Wednesday, June 27, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Expanse' - Holden and Ashford Clash on How to Save Humanity in 'Congregation' & 'Abaddon's Gate'

Syfy's The Expanse - Episodes 3.12 "Congregation" and 3.13 "Abaddon's Gate"

As survivors arrive to the Behemoth, two factions form over how to handle a life-or-death threat. Holden grapples with what he's seen and the choices he must make. Holden and his allies must stop Ashford and his team from destroying the Ring, and perhaps all of humanity.

This season of The Expanse has really highlighted the divisions amongst humanity throughout the system. The issues that divide us are so powerful. It's much easier to refuse to see things from another perspective than actually be aware of the world around us and the humans on the other side of the conflict. The divisions have separated this system for so long. The season started with the world at war. There was the tease that the creation of the Ring would be enough to bring the system together in order to explore this mysterious new substance in space. Everyone knew that the threat from the protomolecule on Venus was coming. Then, it arrived. Earth, Mars and the Belt did coordinate the launching of their ships in order to discover what was out there and whether or not it was a threat to their survival. But all it took was one powerful accusation to turn the ships against each other once more. They were locking themselves down on their basic identities. It was a race to come to the answers of the Ring first. Earth, Mars and the Belt were continuing to battle each other for superiority and legitimacy in the system. When the Ring changed the physics of this world, there were many deaths across all of the ships. They were all severely affected equally. There was death and chaos amongst every crew. They were starting to realize that these conflicts may be minor in the grand scale of things because they may never leave the Ring ever again. They may be trapped here without the supplies to actual survival a months-long expedition. Holden was once again the man at the center of all of this chaos because he was seemingly going mad. It makes no sense for him to be seeing and talking to a dead man. And yet, he genuinely believes that the protomolecule showed him visions of the future for a reason. It may be a proclamation of war or that humanity is at its final days. Or it could be showing him the beginning of a new dawn of time where the Ring can expand the limits of the universe as the system currently knows it. It's that mystery and uncertainty that fuels so much of the story in these final two episodes of the season. Yes, it's pushing the limits of science fiction storytelling to the absolute extreme. But it's also grounding it with some terrific character-based drama as everyone is just trying to do their best to survive this whole ordeal.

Everyone is also converging on the Behemoth. That's the ship that becomes the command station for this entire mission. Early on, it felt like Earth, Mars and the Belt didn't want to coordinate their research efforts. They wanted to take personal credit for whatever they found in the Ring. But now, they understand that they need to work together. The leaders and medical personnel of the ships all travel to the Behemoth because it has the capability of creating its own gravitational force. Right now, all of the ships are at the mercy of the protomolecule. It is bringing all of them to the nucleus for some mysterious reason. It changed the rules of physics in this place with the speed limit changing in an instant. And now, they are essentially abandoning their ships. Sure, there are crews still on every ship that is still operational inside of the Ring. But every character of importance is now on the Behemoth. That's an important detail for these final two episodes. So much about this story arc has been about the ways these conflicts continue to divide the system while also finding strange ways to unify them as well. Right now, they understand that they need to be united against this one threat to their humanity. They believe that the Ring is now preparing itself for an attack to wipe out all of civilization. That's certainly the understanding that Ashford comes to after talking with Holden. Holden is still just trying to piece together everything that he saw about the protomolecule and the work it is doing with the Ring. He understands that it's functioning on a much larger level than humanity while also being terrified of some other threat. But right now, the conflict is so personal because humanity is trying to make sense of science that they don't understand just yet.

