UK TV review: The Expanse Season 2 (Episodes 4 to 7 – spoilers)
Excitement & jeopardy9
Ian Winterton | On 16, Sep 2017
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not watched up to Episode 7 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 middle episodes, binge-reviewing as we go.
It turns out Miller’s cosy chat with the Mormons wasn’t a bid to save his mortal soul, but a front for a nifty spot of recon. This was an opportunity for some nice world-building, as Mr Mormon explained that, bolstered by faith, the passengers would all head off on their interstellar trip knowing that neither they, nor their grandchildren even, would reach the ship’s destination. This willingness to sacrifice one’s own life so others might live Miller evidently finds puzzling. Little does he know that very soon he’ll be doing just that.
The journey to this shocking climax in Episode 5 is quick – arguably too quick. The pacing and plotting has previously been one of The Expanse’s strengths, but here, the wheels start to come off. It’s as though the writers have got too much damn story to squeeze in and, for the first time, the show starts to buckle under the weight of too many storylines.
And yet it remains an exciting ride, not least because all our disparate characters are all focused on one thing: dwarf planet Eros, controlled by Julie Mao under the influence of the proto-molecule, leaving its orbit and hurtling towards Earth. Keen-eared viewers will have been expecting a space-rock to get chucked at Earth at some point, due to Chrisjen’s rooftop musing last season about the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, but Eros is even bigger. In terms of drama, jeopardy doesn’t come much bigger.
It’s a shame, then, that the fantastic scenario doesn’t quite live up to its potential. All right, so having it smashing into Earth probably wasn’t a goer – although it would have been the sort of game-changer the series could perhaps do with – but the way the crisis unfolded was dissatisfying. Miller’s obsession with Julie has only really paid lip-service and, although she appeared to him from time to time, it didn’t feel convincing that he’d die to be with her. It didn’t help that the build up to that climactic sacrifice – stomping around with a portable nuke – was more silly than thrilling.
A lot of plot-strands were left hanging, too. The theft of the Mormon spacecraft, which involved Johnson risking everything he’d built since siding with the Belter rebels, didn’t really amount to much, especially as the really important part was Johnson being handed control of Earth’s nuclear missiles. More subtle, but surely included for a reason, was the scene earlier in the season when Julie’s father, Jules-Pierre Mao, points out the tree that his daughter used to use for target practice. Surely this is the one spot in the universe she – with Eros in tow – was trying to hit one last time?
This drop in quality is an especial shame, as it comes in service of scenes that, unless there are plot twists to come, means the end of the road for Miller. Although he began the show intended to have equal weight with Chrisjen and Holden, the narrative always felt skewed to make him that little bit more important, a feeling no doubt enhanced by Thomas Jane’s wonderful performance. And his haircut. Killing Miller off doesn’t feel like a Game of Thrones-style bold move, but a disappointing misstep. He grumbled in an early episode that the proto-molecule was “just more fucking death”, and that’s ultimately how it feels here: a fantastic concept reduced, through hurried and perfunctory plotting, to an unexciting and pedestrian event.
Bringing characters back from seemingly irreversible death isn’t usually a good move, but Miller’s resurrection would be welcome for myriad reasons, not least because he got all the best lines. (“I’m gonna take my pet nuke for a walk,” he growled, as he plodded his way towards Julie.) There is a kernel of hope that Miller will rise again. With a mission embarking to investigate Eros’s impact crater on Venus, perhaps they will find Miller and Julie alive, although perhaps hugely changed. “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world,” mused the President of Earth, for some reason quoting Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, “the master calls a butterfly.” Could it be that Miller, new and improved by the proto-molecule, will rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes?
But, in Episode 6, of Miller there was no sign. Fittingly entitled Paradigm Shift, it refocuses our attention on Martian soldier Sgt. Draper as she and her fire-team, patrolling the surface of Jovian moon Ganymede, see six Earth soldiers running towards them, fast approaching the demarcation line. Although it appears the Earthers are shooting at something pursuing them, a fire-fight breaks out and, almost instantly, Earth and Martian spacecraft are blasting hell out of each other.
Bad news for the colonists of Ganymede but, for fans of The Expanse, it’s a lift. An exciting sequence built around a character we care for – Draper – and with a stonker of a cliffhanger, it indicates that the dip in quality was a blip. The improvement continues in Episode 7, as we’re treated to the return of Jared Harris’ brilliantly bonkers turn as terrorist leader Dawes, and his abduction of scientist Cortazar. Holden and Naomi, somewhat sidelined these last few episodes, also get good scenes, as their burgeoning romance is threatened by secrets they’re both keeping from one another.
And Sgt. Draper, insisting that the seventh soldier “wasn’t wearing a vac-suit”, at last gets pulled into the web of lies, deceit and intrigue. Seeing this straight arrow and fierce Martian patriot faced with the Machiavellian reality of life promises to be great drama.
If Miller has gone for good, it’s a damn shame, but there are still dozens of reasons why The Expanse remains one of the best shows on TV right now.
The Expanse Season 1 to 3 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription from 8th February 2019.
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Photo: Shane Mahood/Syfy