Wednesday, April 18, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Expanse' - Bobbie and Avasarala Receive Help from an Unexpected Source in 'IFF'

Syfy's The Expanse - Episode 3.02 "IFF"

The Rocinante answers an unexpected distress signal. Bobbie and Avasarala find themselves being hunted by a mysterious captor. UN Secretary-General Sorrento-Gillis brings in a colleague from his past to lend an ear during this crucial time of war.

When The Expense first premiere, it was a science fiction story told from three different perspectives. There was Holden and the Rocinante crew as they tried to unravel the mystery of why the ship they served on was targeted and destroyed. There was Miller who found himself becoming obsessed with a missing persons case. And then, there was Avasarala who was balancing the politics of a system that seemed on the brink of war. It has always been so invigorating and exciting whenever these characters actually meet each other. The audience has spent so much time with these characters. The events of this world affect all of them equally. Even though many of them don't interact, there's always a sense of how one story will impact the other. It was thrilling when Holden and Miller met at the end of the first season. That fueled the jump in quality at the start of the second season building up to the tragedy of Miller going down with Eros. Of course, what's currently happening on Venus is still a complete mystery. The protomolecule is changing the atmosphere of the entire planet. As such, Miller and Julie may not actually be dead. It's just important that they are no longer main characters. Now, the system is actually at war. It's a war built on lies. Avasarala was betrayed when she ventured into space for the first time to try to establish peace and demand an end to this complicated conspiracy of manipulations and deceit. She wanted to live in open and genuine peace with Mars where they could coexist together. The two planets have never been able to get along. And now, it seems like the entire system is at war but the main characters are completely away from that entire conflict. It still has a personal impact on them. They still have massive targets on their backs for their actions in the previous two seasons. But now, it's compelling to see Holden and Avasarala finally meet as a way to truly engage with the main story of war once more.

Holden had just accepted that trying to contain or destroy the protomolecule was a fool's errand. He was chasing every last drop of the substance. Just when he thought the last of it was destroyed, another incident would occur that showed that both Earth and Mars were running experiments with it. It's been truly daunting to see the attack that wiped out Bobbie's crew and the protomolecule hybrids that have presented as vicious and uncontrollable creatures. It's been so tense and ominous to see how fragile the understanding of the protomolecule is on both sides. Earth, Mars and the Belt have the substance. They are experimenting with it. It is now completely changing the world. It is fueling the war. Everyone is now aware of its existence. They just don't know the full extent of the experiments being run. The leadership of Earth just sees a conflict they need to win in order to preserve their place in the system. They need to keep Mars far away from Venus so that they can understand what is actually going on there. Of course, the longer this war is dragged out the more likely it is that the protomolecule will complete this transformation of Venus and become a new threat that both entities will have to deal with. That's one thing that everyone in this world needs to be aware of. It's important to keep an eye on Venus. Right now, their focus has shifted. Earth and Mars are at war with each other. Meanwhile, Holden has accepted that the Rocinante no longer needs to be the ship trying to stop this conflict from happening. They did their best to uncover the truth and expose the crimes involved. But now, the only pressing concern is finding out what happened to Mei. Holden owes answers to Prax. As such, that is the only thing really driving him forward right now.

Of course, that's a story that doesn't necessarily pull the Rocinante crew back into the main story of the season. Yes, the audience becomes aware of what's going on at this refinery on IO. We get the clarity that Mei is actually still alive. The hybrid creature that attacked at the end of last season wasn't her. There's actually the hope that she won't be transformed into a creature like that. As such, it should be a relief to know that Prax will reunite with his daughter once more. It will be a cause for celebration. But here, the show needs to point out that even more dangerous experiments are being done on IO. They do include Mei as well. Her doctor has figured out a way to actually control the protomolecule. He was been looking at things on a molecular level and seeing how various genetic conditions react to being exposed to this alien technology. He has seen humans be turned into these vicious creatures that are just solely driven by finding new fuel sources. And yet, he has already made advanced discoveries through his work on Ganymede. He has discovered a condition specific to people who lived on that station that allows them to contain and actually grow alongside the protomolecule. It's a huge discovery. Jules-Pierre Mao fled to this station after his meeting with Avasarala that went awry. He just wanted an update on everything that has happened with the idea of shutting everything down because of how angsty the Earthers and Martians have become. But now, he's eager to pursue this new research with the doctor. It's very ominous and insidious to see Mei's friend roll up his sleeve to reveal the protomolecule underneath his skin. There's no telling how these children could be weaponized. But it's also inevitable that they will be - which sets the clock for Prax to rescue his daughter.

