As you may have noticed, I am slightly obsessed with SyFy and its science fiction smash hit series The Expanse. As well as making it into my list on Oohlo’s annual Best of 2017, I have also suggested the show to audiences in our What To Watch features from last summer. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I am on something of a mission to gain retweets and replies from every member of the adorable cast and crew.
Well, darlings, The Expanse aka Game Of Thrones; In Spaaaaaaaaaace! returned last night for its hotly anticipated third season, and we hear at Oohlo are proud to announce that I will be recapping and reviewing the show henceforth!
We pick up almost exactly where we left off in season 3; The Rocinante, a Martian gunship co-opted and crewed by a ragtag gang of former Ice Miners turned Big Damned Heroes is badly damaged, and limping its way back to any safe haven that will have it. Earth-born Captain James Holden (Steven Strait, Sky High, Covenant) is still reeling from the revelation that his second in command and one true love, Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper, The Girl With All The Gifts) handed over the crew’s hidden sample of the deadly Protomolecule (an alien biotechnology flung at Earth millions of years before by an unknown species) to the leader of a borderline terroristic organisation known as the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance). The OPA fights and speaks for the rampantly oppressed Belters, space born humans who are the ultimate working class, forced to work in stations and on colonies, living in appalling conditions, and stuck with the worst and most dangerous jobs in space. They are all but slaves to the Earth and Martian governments, but the OPA and their leader, Fred Johnson (Chad Coleman, The Wire) are dead set on changing their status.
Elsewhere, UN Secretary of State (our most holy Queen) Chrisjen Avarsarala (Shoreh Aghdashloo, The Punisher) is trapped on the private ship of Jules-Pierre Mao (Francois Chau, perhaps best known to science fiction fans as Dr. Pierre Chang from Lost). Chrisjen is joined by Cotyar, (Nick. E Tarabay, Spartacus) and former Martian Marine, Bobbie Draper ( Frankie Adams, Shortland Street). Cotyar has been gravely wounded trying to protect Chrisjen from Mao’s personal guard, whom the man has ordered to to detain Chrisjen while her Earth bound (extremely former) friend, Sadavir Errinwright (Shawn Doyle, Big Love) schemes to use the Protomolecule to win the brewing war against Mars, the OPA and at this point, anybody who personally crosses him.
And finally, let us speak of Venus. After the intentional infection of the space station Eros with the glowing blue alien weapon, our heroes opted to shove the entire damned rock into the sun, in the hopes of eradicating what they thought were the only remaining traces of the deadly pathogen. Things did not go as planned and the entire station, a few hundred thousand dead Belters, and every trace of PM on it crashed instead onto the surface of Venus. After months of tense observation by scientists from all over the system, something happened on Venus that we are yet to see the result of (unless of course you read the books). The last images we saw were of a ship full of people being methodically broken down on an increasingly molecular level, that would appear to defy everything we know about science and the universe. So … nothing to be too concerned about there.
Season 3 opens with a breathtaking reverse track through space that encompasses all the vital ships, stations and colonies in which the stories play out, while snatches of news and radio transmissions remind us that things are still,really very tense and Mars and Earth are closer than ever to outright war over the various Protomolecule incidents which have occurred all over the system.
In the UN War Room, shady Errinwright plays dumb as Secretary General (think Earth President)Sorrento- Gillis(Jonathon Whittaker) frets about the looming war and the absent Chrisjen. Errinwright, naturally, is pushing for aggression and war, and dismisses the nearly complete Martian peace Treaty as a smokescreen for the enemy planet to cover up their Protomolecule experimentation. He throws out examples of the Molecule’s use along with vague assertions of the Martian intent behind them, and it’s a wonder his nose isn’t growing with every word he speaks. Without Chrisjen to appeal for cooler heads, Errinwright finds himself in the rare position of having the King’s Ear, and he uses it well enough that the Secretary General calls for a formal declaration of war.
