With the first episode of The Expanse's third season, "Fight or Flight," everything has changed but the series still feels the same. Same snare-tight plots. Same boiling tension. Same gorgeous interplanetary scenery. Same Avasarala mic drops.
It starts right where the nuclear blast of the finale left us: a Roci crew divided by Naomi's (Dominique Tipper) "betrayal" of giving the protomolecule to Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman) so the Belt could have a blue dog in the fight; Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), Draper (Frankie Adams), and Cotyar (Nick E. Tarabay) stuck on Mao's pleasure ship; and the UN hemming and hawing about a potential peace treaty with Mars.
So what's changed?
War. It's the threat bubbling underneath the surface since the very first episode, given fresh life with a casual wave of the hand from Errinwright (Shawn Doyle). After all this time, after all that cautious diplomacy, after all the breath-holding following the deaths on Ganymede it's almost funny how simple it was.
Avasarala's team spent the entirety of the episode escaping from a ship targeted with missiles and, with one hell of a head start, Errinwright browbeats Secretary General Gillis (Jonathan Whittaker) into declaring war within his first few minutes back. It's a terrifying lesson: prime everyone for an oncoming fight, and they become that much more pliable and eager to start one.
What that means for this season isn't clear yet. Can Earth hold back after such a declaration? Will Mars show restraint? Can further movement from the protomolecule still unite the factions?
Regardless of the future, this moment was a true anti-Independence Day move. Forget the flowery speech from President Bill Pullman. We got Errinwright barely raising his voice and a Google news alert to let Holden (Steven Strait) know that war was on.
Errinwright also painted Avasarala as a traitor (and referenced the assassination of the Martian ambassador with a straight face!). You've got to appreciate Avasarala's unwillingness to die as well as Cotyar's loyalty and Draper's pure martial ability. It's a good thing she'd seen Star Trek: First Contact so she could space walk along the side of the ship to help get her and Avasarala to a racing ship while missiles bore down on them. The prospect of her teaming up with Avasarala for the foreseeable future is thrilling. The seasoned politician can deliver ice cold disses with a voice like gravel's been stuffed into a tutu, and the Martian marine can cold-cock anyone who gets in their way.
Should they get their own spin-off sitcom? Yes. Should it be called Chrisjen Confidential or My Favorite Martian? I can't be the one to make that call.
At any rate, here's hoping that Draper's last line as they zoomed away in a rich girl's race was aimed at the audience. "Brace for impact." Yes, ma'am.
What was most aggravatingly satisfying about the episode was that there was no real closure for the Roci crew. Alex (Cas Anvar) was desperate for the in-fighting to be over, confronting an increasingly nihilistic Amos (Wes Chatham) and getting absolutely nowhere. What's worse (and deeply delightful) is that the chill still exists between Naomi and Holden. They were mostly all on board with changing their course to go help find Prax's (Terry Chen) daughter—who we know is in a creepy sleep chamber controlled by Dr. Strickland (Ted Atherton)—but there was no honest cohesion.
They are as divided as they've ever been, war has arrived, and every side has their own extra-system biological weapon that turns people into super soldiers or infects whatever it touches until the fun planet you love looks like Doctor Manhattan redecorated FernGully.
In other words, The Expanse has successfully set up a season where everything has fallen apart, and the people we've trusted so far to clean up the messes are at each other's throats. I cannot wait for next Wednesday.
Some Stray Thoughts:
- With a ship that large, wouldn't it need to be built from a non-magnetic metal? And, if so, how would you walk on the outside of it?
- Errinwright looks like Hooli founder Gavin Belson from Silicon Valley so I assume Belson is his great-great-great-great-grandfather.