Episode Grade: B
This episode of the Expanse sees the Rocinante touch down on Io, but with a minimum of fanfare. Such a minimum, and with the cost-saving decision do do it off camera, that it took me a second to realize that Holden and his crew had landed there. But they are on Io now, with the UN and MCRN fleets above them. The hybrids have been launched, by Admiral Nguyễn at an undisclosed target (I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count), and we’re in the end-game of Caliban’s War.
This episode was significantly streamlined from those that came before. Not only did we not revisit the OPA of course, but after Anna got her intel on Errinwright we leave her hanging as well. Instead, all of the action takes place in the Jovian system, split between The Roci, the UNN’s Agatha King, the Hammurabi of Mars, and Mao’s base on Io. This streamlining serves the episode well, And though I wouldn’t consider it a true classic, it’s a riveting hour in many ways. But it’s also waiting for the other shoe to drop.
So let me go on record saying “that’s okay.” Not every episode needs to be the fireworks factory. This one does a great job getting us ready to encounter the climax, and surprised me with how invested I could get in some tertiary characters. To wit:
Wow, one of last week’s Martians returns! I was expecting we’d seen the last of those blokes, but it was a great choice to give the audience an “in” to the Martian Fleet. In one fell swoop, I felt the dread over the possible escalation of the encounter. I didn’t want that shit-heel Nguyễn to fire on the Martians: Not only because he was fighting for bullshit, but because not only our returning Martian tech, but the CO of the cruiser seemed a good human. And I didn’t want them to die.
Meanwhile, the fissures developing on the Agatha King could very well come off as contrived and sudden, and I’m not sure that as I think about it, they’re not sudden and contrived. But they do make sense, and there’s an emotional investment in Admiral Souther making it, and Nguyễn getting his. The way it all went down on the UNN ships left me scratching my head a bit as to how I was supposed to feel, and wondering if this show wasn’t running into its budget. It looks like Souther’s dead, and his loyal peeps on the Agatha are certainly worm-food, and that’s fair. It sucks, but that happens. Hopefully, Cotyar can wreak vengeance. Vengeance, I say!
Once we went outside the King to the rest of the UNN fleet I was a bit less sold though. When Nguyễn fired on the Jimenez, I accepted that the ship he sneered at as a “PT boat” wouldn’t have the PDCs to blast the incoming torpedo, but only in hindsight. And from there, we’re only given to learn that all the UNN ships are blasting each other to shreds based on a Martian’s read of their radar screen. It feels like this would have been a scene which would have benefitted from more showing, less telling, but that would have necessitated more time than the episode could devote to all these UNN ships, and possibly more of a budget. As it was, it seemed like things turned against Nguyễn’s faction pretty fast, to the point where he opted to make his final move of launching the hybrids, but the path to that point could have been better trod.
On Io… Okay. It’s humbling to not only be wrong, but to be wrong, then reassess, and find that your reassessment didn’t go far enough in establishing how wrong you were. Two weeks ago, I was all like “Jules-Pierre grew himself a conscience!” Then last week, I said “nevermind, but he’ll probably save Mei at the cost of everyone else, which is still a selfish, shitty thing to do.” Now? Holy hell, he sells out the life of this young girl, whom he was able to connect in his mind to his daughters. He hardly takes time to blink before he decides Mei’s life doesn’t balance the protomolecule knowledge he and his team can acquire. What scum. I’ll refrain from further thoughts about Io and poor Katoa, except to say that it looks like he’s reaching the end of his line.
And on the Roci? Nothing happens. Seriously, there is no forward movement in any plot lines. This isn’t utterly without precedent, as things have been moving slow for the past two weeks. And at least there’s good character development regarding the family. Avasarala admits she wants the protomolecule, Naomi admits to having a son (was that established in the TV ‘verse?), and most touching of all, Alex’s son Melas (Hindi for “festival”) sends him a message to contradict his mom. It takes a bit of a stony heart not to get choked up at hearing him say “I’m proud to be your son.” Of course, his mother is more right about Alex than Melas is (Alex isn’t particularly “protecting” Mars), and I hope he never joins up, but it’s sweet that the connection is there.
And then our heroes get to Io. Bobbie’s gearing up to deal with any hybrids she may come across, though under-armed. Prax is getting marksmanship lessons. And we leave off on the surface of Jupiter’s sulfurous moon, and Holden and crew look to break into the research site just in time to save Mei from fate worse than death. And what does that make them? Big damn heroes. (Ain’t they just?)
See you next week!