In spaaaaaaace, our resident Boy Scout Holden and the others are on space walks outside The Roci, doing their best to scour the ship of any traces of Protomolecule after the invasion by the Hybrid that tried to eat their nuclear reactor. While temporary new crew member Prax (Terry Chen, The Returned) struggles with his guilt over destroying the Hybrid, which he fears may have once been his daughter, ship’s pilot, Alex (Cas Anvar, the voice of Altair from the Assassins Creed video game series) worries to engineer and emotionally complex murderchild, Amos Burton (Wes Chatham, The Valley of Elah) that recently injured Holden may not be capable of completing the cleanup on his own. Amos, in his profoundly pragmatic way has decided their crew, their family, is over and the only way to move forwards is disband and find honest work elsewhere. Alex, the emotional glue of this ragtag little gang of outcasts won’t hear of it, and does a Very Brave Thing by physically preventing Amos from leaving the room to ask his friend what he was thinking when Naomi admitted what she had done.
To understand the weight of this question is to know of the strange and mercurial relationship Amos and Naomi share, so don’t worry if you held your breathe for Amos’ answer, because we all did. Amos pauses, and with his characteristic eerie calm, shrugs ‘She wasn’t the person we thought she was’.
I am telling you right now, that exchange launched at least 15 thousand fan-fictions. And I will be reading all of them.
Alone out in space, Holden learns via his communicator that War Was Declared, and tells the crew they’ll need to hack their ship’s transponder and change the name, quick smart. The Rocinante pretends to be a freighter but in reality she’s a state of the art Martian war ship, which Holden told just everybody back during the escape from Ganymede, so the sooner the name is changed, the safer the crew will be. In a moment that breaks my heart more than a little bit, Holden settles in to clean Amos’ carefully applied artwork, the ship’s name and a WW2 style pin up, from the ships hull.
Credits roll, possibly my favourite on TV right now and a joy in their own right.
Over on Jules Mao’s luxury space yacht, Chrisjen attends to the increasingly weak Cotyar and is ordered by Bobbie, clad in her badass Martian power suit, to hold the fort for five minutes while Frankie finds them a way off the ship. Cotyar, hilariously, wants Bobbie to just ditch him and Chrisjen and save herself, but Bobbie is a Marine, damn it. Duty and honour are kind of her whole thing, so she’s only leaving for five minutes and when she returns, she’ll get them all out of there.
Bobbie reaches a panel in the wall and as easily as we might pull out a handy tool, removes the crewman she presumably stuffed in there after she verbally intimidated him into submission at the end of last year. Oh my god, I love her so much. He had been rather hoping he was done helping Bobbie but today, she tells him, he gets to be a hero. He doesn’t seem best pleased. Funny, that.
On The Ship Formerly Known as The Rocinante, Prax arrives back on the bridge in time to help Naomi pick a new name for it. He suggests Contorta, after the North American pine perhaps best known as the tree that relies on seasonal wild fires to allow it to reseed, and spread across its environment. It’s a brilliantly fitting name, though it’s not clear if that’s why Naomi accepts it, or if she just doesn’t feel like she gets a say anymore.
In a tiny shuttle, Fred Johnson records one of his familiar, nearly poetic messages, reporting he has possession of a sample of the Protomolecule. On his screen, we see who he’s contacting; Anderson Dawes (Jared Harris, Mad Men), the other and perhaps true leader of the OPA. Dawes, you will remember, abducted Cortazar, a scientist and researcher who had his capacity for empathy removed, in order that he could perform the cruel experiments required to study the alien artifact’s effects on humans and our environments. Well, Shit.
On Earth, Errinwright anxiously learns ‘the mess’, which is to say Chrisjen, is not cleaned up, and we hop back up to Mao’s ships to visit with our Holy and Most Remarkable Queen. Cotyar is recovering slightly from his gunshot wound after some clumsily administered first aid from Chrisjen, and after joking about her absolute terror of the gun Bobbie has ordered Chrisjen hang onto, the pair speaks in their wonderful musical accents while they try to work out what to do next. The guard who should have told Errinwright that Chrisjen has been cleanly killed and no longer poses a threat … has been cleanly killed (by a rampaging Bobbie) and no longer poses a threat. Except that he does, because he’s too dead to check in, which means eventually more armed guards will come looking for Chrisjen and Bobbie isn’t back, yet. Cotyar nearly passes out just trying to stand up, right as the door to their little base opens, presumably bringing about their immediate death. Chrisjen fires and turns out to be a fairly decent shot but thankfully, Bobbie’s power suit is incredibly bulletproof, and she’s unscathed by Chrisjen’s defensive strike. Cotyar takes back the gun. Hehehe.
