This The Expanse review contains spoilers.
The Expanse Season 3 Episode 1
The season three premiere of The Expanse might as well have been season two episode fourteen in that much of the conflict continued right where it left off in last year’s finale, and although “Fight or Flight” contained a lengthy previously-on montage to catch people up, it took awhile to settle in. The greatest success of this episode, in fact, came from its thematic shifts rather than the plot itself. The impending war was one such tonal change, but the more powerful pivot lies with the much smaller but no less important conflict in the fractured family on the Rocinante. This is where the most potent anticipation for the season to come lies.
The fact that the ship is no longer called the Rocinante, the name of Don Quixote’s horse, is the most obvious manifestation of the shift in the crew dynamics. Holden even tells Prax that he wants to stop “tilting at windmills,” and although the literary reference is lost on the Ganymede native, Prax did choose the new transponder name for the ship: Pinus Contorta, which is an appropriate choice on many levels. The conifer that must die in a fire to release its seed could speak to the system-wide society on the brink of battle or the broken relationships brought about by Naomi’s betrayal. It’s a wonderful way to frame the new season right up front!
But was Naomi’s choice really a betrayal? As beloved as Dominique Tipper’s character is, her diminished status among the crew felt deserved though painful to witness. This episode puts the viewers’ emotions through the wringer when Amos says, “She’s not the person I thought she was,” and when she implores, “Get us to Tycho, and you’ll never have to see my face again,” but just as it gives us hope by showing her crewmates privately agreeing that Tycho is the safest destination, it kicks us (and Naomi) back down again by presenting the mysterious spike on Io that indicates that more protomolecule, and perhaps Prax’s daughter Mei, may still be within reach. It’s a worthy mission, but one that emphasizes Naomi’s outcast status.
Again, though, is Fred Johnson having the protomolecule sample as leverage a bad thing? A more subtle relationship dynamic change unfolds between Johnson and Drummer at Tycho Station as Fred makes the arguably necessary choice of working with Anderson Dawes, using the conflict between Earth and Mars and his possession of the ultimate weapon to get a seat at the big table. Watching Drummer wrap herself around the idea of working with someone who tried to kill them was certainly entertaining, but more interesting still was the setup for where they’re headed: to salvage the Nauvoo. Why is anyone’s guess, but color us intrigued!
Plenty of action was to be had elsewhere in the episode, of course, but as mentioned before, the political situation created by Errinwright in the final moments of season two may have needed a quick refresher, although it doesn’t take a steel trap memory to perceive that the undersecretary is manipulating the Secretary General towards war with Mars. Setting Avasarala up as a supposed co-conspirator with Mao to sell the protomolecule to Mars is certainly a believable lie when she’s nowhere to be found in a time of crisis, and as a result, Errinwright becomes an excellent, sleazy antagonist for season two.
Oddly, but perhaps not so surprisingly (especially to readers of the James S.A. Corey novels), the most lighthearted moments of the episodes are on Mao’s yacht where Bobbie, Avasarala, and Cotyar trade friendly barbs that illustrate their mutual respect for each others’ unwillingness to give up in the face of insurmountable odds. Bobbie’s powered armor is totally badass, even when its magnets are on the fritz, and Avasarala’s ineptitude with guns is canceled out by her foresight in gathering the comms buffer as proof of Errinwright’s duplicity. Even Cotyar saying “Good job, marine,” as Bobbie answers, “Same to you, spy,” was a nice moment of camaraderie.
There are little touches, too, that offer a glimpse of storylines to come, making this a great introduction to the season. Alex’s call to his wife Talissa, for example, included a picture, which seems to indicate we’ll be seeing that actor at some point. The montage of the other crew members brooding as Alex talked about mistakes he’s made with his family was yet another metaphor for their situation. Holden smashing the coffeemaker followed by Prax calmly stating, “You should try tea,” was another funny moment as well. And who could fail to notice the remnant of blue goo under the floorboards?
Obviously, there’s much more to come in The Expanse season 3, and “Fight or Flight” was as exciting as atmospheric re-entry, with all the fire and fury and disorientation that entails. As the episode goes along, it settles into a more quiet, if no less intense descent into its new storyline, but by now we all know this show just doesn’t let up for a moment. The shift in motivation and purpose for all of the characters sets up the new chapter beautifully, leaving everyone anticipating a great third season for this most epic of space dramas.