The Expanse is Back! Season 3 Premiere Episode
“Fight Or Flight”
Original Air Date: 04.11.18
Written for Television by Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby
Directed by Breck Eisner
Major Spoilers for S3:E1 of The Expanse past this point.
The Expanse continues to be one of the best science fiction shows on any network or streaming service available today. As the third season begins, The Expanse, a SYFY network original, continues to impress and amaze with its top notch storytelling, acting, visual & practical effects, overall production design and execution. Over the past two seasons we’ve watched The Expanse, well, expand. (Sorry) But it’s true.
The Expanse television show has been deftly adapted from The Expanse book series by James S.A. Corey – which is a pen name for writing partners Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve had many days when I’ve wished for a writing partner.
The Expanse has created a visual feast for the senses and the SYFY network deserves high praise for choosing this production. SYFY has fully endorsed and promoted The Expanse since before it first aired. They deserve the ratings and buzz that The Expanse has garnered along the way; for having its back and keeping it part of their yearly lineup of great science fiction and fantasy shows.
This may not be the time and place, but RIP Dark Matter! For every good choice, there is a bad, keeping our universe in balance. (A lesson most recently given by Rian Johnson & The Last Jedi) Putting Luke Skywalker and Rey aside for a moment, SYFY network had to budget for Krypton and Nightflyers, but the cancellation of Dark Matter still hurts. At least one of my other SYFY favs will return for a third season and I can’t wait to see what happens on Van Helsing next year. But I digress… Losing Dark Matter hurt a lot! I’m sure you agree. I’ll blog about these matters in another post, back to The Expanse!
What’s Going On in The Expanse?
We begin this third season with an overview, you know, the usual “Previously on The Expanse” package that precedes the latest episode. While these are commonplace for you and me, lovers of episodic and intelligent television series, whose stories span entire seasons – I felt compelled to NOT skip past the review this time. I’m glad I didn’t make my DVR sprint what has happened thus far on The Expanse – because as you know, a lot has transpired.
In review, we’re reminded of the major thematic elements and core story points of The Expanse during the first two seasons. The protomolecule in the hands of Earth and Mars, has unleashed all manner of Hell on the system. Our heroes, the crew of the Rocinante – (it’s legitimate salvage, not a Mars gun ship) – their journey and continued mission to eradicate the protomolecule. The ongoing conflict between Earth and Mars and how it is leading to an all out war. Plus how the Belt fits into the system’s chaos, how they are now armed with Earth nukes and a sample of the protomolecule. We’re also reminded of the ever escalating escapades of the slimeball lying creep we love to hate, Sadavir Errinwright.
Fantastic Opening Shot
The animated camera pulls out from just above the surface of Venus. Most likely near the impact site where Eros crashed, where we “lost” Miller and Julie Mao in the superb Home episode 5 of season 2. I miss Miller and I hope that somehow he is still alive. The opening shot begins on a bolt, a washer and a nut in perfect alignment, similar to an animation used by RUSH during some of it’s tours and on the cover of the Counterparts album. From here we pull out to see the disassembled Arboghast, with every tiny piece floating over Venus, along with Dr. Iturbi and crew. We hear several news accounts as we continue out, the camera flying past Earth and Mars, then the belt and some moons and other ships at war in the system. These news accounts give us some exposition and review about what happened last season and what’s happening now, as the fallout from those events catapult us into the action of this season.
Next we see the Earth war room and all of the top UN officers, along with Errinwright and the UN Secretary General. Basically Errinwright is pressures Sec-Gen Gillis by calling Mars warmongers, while also appealing to his vanity. He’s a sneaky one, Mr. Errinwright. The Grinch would be proud. Errinwright sets in motion his plan to not only get what he wants, but to cover up his role last season of weaponizing the protomolecule with Jules-Pierre Mao. After a short meeting of top U.N. brass, Earth formally declares WAR! Where nobody wins, save Errinwright.
The Brave Crew of the Rocinante
Further out in space, we catch up with the Rocinante crew. This is seemingly only moments after the events at the conclusion of season 2, where our heroes toasted the protomolecule humanoid hybrid in the wake of the Roci’s Epstein drive. Holden, Alex and Amos are cleaning off any remaining blue gunk, residual protomolecule, from the outside of the ship. Meanwhile Prax is in the cargo bay attempting to patch the holes ripped open during their recent battles. Prax, poor guy, is still fixated on the loss of his daughter and the chance that she was actually the hybrid they burned down to atoms.
