Warning: This contains spoilers. Not watched up to the finale of The Expanse Season 2? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episodes here.
Welcome back to our reviews of The Expanse Season 2, as we work our way through its final episodes, binge-reviewing as we go.
Still no Miller.
Ok, so there are a hell of lot of other characters to root for – most notably, Martian marine Sgt. Draper and the conscience of the Rosinante crew, Naomi – but there’s very much a Miller-shaped hole in The Expanse. His absence might not be so noticeable were it not for the fact that the lazy plotting that crept into the show in earlier episodes continues here. In fact, in places it’s even worse.
Episode 8, coming off the back of an exciting cliffhanger with Sgt. Draper’s encounter with a mysterious super-soldier able to survive unaided in a vacuum, is especially disappointing. We’re introduced to a new character, botanist Dr. Praxidike ‘Prax’ Meng, sweating with other refugees from the destroyed Ganymede domes. Played by Terry Chen, stalwart of many sci-fi and fantasy TV shows (The 100, Van Helsing, The Returned), he’s an intriguing enough character – all quiet, science-y logic in a world where everyone else’s first option is to reach for their gun – but his introduction is the weakest episode of The Expanse so far. We have a taste of ethnic cleansing 23rd century-style as, for some reason, “inners” (those humans from the inner worlds) are flushed out the airlock to die. This shocking development, though, is revealed as naught but padding – nothing comes of it, bar Prax’s 30-second attempt to alert the authorities when he arrives on Tycho Station.
By then, though, he’s come to the attention of the Rocinante crew, who have linked him to a nefarious scientist working for the Protogen company on research involving the protomolecule. With the abduction of Prax’s daughter key to events, it’s hardly a staggering surprise when it’s revealed that the monster/soldier on Ganymede was once a young child.
Also predictable is Sgt. Draper’s story, with the Martian administration implausibly taking her with them to Earth; maybe, unlike everyone watching the show, the Martians didn’t know that rigidly loyal soldiers in drama always end up whistle-blowing. Draper’s dash across the quad – which she somehow managed, without anyone even so much as tackling her – to defect to Earth was a beat we could see coming a lightyear off (unlike, say, in The Man in The High Castle, when a similar twist really floored the viewer).
Sloppier yet is the show’s handling of Naomi and Holden’s relationship. He’s full of darkness and seemingly willing to do anything to bring the bad guys to book, and Naomi (mostly) doesn’t approve – which is fine as far as it goes. But when she suddenly ups and leaves the group to go and help some refugees, it feels less like convincing characterisation and more like expediency on the part of the writers – they needed a quick fix to get a POV character into the refugee storyline. Not that, really, it comes to all that much. Before we know it, Naomi is back with the Rocinante like nothing had ever happened.
Over-convenient events occur too, over in Chrisjen’s narrative. For all the supposed political intrigue, it’s rather disappointing that Chrisjen eventually learns a huge chunk of the truth, simply because Errinwright suddenly decides to unburden himself. His switching of sides does lead to a few surprises, though – not least his assassination of Martian diplomat Korshunov.
There is a lot of good stuff, of course. Production values remain first-rate and, while the storytelling standards might be slipping, individual scenes remain strong. Each character gets their share of nice moments; Draper’s walk through NYC to see the ocean for the first time is particularly well handled. The occasional scenes on board the probe sent to Venus, with a fun dynamic developing between Dr. Iturbi (Ted Whittall) and Colonel Janus (Conrad Pla), are among the best moments in the latter episodes – we can look forward, hopefully, to more of that strand developing in the now confirmed Season 3.
But, after the high drama of Eros almost hitting Earth, and the death of Miller, the remainder of Season 2 has felt somewhat lacklustre. The Alien-esque incursion of the proto-soldier onto the Rocinante felt tired and, thrilling as it was to see Sgt. Draper in her battle suit on the duplicitous Jules-Pierre Mao’s luxury space station, the final episode felt more like a mid-season break – and not a pretty unremarkable one at that – rather than the climatic finale.
That Season 3 has been commissioned is a good thing – there’s still a lot of intrigue to look forward to: Dawes with his stolen nukes and his abducted scientist, and Johnson, a pariah to both Earth and the O.P.A with a cache of protomolecule. But the The Expanse has definitely lost some of the magic that made it a hit. With so much potential in the show’s world, surely the creative team can get it back on track. There remains one major problem: Miller. All right, so if he turns out to be alive within the crater on Venus that might be corny, but if he is dead dead, then there needs to be something – both in terms of emotion and narrative – to fill the void.
Over all, this second season of The Expanse has been a patchy affair – mostly solid, occasionally brilliant, but marred by missteps. Many other shows would still kill to be this good, but The Expanse had – and hopefully still has – the promise to be as great a sci-fi drama as Battlestar Galactica. Let’s hope Season 3 sees it start living up to it.
The Expanse is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.
Photo: Shane Mahood/Syfy