As most of the TV season’s other series take a break for a few weeks (or months), Syfy is happy to offer viewers something interesting to watch through the holidays. The third episode of its terrific space drama ‘The Expanse’ really heats up the show’s political intrigue.
At the end of the second episode, the surviving crew of the ice freighter Canterbury had been picked up by the very Martian Navy vessel they believe destroyed their ship. All of them except Alex, the shuttle pilot, get locked up in holding cells and fear for the worst. They expect that they’ll be executed, especially when they find out that Holden’s broadcast blaming the Martians for the attack got out and has escalated anti-Martian tensions throughout the solar system.
(No, the Martians are not little green men. They’re just as human as the Earthers.)
The crew are removed from the brig individually for questioning by an interrogator named Lt. Lopez, who takes a pill that appears to give him some psychic powers to read their thoughts and detect when they’re lying. He’s less interested in asking them about the Canterbury than about playing each of them against the others. He tells Holden that Naomi is an OPA operative and suggests that she was responsible for the attack on the Cant. In turn, he tells Naomi about secrets from Holden’s past (he was dishonorably discharged from the U.N. Navy) and reveals that Garvey the medic faked his medical credentials. After their sessions, the crew are reunited and find Alex wearing a Martian Navy uniform. He admits that he was a former Navy officer and says that they allowed him to clean himself up out of respect for his service. Naturally, this leads the others to question whether he’s been working for the Martians the whole time. In addition to their fear of the Martians, now they all have reasons to distrust one another.
Holden is brought before the ship’s captain. In exchange for his team’s safety, she wants him to make a new broadcast exonerating Mars from any involvement in the Canterbury attack, and specifically wants him to blame the OPA. She then tells him that their ship, the Donnager, is being followed by a mysterious vessel that has refused to make contact. She believes it’s an OPA rescue mission coming for Naomi.
Ever since Holden’s initial broadcast was received, it caused a great deal of unrest on board Ceres station. Miller (Thomas Jane) is ordered to drop the Julie Mao kidnapping case and focus instead on quelling the mobs (especially OPA mobs) causing disturbances. However, he just can’t let the case go, because he believes these events are related. He tracks down Anderson Dawes (Jared Harris), the station’s wily OPA leader. Dawes denies knowing anything about Julie but is clearly hiding something.
Eventually, tensions between the OPA sympathizers and the Martians boil over and erupt into a riot that leaves many dead. In the aftermath, Miller finds a corpse he recognizes from Julie’s online dating profile. Could that be a coincidence?
Even though the riot is over, Miller’s partner Havelock (Jay Hernandez) is ambushed by OPA miners and impaled though the sternum with a drilling tool. It sure looks like he’s a goner.
Much to the dismay of Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), the U.N. refuses to take immediate action against Mars. As much as she’s convinced that Mars is gearing up for war against Earth, the Secretary General wants to take a cautious approach and wait until all the facts are in.
To gather those facts, Chrisjen meets with her old friend Franklin Degraaf (Kenneth Welsh), the U.N.’s ambassador to Mars. She makes the case that Mars is in fact secretly working with the OPA to stir up unrest, with the goal of Mars taking over Ceres station, which will shift the balance of power in the solar system. She tells him about the stealth technology used in the attack on the Canterbury, which could only come from Mars.
Degraaf is not just the ambassador, but a longtime Martian sympathizer. He leaks this information back to Mars. Chrisjen was counting on this. Her intelligence resources monitor top secret communication on Mars and determine that the Martian government immediately conducted a frantic inventory of all stealth technology. They would not have done that unless they worried that some had been stolen. Chrisjen concludes that she was wrong, and Mars wasn’t behind the attack. That being the case, who is trying to start a war?
Unfortunately, as a consequence of her playing him, Degraaf’s diplomatic credentials are revoked and he’s banned from ever returning to Mars. Chrisjen was aware that this would happen and sacrificed her friendship to get the information.
The possible introduction of psychic powers to this story undercuts some of the show’s efforts to play as hard science fiction. I have very mixed feelings about that. However, I’m not sure if the Lopez character is really supposed to be psychic or if the little pills he pops just enhance his ability to read his subjects’ reactions and expressions. Nevertheless, he seems to know things about their personal backgrounds that he wouldn’t otherwise. I hope that this is clarified at some point.
That aside, this is another strong episode. The narrative’s political machinations are very compelling, and I just love the attention to detail in creating the future society. In what seems to be a throwaway moment, Miller and Havelock are accosted by a Mormon missionary on Ceres, who invites them to a standup comedy night. How odd.