It's so haunting the moment that the Earth team suggests just firing a nuclear missile into this space for a controlled detonation. It's not to actually launch an assault on the nucleus. It's just to see what the release of that kind of energy will do. It could ultimately free all of the ships from the protomolecule's control over them. It could allow them to increase the speed limit and get out of this place that Holden is now referring to as a graveyard. But instead, it shows just how powerful the protomolecule actually is. It is able to contain this blast and even absorb some of the energy to prepare for what it wants to do next. That's ominous while making Ashford rightfully fear that the Ring's connection to their system is what will ultimately kill everything they have ever known. He believes that the nucleus is powering up to kill them just like Holden warned him. The only way that they can eliminate this threat is by severing the connection between the Ring and the system. That means this is going to become a mission no one from the expedition will return from. They will all be trapped inside of the Ring with no way of getting home. Ashford understands that when he's making this decision. And yet, he sees it as the noble thing to do. They must sacrifice themselves in order to save the human race. Right now, they can't get a message out of this space to warn the system that no one should come in after them searching for answers. Even though the Behemoth has a very powerful antennae that can travel vast distances, it's not powerful enough to break free of the Ring. They can't get a signal or a message out of this place. Instead, Ashford wishes to arm that antennae with the power to actually destroy the outer Ring. He believes that destruction will ultimately lead to Earth, Mars and the Belt being saved from this threat completely even though it means everyone in the Ring will die.

Of course, there is also the worry that the destruction of the outer Ring will only lead to the protomolecule extinguishing all of humanity. There is no guarantee that destroying it will save the rest of the system. In fact, Holden believes that targeting it in such way will only doom them further. Early on here, he just wants to know if his friends are okay. He wants to know if they survived the sudden change in speed. Everyone from the Rocinante is fine and now on the Behemoth. Naomi is back even though she's labeled as a deserter amongst her former crew. She reunites with Holden and is able to share the good news about her being back for good. She never should have left. She had to come to that decision on her own. Holden didn't push her away with his actions. She needed to see if the cause for the Belt was still something she felt passionate about. She thought she did. But she discovered that she cared more about Holden, Alex and Amos. She needed to keep them safe. She has those same feelings about Drummer as well. She's horrified by the reveal that Ashford is now in charge. She believes he committed a mutiny. She doesn't trust that Drummer is still okay. She doesn't know what she is walking into on this ship. And yes, the lines are still drawn with it being Drummer versus Ashford. And yet, it's easy to see how both of them are absolutely right to believe the way that they do. Ashford is the captain who is trying to save all of humanity as his last act in this world. He believes he has come up with the solution that will save everyone based on the information that Holden gave him. Meanwhile, Naomi and Drummer are willing to continue listening to Holden as he communicates with Miller in the hopes of finding a solution that provides more insight into what's going on within the Ring. It's fine for the Ring to perceive these ships as threats. They fired on it and have caused so much chaos and destruction. It may feel justified in eliminating this civilization that doesn't have the capacity to understand it. But it also presents a solution. The ships simply have to turn off their drives and go dark for a moment in order for the Ring to accept that they aren't a threat at all.

However, that's a very daunting mission. It sets up the finale to be very action packed as everyone is racing against the clock to put their plan into motion. Cutting off the power for the Behemoth is going to be the most daunting challenge. And yet, convincing the rest of the ships to power down is arduous as well. That highlights the importance of open dialogue. Anna, Monica, Alex and Amos understand Ashford will try to cut them off the moment they start broadcasting. But they also understand the importance of this moment. Anna is preaching the belief of trying to understand this conflict from all perspectives and finding the strength within ourselves to trust that the benevolent way is the best way to prevent even more bloodshed. She has been on such a fascinating journey this season. She has been billed as this preacher with compassion for all. And yet, that is challenged here by Clarissa whom she struggles to find any redeeming qualities within. She wants to give her the benefit of the doubt. But she's also seeing the world the same way as Amos who just wants to kill her and eliminate the threat. Clarissa has caused so much damage and split the ships in the first place. Is she capable of redemption? It seems like it's going to be a massive mistake the moment that Ashford frees her from the chemicals that are preventing her from utilizing the drugs in her mouth that make her super strong. He needs her to serve as an electrician to help funnel the power to the antennae in order to destroy the Ring. She is in a critical position in regards to that mission as well. Ashford even succeeds in being able to launch a strike. But in the end, there is such a powerful moment when Clarissa understands that there is still the possibility of redemption for her if she does the right thing now. That would help the people of this world change their minds about her. And so, she's the reason why Holden and company are able to succeed in turning off the power.

