This The Expanse review contains spoilers.
The Expanse Season 3 Episode 2
In previous reviews for The Expanse, the show has been praised for its use of gravity as a character in that the actual science behind g-forces, whether null or boosted by acceleration, informs the overall story to great effect. Upon watching “IFF,” it seems more accurate to say that gravity is a catalyst for conflict or a focus for action, and the episode excelled in this regard. The title, “IFF,” also brilliantly addresses the compelling theme of identifying of friend or foe, whether among Holden’s arguing crew, between the Pinus Contorta and the Razorback, or even with the new character played by Elizabeth Mitchell, who challenges Errinwright for the attention of the UN leader at a crucial time.
Mitchell is, in fact, perfectly cast as Anna Volovodov, or Pastor Anna as readers of the James S.A. Corey novels know her, even though her appearance, character, and history appear to be quite different here. Mitchell’s ability to smile with equal amounts endearment and menace and to combine wide-eyed disbelief with a strength of resolve are perfect for this role in which Anna must place a moral and religious framework around the UN war and the origins of the protomolecule. The softer side she shows her wife and daughter and the hard edge revealed by her past as the Secretary General’s speechwriter create a complex character from the very start.
Plus it’s great to see Errinwright squirm now that someone else has the ear of Esteban Sorrento-Gillis. When Anna says that there are things in the universe bigger than them, it not only refers to the God of her belief system that the politicians in the room don’t share and in fact ridicule; it also is a nod to the alien force behind the protomolecule, which Errinwright seeks to control but which Jules-Pierre Mao actively seeks to prevent him from acquiring. Errinwright as warmonger is a more concrete antagonist than The Expanse has had in the past, and his discomfort and inevitable downfall is fun to observe.
But of course Mao has reignited his interest in the protomolecule now that he’s seen the advancements Dr. Strickland has made, but will the hybrids be used as leverage to free the Mao family from UN persecution or as weapons for the Mars Congressional Republic to fight back — or as something else entirely? The evolution of the storyline involving Prax’s daughter, Mei, whose immunodeficiency makes her ideal for accepting the changes the protomolecule wreaks on the human body, is headed in an obvious direction with Holden and company on their way to the Helium-3 refinery on Io, but the setup here still draws us in, especially when Mei’s friend from Ganymede shows off his glowing blue arm.
Then there’s Holden’s promise to Prax to rescue Mei, which takes center stage in a spectacularly contentious way in “IFF.” Although it might stretch credibility somewhat that Alex and especially Naomi would insist on answering a distress call when they are already on a detour from the safe haven of Tycho, once it’s determined that the ship in question is Julie Mao’s racing vessel, the Razorback, it makes at least a little more sense that they’d, as Holden put it, “punch above their weight.” Convenient plot device aside, hopefully they’ll all head to Io together next.
As mentioned, however, the star of the episode was gravity, and its most obvious use was as an action sequence enhancer. It would have been enough to watch the Pinus Contorta fire its PDCs and missiles at the escort vehicle pursuing the Razorback; The Expanse, after all, excels at space battle sequences. But the unsecured locker and the resulting deadly rain of tools was amazing to watch as the ship spun through its maneuvers. Amos’ daring rescue of Prax also served as a nice counterpoint to their conversation about why Prax chose to break the tie and vote to help the ship in distress.
Gravity also acted as an active aggressor upon the fragile Earther body of Chrisjen Avasarala, who tolerated the desperate escape from Mao’s yacht as best she could. Before the surprising rescue by the Pinus Contorta, there was a well-paced, logical progression of labored conversation between Bobbie and Chrisjen as the Marine admitted to being a terrible pilot while coaching the elder stateswoman through strategies for dealing with high-g, including the wonderful whistling into commercial. Whatever crisis there is to come as Bobbie and Holden’s crew scramble to save Avasarala’s life, it was a well-earned moment full of suspense and punishing endurance.
The convenience of Holden and Avasarala coming together in the vastness of space does require some suspension of disbelief, especially in the overly sacrificial manner in which the Pinus Contorta raced to rescue what was at the time a complete stranger. But the introduction of new characters and the development of established relationships, along with the excellent use of gravity, which has become The Expanse’s trademark, make this another successful episode overall. Not yet as mind-blowing as season two, but there’s hope that it will get there.