Down on Earth, Errinwright is scrambling to cover for the fact Chrisjen is not dead yet by undermining her entire goddamned legacy. Approaching the Earth President, he lays the blame for every single one of his own actions at Chrisjen’s feet (you dick), pouring on his own ‘grief’ at the revelation as thickly as possible, even saying she was like a mother to him ((yoooooooouuuuuuuuuuu diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiickkkkk Sadavaaaaaaaaaaaaaar!!). President Gullible falls hook line and sinker for it, and given he just declared war on another planet, I’m inclined to give him a pass for falling for Errinwright’s act. He calls for Chrisjen to be apprehended at once. Hah! I’d like to see you fricken well try, bro.
On Tycho, we check in with Fred Johnson’s second-in-command and confidante, Drummer (Cara Gee, Inhuman Condition) , who is doing hanging pull-ups in spite of her slowly healing gunshot wound from last season. Fred has arrived back and informs of her of his newest toy, the Protomolecule and of the revelation Holden and the Roci crew kept quiet about their own sample. At the news it was Naomo who spilled the beans, Drummer calls her a bitch, and manages to make it sound like a compliment. She is less pleased to learn Fred has reached out to Dawes, with whom Drummer has her own complex past and who, when Drummer was shot, incited rogue Belters into firing planet-killer nukes at Earth — Belters once loyal to Drummer, and who she opted to kill once their siege was ended. Fred, hilariously, argues ‘New day, new bedfellows! We can’t afford to be short-sighted!’ but doesn’t appear to consider that maybe that same logic should be applied to Holden and the crew. Drummer is in no mood for his BS and lists Dawes various sins, storming out in a way that seems distressingly final.
On The Good Ship Contorta, Amos and Alex are repairing the damaged engine core and because we are a blessed people, Amos isn’t wearing his entire flight suit … and arms, arms, and shoulders is all I can say. Holy jesus, he’s so good-looking, it’s absurd. Naomi approaches to inform the sullen boys the transponder is fixed but it won’t keep them safe for long, and in a moment that is accurate if ill-timed, suggests Tycho is their only safe haven for the time being. In a System-shaking moment, something happens that damned near made me cry; Amos looks up at Naomi and says clearly and firmly, ‘No’.
GUYS. GUYS I AM NOT OKAY. I will also be reading the next fifty-thousand fan fictions spawned right there, in that second.
He goes on to suggest that Naomi just wants to give Fred a warship to go along with the ‘blue goo’. Alex joins the argument (and hello Alex’s arms and chest in that muscle shirt, oh my!), demanding to know what Naomi was thinking. Naomi plays the ‘If you were Belters … ’ card, but Alex fires back that as a Martian, he’s agreed repeatedly to favour The Greater Good over personal or cultural ties, and asks Naomi what gives her the right to make such a personal decision. Naomi doesn’t answer that, arguing instead that they’ll be arrested if they dock anywhere but Tycho, or just, you know, blown the hell up by any military-grade ship that figures out who they are. To Amos’ dismissive snort, she offers ‘Get us to Tycho, and you’ll never have to see my face again!’
Amos terrifies me by having no answer for this. But … this is Amos, and as we will see, the complexities of his relationship with Naomi are … well, just watch. As Naomi storms off, we see they have much bigger problems anyway; concealed beneath the bulkhead is a living spore of glowing blue Protomolecule.
On Mao’s ship, Chrisjen and her own motley little crew have made it to the flight deck of the ship, but the seemingly harmless flight crew have an ace up their sleeves. As Bobbie advances to cry havoc all over their faces, she’s shocked by a trap that renders her power suit immobile. The crew draw down on the exposed Chrisjen and Cotyar, but her pet spy/bodyguard/bickering partner is back from the brink and takes out the gunmen before they can do any real harm. Listen, I knew going into this my heart would be racing, but this is ridiculous.
