Julie Mao hallucinations (if that’s what they are) have gained strength: now she holds his hand and speaks to him. He considers her a guide to a new life. Naomi accepts this. I still can’t totally buy Miller’s love for Julie Mao. I’m completely on board with Miller becoming obsessed with Julie as a detective hunting down prey—what I’m not as solid on is the idea that he’s developed an idealized love for her, like a futuristic Dana Andrews gazing at a portrait of Space Gene Tierney. I just need to state that, because it’s a pretty big gap in my emotional commitment to the show. Having said that, though, finding out that he keeps his one picture of Julie tucked into his bunk so her face is the first and last thing he sees each day, and knowing that he imagines her visiting him to encourage him, was incredibly affecting. I just think they need to spend more time on it if it’s going to act as a counterpoint to his tough gumshoe routine.
When Alex gets the crew together to have a family dinner, Miller tentatively joins them, and Amos is the one who makes room for him at the table. The Belters are reunited.
The episode ends with Fred Johnson and crew staging a raid on Super Secret Science Station to learn more about the proto-molecule. This sounds like a serious well-organized mission, yes? But The Expanse as always takes us in a more interesting and grittier direction. The Roci has to try to take out the stations guards by doing some crazy flight maneuvers, which means Alex has to have a cram training session. He only barely manages to hit the targets, all while the Roci crew are flung around in real and obvious pain. Again, space is hard in this show. The human body is not up for this kind of travel, and it always takes a toll. Even better: Johnson’s plan involves dropping a small platoon of volunteers on the station. This means that they literally pack two group of people into a couple of big FedEx crates and drop them onto the station. These aren’t escape pods, or hollowed out asteroids: they’re just big ol’ crates.
Miller leads one of the missions, because even though he has no OPA experience he can use his cop training. He ends up in a crate with a kid he arrested for fencing water last season, and the two bond over the kid’s attempt to make something of himself. Miller, who cannot handle space, pukes all over the crate while the rest of the Belters laugh at him. One of the crates makes it to the station, and Miller goes into action, telling everyone to watch their “doors and corners” so no one can get the drop on them. They quickly learn that the science station guards only use gel rounds–like prison guards, Miller comments. So…are they keeping the scientists safe, or are the holding them prisoner? They find a group of scientists wired into a machine, seemingly sharing their thoughts:
Miller unhooks them, they freak out, and the Belters massacre the scientists until Miller yells at them to hold fire and stay put while he looks for the scientist in charge. He finds him just as Johnson and Holden join everyone on the station. Miller moves into the corner to watch their back while Fred Johnson and Holden question the scientist.
The head scientist tries to make a deal. Johnson wants a vaccine, but the scientist says, “No, that goes against everything we’re trying to accomplish.” He tells them about Phoebe—the extra-solar lifeform. “The proto-molecule is proof that we’re not alone in the universe.” He also refers to Eros as “hardly a rounding error” when compared to the billions of people he could help if they can master the proto-molecule. He tells them that the proto-molecule was sent to Earth to hijack it, and that the data will erase itself if anyone other than him tries to decrypt it. He warns them that humanity will be facing an alien war with no defenses if he isn’t allowed to continue his work, and Johnson assures him that they’ll help.
And then Miller puts a bullet in the scientist’s brain while Johnson and Holden stare in horror.
Thoughts Randomly Floating in the Void of Space:
- What the hell, Miller? Is this revenge for Julie?
- BOBBIE DRAPER.
- Yayyy, Mpho Koaho from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is here, too!
- BOBBIE DRAPER ARM-WRESTLING HER OWN SUIT
- Is it just me, or is the dialogue a little clunkier than last season? I’m hoping this is just because the show is ramping back up and getting us all back into the world.
- I really loved the fight between Miller and Amos. Miller comes after him, knowing that he’ll lose, but also knowing that he has to confront him for Semi’s sake. Then Amos just stomps him (because of course) but also tells him to stay down. Amos doesn’t want to hurt him. But then, naturally, Miller gets back up, so Amos tries to kill him. This whole interaction was perfect in an “unstoppable force meets an immovable object” type way.
- BOBBIE DRAPER FIXING HER OWN SUIT
- If you followed these recaps last season, you may recall that I have an existential horror of seeing people get blasted into space. Luckily that old trick was used only once, and creators of the show chose not to zoom in on the floating person’s death throes. Thank you, camerapeople of The Expanse.
- Is it just me or is Holden still treating this whole “captain” thing like a child wearing a too-big suit? He forgets to secure his coffee cup during a mission, it doesn’t occur to him to guard the two packing crates until Naomi reminds him, and he mostly expresses authority by yelling at people who have already agreed to work with him. I’m wondering if this will become an issue.
- Did the head scientist actually pronounce “Eros” three different ways during one conversation?
- WHAT THE HELL, MILLER?
So what did all of you think? Are you excited to be back on the Roci, or are Avasarala’s machinations more your speed?