Just This Once, Let’s Try Something Else: The Expanse, “Congregation” and “Abbadon’s Gate”

and

Can I tell you all how happy I am that The Expanse isn’t ending yet? This two-hour finale was, for the most part, great, but if the story ended here I’d be crushed. The episode packed a ton of suspense and heart into its all-too-brief run time, but then ended on a cliffhanger that’s equally exhilarating and terrifying.

There’s wayyyy too much to recap here, so I’m going to try to hop through the most salient bits!

Meanwhile, on the Behemoth

All the action is on the Behemoth! Ashford’s dangerous gambit of spinning the drum has worked, and the Behemoth now has enough gravity to allow the injured crews from all ships to heal. This is great, but also means that only about a third of the entire fleet’s people are OK and walking around. This becomes important extremely quickly.

You see, the physicist, Dr. Kolvoord, has an idea. If they use the Behemoth’s communication laser, they might be able to get a message back to the solar system beyond The Ring. Kolvoord analyses the data, while Ashford talks to his shiny new prisoner: James Holden.

The technical term for Holden at this point is bugfuck crazy.

Or at least that’s how he seems. At least two Martians have questioned him, and he repeats the same story when Ashford takes his turn. Miller appeared to him. Yes, that Miller. Yes, he knows the man is dead. Miller’s been telling him things, and then he got to see flashes of what happened to the civilization that created The Ring. Whole solar systems were burned out, like the proto-molecule beings were “cauterizing a wound.” But no, they’re not aggressive—they simply don’t care. Our solar system is just another anthill to them, and if we’re not extremely careful we’re going to get stepped on.

Ashford, who has seriously mellowed since his time trapped with Drummer, listens calmly. He’s nice to him. Then he comes out and announces that the man’s mind is gone.

In the meantime they’ve sent a nuke up, hoping the interference from the blast will allow the other ships to move again. But really they do this…because humans, even this far into the future, are kind of dumb when it comes to their love of big explosions. Kolvoord soon realizes that this has been a mistake, as the station begins to pulse with a new and threatening energy. He estimates that whatever’s going to happen will happen in the next seven hours, and Ashford remembers Holden’s line about civilizations ending like a wound being cauterized, and realizes that their system is going to end, that day, if they don’t find a way to stop it.

It’s here that Ashford comes up with an idea that seems great, like exactly the heroic sacrifice we should all be willing to make. Don’t they have an enormous laser? They’ll use the laser to slice through the Ring! That will seal it off from the system, and protect their home from the aliens.

“And trap us here forever,” Captain Kunis points out.

“No one on the other side will know what we did,” The Martian captain, Lucas, adds.

“And we’ll save the human race. Not a bad way to die,” Ashford says.

The other two agree with him.

This is where the low staff number comes into play. Ashford calls for everyone possible to help rewire the ship so the power is directed into the laser, but with so few people, it all takes a lot longer than it should.

Which is why the human race survives.

Because here’s the point where the show makes good use of Ashford’s sometimes annoying arc. After all of his bluster, he’s really an old beat up guy, mourning his daughter, looking back at his life with a lot of regret, and looking for a way to give everything meaning. He wants to leave the world a better place. Now, he sees his chance to make the grand sacrifice and save everyone, and it feels noble, and probably even more exhilarating than terrifying. And it’s completely wrong. Because he doesn’t understand that Holden is correct, and that the second the laser touches The Ring their solar system will still be “cauterized like a wound.” His attempt to save humanity will be its ending.

Luckily there are three other plot threads!

Holden’s chucked in the brig, with Bobbie still protecting him from her two Martian crewpeople who just want to kill the hell out of him. (This remains boring.) Clarissa has also been thrown in the brig, so she finally gets to meet her nemesis face to face—not that he has any idea who she is, or why she starts laughing when he introduces himself with “Hi, I’m Jim. What are you in for?”

Naomi’s brought Amos and Alex over to the Behemoth with her, and negotiates some engineering work in exchange for getting to see Drummer. Amos and Alex help out with some of the wounded refugees, which leads to my favorite friendship of the entire series: Amos and Anna!

Watching her work with the wounded, he realizes that she is his opposite point. Unlike most people who overthink things and whine a lot, they each simply identify things that need to be done, and then do them without much complaint. It’s just that she runs a clinic for refugees (because somebody has to) and he, um, kills people (because sometimes somebody has to do that, too). I don’t think she quite sees their connection the same way. He wanted to kill Clarissa because it’s easier to get rid of the terrorist than leave her dangling like the system’s worst loose thread; Anna refused to let him because it shouldn’t be up to humans to dole out justice. But Anna also admits that she wants Clarissa to pay for leaving Tilly to die. She’s not a whited sepulcher, she’s open about her anger and lack of forgiveness, but she also recognizes that she needs to rise above that anger. It’s that transparency that intrigues Amos. Anna even goes one further, going down to the holding cell and admitting to Clarissa that, “I didn’t want to think of myself as the kind of person who wanted vengeance.”