Back on the newly named Contorta, Amos explains to Holden the fixes he has made, which will further disguise the ship. As Holden leaves, Amos brings my blood pressure down a few notches by turning and arguing that … they should actually go to Tycho. This is a neat, clever reversal of a similar scene from season one in which Amos had to convince Naomi that Fred Johnson was their safest bet, if they intended to survive and god, the writing is so good. So good, guys.
Amos admits he’s not happy about Naomi being right any more than Holden is, but Fred is the devil they know. Holden isn’t any happier about it than Amos, though he seems at least willing to consider it. Down in the galley, Holden coldly dismisses Naomi’s attempts to be civil, but when he’s left alone it becomes clear he is not even a tiny little bit okay. He wrenches the entire coffee machine (the coffee machine!!) out of the wall and smashes it to pieces, even as the water pipes that make it work soak him. Prax, coming up on the scene of destruction, suggests Holden try tea. Heeeeee!!
On Mao’s pleasure craft, Bobbie’s suit reboots, and she’s ambulatory again. Their attempt to comandeer the ship is aborted because it’s been targeted by Earth weapons. Errinwright you suuuuuuuck! Cotyar remembers that there’s a racing ship in a berth on the ship (Oooh you guys!), and before they can race off to board it, Chrisjen grabs Bobbie’s half-hostage crew member and demands access to the comms. Over Bobbie and Cotyar’s emphatic protests, an incandescent Chrisjen explains that records of the communications between Errinwright and Mao will be all she has to fight back against him, and she’s not going any-damned-where without them. In case you aren’t sure, yes, it would be absolutely easy for Bobbie to just pick Chrisjen up and drag her screaming to the racer ship, but you can be sure as shit she’s not even going to try.
Prax and Holden are drinking some tea, and Prax mildly notes that the ship is, you know … lil tense. Holden admits to his tendency to take on un-winnable fights, and Prax thinks it’s a good quality to have a sense of wonder about things. Holden thinks it’s childish, and vaguely references someone who didn’t give up (Joe Miller, the Belter detective from Seasons 1 and 2, whose search for a missing girl ended with him saving the entire system from the Eros disaster). He nails Prax with a hard but sympathetic look, and says something Prax doesn’t want to hear; the Hybrid that nearly killed them all was not a mutated version of Prax’ missing daughter, Mae. And he doesn’t just mean specifically. He means that whatever process makes the children into nine feet tall glowing monsters who can punch through reactor walls to eat the radiation inside, it kills them. There is no human left.
Prax, carefully, suggests they’ll never know either way, something Prax will have to learn to live with, and if you are new to the show, brace yourself for Terry Chen.
On Mao’s ship, Chrisjen has gotten the recordings and they run for the racer, only to learn it seats just two. Mao’s former crewman brightly reports he’s licensed to fly it (oh, honey), but he’s going with Cotyar to escape on the drop ship they arrived on what already feels like an age ago. Bobbie will be left to fly off with Chrisjen, which turns out to be a little harder to pull off since she seems a little uncertain about her capacity to, like, pilot? But it’s no matter, because the ship’s security countermeasures have engaged, and the hangar doors won’t open because the ship is travelling too fast. Cotyar is about to eat the crewman’s face out of sheer spite, but Bobbie, and her space-going suit, have an idea.
On the Contorta, Alex (too good, too pure for this cruel world) breaks all of our hearts by sending a personal message to his estranged wife and son, a boy he’s gone so long without seeing that Alex is afraid he wont even recognise his father’s voice. Alex can’t say too much, just asks his family to be safe, listen to the drills at school, and know that he loves them. Over heartrending shots of the shattered crew — Amos securing his personal effects, Prax looking mournful, Naomi sad and alone — Alex admits he’s been a terrible husband and father, running off to do what he wanted ;fly in space. But, he does love them. And now my heart is shattered.
Message sent, his switches the ship over to safer radio silence. In a different part of the ship, Holden is scanning for something and wha ever he sees on his screen disturbs him.
