Fair warning: this recap includes spoilers for The Expanse that may lure you outside a spaceship—don’t say we didn’t warn you ahead of time!
After a tight season of brinkmanship and a murderous Protomolecule, The Expanse finally delivered what we’ve been dying to see: a cameo from Adam Savage descending to Venus.
The finale episode of season 2, “Caliban’s War,” was a surprisingly contained tale of two thrillers. One set in Jules-Pierre Mao’s (François Chau) rumpus room; the other set aboard the Rocinante.
Holden (Steven Strait) and Naomi (Dominique Tipper) reunited, and Holden took responsibility for the obsession that almost sacrificed his friends and lover. Captain Ahab no longer hungers for the white whale.
After an awkward bit of normality, where Naomi and Alex (Cas Anvar) checked on what repairs needed to get made, the Proto-beast from Project Caliban popped up jump-scare style on their monitor, forcing a newly clear-eyed Holden into a more personal showdown with the super soldier. It was also another chance to witness the rift between Dr. Meng (Terry Chen), who viewed it as a human victim and Holden, who viewed it solely as a weaponized threat.
Holden and Amos (Wes Chatham) jumped right into Plan A, with Plan B being “make sure Plan A works.” After a quick scratch, the Proto-beast threw an incendiary device out the airlock. Was it a weapon? Was it a control device? No time for questions, they started shooting at it, which seemed to do a little damage (or at least irritated it enough for it to throw a cargo container with a mag-lock against Holden).
With Holden trapped, and his air running low, Amos had to escape. The beast was then free to dig into the bulkhead to try to get to the reactor to feed off the radiation. So, no big deal, right? Except that if it breached the reactor plating, everyone aboard would die horribly.
What could they do? How could they kill it? Alex said they should bounce it out. Dr. Meng said they could try electrifying it. Fortunately, Amos knows a lot about how people die, so he came up with a beautifully scientific solution: to pressurize the cargo area until the door and the beast were blown out like Mentos from a coke bottle. The obvious problem with every solution was that they all doomed Holden to martyrdom.
Amos became one of the most fascinating characters this season, and it was in this episode where he reached a point where he admitted struggling with autonomy in a profound way. Beyond serving as a grunt, he ached to understand his own mental and emotional freedom, but that freedom came with a cost. Autonomy and power mean making difficult decisions, and sometimes making the wrong ones.
Alex successfully shut down the drive so the beast would stop digging…which left it free to stalk Holden, who stretched for his gun only to knock it father away. It was a clever little moment that highlighted the sheer difficulty of the situation they were in. Alex, like Mario staring down a Boo, could stall the super soldier, but no one could stop it from either going after the reactor or going after their captain.
In the struggle between the impossible choices, a death-ready Holden implored Naomi to avoid revenge, to ride out the danger somewhere safe. He claimed to regret what he’d led the team to do since discovering the Protomolecule, only because it led them to a space where Holden won’t get to spend more time with Naomi.
With Holden’s death staring them down, Dr. Meng had a hydroponic brainstorm. He used plants to science the shit out of the problem: suggesting they use nukes to lure the beast off the ship of its own accord. Like plants reaching toward the sunlight, the creature would reach for an alternative energy source if they gave it to it.
Amos gets his sentimental conversation with the good captain, saying, in his own charming way, that he hopes he won’t have to kill him, and that he’s been a good man to serve under. Then, like planting a seed in outer space, Naomi and Dr. Meng toss the nuclear core of the missile into dark emptiness with the Caliban beast chasing after its Precious. Naturally, it catches it just in time to be burned up by the Roci’s engine blast. See ya later, Smeagol.
After a knee-slapping celebration, welcoming Holden back from the brink of death, Naomi made a stunning closing argument after a season on the brink of war: No weapon ever brings peace; technology hasn’t stopped violence and war. The Protomolecule is a living reality.
She confesses her deception, that the sample (they contemplated back in the first episode) is safely not in the middle of a sun. She gave it to Fred Johnson. Now everyone has some of it to use how they will.
Back on Mao’s ship, Errinwright’s (Shawn Doyle) communique about killing both the Martian Defense Minister and the planet’s opportunity to kill the Proto-beast on Ganymede has resulted in a nice little firefight. Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), Draper (Frankie Adams), and Cotyar (Nick E. Tarabay) got pinned behind a heavy coffee table, and Cotyar took an inconvenient slug to the chest.
Left with little option, Draper used the computer to locate a maintenance crawl space that led to the elevator shaft. Good thing Cotyar is a paranoiac–he brought Draper’s power armor along just in case things got messy.
Then they got messy.
The lead guard called for a negotiation, and Avasarala called for Cotyar to bleed slower. After a close call in the elevator shaft, Draper beat the hell out of Mao’s personal security team. Maybe he should have paid more for better talent.
Avasarala got one more chance to drop another Avasarala-ism, wrenching Cotyar wound and warning him that he’s not allowed to go into shock. The big question, with guns points in both directions, was whether there was any room for compromise. It always seemed fishy, but the head guard’s proposition is for Cotyar to get to safely and leave Avasarala behind. After all, when important, powerful people start fighting, it’s people like them that die. The grunts. The normal, hard-working salt of the earth (or Mars, or the belt).
Then, Draper reached another puzzle–a dweeb with his hand on a button that locks her out of the transport area. In that moment, her character arrived at a full 180 presaged by her seeking asylum on earth. Does Mao deserve the electrician’s sacrifice? She spun her own false lesson about dignity in noble death, a soldier’s un-considering death, to get him to let her pass. It worked.
Avasarala gambled on not being shot, and the gamble would have left her bleeding out on Mao’s nice flooring if Draper hadn’t stormed in to take out all of Mao’s heavies. Avasarala and her cohorts were left with two vital bits of information: Errinwright screwed them, and Mao wanted them dead.
Meanwhile, the exploratory team on Venus got to play a bit, recognizing the active nature of the Proto-crater. Without any more probes, they set out on an atmospheric flight, racing a Martian ship until it disappeared off their instruments. Then, they disappeared, too. Bursting into a trillion previously-intersecting parts, the crew is left floating in midair as the Proto-sprites buzz around them.
In a little taste of the coming third season, “Caliban’s War” closed with Mei (Leah Madison Jung) being closed up in the same kind of chamber that created the menacing Proto-beast the Roci team wrestled with. There were so many of them. So many pieces of brand new technology that definitely won’t stop violence or war.
SOME STRAY THOUGHTS:
- Can you blast a nuclear missile core with a spaceship engine without it vaporizing everyone?
- Interesting to bring Fred Johnson back into the mix. The show left the OPA drama by the wayside a few episodes back, but there’s no chance the larger plot can be done with them.
- Holden’s willingness to die for his crew, particularly the way he was stuck, mirrored the way Miller thought he’d go out before having to fly into Venus. R.I.P.
- Naomi’s speech felt like a warning for the show, too. It’ll have to evolve into something completely new or risk death.
What do you want from season 3?