The crew is also dealing with the betrayal from Naomi, who instead of sending their sample of the protomolecule into the sun, kept it hidden and eventually gave it to Fred Johnson. There’s a lot of mistrust among the crew when we find them at the start of season three. I’m sure that this will lead to rising tensions between them in coming episodes. However in the face of a greater threat, when their lives are on the line, or when they have to save the system again, here’s hoping that this tension will fade.
Meanwhile on Jules-Pierre Mao’s Space Yacht
After the opening credits role, we catch up with three of my favorite Expanse characters. Still stranded and in danger on Jules-Pierre Mao’s space yacht are Chrisjen, Bobbie “Gunnie” Draper, and Cotyar. Chrisjen, still far outside of her comfort zone, is attempting to save Cotyar’s life by nursing the gun wound in his abdomen. (A gift from Jules-Pierre Mao’s armed guards) Bobbie is elsewhere in her sweet Mars-issued battle suit, kicking butt and forgetting names I’m sure. After this episode she officially has a new nickname. No more Gunnie, she’s now “Tank!” I love it.
Chrisjen Avasarala, played by the sublime actress Shahreh Aghdashloo, was always great when she was plotting and scheming as part of the U.N. on Earth. She was always tough and smart as she was going toe to toe with Mao, Errinwright and anyone else she battled in the political arena. But having her in space is great in a whole new way. Chrisjen hates space, hates flying, is not a fighter or gunslinger, and she is certainly not a doctor.
In this episode Chrisjen must face and overcome all of these challenges and it is a treat to witness.
The looks she gives, her one liners, (“You’re fired!” Chrisjen calls to Bobbie when she was forced to pick up a gun and defend their position while the ex-Mars soldier went off to clear the ship of hostiles.) Also the way Chrisjen fires several shots at Bobbie, the bullets bouncing off of her mechanized armor like they are made from rubber. Bobbie is unphased by this and tells her that she did a good job. Bobbie is another strong woman and you can feel the mutual respect between the two, a growing friendship. These are just a couple examples of the great writing and acting found on The Expanse.
As I watched these three very different people, literally from different planets, working and surviving together, I found the differences between them melt away. Chrisjen, Bobbie and Cotyar had found each other out of necessity. But as the common ground between, a shared humanity and shared experiences, they may choose to stay together, even when it is no longer necessary. I can’t wait until they join up with the Rocinante crew.
I’m still not sure what to think about Fred Johnson. Part of me wants to trust him, but the other part questions why he reached out to Anderson Dawes, after everything Dawes did last season. I’m not sure yet if we’ll see Dawes this season, after all he’s currently stuck on different sort of ship, the ice locked sailboat, The Terror on AMC. However if these shows were shot at different times of last year, it is possible that we’ll see the talented Jared Harris again doing his Creole-ish accent with his belter character.
Errinwright: Epic Douche Nozzle
Regarding Errinwright… Man, what a total douche nozzle! In the same conversation he professes his “love” for Chrisjen, calling her a mother figure to him and then proceeds to lie to Secretary General Gillis, accusing Chrisjen of all of his crimes and sins. Errinwright committed treason, lied, murdered, and misled anyone and everyone in the name of his own survival. Errinwright is motivated by selfishness, he does everything all in the name of acquiring more wealth and power. Please don’t get me wrong, Shawn Doyle is talented and his portrayal of Errinwright is ice cold and dead on.
Hopefully the storage drive that Theo pulled from Mao’s ship will eventually help absolve Chrisjen of these scandalous accusations. However, I’m sure that by season’s end she’ll need more than this to prove her innocence. Restoring her reputation and defeating Errinwright will be one of her main obstacles for the foreseeable future. I can’t imagine much of a future for the Errinwright character after this season, should his treacherous, murderous and treasonous ways be brought to light. If that is the case, at least Shawn Doyle has his job acting on the Netflix show, Frontier.
Is Fred Johnson a Good Guy?
As I mentioned before, I’ve had my reservations about Fred Johnson during the past two seasons. However, I’ve had even more with Drummer. Her past affiliation with Dawes made me question her loyalties. But Drummer took a bullet for Johnson and it seems that her history with Dawes may have been more of a red herring, than an actual concern. After Drummer lets Fred have it over the protomolecule, Naomi and crawling into bed with Dawes again, I know that she’s down for the right struggle.
The Rocinante crew are still stressed and bicker over going to Tycho or not. Then our trio of friends on Mao’s yacht seize control of the flight deck. Bobbie gets shocked, her “tank” battle suit is screwed up and luckily Cotyar easily takes out the remaining Mao loyalists. Even in his weakened state, he kicks butt and saves the day.