On Mao’s ship, Bobbie reveals how little playing she has come to do by punching through the hull and crawling out into space on a ship moving as fast as it can safely move without the humans inside being strapped into crash-couches. Holy SHIT, girl. She makes her way up the hull, but the speed proves to much even for her suit and with one jolt, she’s thrown back towards the super hot jets, finding a handhold at the last possible second. Inside, Chrisjen angrily administers first aid to Cotyar and voices her doubts about their plan, particularly the part where they all separate. Cotyar intends to give Chrisjen a chance to escape while he runs a distraction and thought it’s a noble mission, I will goddamned well riot if anything happens to Cotyar, so. Check. Mate. Outside, Bobbie has reached the racing hangar and forces the doors open to see what’s inside.
With our crew, Naomi is explaining the journey to Tycho, when Holden appears to reveal some hard truths; he didn’t help Prax to save his abducted daughter. He wanted to destroy any traces of the molecule. But, Prax saved them all so he deserves his turn. Holden reminds them/us that the Protomolecule, even when in smaller parts, communicates with itself. He discovered a flash of Protomolecule signals on Saturn’s moon, Io, and figures that if Mae and the other abducted kids are alive, they are there. Over Naomi’s protests Holden votes for going to Io and doing what they said they would; finding Mae, like they promised. He’ll even go to Tycho like Naomi wants. Alex’s agreement is in his silence, but tellingly, it’s Amos who sounds the final vote. Io it is.
The boys head off to prepare, leaving Naomi alone and looking very small.
On Tycho, Fred finds Drummer in the familiar bar from Season 2, drinking and watching the news about the increasing battles and bloodshed between Earth and Mars. She asks if he really wants to be a part of that. She admits why she chose to stay with Fred after Dawes found and rescued him from his own guilt and misery; she saw something in Fred. Something better, she means. Now the ‘blue siren’ has caught him in its song, just like it did Dawes and all the disappointing Inners. Fred offers her a mission; salvage the Nauvoo, the gigantic Mormon Ark ship co-opted to push Eros into the sun back in the second season. Fred wants it retrofitted into a war ship to fight for the Belter Nation. Drummer points out the hypocrisy of a nation founded by converting a symbol of such hope and life into a weapon, but Fred isn’t here to hear all that. Earth and Mars, he figures, are going to beat each other back into the stone age and they’ll need the Belt when that happens. He wants to be ready. He asks Drummer if she’s in, and, obviously she is, because she is both loyal and very broken.But, damn it, she’s finishing her drink.
Bobbie opens the hangar to reveal the beautiful and (if you know the show) legendary, Razorback. Cotyar hurries Chrisjen on board and they share a terse, tearful goodbye, in which so much is said in so few words. Oh, my god, if he doesn’t mAKE IT I AM GOING TO CRY FOR TEN THOUSAND YEARS. ( I know it’s based on books and my concern may seem unheeded, but I don’t trust TV anymore, man. My heart’s been broken too many times to think anyone is safe)
Onboard, Bobbie makes Chrisjen take off her dazzling jewelry lest she wants it to tear her body to pieces once they hit 6G’s. Cotyar and the co-opted crewman reach the drop ship and while they prepare to launch, Bobbie takes the Razorback out of the hanger. She lingers beside the space yacht, explaining she’s hiding the smaller ship from the oncoming missiles tracking systems, something Cotyar is absolutely not doing as his drop ship falls away from the yacht. At the last possible second, as the yacht is destroyed and the crash-couches pump Bobbie and Chrisjen full of The Juice, a cocktail of drugs designed to keep humans from being crushed to death by the Gs as they fly at speed; Bobbie pulls back on the throttle.
That. Was. AWESOOOOOMMMMEEEEEEE. The Expanse is far and away the most exciting show on television right now and with a season opener like the one we just got, it’s clear they have no intention of slowing down. Where do I even begin?!
