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The Expanse Finishes The Season With A Bang

Barbara

Barbara

Barbara is a religious studies grad student who uses fandom to avoid working on her thesis.
Barbara

The Expanse brought the last episode of its second season yesterday, called “Caliban‘s War.” It was certainly eventful.

Recap

Naomi and Amos board the Rocinante again. Jim welcomes Naomi by admitting the mistakes he made before. She is mostly relieved to have the old Jim back.

There’s a shoot-out on Mao’s ship. Chrisjen’s spy is shot. He, Chrisjen, and Bobbie are at an impasse, defending their position behind an overturned table.

The Rocinante crew is discussing what repairs are needed, and that Earth and Mars are shooting at each other over Ganymede again. Suddenly, they notice the zombie terminator on camera. He’s inside the ship’s cargo space. One of the airlock doors was destroyed by shrapnel, it seems, and so the monster got in.

The Venus research ship needs more information about the Eros crater and is out of probes, so they decide to descend themselves. Bobbie finds a way out of the trap they’re in through ventilator ducts. With the spy being shot and Chrisjen being old, however, it’s not really viable. The spy tells Bobbie her Martian power suit is on their ship, and so she goes alone to get it.

Dr. Meng tries to suggest a peaceful solution of the zombie terminator problem, but Jim is not listening. He and Amos head to the cargo bay to deal with it. They observe it tearing an explosive device out of its own chest, proving its intelligent. After being shot at, the zombie terminator throws some big container at Jim, pinning him to the wall and damaging Amos’ suit. Amos has to retreat, since he’s losing air.

Mao’s people are negotiating with Chrisjen and her spy. They offer the spy safety in exchange for Chrisjen, who they say they will keep safe.

Bobbie is almost crushed by an elevator in a rather clichéd scene, then beats up some guards in a much more amusing one.

The zombie terminator starts to tear at the floor of the cargo gay. The crew realises it’s trying to get to the nuclear reactor powering the ship. If that happened, they’d all be pretty much dead. The only plan the Rocinante crew has to get the zombie terminator off the ship would kill Jim. Naomi tries to think of another way. Jim talks to her, admits being motivated by revenge for the destruction of the Canteburry back in season one, and asks her not to make the same mistake if he dies. Naomi insists they have unresolved matters between them, and so he can’t die.

Chrisjen tells her spy that if he sells her out,which, she says, she’d understand—he should take over her job of trying to stop Errinwright. She says he owes her that much. He denies owing her anything. She pulls out that he got her son killed, and he counters with saying that he owes him, not her. That’s why he’s trying to keep her safe. Chrisjen responds by stepping from behind their cover.

Bobbie has a little chat with en electrician. He lets her get into her ship in exchange for not killing him.

Dr. Meng realizes that since the zombie terminator follows the neutrino current, they could redirect it towards something else – namely, the nuclear torpedoes they have on the ship.

The ship above the Venus crater is passed by the Martians in their descend. Shortly afterwards, the Martian ship disappears. Then the Earth ship stops, to everyone’s shock, and bits of protomolecule start to appear inside.

Chrisjen meets Mao’s guard head on, and he prepares to shoot her, as per his orders.

Naomi and Dr. Meng head outside the Rocinante, carrying one of the torpedoes. They take out the nuclear charge as Alex shuts down the ship reactor. The zombie terminator goes after the charge. Dr. Meng hesitates, but finally throws it into space behind the ship. As Alex starts the reactor, the zombie terminator is melted to atoms.

Bobbie arrives just in time to save Chrisjen from being shot.

The research ship sort of disappears around the scientists, who just float above the Eros crater, watching he protomolecule around them.

Jim and Naomi have a talk, and Naomi admits that when she thought she would die on the Somnambulist, she gave the protomolecule coordinates to Fred Johnson. Jim…doesn’t look happy.

The evil pediatrician from Ganymede is shown shutting Dr. Meng’s daughter in some kind of capsule, along with tens of other similar ones, on some secret research base.

The End.

Review

Jim’s story was the main focus here, so let’s start with that.

The weakest point was that it felt like retreading old ground in one moment. His initial meeting with Naomi was excellent. He might have gone through most of his realisation that he’d been an idiot off screen, but Steven Strait acted his regret so well here that it didn’t even matter.

But then the crew finds out the zombie terminator is aboard, and Jim is suddenly very “we kill it until it’s dead, now”. It was a regress to his self from the previous episode, including the conflict with Dr. Meng over it. It was pointless, disrupting and shouldn’t have been there. Naturally enough Jim would have wanted to eliminate the danger, but not with the exact same kind of reaction he had in “Monster and the Rocket”. Not if we’re supposed to believe he went through some character development.