Back on the Roci, Holden loses his cool and destroys a coffee machine. While this is meant to be funny, it addresses a very real truth. Life or death, pain and stress, rockets, guns, gravity, alien protomolecule, even the loss of a limb; all of these pale in comparison to the pain that comes when you feel betrayed the woman that you love.
Cut Back on the Caffeen man!
“You should try tea.” – Prax says to Holden, when he sees that Holden smashes the coffee maker with his bare hands. Possibly the best line of the episode, by someone other than Chrisjen. This could be a callback to season 1, when Holden was filled with joy, finding real coffee on the Roci. Can Mars can grow coffee beans in that worthless red dirt?
With five U.N.N. missiles still screaming toward Mao’s stranded ship, Chrisjen, Bobbie, Cotyar and the new guy Theo, most likely this season’s red shirt; must all escape before they are blown up. They race to escape using Jules-Pierre Mao son’s racing ship and the drop ship they originally arrived in.
Meanwhile things get philosophical on the Roci during a conversation between Holden and Prax at the dining table in the ship’s galley. The tea must be having a calming effect because both men acknowledge the tension and stress aboard the ship and then share some insights into their personalities. Holden comments on how much Prax enjoys his botany metaphors after Prax observed that nature’s only constant is change. Then Holden admits to always “tilting at windmills” – like Don Quixote he takes on fights that he cannot be won.
Holden feels burdened and is questioning what he’s done and what he should do next. Most likely he’s in a place where he doubts his ability to make competent decisions. Plus he has the burden of being captain and his choices affect his crew, his friends, his family. If the writers expand on this train of thought, it would be great to see this season having a profound effect on Holden, one where he comes into his own as a captain, claiming his destiny as a leader of men.
The end of their conversation takes a sharp turn into the subject of Prax’s daughter, Mei. Holden completely believes that the protomolecule humanoid hybrid on their ship last season was not Mei. Prax still has doubt and simply states, “We’ll never know.” As he walks away we see Mei’s colorful backpack sitting on top of the duffle bag he’s carrying, a precious reminder of his little girl. While his logical mind tells him the hybrid was not Mei, I’m sure that his heart, he doesn’t know what to believe and doesn’t want to consider the possibility of a world without Mei in it.
The touching message recorded by Alex to his family was a great way to illustrate both the loss that the Roci crew all feels and the distance from any kind of normal life. It shows the loneliness of their constant struggle to fight and survive in space. Even though they have each other, it’s not the same. Each of the Roci’s crew must wonder if there will ever be an end to this journey, or is this their new normal.
The Tank Loses Her Grip
Speaking of struggle and survival, the episode’s biggest action set piece was once again brought to us by the intrepid Bobby “the Tank” Draper. So Chrisjen and Bobbie can escape in Mao’s two seat racing ship, Bobbie had to go “outside” to override the security door to the ship’s hangar bay. This would have been easier had Bobbie’s suit not been damaged earlier. With her mech suit’s batteries compromised, she’s running on reserve, or emergency power. I don’t recommend using damaged mag boots and gloves, running on reserve power when attempting to hold on to the outer haul of a stateoftheart speeding ship. But Bobbie is a Martian and a hero and most of all she’s very brave. This was a great scene and she accomplishes her insane mission to unlock the door.
Things are calmer back on the Roci, where the crew agrees to join Holden in checking out a “spike” that was detected on a place called IO. The protomolecule can communicate with itself over great distances…let’s just say Holden had figured out that this location may be where they were testing and “building” the protomolecule. At a decommissioned Helium-3 refinery owned by Jules-Pierre Mao. I figure this is the same place that we saw in the last episode of season 2, the underground site with all of the hibernation pods. Presumably this is where the doctor stores all of the protomolecule hybrids. This new mission to IO will push the plot forward and accomplish both the search and rescue of Mei and the continued effort of eradicating as much protomolecule as possible.
The Expanse is Back On SYFY! Enough Said.
This third season of The Expanse should be a blast. It will be very interesting to see where the show will go next, with regard to what happens in the books. The first two seasons focused on much of the first two books in The Expanse – Leviathan Wakes & Caliban’s War. Beyond the war between Earth, Mars and the Belt, how the protomolecule is used and exploited should dictate much of the action. Will the show introduce plot points from Abaddon’s Gate? Wherever The Expanse show takes us, it will be entertaining, exciting and thought provoking entertainment.