‘The Expanse’ 1.03 Recap: “Earth Must Come First”

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.

Episode Verdict

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.


  1. Tony C

    I had tried to post a detailed explanation of the pill that Lopez took, but your server rejected my post as “a little spammy,” which is quite a shame, because I spent a long time writing it and explaining it in detail. And there was no spam involved.

    Short version: The pill is described in the books as a “focus pill.” It does not convey psychic super powers; it merely enhances the senses a little. In combination with proper training, an interrogator can use the pill to help notice eye movements, breathing changes, maybe even heartbeat. This allows the interrogator to be a bit more effective in getting the truth out of his subjects.

    So no worries – science is preserved.

    • Josh Zyber

      Thanks for the explanation. Sorry about your post not taking. If you tried to include multiple links to external web sites, our spam filter automatically flags that as suspicious. We get bombarded with a lot of robo-spam on a daily basis, and the filter is sometimes a little too aggressive.

      • Tony C

        Yeah, understood. And it’s not a huge deal — I have a tendency to be rather verbose in my writing, so I’m actually kind of used to being told to edit my posts. It’s just that usually it’s because I’ve exceeded some character limit. This time, it was apparently something I said. Still no clue what that was (didn’t post any links at all, so that wasn’t it).

        One of the things I expounded on ion my original post is the way the show runners of this thing have made the conscious decision to not spend a lot of time in clunky exposition; basically they dropped us all into this fully-formed world and expect us to have the intelligence and persistence to figure it out. You made a similar point in your review of the first episode. And while I think it generally is a good way to go, that philosophy does have a flip side, which is that a lot of people get a little lost. Quite a few reviews and comments I’ve read have said something like “I think I like this show, but I’m not entirely sure what’s going on.”

        Lopez’s pill is another example. Personally, I think one throwaway line there might have helped with that, though maybe the idea is we’re seeing this through the Knight’s crew’s POV and it doesn’t look like THEY know what the pill does either, so maybe we were meant to experience this as they did. It’s a tough call, but right now, it seems that full appreciation of this show may require reading the books or getting Cliff Notes from someone who did, and that may not be a great thing. I’m hoping they find the right balance here in time.

  2. Bill

    I’m sticking with this show for now partly because at the moment it is about the only thing new on the dial. However if it has a fault so far it is that it jumps too quickly. I’m having a hard time making all the connections to keep the story straight. Too often a character jumps to a conclusion that based on the information presented in the story so far just doesn’t make sense. There is a lack of logic in the writing. Of course that may be because the writers want to keep us on our toes but the three main parties, Earth, Mars, Ceres, do exist in the same universe as we do not in some other dimension or fantasy world with different “laws”. Logic and cause and effect are the same for them as for us. In this series that doesn’t always seem to be the case.

    • Tony C

      I’m curious if you might provide an example of a place where a character jumped to a conclusion for reasons we don’t understand. Mind you, I acknowledge that there are flaws in the show (though I do think they’re getting ironed out as time goes on). But that particular note is one I haven’t heard as yet. If you’re talking about people jumping to conclusions about people starting wars, I think the show tries (and succeeds, I think) to show that this is a consequence of the alienation and mistrust that has been building between the various factions over the years. When something bad happens, it is assumed by most people that one of the “other guys” was the cause of it. There are plenty of examples in human history (and in contemporary America, for that matter) to suggest that this is just human nature. But maybe you were talking about something else? Would love to hear you elaborate.

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