The Expanse Season 2 Episode 6 Review: Paradigm Shift

The political implications of the protomolecule emerge in the aftermath of life-or-death in this week’s episode of The Expanse.

This The Expanse review contains spoilers.

The Expanse Season 2 Episode 6: “Paradigm Shift”

“That’s the wonderful and terrible thing about technology. It changes everything.” — Solomon Epstein

Sometimes when reviewers talk about “pivotal episodes,” they’re referring to a level of importance for events that viewers absolutely must not miss, and this week’s The Expanse was certainly that — what episode isn’t, honestly? But when a series actually pivots, zooming in on a major event like Eros crashing into Venus and then turning to look back at its effect on Earth, Mars, and the Belt, it can be problematic to keep viewer interest if the picture doesn’t exactly line up. Fortunately, the aptly named “Paradigm Shift” expertly touches on the consequences both with political factions and individual characters.

The story of Solomon Epstein, the inventor of the drive that made colonization of the solar system possible 137 years prior, was a wonderful way to frame the changing landscape. Interested fans can read the James S.A. Corey short story that inspired the flashback on the Syfy website, but the essential takeaway is the quote above. Epstein envisioned a future in which Mars broke free of Earth’s stranglehold with his discovery; he certainly wouldn’t have anticipated the Belt becoming a separate society or his drive showing up on Earth’s interplanetary nuclear arsenal. So, too, is the protomolecule being exploited beyond its original purpose. Great parallel!

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In the meantime, it seems everyone is maneuvering into their new positions as they put together what really happened with Eros. Some act in unexpected ways, but Avasarala comes out of her barely-contained diplomatic shell to lambaste Errinwright in spectacular fashion. We knew she was the power behind the throne, but her insistence that Mao be brought out of hiding, smilingly making a generous deal, was punctuated splendidly by her threats against the family of the corporate mastermind behind Protogen. There are few things more satisfying than watching Shohreh Aghdashloo rip someone a new one while keeping her distinguished poise.

Perhaps even Fred’s pivot is expected, though it’s a bit more disheartening. Maybe he could be forgiven for roping in 30 of Earth’s nukes to reverse engineer; at least he told the truth to Holden about it being both a possible deterrent and bargaining chip. But it was far from pleasant to see the normally moralistic leader pressure Holden about his detour while returning from Eros, and his encouragement of Cortazar’s research into the protomolecule is downright devious. All the same, it’s hard to argue with Fred’s no-nonsense realism in telling the dreamer Holden to “Pick a side!”

But of course the duplicity in picking a side has now spread to the crew of the Rocinante in this post-protomolecule world. Although the battle of wits between Amos and Alex had more charm than malice, their argument was a great way to illustrate the Mars-Earth conflict on a personal scale. The incident at the Tycho brothel wasn’t just Amos kicking in heads to defend Alex; it symbolized how Earth is with her sister planet as well. And just like Mars, Alex can defend himself, even if he is a bit naive in thinking that Mars is the only power that can be trusted with the hidden protomolecule sample.

On the flip side, can Naomi be trusted with it? It’s hardly encouraging that she deceived Holden by running a simulation of the sample going into the sun or that she decided to assist Drummer with the nuke deconstruction. Like Fred suggested to Holden, she has picked her side in saying, “Belters have to help each other; no one else will.” It seems that the already fragile diplomatic situation is about to get much worse.

In fact, it already has, regardless of who is responsible for the carnage on Ganymede. With the UN soldiers and Martian marines holding a tenuous peace on the important agricultural center for the outer planets, it seemed at first that the opposing forces were merely posturing and flexing their muscles in reaction to Eros and the recently destroyed Deimos. But despite whatever speculation there might be surrounding the creature with blue eyes who appears to have taken out everyone except Bobbie, there was clearly someone watching from the drone, and the orbital mirrors obviously didn’t destroy themselves.

Is this the face of the alien force behind the protomolecule, or is this another manifestation of human exploitation of an uncontrollable advanced technology? This new angle for The Expanse is a small pivot rather than a 180 (thank goodness), but there definitely has been a paradigm shift as the episode title would suggest. With mistrust abounding, the show has taken on a very different dynamic which plays on the best and worst aspects of each character and faction.

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As it all unfolds, let’s agree to keep an eye on this Dr. Iturbi guy who wants to study Venus… and by Venus I mean Chrisjen.


4 out of 5