The Expanse opened its second season with a double episode, “Safe” and “Doors and Corners.” And it was quite a ride.
We open on Mars in a training program. The four-member team successfully completes an assignment, and when they ask for another, they are told that they’d be going into direct action instead.
On the Rocinante, Jim has nightmares about being infected by the bioweapon that was tested on Eros. Thankfully, they are only dreams, even though he and Miller both are sick from the radiation. Meanwhile, Amos examines the salvaged safe from Anubis and finds a cryo chamber containing a sample of said bioweapon. Listening to the the recordings they found with it, they discover it is thought to be extra-solar, the first proof of extraterrestrial life. Jim and Alex want to fire it into the Sun, but Naomi argues that if there is a way to prepare a vaccine and save some of the people on Eros, they shouldn’t destroy it. They decide to hide it somewhere in the belt instead.
The Martians get ready to fly out to Phoebe Station. Their commanding officer reminds them it’s their mission to stop the war from happening, not the other way round. One of his team members, Bobbie, has an issue with that approach.
On Earth, the UN undersecretary speaks to Julie Mao’s father, telling him about the Mars ship headed to Phoebe station. Mao tells him that has to be stopped at all costs.
On the Rocinante, Miller confronts Amos about killing his friend Sematimba, and tries to punch him. Amos almost kills him, but Naomi intervenes.
On Earth, Chrisjen also narrowly escapes death when a rocket hits her ship, and survives only because she paused before she got on. The UN undersecretary tries to tell her she should rest and take a break from work, but she refuses. Instead, she takes part in a UN executives meeting where they talk about how to react to the increased Martian activity. The undersecretary insists they need to prepare for a strong response if anything happens, and after a moment of tension, Chrisjen agrees.
Miller and Naomi have a friendly chat, about Amos, Julie and other things. Chrisjen speaks to an anti-government spy and engages him to work for her. The Rocinante crew hides the bioweapon in space. After returning from that mission, Jim and Naomi have sex. Bobbie sits with her crew on the Martian ship, shadowed by an Earth one, when they hear that their vessel is firing. They don’t understand why.
The UN meeting is alarmed by the news of the Martian ship firing and Chisjen just manages to prevents an all out war. The captain of the Earth ship contacts the UN a moment later to let them know the shots were not fired at them, but at Phoebe station, which is now destroyed. After some discussion, Chrisjen solves the situation by suggesting they destroy a Martian station instead, as a retaliation for Phoebe. One peace-supporting general resigns from the council when this is agreed upon.
On the Rocinante, Alex makes dinner for everyone so that they can just sit and have a good time. They do, until Miller comes in. Everyone’s smile freezes a little, but they end up getting along fine.
Bobbie talks about the shooting with her commanding officer. She insists that the arms race is costing Mars money they could invest into terraforming their planet instead, and that they should do away with the danger of Earth once and for all. Then they could concentrate on building.
The Rocinante arrives at Johnson’s station, where crew tell him what happened on Eros. Reminding him of Julie Mao, Miller fairly bullies him into giving them support in going to the station where the signal from Eros is transmitting.
Johnson kills a guy who tries to take control of his station from him, and then tells various OPA bosses to send their best fighters for a mission. Alex trains by fighting with the ship, and the rest of the Rocinante crew gets ready in various ways.
Chrisjen speaks with the general who resigned. He tells her she is a terrible person, but she gets the real story of Frank Johnson out of him. Apparently, Johnson didn’t know the Belter station gave up before he destroyed it. The UN kept it from him to send a message to the Belt. He never tried to clear his name, but he left Earth behind. After the conversation is over, Chrisjen speaks to her spy and asks him to put her in touch with Johnson.
Both the Rocinante and the OPA ship head towards the recipients of the Eros signal. Once at their destination, they are met with fire and one pod of OPA fighters is lost. The Rocinante barely survives. The other OPA pod, with Miller in it, arrives safely and explores the station only to find a group of people connected to some virtual reality. When they cut them off, the people turn aggressive and most are shot, before Miller manages to save one. He the finds the OPA boss he knows from back home running the operation.
