This The Expanse review contains spoilers.
The Expanse Season 2 Episodes 1 & 2
As long as the hiatus may have seemed, it didn’t take long for The Expanse to answer some of the key questions left over from season 1, but the results may leave viewers unsettled by the end of the two-hour premiere. And that’s likely the point. Much of the promotional material for season 2 urged fans to “pick a side,” and the different political powers in the solar system are locking horns almost right from the start. With another amazing space battle — one of the hallmarks of last season — and a ton of character development, the premiere episode pulled everyone right back into the show.
The introduction of the Martian military characters couldn’t have gone better. Not only was the perfect casting of Frankie Adams as Bobbie Draper made abundantly clear even to those not familiar with the character from the James S.A. Corey books, but the extra treat of seeing other genre favorites including Mpho Koaho of Falling Skies, Dewshane Williams of Defiance, and Sarah Allen of Being Human among her marine peers made this team an instant hit. Capping it off with Hugh Dillon of Continuum as their CO didn’t hurt either.
A favorite and likely characteristic line for Draper rose above the rest: “I don’t use sex as a weapons, little ones; I use weapons as weapons.” That might even be sexier! Although the destruction of the Donnager last season is a clear motivation for her and her colleagues, they each already have their personalities separate from this event. With the punishment their power suits can both take and deal out, it should be fun to see the Mars Congressional Republic Navy (MCRN) in action.
Of course, Draper’s disappointment at not seeing ground action on Phoebe was at first likely mirrored in the viewers’ denied wish to witness it, but if the moon was indeed the source of the protomolecule, it’s probably a good thing the Martian missiles took it out instead. Regardless, the tough-as-nails marine apparently has a soft spot for the terraforming of Mars, and this gives her motivation for fighting Earth a wistful note, pitting an unexpected spin on her overt displays of strength to her colleagues and her military prowess in the very cool opening simulation.
A similar emotional depth is brought to the team on the Rocinante as Miller and Holden recover from their radiation exposure on Eros. Oddly, the animosity and subsequent reconciliation between Amos and Miller softens both characters just enough to make their posturing endearing. The conversation about the stolen cheese on Ceres was an enjoyable and truly genuine moment between the close-knit group, which now includes Miller. It was a particularly nice touch for Holden to encourage Miller to leave his gear onboard before the assault on the hidden research station; he’s got a home to return to.
A much more dysfunctional family exists on Earth among the UN Security Council, where Avasarala masterfully plays politics even though she knows Errinwright conspired with Jules-Pierre Mao to release the protomolecule on Eros. There was a nice contrast between her conceding to belligerent suggestions like the shooting down of the Mars moon, Deimos, and the defensiveness of the fleet commander who steps down in protest, insisting on de-escalation rather than shows of force. Avasarala is definitely playing the long game, letting the conspirators blame Mars and the Belt while secretly reaching out to Fred Johnson on Tycho Station.
Not that Johnson is above playing politics himself. One of the most brilliant moments of the episode comes when the whole tale of the protomolecule, its extra-solar origins, and the possibilities for it altering the human race is laid out by the scientist holed up on the hidden base. After a moment’s hesitation, Johnson actually looks like he’s going to let the research on the alien organism continue, and why wouldn’t he? A good way to grab more power for the Belt would be to adapt its inhabitants to space with the help of a powerful mutative agent or even to use it as a weapon as Earth likely was planning on doing. When Miller puts an end to the discussion with a bullet, it speaks both to the morals-be-damned politics of the situation and the tenuous nature of Miller’s acceptance into the Rocinante crew and the OPA faction.
But besides the great storytelling elements, how about that battle scene, people? Having seen the fall of the Donnager last year, fans of The Expanse have come to enjoy the unique feel of the space dogfights in this show. There’s no “shields up” here; the rail guns punch holes easily through ships that must be decompressed ahead of time. This fact, along with the many failed simulations Rocinante’s pilot, Alex, ran ahead of time, lends an authenticity to the stakes involved, creating a tension felt not in quite the same way in, say, Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica.
A lingering question remains: why did the hidden station have a stealth ship but no on-board defenses? Credit must be given to the writer who made viewers think they knew the young Belter kid Miller recognized from Ceres would be killed, only to have the supposed kill shot be a gel round, but why were the guards so poorly equipped? If Julie Mao’s father considered his daughter’s sacrifice a “sacred part” of the protomolecule research, wouldn’t he guard it more heavily? Perhaps he assumed no one would find the base: quite an oversight.
So should viewers similarly worry about the protomolecule sample the Rocinante crew hid unguarded in an abandoned asteroid mining field? Strangely (or perhaps appropriately), this danger causes more trepidation than the attempt on Avasarala’s life by the Black Sky faction of the OPA. If Fred Johnson can space their leader (and how cool was that?) then a possible alliance between him and the assistant to the undersecretary could be quite formidable.
But there is plenty of fallout to take care of first. Miller could be viewed as an enemy rather than a friend after playing judge, jury, and executioner; Avasarala could be accused of treason if her duplicity is discovered; and for all the talk of Fred defecting to the Belt because of his moral objection to what he was asked to do at Anderson Station, he has plenty to answer for still, both to the OPA and to those who witnessed his conciliatory language with the mad scientist architect of the Eros incident.
And that’s not even taking into account what the Martians and the new team of marines will do! The possibilities for conflict are sprinkled expertly throughout the two-hour opener of The Expanse, kicking the season off in just the right way. Whether viewers come for the political intrigue, the space battles, or the character drama, there’s pretty much something for everyone, including a kiss between Holden and Naomi. How could that be anything but a good sign for the season to come?