What I honestly appreciated was him explicitly addressing that his most jerkish behaviour was motivated by revenge. And not just because it’s nice to see some shows realising how unhealthy it is when so many others clearly don’t. It simply showed, very clearly, that if your first motivation isn’t to help, you can get lost very easily, however holy your crusade and however noble your task. Jim wanted to eliminate a real and present danger, after all. As a result, many innocent people almost died.

I’m unsure about the wisdom of leaving Naomi’s revelation about the protomolecule sample till the very end of the season. It’s an effective end to an episode, that’s for sure. But to an entire season… There’s no doubt about the effect now, but I’m less certain about how the cliffhanger is going to work for the emotional impact.

We know The Expanse is renewed for season 3, but we don’t have an air date yet. It’s almost certainly going to be more than a year from now. I don’t know if the emotional impact of such a momentous discovery can last that long. One thing can be said for Game of Thrones: usually, they have their biggest twist in the penultimate episode, exactly so that some effects of them at least can be felt in the last one. I rather believe The Expanse could use something like that, too. I want to see the repercussions.

That brings us to Naomi. I have to say I was surprised—and disappointed—when I heard she gave the protomolecule to Fred. I was counting on Fred’s deputy. It seems I took the foreshadowing that Fred’s over and done with too seriously. But I do honestly think Naomi had much better rapport with the deputy, and it would have made more sense to me. Besides, that relationship simply has to go somewhere, damn it!

But apart from that. Naomi’s decision to tell Jim the truth after he almost died was brilliant. That was the Naomi I know and love, unapologetic except for the part where she lied and kept secrets. Explaining, but not overly defensive. Confident that she made the right choice, and unafraid to own it. I’m sorry to say that Strait’s acting was more convincing to me here than Dominique Tipper’s. But it wasn’t enough to ruin the scene, Jim’s perfect reaction of horror made up for any lack I felt on her part.

Amos had a very nice moment in “Caliban’s War”, too. His admission that he’s trying to make his own choices, become his own person, was touching. In some ways, he’s trying to become an adult. It has to be difficult to do that for the first time when you’re thirty or so. He clearly struggles with it, and to Naomi, he’s not afraid to admit it. I hope that third season will show us how she tries to help him and guide him on that way. Their relationship is interesting, and I’d like to see more of it.

In the other storyline, there is another scene I’m sorry not to see the immediate repercussions of, and that is Bobbie saving Chrisjen. I would very much like to see the trust that develops from that, or the beginnings of it, immediately afterwards. Chrisjen’s expression when she was saved was absolute brilliance. There was no Shawn Doyle in this episode for me to gush about, so let me do so about Shohreh Aghdashloo instead. She did not have space for such a deep character study as Doyle did, so her brilliance might not be as obvious. But brilliant she is. She has to contend herself with small looks, minute expressions, and she does them wonderfully. In that one moment, when Chrisjen looked up at Bobbie, there was everything.

Chrisjen’s confrontation with her spy was very well done, too. Her manipulative approach, in which she is unafraid to use her own son’s death, contrasted with his loyalty to his memory. It’s a different way of thinking from hers, and it’s nice to see the moment when she tries to parse it out in her head. Once again, Aghdashloo’s acting expresses everything with telling details.

Oh, and because I like simply cool scenes as much as anyone, I can’t but mention Bobbie’s “oops”. Yes, that’s my badass Martian marine. It was well balanced by her negotiation with the electrician, too, showing clearly that she can use her head just as well. And the Martian marine shone through in that as well, when she talked about honour. She can negotiate and still stay in her soldier character.

The last who had some space this episode were the scientists on Venus. Their camaraderie was nice to watch, even though we only got a short glimpse of it. I wish the original enmity wasn’t set up so artificially, but the collegiality was done well at least. It’s a pity it was the last we’d see of them, though perhaps they’ll join Miller’s party.

Very many things are left open by this end of the season. But then, such is the way of The Expanse. The next book in the series is called Abaddon’s Gate, which tells me nothing at all. Nevertheless, I remain pleasantly excited for the third season. It’s going to be a long wait. In the meantime, expect a season retrospective in a fortnight or so, and hopefully a commentary on how this show does as an adaptation at some point when I find the time to read the books. I am not giving up writing about this show just like that. It is still the best thing I saw on television in a while.


