Wednesday, May 16, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Expanse' - The Rocinante Crew's Actions on IO May Save the System From Its War in 'Immolation'

Syfy's The Expanse - Episode 3.06 "Immolation"

The final battle between Earth and Mars threatens the very future of humanity. A new monster is unleashed on Prospero Station. Anna receives the smoking gun she needs.

Some of the most climatic moments of The Expanse seem to occur around the halfway point of its seasons. That was when the Rocinante crew was first confronted by the mystery of the protomolecule in the first season. It was when the protomolecule threat on Eros escalated so severely that it threatened the entire existence of Earth with Miller needing to make the ultimate sacrifice by crashing it into Venus in the second. And now, it's when so much happens that has defined the majority of the third season so far. I understand that the events of this episode are essentially the conclusion of the second novel in the series the show is based on. As such, it's fascinating to see how the creative team chose to adapt the material. This was simply too much material to cram into one season of television. That meant that the split allowed the start of this season to focus on the war between Earth and Mars. It was a very smart decision because it allowed the first two seasons to be about the rising action of this conflict with the third having it finally come to fruition. And now, it's surprising to see it come to such a quick conclusion. However, the war was already so devastating. Earth lost two million citizens on the planet while suffering the loss of several ships in space. They were fighting this war because of the selfish and idealistic desires of a secret group of people working within the Earth government. Errinwright and Nguyen are the ones orchestrating this war and ensuring that Earth stands superior to the rest of the system. And now, all of that reaches its conclusion in "Immolation." It's once again a story where the Rocinante crew is at the center of the action. They were traveling to IO to get away from the war and simply provide answers to Prax about his missing daughter. And now, they learn that their actions are still shaping the outcome of the system. They are the ones who have to protect the system from destroying itself because the threat from Venus is starting to emerge in a very mysterious and ominous way.

The Rocinante crew didn't know what they were walking into at IO. They didn't know what they would find there. They could be faced with massive resistance as this could be a property owned by Jules-Pierre Mao that is running extreme experiments on the protomolecule. They have already been at so many disaster sites affected by this mysterious substance. The stakes have only gotten more lethal and immoral as well. Jules-Pierre is now sanctioning experiments on children just because they can be used as human conduits that can talk to the rest of the protomolecule on Venus. The Rocinante knew they could be walking into a very dangerous situation. They weren't expecting pods to be launched containing the remainder of the hybrid creatures. That's an ominous sight as well that makes them need to think quickly in order to prevent further contamination and annihilation. They know just how deadly and unstoppable these creatures can be. They need to be destroyed when they are still trapped in these pods. The system at IO no longer controls them though. They now belong solely to Nguyen on the Agatha King. He's the one using the stealth technology in order to launch an attack on Mars that could completely wipe out the entire planet. He is willing to stage such an attack because he sees that civilization as a failed social experiment. Martians were always striving to get more in this world. They wouldn't just submit to the rule of Earth. They wanted their own planet to find peace and prosperity on while only fueling this conflict further. It's a cause that Nguyen ultimately dies for. It's a tragedy because the Agatha King is the only ship contaminated with the protomolecule which spreads much more quickly now than it did on Eros. That just further proves that the substance is learning and growing. It knows how to rip apart human bodies and the ships that they have flying throughout this world. It's project on Venus is almost completely and it has mined those materials to its benefit.

If something isn't done about the Agatha King right away, it's another potential ship that the protomolecule could have in its fleet. This is actually a war ship. It's not a station built for human settlers. It's a ship that has the weapons system to target anyone that it perceives as a threat. That's what makes it so important for Alex and Naomi to board the ship. They have to destroy it while also gaining control of the hybrid pods the Rocinante couldn't destroy before running out of ammunition. It's a perilous mission for Alex and Naomi to embark on because they could easily become infected as well. The spread of infection is quick. The protomolecule eliminates the entire crew and makes them essentially turn against one another. Even Cotyar is infected. That makes this his big tragic ending. He decides to cause a nuclear explosion on the ship because he knows that it's the only way to prevent the spread of the substance. He does so without the awareness that Alex and Naomi are on board or that Avasarala is listening in on his final words. He knows that Avasarala succeeded in her mission to get Errinwright's taped confusion out to the rest of the world. He knows that she survived and is in Bobbie's capable hands. His journey is over. As such, he has made peace with that even though he doesn't know what to say to anyone potentially listening in on what's going on with this ship. He dies so that others can live. That doesn't present a new problem for the Rocinante crew either because they are able to escape with the links to the locations of the pods. As such, that makes them easy to target. It just means they all have to be united in giving the codes over to Fred Johnson so that he can use his newly acquired missiles to eliminate them and gain more legitimacy for the Belt throughout the system.

