Wednesday, April 25, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Expanse' - Earth Feels the Personal Costs of War While Avasarala is Honest with Holden in 'Assured Destruction'

Syfy's The Expanse - Episode 3.03 "Assured Destruction"

As Earth strategizes a costly ploy to gain advantage in the war against Mars, Anna struggles to convince Sorrento-Gillis to do the right thing. Avasarala and Bobbie seek refuge aboard the Rocinante.

Avasarala has the evidence to prove that Earth started this war with Mars under false pretenses. People are dying over a lie. She is still fighting for the noble cause of keeping the peace throughout the system by using diplomacy. She wants to contain the protomolecule to ensure that no one is conducting dangerous experiments on the substance that could lead to an epic disaster like what's happening with Eros on Venus. Those are still her goals. And yet, so much of the world has changed since she went into space for the first time. Earth and Mars are now actually at war with each other. It's a war with an already high casualty count. For years, the two planets have been clashing over different ideologies. They were always prepared to go to war with each other and expected it to happen at some point. And now, both sides have the war that they always saw as inevitable. So, will it ultimately make a difference at all learning that it was built on lie? Will that matter? Or will they just see it as the ends justifying the means? They could be horrified by how the war was started and understand the crimes involved while also seeing the value that this war has done to the system. It has the potential to completely reshape the power structure of the system. Earth feels the need to win this war at all costs so that it is sitting on top a unified system whenever they are faced with the next threat from the protomolecule. Mars feels the need to push back from the oppressive Earthers who always try to control them and delay their dreams of terraforming their planet. Meanwhile, the Belt is caught in the crossfire with both sides willing to abuse those resources just to send a message to the opposing side. This is what so many wanted. And now, it has arrived. Should Avasarala continue to play by the some rulebook as before? Or should she adapt with the times and accept what the world has now become?

Avasarala still believes in the ideal of Earth. She has proudly represented her home planet for many years. Her counsel has always been so important to the various leaders of the U.N. She was the one always actively searching for answers even when the rest of the world had already made up their minds. She ended the previous episode in such a precarious position. She was on the verge of death while trying to escape her own planet trying to kill her. They were doing so under false orders by Errinwright. None of those soldiers know the true extent of his deceit. And now, they are dead because the Rocinante decided to intervene and rescue Bobbie and Avasarala. It's because of their help that Avasarala is able to get the medical attention she needs without fearing that she's about to become a prisoner of war. She saw it as a necessary evil to send a distress signal that only Martians could hear because she would then stay alive to continue to plot a way through this conflict. Her being rescued by James Holden presents her with the opportunity to thank him in person for his help with the Eros disaster. The two sides needed to work in unison in that moment. They still lost Miller and Julie in the process. Holden will forever remember their sacrifice. He won't see himself as a hero because of that. He knows the truth and doesn't want the world to see him as a complicated man trying to keep the system from changing. He was like Avasarala once in wanting to contain or even eradicate the protomolecule. But now, he sees that as a fool's errand. It's unavoidable now. He sees no point in continuing to chase it.

Right now, the only motivation that Holden has is trying to get Prax answers about what happened to Mei. He only took a detour from that mission to rescue Bobbie and Avasarala because he was out voted. And now, he's forced back into politics because of it. The Rocinante destroying the U.N. ship was a declaration of war against Earth. The crew could never find safe harbor on Earth before this moment. This only further cements that status. Meanwhile, Avasarala is working hard to motivate the crew into continuing to fight to save the system from itself. She has the evidence to prove that this war doesn't need to be fought right now. Jules-Pierre Mao and Errinwright are the true enemies who need to be brought to justice. After all of that is done, then the various sides can peacefully explore the protomolecule in the hopes of understanding it and where it came from. She wants to accomplish this goal by being very open with her new allies about everything she knows and the evidence that she has. She can explain that she's being targeted by her own government because Jules-Pierre created these protomolecule hybrids and was selling them to Errinwright to kill everyone on Mars. Errinwright betrayed her and now has the respect and ear of the U.N. Secretary General. Holden also shares that the Rocinante faced off with one of these creatures and was able to kill it. They eradicated all traces of protomolecule from their vessel - at least they believe they have. Now, they are going to IO in order to get answers about the children being used for these experiments. As such, the interests of everyone involved are currently aligned. But the dynamics are still fraught with so much tension which makes for some great drama - especially when Avasarala and Naomi spend time together.