Drummer has decided that re-growing her spine will take too long, and builds herself mechanical legs! Naomi helps! There should probably be a lot more recovery time involved here! (I am now going to call Drummer “Drummer Maul.” I hope that’s OK.) The two of them head downstairs to talk to Holden, and he and Naomi have a sappy reunion which, finally, I bought into. After two seasons I’ve finally accepted their love or whatever. The actors sell it, it’s fine. Now Holden tries to tell Naomi about the end of everything, etc., and suggests that maybe Miller will talk to him again if everyone leaves him alone.

So they split, and watch on the surveillance camera. Clarissa listens one cell over. Holden pleads with Miller to come back and tell him what to do, and we see from Naomi and Drummer’s perspective as he talks to an empty room and seems to get answers from it. It’s a great choice that underscores how insane this whole scheme must seem to outsiders. Obviously we’ve been seeing Holden see Miller. He appeared to us, too. But none of the other characters see or hear anything but a hysterical man yelling at air.

But Naomi is a True Holden Believer, so when he tells them he has a plan, she goes for it.

His plan? Bugfuck crazy.

Basically he wants them to power the ships down and float in the dark until the Ring decides they’re not a threat. Then it will leave them alone.

Ashford rejects this idea immediately, and I can’t even blame him. So they go underground… or at least as underground as you can when you’re in a spaceship. Naomi mobilizes Amos and Alex—they’ll need to tell everyone on the fleet what’s going on, so that there isn’t a panic when the lights go out. Amos calculates their combined skill sets, and enlists Anna, who might stand a better chance of calming everyone. But how to get the message to the masses? Well their old friend the documentary filmmaker, Monica, is broadcasting a sort of underground news program to the fleet, so they’ll have to convince her to help!

Which, well, Amos immediately starts talking about how he doesn’t care that they hate him cause he has no emotions, so Anna steps in, calms everyone down, an appeals to Monica’s civic duty. This works.

So now there are three tense plots playing out: Holden, Naomi, and Drummer Maul in a desperate race to shut down the Behemoth on its lowest levels; Amos, Alex, Anna, and Monica broadcasting out of a hidden bunker to tell the other ships to power down and soothe the fears of the crews; Bobbie and her team tracking the rogue broadcast; Ashford’s lapdog Diogo chasing Holden and Naomi. In the meantime all hands with any electrician backgrounds are brought on deck to help direct power to to the laser… including hands that belong to Clarissa.

Aw, fuck.

And then Ashford, who has fully committed to being the patron saint of lost causes, releases her from her chemical restraints so she can think more clearly.

Aw, fuck.

Bobbie and Alex talk to each other, but the other two Martians go rogue and start shooting. Bobbie has to take one of her own team out, while Amos shoots the other, and Bobbie’s hit in the crossfire.

Meanwhile Anna and Monica just keep broadcasting, with Anna’s voice turned up to full Yacht Rock levels of smooth to keep everyone calm. Diogo is still chasing Holden, Naomi, and Drummer Maul, and DM grabs Holden’s grenades and attempts yet another goddamn sacrifice play—what is it with you Belters? Do you all want to die?—but Naomi cuts that crap off by dropping an elevator on Diogo.

The lights on the other ships blink out.

The laser powers up, fires, and misses. The Ring begins to glow.

Holden and Naomi make it to the deck, and Holden, all other options closed, appeals to reason. Just this once, can they try something other than violence? Rather than lashing out, and proving to the intelligence behind The Ring that they’re a threat, can’t they try the peaceful route?

Ashford tells his people to shoot them, but Clarissa, having listened to Anna, and overheard Holden’s desperate need to fix everything, has finally turned. She bites one of her super soldier serum capsule, knocks Ashford out, and yanks the Behemoth’s power just as she’s shot herself. The Behemoth goes dark. All the ships have gone dark. The Ring goes dark.

Until…

Tiny black disks appear on the comm screens. But wait those aren’t tiny at all—they’re portals to other systems. System after system, hovering in space, waiting for a ship to pass through.

The episode ends on Holden in another vision, naked on a beach, looking at all the portals that have just opened up and talking with Miller about how scared he is. Miller just needs a ride, kid.