All images courtesy of SyFy
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  • rara

    Jim’s character annoys the hell out of me and he reminds me a lot of One on Dark Matter, but they had the sense to just kill him off even before his storyline was done because he was so terrible.
    I hope next season they bring back the actress who played Julie since she had a sister who is part of her father’s corporation so the actress could play her.

    • Barbara Kateřina

      He is irritating, but then I think that’s the point of his character, so i’m willing to forgive that. You can’t really have a White Hero Savior Complex without irritation. He’s like if Harry Potter was older and, you know, not *actually* the Chosen One.

      I dunno, I think it’d be confusing if the same actress played her…but I’d definitely like to see more of the Mao family.

  • Ruw

    Really liked this episode. Some really beautiful scenes and a few great character moments. Special love for Bobbie’s talk with the electrician. One of those little human moments that I really enjoy. I was surprised that they didn’t end Avasarala’s storyline basically a few scenes later and let them escape Mao’s ship. The time was there (the negotiation scene felt a bit dragged out), but for some reason they decided to cut off after Bobbie came in to kick some ass. Naomi giving the PM to Fred Johnson in secret is one of those adaptational changes that I think really work in favour of the show: It fits Naomi’s character and is a good way to remind the audience of her Belter-identity, since it’s harder to constantly draw attention to it on the show than in the book.
    In terms of pacing, though, I feel like covering only half the book backfired a bit in terms of making a finale that feels like one, with so little getting resolved. I’m glad they took a season and a half to cover the first book, but the downside of it clearly is that season 2 ep 5 felt more like a Season Finale. But well, since I don’t think that the second half of Caliban’s War will provide enough material for a whole season, this is going to become a problem at least for another season as well. Nevertheless, very good episode, looking forward to next season.

    • Barbara Kateřina

      OK, that explains so much.
      I was thinking that this season had really weird pacing and that it’s strange but maybe it works better in the book. The book actually ending only at 02×05 point makes much more sense, but in that case, I really think they mad a wrong call with this. Not so much with the ending in the middle of the season, that wasn’t so disturbing, but definitely with this as the season finale. It explains why they added the drama with Naomi I guess – they wanted to have some action to close with – but way too many things are left hanging in the middle. The ending of season 1 worked much better in this, I think. I mean, the episode when the Rocinante leaves the Tycho station felt more like a season finale than this did…

      • Ruw

        I agree, it really worked better in the first season, since our protagonists found out what happened to Julie and got to see the consequences. This time around very little plot or character arcs get resolved in the finale. Arguably, Avasarala even had to retract some steps and merely find out what she knew already – that Errinwright and Mao were working together on weaponising the Protomolecule. Now to be fair, since the showrunners decided to dedicate 1.5 seasons to Leviathan Wakes, ending the season here was their only option. I can’t think of another point in the book where you could put a fullstop. Like I said, I’m a bit worried this is going to become an ongoing problem for the show… the story has a very clear structure with one big storyarc getting resolved in each book, so splitting them up like this is going to become noticable.

        • Barbara Kateřina

          It makes me wonder why they didn’t have a longer season though – perhaps not the first one, I can understand the production won’t greenlight a 20-episode first season, but why not make the second one this long? You could have a mid-season break after ten episodes and everything. And it would deal with the issue very efficiently, adapting the rest of book 1 and the entirety of book 2…

          • Ruw

            It’s a shame they couldn’t do that. I don’t know anything about politics involved in these kinds of decisions, but that’s probably the reason why it wasn’t an option. Well, we’ll see how they handle the transition from the plot of Caliban’s War to Abaddon’s Gate… I’m hoping they’ll do a little timeskip somewhere, because another downside of splitting the books this way is that everything happens immediately, while in the book almost a year passes between Eros crashing into Venus and the Protomonster appearing on Ganymede.

  • Chris

    Really good episode. One part really bugged me, though:

    How the **** did Avasarala have Bobbie’s hardsuit on her transport? The last time we saw it, it was in a stack of Martian gear. Bobbie didn’t defect while wearing it, and the Martian’s would not have given it up, especially if it (hypothetically) still had the recording from her head camera on it. A recording that would definitely undermine the story that the Martians used from the start regarding the Ganymede incident.

    Did I miss something? Did they mention having someone on the inside get the suit for Avasarala?

    • Barbara Kateřina

      The Martians gave it to the UN to examine. We see Errinwright getting test results. Chrisjen obviously comandeered it.

      • Chris

        Thanks! I had to go back and rewatch “Cascade” to catch that. That’s what I get for leaving the room while this show is on; miss one minute in one episode and you won’t catch the reference three episodes later.

        Not that I’m complaining; the writers are doing amazing work.