Sure, it's much more powerful watching Holden, Naomi and Drummer team up in order to stage this attack on the Behemoth. There is so much potential for this mission to go awry somehow. And yes, it does seem like a major character is about to die in a couple of instances. In fact, it seems like Drummer is destined to perish at some point. And yet, she miraculously survives this entire ordeal. She does so even with a broken spine. That's very impressive. She wanted to be the martyr to ensure that Holden and Naomi could finish this mission and save humanity. But it's also just so rewarding to see the two of them be able to drop an elevator on Diogo instead of Drummer needing to sacrifice herself in fighting him. That's rewarding and basically the punishment that he deserved after being so arrogant and cocky about this world. He could never see the bigger picture. He never really took this threat seriously at all. He was loyal to Ashford but Ashford still had to yell at him a number of times to do the right thing. Ashford has more nuance as a character. He's still wrong in this regard. But he believes he's doing what's best based on the information made available to him. He got some insight from Holden but didn't want to keep that dialogue open to better understand this space. But he doesn't die from this disagreement either. Yes, he is attacked by Clarissa in her heightened state. But she doesn't kill him. That allows him to witness what happens next after the ships all power down. The Ring opens many different portals to new worlds for humanity to explore. As such, the journey of discovery is only getting started for these characters. Of course, the season also ends on the note that Miller wanted these rings opened in order to enlist Holden's help in finding whatever wiped out the creators of the protomolecule in the first place. As such, it's a very enticing way to close the season - especially knowing that more episodes are coming.

"Congregation": B
"Abaddon's Gate": A-

Some more thoughts:
  • "Congregation" was written by Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck and directed by Jennifer Phang.
  • "Abaddon's Gate" was written by Daniel Abraham, Ty Franck & Naren Shankar and directed by Simon Cellan Jones.
  • It was weird how the show didn't provide clarity on what happened to Monica and Cohen right away after they were sent out of the airlock to travel through space to the Martian ship. Monica just shows up here as the reporter on the scene offering updates to the people on the Behemoth. As such, that does lesson the impact of learning that Cohen died the moment that he tried to board the Martian ship. But Monica survived to continue getting the news out.
  • For the longest time, it doesn't seem like Miller is going to appear again to Holden. He directed him to the nucleus and gave him this vision of the future and the past. And now, he's gone silent once more. But it's also notable that when he does appear again it's through Naomi and Drummer witnessing it which makes Holden seem like a crazy person. However, Miller does physically appear again at the very end of the finale teasing what's to come as well.
  • Holden also believes that all of this was simply a way for the protomolecule to test humanity. It wanted to see if they were capable of uniting so that they could explore the universe and find the answers that it seeks. He understands that Miller and the protomolecule must have ulterior motives that they are keeping from him. He understands more than he's letting on too because he has seen how this story all began and what the protomolecule is probably looking for.
  • Diogo is really the only character of note who dies in this finale. There was the feeling that many more major characters were about to die. And yes, some of them got into some dire situations here. Drummer was going to sacrifice herself. Ashford was slammed into the monitors. Bobbie was shot in the gut. But instead, they all managed to survive because they still had redemption that was waiting for them. That too is a powerful message to send.
  • Of course, it also seems likely that Bobbie is just going to be loyal to the Rocinante crew moving forward. She chose to return to the Martian marines for this story. She had valuable insights for that crew that were crucial in keeping Holden alive for as long as possible. And yet, those connections also compromised her in the eyes of her fellow marines who ultimately die as soon as they make a move on Amos and Alex.
  • As you are probably aware, The Expanse was cancelled after three seasons on Syfy earlier this year. But fortunately, Amazon picked up the rights for the fourth season. That season will be produced and air in 2019. I'm curious to see how the transition to a streaming service will change the way the show is produced. I'm hopeful it will still cap its episodes to under 45 minutes. That's been one of its greatest strengths. But I'm also hoping that it remains just as imaginative as it has always been as well. This was a terrific season of the show.