I expected things to be tense on The Once and hopefully Future Rocinante, but that doesn’t mean I was prepared for it all. I can’t decide what hurts the most; Holden’s anger at Naomi, or Amos’ … I’m totally lying — it’s Amos,, obviously. The Amos and Naomi relationship is one of the more fascinating friendships I’ve ever seen on television. He’s been called her shadow, she his guide-star but to see them at such open odds, even if Amos agreed with her logic over Tycho, is painful. Season 2 finally revealed a few tragic truths about Amos’ background, and had the pair shared a disturbing interaction where almost certain abuse survivor, Amos had a moment of entirely blaming himself for ‘making’ Naomi hurt him during their escape from Ganymede. To leap off that troubling moment and have their entire relationship collapse in the wake of her confession, is not only tragic to behold, but also frightening. Amos saying “No” to her. Amos just ignoring her entirely. It’s strange and new and terrifying.Amos, to paraphrase Naomi, isn’t like other people. And while Naomi is correct that he’s not a psychopath, nor a homicidal maniac, he is still … Amos. For him to be without his anchor is troubling. That said, Amos seems prepared to follow Holden into hell, so maybe, while painful, it won’t be all that disastrous. And Holden. Poor Holden, who just before Naomi owned up to her actions, had admitted how much he needed her guidance to keep him from tipping her over the edge. I have to believe that he’s not angry with her for what she did. Holden’s smart enough to understand her logic, even if he disagrees with it. He’s angry because he’s angry. He’s angry because in this exact situation, he’d normally go and talk it out with … Naomi. But he can’t, and that must hurt so much.
Alex and Prax and their gentler moments also left me reeling. Alex has always shown some guilt over his estrangement from his family, but I actually loved his raw honesty about his logic in that sad message to his loved ones. He’s grown so much in the last two seasons, from the laid back pilot free of any pressing concerns about his lot in life, content to go wherever was safest and easiest, to the best damned pilot in space, who openly struggles with his guilt and argues his case for goodness and morality as vehemently as anyone else. But, to see him finally own up to his greatest character flaw was … important. Alex is a special guy, the moral heart of the crew, and having him mature in his own right can only bring good things.
Prax … I wished we’d gotten a little more of Prax this week, but I have no idea where it would have fit in, so I’m not hung up on it. There was a vital change made from the TV shows to the books, one I’m excited for in the context of the television series, but it may also take away some facets of Prax’s story I was keen to see explored. Hopefully, ways will be found to retain some of those threads, if only because it would be a such a pleasure to watch Terry Chen act them out.
It’s nice to see Drummer become a much larger part of the story, something set up in the latter half of season two. Cara Gee won the hearts of just about everyone watching the show with her sly, steely portrayal of Fred Johnson’s second-in-command, no mean feat in a show packed to the rafters with so many exciting and fascinating characters. Drummer is a curious character, one of several on the show with a significant capacity for violence and harm, while having the kind of emotional complexity that has you rewatching their every scene to analyse and study, trying to glean new meaning.
Of course, the most exciting scenes were on Mao’s private ship. I am so thrilled to have Chrisjen, Cotyar and Bobbie back in my life, but I do not remember consenting to having Chrisjen and Cotyar’s emotionally fraught goodbye roll me over quite so hard. I’ll be reeling from that one for days, if I’m honest. For all my weeping and sobbing over those two looking afraid they may never see each other again, I was just as enthralled and empowered by every single second that Bobbie kicked ass, drew breath and generally just … existed. Bobbie was easily Season 2’s best character, the impossibly strong Martian Marine who survived a Hybrid attack by her damned self. And in the dramatic sequence when she fled her Martian commanders to join not so much Earth, as Chrisjen, in the fight against Errinwright and Mao, she gave us one of 2017’s most thrilling scenes of television. To see her in action tonight was the coolest thing, and I for one, cannot wait to see her kick more ass and take more names.
With Holden’s decision, the story takes a fairly significant departure from the books, and while the change will cost us some scenes here and there, it promises that the first half of the season three episodes will all be as action packed and thrilling as the opener. I simply cannot wait, and I’m glad to be back amongst the stars with the most badass gang of heroes this side of Saturn.
The Expanse returns next week to SyFy and Oohlo soon after. See you there, Hoss.