This The Expanse review contains spoilers.
How can The Expanse follow up an episode in which a two-mile-wide ship is impressively launched and aimed at an alien-infected asteroid in order to ram it and deflect it into the sun? By bringing the asteroid to life! With all the political ramifications, personal sacrifice, and emotional investment involved in destroying Eros, this episode could easily have become overwhelmed by its own inconceivable scale, but thankfully it was grounded in human reactions, both noble and misguided.
And of course, that’s why The Expanse succeeds: because it backs up its stunning visuals with heart. When Chrisjen stays on Earth after the entire UN Council evacuates, for example, it feels like the captain bravely going down with her ship, especially because of the wonderfully awkward, time-delayed conversation with her husband Arjun on the moon. Placed beside Miller’s mission and even Fred Johnson’s sense of responsibility, the overall effect is that all of our favorite characters become heroes, warts and all.
This can be taken too far, however, and certain moments do skirt the edge of melodrama. Miller’s embrace with Julie, for instance, a bonding moment that was instrumental in diverting Eros to Venus, felt a bit self-indulgent for the infatuated detective, who had never actually met the object of his admiration. All is forgiven, though, because of the huge tally of selfless points Miller has accumulated of late, and unless the protomolecule has other plans for the personalities it absorbs, he may have just made the ultimate sacrifice; hope lies in one of his final exhortations to Julie: “If we don’t die, that’d be interesting.” (see video below to relive this great moment)
By contrast, the methodical reconciliation between Miller and Holden and the rest of the Roci crew truly felt real and grounded, culminating in that perfect Ganymede gin toast to the empty chair at the episode’s end. Likewise, Holden’s decision to stay within range of an accelerating Eros in order to keep the laser guiding Earth’s nukes, despite the fact that the g-force could kill him and his mates, is a choice that resonates with viewers even after they back off. Fred may have to deal with suspicions surrounding his control of the missiles, but surely the Rocinante’s actions will be viewed favorably by all parties.
The mystery of the protomolecule did unfold in a predictable if no less magnificent way, and the wonderland inside Eros is quite beautiful if one ignores the loss of life. Many have praised The Expanse’s adherence to the rules of science, but few would nitpick the protomolecule’s ability to change direction abruptly, drop from radar, or accelerate without Miller feeling any affects of gravity… because it’s just so cool! Naomi did say there was waste heat, after all, and an alien organism designed to remake whatever life it encounters to its liking can damn well do what it pleases.
It makes the political squabbling almost seem petty even though it’s crucial to the story. When Mars agrees not to view Earth’s missile volley as a first strike but doesn’t offer to help, we scoff, and when Admiral Nguyen argues against giving the OPA control of their nuclear arsenal, we think, “Typical distrustful politicians!” But it’s not just Avasarala’s calculated reaction that rises above the fray. Equally enjoyable is Errinwright’s anger in telling the conveniently absent Jules-Pierre Mao to “rein in your goddamn science experiment” as well as the Secretary General’s quoting of Richard Bach before launching the missiles: “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”
A nifty bit of foreshadowing, that! It’s like the Protogen scientist says when asked how to stop the protomolecule: “Why would you want to do that?” Although Miller helped avoid billions of deaths on Earth, what will the organism do now that it has the entire planet of Venus to deal with? Will a butterfly emerge from the end of a different world? The Expanse has already proven itself capable of great beauty, and now perhaps a new story, filled with all of the characters we’ve grown to love (yes, including Miller), is getting ready to sprout wings.