 

Random Thoughts Floating in the Void of Space

  • See, this is why I still love this show. For once the nonviolent solution is rewarded, and the giant White Man Sacrificing Himself to Save Everyone trope is waved away. Even Holden isn’t sacrificing himself, he’s forcing himself to be vulnerable in a different way, and hoping that trusting Miller and cutting all the lights is the right path.
  • BUT. From Ashford’s perspective, he’s doing the great noble thing. And there’s no way to disprove Ashford’s perspective other than believing that Holden’s vision is correct. There’s no real bad guy here. Everyone’s just doing their best with the information they have. And even the alien intelligence isn’t evil: it simply doesn’t notice the humans.
  • Also? Anna admitting her own vanity, knowing that her desire for vengeance is wrong, owning the fact that both her desire for vengeance and her desire to rise above it are both equally wrong, because neither one is coming from a place of love or forgiveness.
  • I love love love Holden-as-Visionary. I think a lot of my issues with Holden came from the idea that he’s basically a young (very pretty) pup, who suddenly ends up a captain, with a crew, and partnering up with Naomi. But now that he’s been kicked around by the universe and essentially had to submit to Miller’s visitations and to the Kwizatz Haderaching of the station, he seems like he’s earned all the dewy-eyed emotion. He makes a good reluctant mystic.
  • And holy crap the expression of relief on his face when Naomi comes into his cell? And the way he can’t even get up for a second? That moment made their whole relationship worth it.
  • So, um, what’s the deal with these space holes? Is there certain death on the other side? Is anyone else bothered by the fact that they look like Wile E. Coyote should chase the Roadrunner through them? Maybe Sam Neill’s going to sail in from the Event Horizon universe? Loki’s going to fall through one cause he annoyed Dr. Strange again?
  • I’m kidding, but seriously these are terrifying, yes?
  • Anna and Amos’ conversation in the bunker was such a great pre-battle talk. Her telling him: “Hate is a burden—you don’t have to carry it with you” and his instant reaction of telling her he’s not going to let anyone hurt her, ooof. It’s such a good encapsulation of their positions. She’s going to counsel him, and he’s going to allow that, but he’s also going to kill for her if he has to, because people like her need to be the ones that make it out, but those people only make it out because of people like him. It’s so wonderfully twisty.
  • It’s also just nice to see him have another friend!
  • What does everyone think of this as a finale? Did it answer enough question? Raise new, better ones? I think a few elements were a bit rushed, but I was honestly impressed that they covered so much ground in their tow hours—not to mention all the emotional work with Anna and Clarissa.

 

Book Notes for Book Nerds

Quick poll: Did Holden actually talk to Miller, in that scene on the Behemoth? Or did he already figure out what they needed to do and pretend to talk to his imaginary friend because that was the story so far, the story he’d finally convinced everyone else about: that Miller was how he figured stuff out. But there’s no protomolecule on that ship, like there is on the Roci—nothing for the molecule to communicate with. Maybe the ship was just close enough to the station, but maybe not. I love that you can read that scene two ways: Either we’re not shown Miller because the showrunners are emphasizing how bananas Holden looks… or Miller wasn’t really there.

There’s a moment in this episode that I didn’t expect—I should’ve!—that I adored: The exact, precise moment when you see Amos reset, with Anna as his new external morality center. He’s made it pretty clear that though Naomi is family, he can’t see her the way he used to, and then along comes Anna, who, like Leah says, also does what needs to be done. She just does very different things. That scene when he tells her he won’t let anything happen to her is so good; all the props to Wes Chatham for giving Amos so many more layers than he might’ve had.

Bookwise, this finale … it kind of has all the things! Rearranged and rejiggered and held together with TV duct tape, but all the things. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one who got reeeeeal stressed when Drummer headed back down that elevator shaft—and then real happy when Naomi dropped the elevator. (Peace out, rockhopper kid, we won’t miss you.) I still wish this all could’ve taken longer (though I assume they wanted to wind up Abaddon’s Gate in case there wasn’t going to be a season four); I still wish we’d had more time to slow down and develop some of the characters. But the changes, and the mashing-together of different roles and moments, is done so well: I love that it’s Amos who takes Anna to Monica, having realized she can calmly talk people through just about anything. I love the scene with Naomi helping Drummer with her mecha-legs; you can see Naomi’s reluctance, that she knows her friend needs to heal, and you can also see her accept that it’s not her choice to make. I think it was wise not to harp too much on forgiveness for Clarissa; we see all of that in actions rather than dialogue.

I’d been skeptical of the need to have Bobbie on the station, but she’s so vital here—though I’m not convinced that Roberta Draper would start blindly firing into a space that she knows is occupied by a journalist and a pastor. Martian training aside, everything we’ve seen her go through suggests she wouldn’t do that so easily. It was all set up to make her turn on her fellow Martians again, which, following episode after episode of those two having nothing to do but be suspicious, was a little clunky. But I accept it, because it means she’s on the Roci at the end, along with Anna and Clarissa, and without even meaning to I mentally rewrote the ending of the book so that it’s Clarissa who’s going to buy the Roci from the Martians (not Tilly, RIP). It all comes even more full circle that way.

In conclusion: THOSE GATES, THOUGH. How fast can they make season 4? Who should they cast as Murtry? We need someone who can do the world David Straithairn did this season with Ashford—someone to bring the nuance that book-Murtry lacks. Will we get Havelock back? Is it next season yet? —Molly Templeton

Leah Schnelbach can’t wait for next season! Come talk to her about space holes on Twitter.

Molly Templeton is on Twitter awaiting your casting notions.

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