As such, the show needs to present a valid reason for why Prax argues for taking a detour from exploring the refinery on IO in favor of rescuing Bobbie and Avasarala from their precarious situation. Bobbie was not able to avoid being followed by the Earth ship. She is trying to get out of range of their missiles while not killing Avasarala in the process. It's such an intense sequence because Avasarala isn't used to this kind of space travel. She has spent almost her entire life on Earth. She has a deep respect for the system and the advances made in space travel. It's just never something she has done before. As such, she is just now learning how to cope with 3G speeds while trying to evade these missiles. She is perfectly fine sending out a distress signal that only Martian ships can hear because they only wish to imprison Bobbie and Avasarala. Earth actually wants to kill them right now. As soon as Bobbie explains who can receive her distress signal, it seems obvious that the Rocinante crew is about to rescue them. But it's still a debate. Alex is still loyal to Mars and will help anyone who needs it. Naomi thinks it's worth investigating because the signal came from a ship registered to Julie Mao. But Holden and Amos don't want to take any precious time away from the search for Mei. They see the value in providing Prax with answers as soon as possible. As such, he's the tie breaker. He decides to help Bobbie and Avasarala solely because he's terrified of finding Mei after she has already been experimented on and died. It's a lame reason. He lets fear dictate his actions right when the rest of the crew is actually genuinely trying to help him get answers. It's an excuse to get Bobbie and Avasarala aboard the ship knowing that they know exactly what's going on in this war as well and will personally motivate everyone to once again seek a way to try to establish peace. It's a noble goal. Avasarala still has the technology to blast a message to the rest of the system. But she needs to survive long enough to tell everyone what she knows. Plus, she and Holden have a tense history that could make all of this even more complicated.

Throughout all of this, it could be easy to see Earth as the villains of this story. There is no longer a character in that corner of the world that the audience is asked to sympathize with. For the first two seasons, that was always Avasarala. She was the one unraveling the conspiracy and learning just how involved her fellow politicians on Earth were for the disasters happening elsewhere in the system. She was livid during the whole Eros crisis. She understands it's important to receive updates on what's happening on Venus. Now, she's distracted by war and teaming up with the Rocinante. She's out of this environment. As such, Errinwright is solely manipulating UN Secretary General Sorrento-Gillis. Now, the leader of Earth has never been a vital character before. He was always just easily malleable to whatever Errinwright or Avasarala suggested. He never had his own urgency. He's pushed into this conflict believing Avasarala to be working with Jules-Pierre Mao and betraying the entire government. In reality though, that's Errinwright. As such, it could be daunting to see Earth slip further and further into villainy. It makes it passionate to see the crowds of people protesting on the streets. But it also makes it exciting to introduce a new character in that environment who is bound to become the individual the audience can sympathize with. It helps immensely in that simple and crucial goal right away to cast an actress who is likable and recognizable. Elizabeth Mitchell has appeared in so many genre shows. Not all of them have been great. But she always brings a layer of sincerity to the proceedings that is always easy to understand and enjoy. And now, it's fascinating to see her character join this universe reluctantly. Reverend Dr. Anna Volovodov doesn't want to join the speech-writing team of Sorrento-Gillis. She just wants to continue offering medical care to the poor. But she makes a deal with her former friend that she'll help in exchange for the resources she needs to actually make a difference in her community. It's a fascinating introduction that immediately makes a strong impact with the audience. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "IFF" was written by Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck and directed by Breck Eisner.
  • The best details of this show are often just the terrifying ways in which space travel has the potential to kill any of these characters. It's so intense watching Amos and Prax just strap in for this dangerous mission to rescue Bobbie and Avasarala. A storage locker unlocks and sends a bunch of tools flying throughout the room. They have the potential to hit them any number of ways and kill them. As such, it's very scary in so many different ways - though they both ultimately survive the adventure.
  • It's also just cool to see the special effects that occur to make the overall battle happen. The show can do various shots from afar of how the war between Earth and Mars is being fought. But here, it's so engaging to watch as Holden comes up with this crazy plan of taking control of some of the missiles in the hopes to send them spiraling back and detonating just so the Rocinante can break through for a sneak attack that completely destroys the Earth ship.
  • For the entire series, the Rocinante crew has operated with no allies. They've frequently been on their own with no genuine stake in this war. They don't have any place to go to refuel and resupply outside of Tycho Station. Fred Johnson will be happy to work with them again. But the crew is reluctant to do so. And now, this rescue mission is the Rocinante basically declaring that they are against Earth in this fight.
  • At his core, Prax is still a botanist. He is still mostly fascinated with plants and the various ways they grow throughout the system. He is eager to plant some on the Rocinante. He is able to argue for the value they would bring while not demanding too many resources. He makes his case to Holden who agrees to it. Of course, it's then tragic when all of them are tossed around the ship in the aftermath of this battle.
  • It's always wonderful to me when science fiction shows include LGBT characters. Anna is introduced with a wife and a daughter. They probably won't be huge components of the overall story. But it does make it easy to see what she cares about and is fighting to return home to. She also needs her wife to help calm her down and find peace with not trying to forgive Sorrento-Gillis for whatever happened in their shared past that caused a rift.