Johnson and Jim arrive, and together, they all talk to the boss. He explains that they are doing experiments to prepare themselves to fight the race from which the bioweapon comes, to be ready for their attack, and also to bring humanity to new heights. Some sacrifices are necessary for the projects to continue, and he’s willing to work under them as long as it does. Johnson looks like he’s willing to negotiate, asking for all the names and details, but just then, Miller shoots the guy. Several times, for a good measure.
This was excellent, as usual. Frankly, I am not certain what to praise first. The plot is a brilliant continuation of season one. The atmosphere is without fault. The direction, the acting, everything would make me fall in love with this show again, if I ever fell out of love with it. It’s impossible to praise everything that was good, but let me concentrate on some things at least.
Firstly, the inclusion of a Martian point of view. That was the only thing that I seriously missed in the previous season. It was partly supplied by Alex, but as part of the Rocinante crew, he necessarily stands more with the belters. Lopez, sadly, didn’t last long enough. But, it seems we will get this fully in season two.
I love the choice of this particular Martian point of view, too. Bobbie is clearly distinct from the other three protagonists, with different characterization and motivations. I also appreciate that they take care to show a pro-war character without apologizing for her motivations, but also without showing her as simply evil. This show does better with moral ambiguity than the vast majority of what’s on TV.
Plot-wise, I can’t help but question whether her commander would have kept Bobbie on the team if he knew about her opinions. He is fully pro-peace, which is another thing I appreciate. Taking the care to have a Martian contrast with Bobby in this way, to avoid the generalization that they were all military-minded. In his place, I would be worried that Bobby could compromise the operation with her trigger-happy approach. But perhaps he believes her to be reliable in spite of her war mongering. At any rate, when he dreamed of a fully terraformed Mars, I could feel for her perspective, too.
There were many wonderful character moments this episode, in fact. Alex feeling guilty for not saving more people from Eros. Miller and Amos having it out. Miller and Naomi talking. And Chrisjen…oh God, Chrisjen.
Let me be upfront that Chrisjen is exactly the kind of character I adore. She is what I want to be when I grow up, so I might not be very objective in evaluating her. But her not being trusted by either side, having to face accusations, and still quietly and without any credit doing what must be done to stop the war and deal with the situation…that is my jam. She is my kind of hero. And the fact that this part, the part of a high-powered executive, ruthless in many ways, is played by a woman, and a woman of color to boot…honestly, it might have just been enough to get me to love this show on its own.
I like Jim Holden just fine, traditional hero that he is, but Chrisjen…she is perfection. And her code name is Archangel. What is not to love?
In this episode, her scenes were packed with what’s best about her. Her sitting at the UN meeting, watching with bated breath, clenching her fists when it looked like war, offering a solution that wouldn’t start one when it’s obvious deescalation would not be accepted… There was tension in all of those moments. Her inner conflict was almost palpable. And when the resigned admiral cursed her, and she bore it with such dignity, I wanted to kiss her. These scenes were brilliantly done in every way. And she even had a shout-out against mansplaining.
Another bit I enjoyed markedly was the very end. I expected, the whole time, than one of the three would end up shooting the OPA guy. But again, there was tension, suspense. And Miller silently watching the whole time and then shooting him without a word was perfect. Narratively speaking, that is, not that I consider it ethical.
I’d also like to give a shoot-out to the little happy scene of them all eating together. That is a moment of brilliant writing right there. The setting of The Expanse could very easily give rise to the temptation to make it Grimdark. It has dystopian cyberpunk overtones and is set on the brink of an interplanetary war. It doesn’t get much grimmer than that. And yet, they consistently take care to show the good moments between the characters, giving us reasons to care about them. This dinner together, while being such a moment, also served the plot purpose of Amos making peace with Miller. That makes it virtually flawless.
I was glad we got Fred Johnson’s backstory, too. He is definitely no saint, but it adds depth to him and makes some of his decisions more understandable.
In fact, the only bit I am a little unsure about in this double episode is Jim and Naomi becoming a couple. They undoubtedly have chemistry, but at the same time, I was really enjoying having, on screen, a close relationship between a man and a woman that wasn’t sexual or romantic. I’m still torn about it. But it’s a nitpick. A tiny, almost invisible stain on an otherwise perfect piece of work. Keep it up, guys. I’m looking forward to it.