Episode Grade: A-
Quick note before I begin: I’ve been catching up on Season 5 of “Arrow,” this last week, as well as S2 of “Jessica Jones,” and by sheer coincidence got triple-dosed on Terry Chen (Prax) this week! (He was Yao Fei in Arrow’s first season, and appeared in a flashback) And not for nothing, but after seeing him in JJ: DAAAMN. Dude is jacked. Testament to the show’s costuming and Chen’s acting that he doesn’t seem so physically imposing in The Expanse.
There are times when it’s a real boon to be a book-reader while watching this show as it deviates from the source material. Two weeks ago, the entire Roci plotline was one such time, as the Martian rescuees provided story beats I couldn’t guess, and managed to generate some pathos in the process.
There are also moments of that in tonight’s episode, particularly I’m thinking of the scene between Cotyar and the UNN officer Larson. One outstanding thing about this show I’ve come to appreciate is how much life it can infuse even into characters whose on-screen life is limited to a single scene.
But this week was also the first time when I felt a bit chagrined because of my expectations from reading Caliban’s War. Now that we’ve gotten there, I can say without spoiler tabs that it was pretty obvious that we’d have a Bobbie vs. Katoa battle at some point this season. But I was disappointed, not that the show strayed from the book, but that it made the scene less interesting in doing so. What we get on-screen is a simple linear chase which is fundamentally uninteresting apart from the stakes to our Sgt. Draper. But the confrontation in the novel hinges on Bobbie’s ability to analyze the hybrids’ strengths and weaknesses and use them to her advantage. So I admit that I was underwhelmed by the showdown tonight, though of course I appreciated Bobbie’s salvo at Avasarala: “Ma’am, for once in your life would you please shut the fuck up!”
Similarly… I really wish that I was able to feel more satisfaction by Errinwright’s downfall, but it all felt rather pro forma tonight. I don’t want to totally poo-pooh the scene, because I rather liked how Errinwright called out the Sec-General’s terrible habit of parroting the last person he’d spoken to, and I also liked how Esteban somehow managed to steal any triumph Anna might have felt by suggesting that he’d as soon use Errinwright’s fall, not to stop the war with Mars but to pin its blame on an underling. But overall, I’m just tired of this politicking. I’m ready for Anna and Elizabeth Mitchell to have something else to do than try and be Jiminy Cricket to Earth’s government. I may have said it before, but it was a lot less frustrating with Avasarala in her position, because at least that woman had some authority.
But for those complaints, this was a great episode of The Expanse. The efforts of the Rocinante‘s crew to rescue Mei and stop the protomolecule attack on Mars* were gripping stuff, for the most part, and at one point transcendent.
You know, I think this episode is a series best for Prax. When Bobbie led the boys into battle against the defending scientists, and Prax came out guns blazing, I was afraid they were somehow going to make him somehow have gained battlefield competence. Then in the next shot Amos is yelling at the dumbass to take cover before shooting… OK, I needn’t have worried. And the scene I referred to above, is the climax of a 1 1/2 season character arc: the reunion of Praxideke and Mei Meng. Honestly, the relief of this scene alone would be enough to redeem a weaker episode than this. And it’s only part of the perfect sequence where we see Dr. Strickland get his just desserts.
To be clear: Nothing about this scene is very surprising. That they show Prax wanting to kill the mad doctor; that Amos stops him; and that Amos turns around from telling Prax “you’re not that guy,” to telling the Doc “I am that guy.” This isn’t exactly revelatory scripting. But it’s well acted, well shot, and well earned. And not every scene needs to be a surprising one: There’s comfort in seeing a scene unfold as you expect it to sometimes.
“Immolation” seems to take its title from the fate both of many of the launched hybrids, and that of Cotyar, who blows himself and the Agatha King to… well, to King-dom Come. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hoping to see him get out of that scrape, as Cotyar was a welcome presence and personality on this show, giving Avasarala especially someone to play off of. Alas; Cotyar RIP.
This episode obviously marks the end of a large part of the season’s storyline: Mei is rescued, Mao is captured, and Errinwright under arrest. The Earth-Mars War should, all things considered, be drawing to a close. It was already pretty clear that following this, we’d have to check in with the season’s great hanging plot, the seizure of the Nauvoo by the Outer Planet Alliance. And now in addition to that? I guess Venus is going to have something to say about how the rest of the seasons progresses. See you next week!
Post Script: Can we stop and admire the stupidity of such a plan, sending the hybrids to decimate Mars? I really think we needed to get more of a sense that Admiral Nguyễn was bat-shit insane in order to understand his thinking in infecting all of Mars with proto-goo. I mean, even if he succeeds and wipes out Mars, how the hell does this bode any better for Earth than the status quo? Dude’s crazy, we just needed to see it more.
Post Post Script: Obviously, it sucks past stating that Syfy passed on Season 4 of this show, but those who’ve looked at the numbers are right: this was definitely a money-losing venture for the station. Our very own Tết Nguyên Đánukkai (no relation to the Admiral) linked to a petition page for Netflix or Amazon to save the Expanse, and I recommend signing it. Netflix has passed, but you can contact Amazon Studios and let them know this is a series to pick up. I was going to cancel Prime myself after the rate hike, but let them know that I honestly would renew if the Expanse found a home there. Do your bit, koyo!