“Whatever happens down there, we’ll deal with it together.”
Finally, after a painful year and a half wait, the return to the wonderfully chaotic world of James Holden (Steven Strait, The Covenant, Sky High, Magic City) and his Rocinante crew is upon us as the mysteries of the extraordinary protomolecule remains just that, as the government bickers over the next steps now that there are more than thirteen hundred habitable systems now open for humanity to explore and settle.
For those not familiar with The Expanse—if any of you are reading this STOP right now and start season one ASAP!—it’s been nearly a year since Holden’s actions at the Ring Gate saved humanity and created paths to more than thirteen hundred new systems. In that time, quite a few things have changed for some of our major characters while for others, it’s business as usual. For Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo, The Punisher, Grimm, 24), she’s muck deep in the system’s politics, both due to the Ring Gate and so many people wanting to head the ‘gold rush’ of new lands while maintaining the tenuous truce between Earth, Mars, and the Belt. She’s still the intimidating, f-bomb swearing Avasarala, but even she’s nervous about what the Ring Gate represents.
After receiving communications from Ilus, the first Ring world colonized (by a group of previous displaced Belters), she sends Holden and his Roci crew to investigate the presence of ruins. It appears from their distinction to be related to the protomolecule and, as such, the Roci’s primary job, other than to backup to the Edward Israel science crew sent to necessary catalog of the new world, is to gauge the ruins’ threat level and if circumstances dictate, destroy it.
Though The Expanse has, since the beginning, been littered with a plethora of amazing characters, the Roci crew (they’re more family than crew) is the heart of the show. Not much has changed between them since the Gate’s opening. Naomi’s (Dominique Tipper, The Girl with All the Gifts) got a new ‘do but she and Holden are stronger than ever. Holden’s still dealing with visits from the once-dead Miller (Thomas Jane, The Mist, The Punisher, Hung) while Alex (Cas Anvar, Room, Argo, The Strain) and Amos (Wes Chatham, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, The Unit) are their usual selves.
In a way, a surprise in “New Terra” is Amos’s unlikely kinship with Clarissa Mao (Nadine Nicole, Casual, The Village) who, less than a year ago, did everything she could to gain revenge on Holden for his part in taking down her father, Jean-Pierre Mao, a major player in the chaos created by the protomolecule. Alex maintains his own bond with Bobbi Draper (Franki Adams, Mortal Engines, Shortland Street), who’s having a rough time dealing with civilian life. With these glimpses into the new circumstances in everyone’s life, The Expanse continues in its excellence of providing a satisfactory reference of time to the narrative but also framing the changes that time has had on all the significant players (and there are quite a few).
Despite the joy in revisiting our wonderful menagerie of characters for the first time in what seems like forever, there’s an unmistakable tension seeded throughout “New Terra”. It ranges from the strain experienced by Belters like Ashford (David Strathairn, Lincoln, Billions, The Blacklist), whose role as border security for Medina Station—the hub presiding over the Ring space — puts him at odds with his Belter heritage. The Belters are understandably myopic, only able to see the generations of prejudice and mistreatment they’ve suffered at the hands of both Mars and Earth. To them, Ashford is a welwala, a sellout to the planets, forgetting where he came from. Even though he knows how important and fragile the peace is, as a staunch representative to the Belt’s interests in Season Three, Ashford’s torn between the pain of hurting his people versus the necessity of maintaining order lest everything devolves into a lawless-like Wild West. The indomitable Camina Drummer (Cara Gee, Strange Empire, Red Rover), now in charge of Medina has no such compunctions, despite her Belter heritage. She’s still healing from the debilitating back injury suffered during last season’s Ring fiasco and, every bit as intimidating as Avasarala, Drummer understands why the sanctity of the Ring must be kept intact.
The looming uncertainty surrounding the protomolecule continues to be a major part of the narrative, with the spectre of Miller presses that entering the Ring is essential to finding the “next clue to the case”. It’s an ominous but necessary step for the entire system and could provide a clue as to the fate of the protomolecule’s creators.
“New Terra” is a beautiful reintroduction to The Expanse’s incredible host of characters. Whether viewers haven’t stepped into the world since the end of last season or have recently finished the series, “New Terra” is a shining example of how to do a premiere. It’s effortless in reminding us of past events while weaving in the changes in the lives of our favorite characters. It also adds another layer to the protomolecule’s mystery in the ruins on Ilus and introducing another (possibly) inorganic threat to the colonists in the flying swarm of razors. Are these mysterious remains of a long-dead civilization a danger to humanity or a boon? Or are they a dreaded harbinger of the dangers yet to come?
Tilting at Windmills
• Call me bias, but The Expanse is the best show out there (sorry Mandalorian). The richness to these characters is astonishing and we’ve already seen from the past that, even the antagonists are created with such care that even their motivations, however disagreeable, can at least be understood. The writing continues to be uncannily focused, all but eliminating superfluous detail. I got into the book series years ago and as much as I loved James S.A. Corey’s original work, this show has surpassed it in nearly every way.
• The most memorable moment in “New Terra” has to be Naomi’s first experience on a planet’s surface. The grueling trial she puts her body through to prepare for it is admirable, but Dominque Tipper’s reaction after stumbling for a second on the walkway, a combination of awe and joy, made me tear up. It’s a testament to Tipper’s performance and the brilliance of the writing team to craft such a character that something this small (in the grand scheme of the narrative) is so impactful.
• The science of The Expanse, while certainly taking liberties here and there (even medical dramas do this) is as accurate as can be, when paired with the theories of advancement a few hundred years will give us. That continued here, not only with Naomi’s physical regimen to prepare a body that’s never experience a planet’s natural gravity but also something like the need to retrofit the Roci for a planetary landing. I’ve only just started Mars (a brilliant docu-series in its own right) and that, along with The Expanse builds upon the established grounds of current science better than any shows within the last two decades, perhaps in history.