This review contains spoilers.
3.12 Congregation & 3.13 Abbadon’s Gate
If there’s one thing The Expanse has taught us, it’s that space is vast. The show has always been able to capture a sense of scale whether with the distances between planets or the size of the Behemoth, but it also knows how to communicate the claustrophobic nature of the Ring’s slow zone. As a result, the two-hour finale gives us a high-pressure situation where one plan to break free might kill everyone and the other might do nothing at all or leave everyone defenceless. The crisis gives us climactic character moments leading to a breath-taking release when the Ring gates open, expanding the scale of the show even more for season four: exactly what The Expanse needed before heading to Amazon.
It all came down to a misinterpretation of what the nucleus station wanted and an unwillingness to hear differing opinions from opposing factions. Ashford made a good show of welcoming everyone into the Behemoth, but in the end the gesture was self-serving even as he thought he was saving all of humanity — all glory to the Belt! Holden may consider the whole debacle to be his fault, but he puts things right and speaks to the broader themes of the show when he urges Ashford, “Can’t we just try something else?” The beauty of that line is that it’s not just about the current plan to escape the bubble but also about the culture of the system. Cooperation may be required now that 1300 habitable systems just became available!
The drama plays out in a more action-centred manner when Drummer realises that Ashford is not going to listen to Holden’s idea of shutting down all the reactors at once. Seeing her bypass her paralysis with mechanical legs (who has time to grow a spinal cord?) was incredibly bad-ass, and it also allows her and Naomi to mend the pain of abandonment in glorious fashion. Drummer’s willingness to die to keep Diogo at bay is totally believable despite her continuing distaste for Holden, but the elevator being dropped on the Belters in their stolen Marine suits is wonderfully unexpected and a huge relief for Drummer fans (a.k.a. everybody).
It was reassuring to see others seeing reason along the way, even if Ashford shot the doubting Grigori to maintain authority and stick with the idea that even if they escape, the station is a ticking time bomb. Koolvord, the scientist on the Thomas Prince who set off the nuclear blast that sent the station into railgun mode, realises his error in a realistic fashion, convincing Commander Kunis (in an enjoyable appearance by Sean Baek of Killjoys) to power down the UN ship and establishing that Ashford is alone in his stubbornness. Including the journalist Monica as a method of persuasion for the group of ships is also a good use of a character from earlier in the season.
Anna, as a preacher and speechwriter, is the perfect choice for the voice of Holden’s plan. Her character goes through a lot in the two-hour finale, mostly with Amos, whether talking him out of killing Clarissa (out of vanity, not mercy) or convincing him that carrying hate is a burden. We can practically see the devotion growing in Amos as he fumbles through his social interactions with the pastor, and her ability to bring Monica on board despite Amos using threats and demands instead of careful explanations reinforces Anna’s position as the voice of reason. Amos’ social issues have always been a joy to watch, but combined with Anna’s sensitivity, it’s pure gold!
Clarissa’s transformation was perhaps not quite as expertly executed. Her motivation for going after Holden was never the strongest plotline in this second half of the season, and her slow realisation that Ashford’s plan is total shit was perhaps a bit too subtle. Although the initial, “Hey, I’m Jim; what are you in for?” when she meets the object of her hatred was pretty clever, the subsequent reaction shots of Clarissa listening to Holden’s conversations were a bit flat. Although her imprisonment for going after Holden may have persuaded Ashford to use her out of spite, he conveniently forgets that she caused the whole situation they’re all in, and her change of heart upon hearing what Ashford is up to wasn’t clearly communicated.
Admittedly, the use of the buffer to shut down the Behemoth, a technique hinted at during our introduction to Melba when Ren told her to be careful not to reverse them, was a nice bit of sabotage, and Anna sitting with Clarissa in the med bay during the ending montage hints at forgiveness to come. Similarly, the same montage shows Drummer having drinks with Ashford, Bobbi sitting in the pilot chair next to Alex, and Amos helping Naomi with repairs — all is forgiven! The implication, as Holden wonders via voiceover if humanity is part of a larger plan, is that everyone’s going to need to work together for whatever’s next, and zooming in on Avasarala looking at a map of the Ring gates was a stupendous way to bridge this magnificent ending with the next season of The Expanse.
With all of the emotion of the more adventurous parts of the two-hour finale and the tense nature of the forced confrontation between all of the solar system’s different factions, the opening of the gates produced a gasp, almost as if the audience were breathing in fresh air after being cooped up in the Ring’s pocket universe. Holden mirrors our scepticism that “we’re free to go, just like that,” but once again, Miller’s understated delivery says it all: he wants to find out what happened to the dead civilization and needs a ride to get there. Along with the visual of the blue cloud coming at Holden, it’s quite simply the perfect way to say The Expanse is headed to the stars in season four!