Plus, there's the ongoing political tension happening throughout the rest of the season as the war is left in a state of limbo. Sorrento-Gillis and Errinwright don't know what's happening around Jupiter. They don't know if there is any truth to the rumored mutiny that took place aboard the Agatha King. They don't understand why one of their own ships would target and eliminate another. Souther recorded his message so that everyone in the area could hear. But Earth is just too far away to get any legitimate confirmation as to what's going on. Of course, that allows Anna to walk onto the scene with some answers that prove just how costly this entire war actually was. She has always presented as the moral conscience of this story. She's the one who took it personally whenever someone was killed as a result of this war. And now, she is angry and passionate because of the proof she has that Errinwright manipulated the events into occurring in the first place. She presents that information to Sorrento-Gillis who promptly has Errinwright arrested for treason. That's a very satisfying moment because it's so empowering to see that smug traitor hauled away for his crimes. Nguyen dies in the nuclear explosion on the Agatha King as well. So, it's unclear who in the Earth government is still operating within this conspiracy. The leaders know that they have been lied to and have started a war because of that deceit and treachery. Errinwright wonders if Sorrento-Gillis ever truly had a spine or if he's simply just susceptible to whomever he talked with last. Here, he has the moral high ground because of the evidence presented by Anna. But the Secretary General was also steered into committing some truly heinous acts. And now, all that he cares about is how it will tarnish his legacy. He sees it as forever ruined because of this war that didn't need to be fought. That's devastating to him while also revealing his true and immoral colors to Anna.

And of course, the true heart of this climatic hour comes from the grand reunion between Prax and Mei. The two of them have both become such important characters this season. Prax has become more hardened the more time he spends with the Rocinante crew. He's willing to do anything to get his daughter back. Meanwhile, Mei is on the verge of being the next experiment with the protomolecule. The Rocinante arrived in the nick of time. Jules-Pierre and Dr. Strickland aren't able to get to the escape ship in time with all the valuable research and resources they need to continue their mission. They believe they are being hunted by Martian soldiers who are willing to hurt them for their betrayal. Instead, it's the Rocinante crew. It presents a new option for Strickland because he had a friendly dynamic with Prax in the past and believes he can use those emotions to stay alive. It doesn't work. And yet, Prax isn't the one who ultimately pulls the trigger. Instead, Amos takes that responsibility away from him because he knows that Prax needs to remain pure in order to return as a healthy father for Mei. Meanwhile, Holden decides to capture Jules-Pierre. He is the man behind this vast conspiracy who was first given the protomolecule to experiment on. He is the reason why the system is in a state of flux right now. He doesn't know any more about what's happening on Venus than anyone else. But he still has answers that could prove illuminating to the rest of the world. Holden understands his importance and is able to deliver him to Avasarala even though he doesn't procure a sample of the protomolecule for her. All of this shows that these characters will continue fighting for peace in the system despite the ever-changing circumstances of their lives. They have saved the world countless times already. It shouldn't be surprising to see all of these characters teaming up to make a better world. And yet, an ominous new threat emerges from Venus. The protomolecule is no longer staying put on the planet. It has finished its work and has launched a new dangerous ship. That ensures that the universe will continue to be in peril for the remainder of the season as the characters try to understand what exactly is going on.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Immolation" was written by Alan Difiore and directed by Jeff Woolnough.
  • Bobbie gets her rematch with a protomolecule hybrid. One of these creatures killed the rest of her crew. She was the sole survivor of that attack on Ganymede. She was spared for a reason. And now, it seems like she is lucky once more because Katoa gets distracted by something on the horizon. It could be the protomolecule calling out from Venus. But it presents a long enough opportunity for Bobbie to fire her final bullets at the creature's head.
  • Right now, it's more important that Holden gives Jules-Pierre Mao to Avasarala instead of the protomolecule. And yet, the Rocinante hasn't left IO yet. They could still do a more thorough sweep to understand what exactly was happening here. Of course, there may be urgency to depart to some other corner of the system because of the changes on Venus. That being said there is still that sample somewhere on the Rocinante doing whatever.
  • It's so important that Naomi gets the approval of everyone from the team before deciding to use Fred Johnson to eliminate the latest threat from the protomolecule. They all agree that it's the best option they have because they cannot allow this attack on Mars to happen. They don't want a second Venus that will cause even more chaos and destruction. But it also just shows that Naomi has learned from her past mistake even though her beliefs haven't changed.
  • Of course, it's also very curious that Avasarala doesn't voice an opinion when Naomi is detailing her plan to bring Fred Johnson into this mission. She still doesn't know if she can trust him or if recognizing the Belt as a legitimate third government will ultimately help the system in this upcoming war with the protomolecule. And yet, it seems inevitable that the Rocinante will be heading back to Tycho because they'll need the supplies again.
  • It's bittersweet that the show airs such a phenomenal and climatic episode the same week that Syfy announces that it won't be renewing it for another season. I understand why the network made that decision. The financials simply didn't work out for a show they didn't own. And yet, that lack of ownership means that Alcon Entertainment doesn't have to negotiate with other corporate interests in the hopes of getting The Expanse picked up on another network. It will just be curious to see if that happens because the show also has a really weird streaming deal with Netflix.