Wednesday, April 19, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Expanse' - The Rocinante Crew Continues Their Hunt of the Protomolecule Creature in 'Caliban's War'

Syfy's The Expanse - Episode 2.13 "Caliban's War"

The Roci crew is forced to fight to save the ship.

The Expanse began with the ominous warning that anything in the system could spark a war between Earth and Mars. That has been a major threat throughout these first two seasons. This system has changed so much in that span of time. The protomolecule has changed everything. There is simply no going back to the way things were. Both Earth and Mars have this new technology and it could wreak havoc throughout the system. The balance of power could dramatic shift very quickly. And yet, the big picture stuff of this world largely hit its climatic moments in last week's episode. The Rocinante was able to escort the Somnambulist off of Ganymede Station carrying a bunch of refugees. Earth and Mars ships are engaging in battle above the station. They did so under Errinwright's orders because he's sick of Jules-Pierre Mao playing both sides of this war. So, war is apparently here. However, "Caliban's War" instead chooses to focus on the struggle to survive on a much smaller scale for the characters. Their actions do carry weight and could greatly affect the entire system moving forward. But this finale is largely concerned with keeping these characters alive despite their dangerous circumstances. That intimate focus is a little unexpected. It's a little weird as an ending because it doesn't quite go to where it seemed like it was going all season long. And yet, the actual stories work perfectly fine as well.

With Avasarala, it's a more traditional life-or-death situation. She, Bobbie and Cotyar are in a standoff with Mao's men. This story hit its big moment last week with Errinwright's big decision. And now, the finale isn't even about processing all of that new information. It's just about getting out of this ship alive. Cotyar warned Avasarala it would be a trap. He was right but there was no way anyone could have predicted that this would happen. It mostly shows that Avasarala, Bobbie and Cotyar make one very effective team. It's up to Bobbie to get them out of this mess. Cotyar has been shot while Avasarala needs to know if she can talk her way out of it. It's all building to the final moment where Bobbie shows up in her Martian suit and takes out the enemy. It's a rousing moment that really works well. Bobbie's character arc this season peaked when she made that run to seek political asylum on Earth. It was a significant and life-changing moment. What's happened after that has just been character building work for this new dynamic with Avasarala and Cotyar. This finale proves that she is definitively on their side and will protect them no matter what. She's the badass of this story. All of that is a very fitting end for this corner of the universe.

Elsewhere, the audience knew that the protomolecule-human hybrid creature was on the Rocinante as it left Ganymede. It was an imminent threat that the crew would have to deal with immediately. It was just a mystery as to when this creature would strike and how damaging that would ultimately be to the ship. In the end, it does very little damage. Alex spots that it's in the cargo bay fairly quickly. Plus, Naomi and Amos are back onboard and Amos is no longer feeling the side effects of the drug Naomi used on him. And finally, the Somnambulist is no longer a concern because they are headed to safety. So, it's ultimately the crew being reunited and having to face this threat together. It shows how little Holden has really changed even though he made the decision to save everyone on the Somnambulist instead of killing this creature an episode ago. That decision showed that he was capable of being a good man again. He's been hellbent on destroying all signs of the protomolecule everywhere in the system this season. He had to accept that that was impossible. And yet, when this creature shows up on the Rocinante, he still wants to shoot first before asking any questions about its existence. He sees it as a threat that needs to be eliminated immediately.

That's what makes it so fitting when that plan falls and Holden finds himself trapped in the cargo bay with the creature. It's the kind of impossible situation that the show has placed its characters in before. There is seemingly no way of killing the creature without also killing Holden in the process. It's this big swelling of emotion as everyone tries to figure out a way to save their captain while also knowing he would sacrifice himself in order to rid the system of the protomolecule. As they go through with their planning, it seems like Holden will have to listen to Prax and talk with the creature in order to prevent it from killing him. That would be a strong twist that would force Holden to see things from a different perspective. And yet, that doesn't happen. Holden is afraid for his life. His gun is out of reach. The creature is coming for him after Alex turns off its power supply. But Holden doesn't die simply because Alex turns the power back on. That seems like a missed opportunity for the show to further explore the ramifications of creating a creature like this. It seems intelligent but single-minded. It just wants to keep growing by absorbing radiation. Prax has argued continually that it was human once and that mind could still be alive somewhere within. And yet, the show never really explores that.