It's also fascinating to spend more time on IO and the new experiments being done with the protomolecule. Jules-Pierre has always been billed as the villain of this story. He's the amoral, business tycoon who first discovered the protomolecule and decided to fund these experiments in secret. He has no true allegiance in this world beyond himself. As such, he was completely okay selling the substance and his findings to both Earth and Mars. He was pitting them against each other to decide who wanted it more. Even after he was exposed as a criminal conducting experiments on humans, he has operated with a certain level of freedom and access. He still has people loyal to him who are completely willing to conduct new experiments on even more humans. It's sickening to watch Dr. Strickland inject these children with the protomolecule and just monitor them as subjects. He's watching things very closely for any big developments because he's hoping to impress the boss now that Jules-Pierre is staying on the station for a little while longer. He doesn't want anyone to bother his benefactor with their trivial perspectives on the world. He doesn't want to annoy the man who could make or break his career. That's the attitude the show has always presented with Jules-Pierre and the people who work for him. He's an intimidating presence. But here, it's fascinating to see more complexity with him. He forms a bond with Mei over just a few exchanges. He is able to see the humanity in these children. Yes, the show presents it as him being horrified by these experiments because he too is a father. Julie died because of his actions after all. He has never been sympathetic in that way before. But Mei truly does get to him. As such, he is willing to pull the plug as soon as the first test subject can no longer sustain the amount of protomolecule running through him.

That's just the first death in "Assured Destruction" though. Back on Earth, Sorrento-Gillis is faced with an agonizing decision over whether he should make a preventive strike on the five Mars stealth ships that are currently targeting Earth. So far, this war has largely been fought around the outer planets. The fighting hasn't really gotten close to home. As such, it hasn't really personally affected anyone. There are concerns about the outcome of this war shaping the system moving forward. It will determine whose ideology will ultimately unify the system. But those are looming questions that motivate the actions of everyone involved. Right now, the devastation hasn't personally hit either of the respective planets. They have the safeguards in place to assure that neither Earth or Mars could be attacked and wiped out. Earth has the technology that can detect these stealth ships now. The U.N. is able to determine their exact position. They understand that attacking one would just lead to the other four opening fire on Earth. Those missiles would be bound to wipe out a significant portion of the population of the planet. As such, Earth should only strike if there is certainty that they could eliminate all of these threats. Sorrento-Gillis isn't sure that the odds are high enough that there would be no loss of life on this side. Anna is able to convince him that he should strive to kill as few people as possible through this conflict. Errinwright is able to counter that by playing into his ego to suggest his legacy being determined by his actions right now. He then orders the attack and a small malfunction allows the fifth stealth ship to fire a missile at Earth before it is destroyed. The planet is able to defend most of itself but an impact still occurs. Two million people are killed in South America. That's a brutal moment at the end of this hour. It shows just how deadly this war has already become. It's devastating and grueling to watch the footage and see who takes it personally and who waives it off as the realities of war. Errinwright is still able to intimidate Anna into fulfilling her role as emotional support for the Secretary General. Meanwhile, she's distraught over how casually he treats all of this while delivering a very menacing threat.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Assured Destruction" was written by Dan Nowak and directed by Thor Freudenthal.
  • Avasarala and Naomi really are the most fascinating character pairing aboard the Rocinante right now. They are both so similar as personalities as well. They both have values that they are willing to fight for. They believe in the ideals of their respective causes. They do anything to protect them. They just happen to believe in different entities of this system. That leads to tension right away even though they also have to work together now.
  • Unsurprisingly, Cotyar is revealed to still be alive. That was always inevitable. The only doubt was Bobbie and Avasarala not being able to see the drop ship on their scans as they left the debris field following the initial attack. He was too important a character to die offscreen. As such, it's rewarding that it doesn't take long to bring him back into the story. Of course, he still doesn't have many allies in this area either.
  • Cotyar is picked up by the U.N. ship called the Agatha King. It is captained by a familiar face. Admiral Souther is the man in charge. He has worked with Avasarala in the past and knows who she is as a person. But soon, Admiral Nguyen takes command of the ship and he is fully operating under the assumption that Avasarala is a traitor who should pay for her crimes. As such, Cotyar remains under arrest.
  • Alex gets a message back from his wife on Mars. He was so afraid to reach out to her again and try to explain why he wouldn't be returning home to his family any time soon. And yet, he also just waited too long to send that message. They have learned how to survive without a husband and father. He's not good at being either of those things. He's devoted to the mission. That only makes it more tragic that Holden is not leading the Rocinante with any purpose right now.
  • The friendship between Amos and Prax continues to be so fascinating. Prax is a botanist who values the beauty of the world while Amos is a soldier who just listens to the orders given to him. They don't seem like they would have anything in common. But Amos also shows more compassion to Prax than anyone on the ship. That's important even though their scene where Amos talks about his upbringing in Baltimore is mostly disposable.