Never Let Mei Go — The Expanse: “IFF”

The Expanse is back, and so am I! I’ve missed you, weird blue show. After Molly Templeton’s stellar write up of last week’s episode I’ll be reviewing The Expanse moving forward—but next week Molly will return with additional “Notes for Book Nerds,” since I’m still woefully behind on my reading…

Now, on to this week’s episode! “IFF”—“identification, friend or foe”did a great job of ratcheting up tensions that had already been pretty well ratcheted, but also offered a tiny bit resolution in the end.

This episode did a great job of twining storylines together. Errinwright is simultaneously trying to advise the Sec Gen on a war, demand weaponry from Jules-Pierre Mao, and wrap up a little “loose end”—namely Chrisjen and Bobbi, speeding away in Julie Mao’s Razerback. So it’s perfect that this storyline gives him one more pressure point: Pastor Anna Volovodov, who walks into the show and immediately steps in between riot police and antiwar protesters.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

Because I think I’m in love with Pastor Anna. When the Secretary General says he wants a speech reassuring Earth that God is on their side in the war, she snaps back by saying “Abraham Lincoln hoped he was on God’s side.” Then the Sec Gen pressures her, she re-sets the stakes: she runs a clinic for undocumented immigrants, and she wants one year of financial support. She clearly finds the gig morally offensive, but she’s going to get something larger out of it rather than making a symbolic stand. But best of all, she observes a war meeting, takes the measure of Errinwright in about 30 seconds, and and reminds him that his actions against Mao are a war crime. “Visiting the sins of the father on the children? We’ve had a whole other testament since then!” (I mean to be fair we’ve had a bunch, but it’s still a good line.)

Rather than casting the religious leader as naive or shocked, she holds her own in each argument, making it very clear that she doesn’t agree with the war, and she’s not going to soothe the egos of the people around her.

Meanwhile, in Space…

Bobbie and Chrisjen are having a delightful time with Julie Mao’s Razerback! Er, well, Bobbi’s barely hanging on and piloting the ship, and Chrisjen is being slowly crushed to death by the Gs. The two build on their relationship in some nice ways, but this was the other bit I found a little dodgy. How is Chrisjen kinda slightly dying and then coming back to deliver quips over and over? How is she still able to speak, if the Gs are literally giving her a stroke? It seemed like an unnecessary tension-building element in an organically tense situation. But Bobbi’s sent out a distress call, so I’m sure they’ll be fine?

Mao visits the lab on Io. We learn Mei is alive, which is great, but I also think the kid’s dooooooomed. It’s great drama but also deeply upsetting to watch these doctors lead Mei around injecting her with stuff, and ignoring her increasingly hopeless requests for her dad. More importantly, we hang out with Mao, and my brain goes into meltdown because François Chau also plays Arthur’s stepdad on The Tick, and its so delightful to see him doing pure, cold, sharklike villainy again after being so warm and lovable on his other show. Oooof, Mao is terrible. He looks right at those little kids and just sees a profit.

The Roci crew, or excuse me, the Pinus Contorta crew (which by the way, Pinus Contorta will never stop being funny to me, because I am a CHILD) are continuing to show their fault lines. Poor Naomi. But here’s what I found interesting and then frustrating about this: Prax builds the ship a big botany project that can act as an air filter. Cool. He and Amos just barely live through sn incredibly twnse zero G scene, when some tools get loose and start kertwanging all over the ship like missiles. Very cool.

But then they choose to exposition the crap out of some stuff that didn’t need it. When Alex intercepts the distress call from Bobbie and Chrisjen, they vote on whether to help. Prax casts the deciding yay. He’s choosing to put his desire to help people ahead of his search for Mei. It was clear to me that he’s terrified by the search, the idea that he’ll find her too late, that he’ll have to see her transformed into a monster. but then they put all if that into dialogue, with him straight up telling Amos that. Amos says a kid has to have someone who believes in them – making it all about his own trauma. I don’t think Prax would have just blurted out his darkest fear like that, and I thought it cheapened the choices a bit.

Which brings me to my one real annoyance with this episode. OF COURSE the Contorta saves the Razerback! Which would be a great moment except that they’ve already done “Roci swoops in and rescues everyone at the last minute” eleventy hojillion times over the last two seasons. So while I’m ecstatic to see the plots converge, (I’m deeply invested in the idea of Chrisjen and Amos having a conversation) I would have rather seen the vote itself, seen Prax make his decision to backburner his daughter, seen Amos’ reaction to that, and then filled in all the emotional framework myself rather than hearing them all spell it out. The show’s choice to go for a surprise rescue moment felt forced, because at this point we know these characters, and there’s more drama and meaning in watching them bounce off of each other than in being surprised when missiles explode.

Having said all of that, I am so excited to see how the two new additions to the Pinus Contorta (bwahahaha) get along! I’m so relieved that Bobbie and Chrisjen are comparatively safe, with the only people in the system who might be able to help them. And I can’t wait to see how these two, em, rather strong personalities spark off of the already tense crew.

A Brief Word About Hope

Hope, for lack of a better word, is good. I’ve become frustrated with plenty of shows over the years because they’ve chosen to wallow in so much darkness and pain that watching them invokes the same dread as visiting the dentist. So I wanted to take a moment and commend The Expanse on not taking that path. Yes, it’s fairly gritty, and shitty things happen to decent people. But there are also moments when Holden or Prax or Fred Johnson or Chrisjen go out of their way to try to help people, for no other reason than that it’s the right thing to do. Alex takes the time to reach out to his family, and yes, in some ways, his message is terrible, but he does also affirm that he loves them. And while the scene with Prax and Amos annoyed me, Amos is taking the time to remind Prax of his responsibilities to his daughter. Amos does risk his own life to re-secure Prax’s oxygen line. Chrisjen has the presence of mind to give Cotyar his antibiotics, even as she’s being hustled onto an escape ship. Anna risks her own body to help a protester at a demonstration, and checks in on him later.

These little moments are what make the show good, and save it from becoming a slog like some episodes/seasons of Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead.

Random Thoughts Floating in the Void of Space

  • My hands are not strong enough for our space future. In the last two episodes we’ve had Bobbie barely clinging to the outside of Mao’s ship, and now Amos practicing for the Space Olympics with his creative use of hand rails.
  • Speaking of, I’m pleased to see that all these regulation space railings are coming in (literally) handy.
  • Were there seriously no other trees they could have renamed the Roci after?
  • One of the signs at the UN protest cited Timothy 4:1, which, assuming they mean 1 Timothy, Chapter 4, Verse 1, is “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.” Just in case you were wondering.
  • Is Cotyar dead? I have a vision of Cotyar hanging on to the side of a ship by one hand, other hand holding his wound closed, somehow able to breathe in space.
  • Or maybe it’s the little admin guy holding onto the ship with one hand, his other arm wrapped around Cotyar? “I’ll never let go,” he whispers. “I’ll never let go.”
  • Just when I thought I couldn’t love her more, Pastor Anna sasses the Sec Gen with a quote from “Bartleby the Scrivener.”
  • Bobbie: “I’m sorry about Cotyar.”
    Avaserala: “Did you kill him?”
  • Um, so, this is bad, right? Super super bad?

  • Yeah, this is bad.

So what did all of you think? Are there any other Pastor Anna fans out there? Has Prax made the biggest mistake of his life? Will Bobbie fit in on the, oh god, the Pinus Contorta?

Leah Schnelbach really hopes that this show keeps committing to hope. Come talk to her on Twitter!

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