This The Expanse review contains spoilers.
The Expanse Season 3 Episode 11
Some of the most remarkable moments in The Expanse happen when the series draws attention to how wrong all the other space dramas are about the physics of interplanetary travel. Although the show’s sense of realism doesn’t extend to the significantly advanced technology of the protomolecule, Newton’s laws of motion are in full effect, and the dramatic results are breathtaking. “Fallen World” succeeds in stepping back to take in the scope of the danger, including the effects of zero g on injuries, before proceeding with the final consequences leading into the finale.
The writers chose wisely in allowing the Martians on Bobbie’s dropship to deliver the exposition since they were separated from the worst of the trauma caused by the reduced speed limit. It’s Bobbie herself that determines that the new top velocity is 29 meters per second, and the marine pilot breaks the news that they’re seven months away from being able to exit the ring at that speed with no way to evacuate or provision all of the ships trapped by the station. Bobbie’s shipmates may be prejudiced against the “skinnies” who later come up with a most innovative solution, but they’re admirably pragmatic about their situation nonetheless.
Elsewhere, the story is told not through statistics (although most ships appear to report a 1:3 fatality ratio) but through informative visuals and individual difficulties. Anna’s grim tour around the Thomas Prince tells us that most people weren’t strapped in when their ships stopped on a dime (imagine being on a plane that lands on a runway and immediately stops, but twenty-fold). Because Anna has never been in zero g, she acts as a proxy for the audience, most of whom likely didn’t realize that contusions and minor internal bleeding are a death sentence without the simulated gravity provided by acceleration or centrifugal force.
Meanwhile, the tension was palpable as Anna administered what aid she could to Clarissa Mao, not knowing that “Melba” had sought to eliminate Tilly Fagan before the brakes went on. Anna finding her friend Tilly impaled on the ceiling was not only gruesome and tragic; it also gave Anna crucial information about Clarissa’s murderous intents and gave us the subtle but amazing visual effect of zero-g tears pooling in Tilly’s eyes, unable to fall. The Expanse excels at providing small details such as this.
Naomi’s console fire was a similarly eye-opening effect as the oddly-shaped flames bloomed from her disabled skiff, forcing her to don her vac-suit and vent the atmosphere. Did the disappearing tool she threw from the airlock indicate she was mere meters from the edge of the Ring’s pocket universe? Whatever the case may be, her journey to the Rocinante in an episode that was disconcertingly devoid of news from our main characters eventually provides some relief by giving us a reunion for the engineer with her non-Belter family as Amos says simply, “You changed your hair.”
Even Holden was silent for the whole episode, which felt somehow appropriate since viewer attention was required elsewhere. His awakening provided one of two pivotal moments that will no doubt bridge this hour of recovery and regrouping with whatever excitement awaits us in the final two episodes of the season. His vision of “the end of everything” portends either danger to come or past devastation (or both), but the other shock, so to speak, came from Clarissa breaching the Roci’s hull only to be stopped by Anna. What will become of the revenge seeker now that her assassination attempt and frame job have been exposed, and what will Anna do now that she’s with Naomi, Amos, and Alex?
The most meaningful story, however, comes from the two characters that barely moved the entire episode. Drummer and Ashford were at loggerheads before the full stop, and their contentious conversation as they are compelled to work together to survive provides a nice duality of emotions and chance for reconciliation. Whether they are trying to catch a hand terminal with a mech arm or talking about what it means for Belters to wear uniforms, their differences of opinion are emblematic of the tribal nature of the OPA while their combined efforts symbolize what their culture must do to survive. Their whole experience is a wonderful metaphor!
Drummer’s sacrifice was painfully noble, but perhaps more impressive was Ashford’s decision to spin up the Behemoth’s outer drum, quite a humanitarian decision for someone who follows Anderson Dawes rather than Fred Johnson. Inviting all of those in the slow zone to come aboard the generation ship to benefit from the gravity that centrifugal force can provide is a choice that Naomi, Camina, and even Fred himself would have applauded. After all, how else will the conglomeration of ships survive with help now months away? The OPA can only benefit from playing the role of savior.
“Fallen World” is proof that The Expanse doesn’t have to be non-stop action to be compelling, nor does it have to include Holden or even any of the principal cast to keep our attention. The drama is just as strong when it springs from the aftermath of a disaster where tough choices have to be made. The show also has other tools in its arsenal, namely the interest provided by the effects of natural forces and gravity in space, that it employs at strategic moments to pull in the hard sci-fi fans in the audience. The build-up for the finale has now reached critical mass, and season three looks like it will end with quite a bang.