Of course, Prax gets his big moment of confronting the creature as well. He's the one who comes up with the plan that won't ultimately kill Holden as well. That shows how resourceful he is. He's struggled as a new addition to the team in the final part of this season. The mystery of what happened to his daughter, Mei, isn't as strong as some of the other mysteries on the show at the moment. And yet, it's still a big deal when he has to decide to follow through with the plan to kill the protomolecule creature instead of desperately holding onto the idea of his daughter. He projects his feelings for his daughter onto this creature. In the moment, that could seem like a deadly mistake that will get him killed and compromise everyone else on the Rocinante. And yet, he ultimately makes the right decision. It's cool special effects work to see him toss the nuclear weapon into space for the creature to catch and thus allowing the Rocinante to maneuver around to kill it with its engine turning on. It's also devastating because it's Prax putting the needs of the team ahead of the search for his daughter. The finale confirms that this creature wasn't Mei and that she's in a hibernating state still as a human somewhere else in the system. That tease was a little unnecessary. It's again because there are a few other stories that probably would have been better to see new clues to the mysteries - like some more clarity on what's happening on Venus.

It's also fascinating to see the dynamic between Holden and Naomi after all of this is over. The two of them have been through a lot this season. They officially became a couple. And yet, their decisions only got more extreme and dangerous. The system is constantly changing and they keep finding themselves at the center of it all. That has put some tension on this dynamic. Naomi is grateful to have the man she fell in love with back when he decided to end his hunt for the protomolecule. But she also doesn't want to have a final conversation should this situation end badly for Holden. She's right to do so because the crew finds another way to kill the creature. Going through all of this forces her to be honest about her own secrets. She reveals that she didn't destroy the protomolecule sample they had like she had previously said. It's not all that surprising to the audience. We've known she didn't destroy it. And yet, it's much more surprising to learn that she's actually handed it over to Fred Johnson. So now, he'll have renewed purpose on the show. Things between Holden and Fred aren't so great. So, it should be fascinating to see how he takes this news. Naomi is increasingly become a vocal member of arming the belt as Earth and Mars prepare for war. Will Holden feel the same way? It's unclear. It's just important that more war is coming in the immediate future for these characters.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Caliban's War" was written by Daniel Abraham, Ty Franck & Naren Shankar and directed by Thor Freudenthal.
  • For the amount of time this season spent on the crew above Venus, the payoff wasn't that great. It didn't need to have that much attention across multiple episodes. It confirmed that the protomolecule is still growing there and isn't under the control of any specific government. And yet, this finale provides no concrete evidence on whether or not Miller and Julie are still a part of this environment. That's just lame. It needed to happen.
  • Bobbie's story is pretty funny as well despite it being a very serious, life-or-death situation. The three of them crack jokes that Bobbie is the only one who can crawl through the vents. And then, there's an engineer who asks Bobbie to beat him up so it doesn't seem like he worked with her.
  • Of course, will Avasarala and company be able to make it back to Earth? They escape their captors but there are more soldiers aboard who could cause problems for them. If they do return, Avasarala wants to kill Errinwright for what he did. Will she succeed with that? Or will something new appear that makes him worth keeping around?
  • Naomi and Amos talk things out about what happened on the Somnambulist. Amos holds no hard feelings. In fact, he respects Naomi for what she did because it was a good decision. He envies that she can do that so easily. That's something he has really struggled with over the seasons.
  • Fred Johnson has the protomolecule while Anderson Dawes has the scientist who understands it. It seems destined that they'll have to work together again in order to empower the belt as this war intensifies. Or maybe they'll find another way to survive.
  • Syfy has already renewed The Expanse for a third season. It did so maybe halfway through this season. So, it's clearly a show the executives love. Plus, this season was really great. It was a significant step up from the first season. Yes, I did have some problems with the pacing and certain character arcs. But overall, this show had a solid season of growth that will hopefully continue next year.