Episode Grades: B+; B
Season Grade: A-
In the close of this season, I’ve been thinking about Syfy’s cancellation of Expanse, and what that means for how this outstanding show is made. This show really should have been a flagship of the channel it was on, but for various reasons, including the changing way that people watch TV these days, it really wasn’t at Syfy. I expect that the show’s producers kinda knew they were on the bubble this season, which may have led them to try and race to the end of the third book in the “Expanse” series of novels. At least, that’s the impression that I get, because both Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War got full seasons-and-a-half (overlapping), but Abaddon’s Gate had to make do with a single half season.
That it works so well, even when the show’s writers are obviously straining to bend the narrative of the final two episodes into a shape that works as a climax and possible series ending, is a a testament to those writers, and the crew and cast. Still, the seams definitely show, particularly in the handling of two characters: Clarissa Mao and Klaes Ashford.
Both characters suffer from the same problem here at the end of the season: They’re not given enough time to make the character development work. Honestly, I doubt there’s any way the show could give enough time to Clarissa in two episodes, to justify her change of heart and decision to save Holden at the end. Just listening to him talking about sacrificing himself in the cell next door, and a couple conversations with Anna did it, I guess.
Ashford, meanwhile, is the show wanting to have its cake and eat it too. The message the show tries to get across (and it’s an interesting one) is that both sides in the showdown on the Behemoth are trying to do what’s right. Ashford’s attempt to destroy the Ring is an act of self-sacrifice (and the sacrificing of everyone else in the Slow Zone) to save the Solar System from the ire of the precursor civilization’s station. Anna flat out tells Amos that hatred is not the answer in situations such as these.
Still… the show clearly needs to signal that Ashford’s the antagonist, so while we see the brig guard’s pledge of loyalty to Team Drummer, we don’t see any similar scenes on the other side, with OPA officers who might tell Camina that she’s a crap captain, and that at least Ashford knows how to lead people. We also see the use of that well-worn trope, the “bad captain” summarily executing someone who questions his decision.
Look: This isn’t exactly out-of-character for Ashford, and it doesn’t take too much squinting to make it mesh with his earlier actions: This captain isn’t going to brook insubordination, for one, he might think that he doesn’t have a brig to work with, and he threatened Diogo with spacing not too long before. But it’s still at least a little at odds with Ashford’s objecting to Drummer doing much the same thing in “Delta-V.” In order to fully realize the theme of both sides are making reasonable choices given the information in front of them, we needed some more understanding of how this fundamentally reasonable character becomes a fundamentally unreasonable character.
But the show almost gets there with Ashford! The last three episodes do a good job of showing how he arrives at the strategy which he does. I haven’t counted it up, but I think Ashford’s likely the person who gets the most screen-time in the last two episodes. And David Straithairn, of course, of course knocks it out of the park. His character comes out of the season looking a little inconsistent, as opposed to wholly incongruous with itself, like poor Clarissa, whose defining character trait until the last 10 minutes was being a James Holden terminator. This is the real problem with truncating the events of Abaddon’s Gate to seven episodes: Not so much with plot but with characters.
The way the show alters the Behemoth storyline from the novel (without giving too much away) is perfectly fine, and in some ways better than the written counterpart. Ashford’s a much, much better character on the show, and I hope they get Straithairn back in the future. But the first season of the Expanse didn’t feel rushed the way this season did, with its need to finish off Caliban and get through Abaddon. A big part of that is just the type of show this has become: Particularly with the pruning of the Miller-Ceres and Avasarala-Earth plots, the show’s become much more action-oriented, and fast-paced. We’re less likely to see anymore, plots created out of whole cloth in future seasons, which is in some ways a shame, as they can offer unexpected treasures like Arya Stark and Tywin Lannister together (any Song of Ice and Fire readers know what I mean).
And yet, if this show is less about world-building and more about plot these days, it’s still a series which does very well at telling a story, and at giving its audience characters to care about and for. Prax and Mei Meng were part of this season, after all. Cotyar, Bobbie, and Anna Volovodov, too. Chrisjen Avasarala and the crew of the Good Ship
Tachi Pinus Contorta Lollipop Rocinante, may she sail on for years to come.
I don’t know how many seasons this show will kick around Amazon Studios, nor how long those seasons will be. My hope is for “just enough.” Certainly, a bit more space* in number of episodes could give some characters more space to breathe which would be welcome. Not so much that the show loses the tightness of its plotting, certainly, but it could stand to loosen up a little bit. I could also hope for a bit more money thrown at the FX department, because episode 11 aside (see below) the visuals of this show felt like a step down this season. Not bad by any means, but not up to the standards set previously.
And that’s about as far as I can take criticism of Season 3 of Expanse, which was just an outstanding program; among the best on TV this year, I’d say. Had it turned out to be the end of the line, it wouldn’t have been a bad way to die. But happily, we can see what Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby have in store for Cibola Burn and Nemesis Games, and hopefully on from there. And whatever the hell that thing Holden saw was. Until then!
I didn’t get in a review for “Fallen World,” which is a damn shame, because it’s up there with “Delta-V” for season best. The Zero-G fire looked great, the wreckage aboard the Prince looked great, and I was just really impressed that the show took the time to show the results of the sudden slowdown. Also, the scenes between Drummer and Ashford were outstanding. Good on the show for not going the mutiny route to get Klaes in command of the Behemoth. Episode Grade: A
Damn, they killed Tilly! Unexpected and very sad.
Ha, they killed Diogo! Unexpected and very cathartic.
Wow, I barely mentioned the Roci crew at all. I will say that like the show seems to be, I’m ‘shipping me some Bobbie and Alex, so long as we don’t get a stupid portmanteau of their names. I also love Amos unreservedly.
Damn you Syfy for doing the double-header season finale. I wasn’t expecting or ready for it, and this is why, dear commenters, I’ve been keeping you waiting for your talking-space. Lo siento.
And this has been fun! I’ve really enjoyed writing about many of the episodes this season. Next year I hope to be back, but I’ll have to see the release schedule by Amazon: No way am I gonna be able to binge-watch and review. Still, I imagine we’ll work something out to celebrate this great show, sasa ke?