Wednesday, February 1, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Expanse' - Holden, Miller and Crew Reckon with Their Discovery on Eros in 'Safe' & 'Doors & Corners"

Syfy's The Expanse - Episodes 2.01 "Safe" and 2.02 "Doors & Corners"

James Holden and crew deal with the aftermath of their escape from Eros. Holden and crew stage a dangerous raid in search of information about the protomolecule.

The first season of The Expanse was frustrating in a number of ways. Sure, it was exciting to watch whenever it focused on the action beats and the grand reveals of the big mystery. And yet, the journey getting to those points was so cryptic and annoying. The show loved delaying reveals for as long as possible. It enjoyed maintaining mystery while offering very little reason for the audience to care. That was especially true of the Julie Mao investigation. That was important because the show told the audience it was. But the actual details of that story and Miller's involvement in it were never that interesting or compelling. Similarly, it was exciting to watch Holden and his crew battle the entire universe trying to get answers for what happened to their ship. But as soon as they got some new piece of information, it would either be a tease of something more mysterious or a dead end. Plus, Avasarala's adventures on Earth didn't feel as nuanced or original as what was going on in the belt. Of course, the final reveal was great. Plus, it brought all the various elements of the show together in exciting ways. It was just frustrating getting to that point.

But now, a ton of things have been revealed and the audience has a better understanding of what is going on in this world. It is now clear who the enemy is and why everything is happening. There is still a bigger mystery that threatens to further complicate this world. The protomolecule is more than just the latest weapon Earth is using to eradicate the lower class belters. It may have alien origins. It could be the first proof that humanity is not alone in the universe. This show may be full of technology and space travel. But it's still grounded in reality based on what could be possible in the future. This could be the dawn of the arrival of alien intelligence into our world. That's a tease that is actually interesting. But it also creates new problems for the heroes because they have to balance that knowledge with their own personal quests for vengeance and justice. They only have pieces of the puzzle. It's personal to them while the grand scale of things is something to worry about in the future.

Of course, there is still the brewing conflict between Earth and Mars. The series opened with the line that the balance between the two was very tenuous. It wouldn't take much to start a full-on war between the two planets. That was avoided for the most part throughout the first season. But now, it's revealed that Earth was the true enemy all along. Avasarala didn't know that. In fact, that showed just how little importance she actually has. But now, she knows the truth and wants answers. She doesn't want to be fed the official stories. Those are largely comprised of lies. She has to work to uncover the truth while avoiding being killed in the process. Sure, her almost assassination makes it clear right away that people are trying to kill her for what she knows. That's a little too on-the-nose to give the allusion that the stakes on Earth are just as serious as they are in space. But it's also tense watching her carefully play the political games all while trying to advance her own agenda. She gets exactly what she wants in the end by avoiding a war with Mars and learning the truth about Fred Johnson's past service. Of course, she's still risking a lot by trying to talk with Fred. But that's a worry for the future.

Meanwhile, the first hour of the premiere largely focuses on the crew of the Rocinante recovering from what happened on Eros. It feels like a slow start to the season. Miller and Holden are still getting their strength back after being hit with radiation. Alex is checking the people they saved from the station to see if they have any of the weapon on them. Miller is getting into a fight with Amos because he killed his friend, Sematimba. It's a lot of interpersonal dynamics. That has never really been the show's strong suit. Yes, the crew makes a good decision in choosing not to destroy the sample of the protomolecule they retrieved from Eros. They have their theories about its alien qualities. So, they store it away on some asteroid until they know more about it. That seems like a smart move for the future. It again shows that Naomi is a great captain for this crew. Of course, it's also more important that she and Holden finally just hook up. The angst between them wasn't all that great. So now that it's finally happened, it feels like the show can do more. It's no longer just teasing the audience. Plus, the fighting between Miller and Amos just feels like a necessary thing to do. It makes sense logistically. Apparently, Miller really did like Sema. It's just better to see the five members of this crew come together in the end as a unit eating lasagna and sharing their memories about cheese. That does more to define this crew than some petty squabbling.

And yet, it's not long until the Rocinante is back on Tycho Station and have to give an update to Fred Johnson. He works much better as a character this season as well because the audience knows he's not the bad guy. He was simply manipulating by the government of Earth. And now, he's trying to help belters resist the rule and oppression from Earth and Mars. He wants answers to what happened to Julie too. Miller and Holden give them to him. All of this just leads to launching a big military strike on a new station that's being protected by a stealth ship - like the one that started this whole conflict. The second half of "Doors & Corners" is a really intense sequence. It's again the show relying on action beats. And yet, that's something this show does really well. It's incredibly rousing to watch as Alex maneuvers his way into victory seemingly against the odds. It's tense to think about Amos almost getting killed when he goes to repair a thruster. The characters still need more development. So, it wouldn't be a huge tragedy if anyone was killed now. It would simply reaffirm the stakes of the show. But it's great when no one does. Sure, one landing pod is destroyed in this battle. But it's not the one carrying Miller. So, he's able to provide his own skill set to this battle as well once it becomes a raid inside the ship - with very little resistance.

All of this is just building to the reveal that this ship is doing some very weird things. It's all at the whim of one scientist who is working to understand the protomolecule. It could just be the latest tease of something more mysterious. And yet, this scientist is actually forthcoming with information. He's the one who says that the weapon needs to be used to protect all of humanity. He's weaponized it and is experimenting on humans just to know how it is used. He fully believes in the alien theory. He doesn't care who he works for as long as he can continue his research. To him, all the lives lost on Eros is worth it if it can lead to the protection of humanity from alien invaders. They are the ones trying to start a war. Meanwhile, this system is too caught up with conflicts with each other to notice. It seems like Fred and Holden are listening to him and see value in him staying alive. Miller doesn't. It's a shocking conclusion. But it also makes sense. It's not just a sudden twist to leave things on a cliffhanger or delaying information. Even if the motivation behind his obsession with Julie Mao didn't work, it's still easy to understand that Miller sees killing this man as him getting justice for what happened to her. That probably won't sit well with the rest of the crew though - especially considering they all just risked their lives for this mission.

"Safe" - B
"Doors & Corners" - B+

Some more thoughts:
  • "Safe" was written by Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and directed by Breck Eisner.
  • "Doors & Corners" was written by Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck and directed by Breck Eisner.
  • A new character named Bobbie Drapper is introduced and provides a new perspective from Mars. She's only in the first episode. But she's important in that she envisions a future where Mars is teraformed and beautiful just like Earth. She's willing to start a war with Earth too because she sees them as the enemy to this future.
  • Of course, a war between Earth and Mars is still avoided for now. It gets close for awhile there. Both planets are racing to Phoebe station for answers as to what happened there. To avoid conflict, Mars just blows the station up. So no one gets anything they wanted.
  • Alex is filled with guilt about not being able to safe more people on Eros. He also worries about the futures of the people he did save. It looks like one of them went on the mission and was killed during it too.
  • Holden and Naomi finally hooking up means yet another conversation about what Naomi and Amos' relationship really is. She sees it as a brother and sister type of bond. She can get him to cool off and avoid doing something stupid. He may see things differently though.
  • There's a moment where it seems like the belter making fun of Miller on the drop is killed right away upon investigating the ship. But then, it's revealed that the enemy isn't shooting any real bullets. That's quite an unusual reveal though.
  • Plus, it's clear that Fred's men aren't really trained at all. He asks for the best. He inspires them to volunteer by throwing one out a space lock. And yet, the men who actually go on the mission are very trigger happy once they land. It's a good idea Miller is there to tell them where to go.