Forget going out to the movie theater. If you want to see wars in the stars, you should be watching ‘The Expanse’. Holy hot damn, the show’s fourth episode ramps up the action and excitement in a big way – and fast!
Honestly, I didn’t expect (and don’t expect going forward) this to be an action show at all. The first three episodes were a bit of a slow burn in establishing the very complex narrative. Episode ‘CQB’ (that stands for “Close Quarters Combat”) hits like a sneak attack before you’re ready for anything like it.
On board the Martian Navy warship Donnager, Capt. Yao insists that Mars had nothing to do with the destruction of the Canterbury. She wants Holden to issue a retraction to his previous broadcast. He doesn’t trust her and refuses.
While they talk, the Donnager is being tailed by an unidentified mystery vessel that Yao assumed was from the OPA coming to rescue Naomi. In fact, the object turns out to be a cluster of six smaller ships that split apart and attack the Donnager with missiles. Yao is unconcerned at first and assumes that her ship’s formidable defensive and offensive capabilities will have little trouble mopping up the attackers. The Donnager launches a barrage of its own torpedoes in return.
The early parts of the battle consist of a lot of standing around and waiting for the weapons to travel the immense distances between ships. This is more fascinating and suspenseful than it sounds. Eventually, the attacking ships evade the torpedoes and move in to engage the Donnager in close combat. They prove to be far more dangerous than they’d looked. As soon as a clear scan comes in, Holden recognizes one of the ships as the vessel that destroyed the Canterbury.
As the battle rages on, the other members of the Canterbury crew sit in a holding cell, growing increasingly concerned as alarms go off and the ship is rocked by missiles and railgun blasts. At one point, the ship’s main drive goes out, which causes it to lose gravity inside. Alex, the pilot, has a panic attack. (Even though he had been a naval officer, he was just a transport pilot and had never seen real combat.) Garvey, the medic, tries to talk him down and tosses him a sedative. Before it reaches Alex’s hand, however, a projectile punches through the room from one end to the other, exposing it to the void. Garvey’s head is blown clean off by the blast. Blood squirting up from his neck is sucked straight out by the vacuum.
Naomi and Amos work fast to seal the two breaches. This keeps them alive, but they estimate that they only have about twenty minutes of air, and they have no way of contacting anyone else on the ship for help. Naomi finds one tranquilizer dose in a med kit, and convinces Alex to take it, in order to knock him out and slow his breathing to preserve a little air for them all.
The ship’s drive comes back online and gravity is restored. Unfortunately, the mystery attackers still manage to latch onto the Donnager and get inside with a boarding party. Realizing that she’s lost, Yao orders Lt. Lopez to take Holden to a shuttlecraft and get him off the ship as soon as possible. His testimony will be crucial in convincing the solar system that Mars was not the aggressor in this war. Holden insists that they go for his crew and save them too, but Lopez isn’t having any of that.
In one of the ship’s hallways, Lopez and his squad of soldiers encounter invaders and have a firefight. Holden runs and hides. It’s a messy skirmish. Lopez wins, but most of his men are taken out. One enemy combatant is wounded but still alive. Lopez tries to question him, but the man gladly dies for his cause. This time, Holden demands that they save the Canterbury crew or he won’t go to the shuttle.
Capt. Yao declares “Condition Zero” and prepares to scuttle the ship, but holds out until the shuttlecraft can get away.
Holden and Lopez get to the holding cell just before the air runs out. Amos has to carry the drugged Alex. In order to get inside the shuttle, they all have to cross a gantry that will leave them open to attack from above. Indeed, they come under fire. Amos is shot in the leg but still manages to haul Alex onboard. Holden, Naomi and Lopez follow, but none of the other Martian soldiers make it. Because he’s the only pilot, the woozy Alex has to fly the shuttle. As he straps himself in, the seat injects him with a stimulant that brings him around really quickly. He launches the ship, which is armored and armed, and has to use its weapons to fight off the attackers and blast an exit out of the hanger.
As soon as the shuttle is clear, Yao detonates the Donnager. That makes two major ships that Holden and his team (well, all of them except Garvey) have narrowly avoided going down with.
While still investigating the Julie Mao case, Miller identifies the corpse he found as a lowlife named Bizi Betiko who runs a gambling racket. However, after making his way to Bizi’s gambling den, he discovers that the ID was fake. The real Bizi is still alive – at least, for the next few seconds. He’s a racer pilot in an extreme sport called “slingshotting,” which involves dipping into a planet’s gravity well to gain a boost in velocity. As his gambling buddies take bets on his odds of survival, Miller watches Bizi burn up in a planet’s atmosphere. In any case, the point is that the corpse he found wasn’t Bizi Betiko.
Unable to reach his partner Havelock, Miller asks his sort-of girlfriend Octavia for help finding the corpse’s real identity. They scan the body and find a number of biomedical enhancements, none of which seem too unusual, except for a “memory crypt” embedded in one leg. They extract it and find what look like encrypted government files on it. Miller concludes that the man was a data broker and was probably killed for whatever’s in those files.
Meanwhile, a random passerby finds Havelock lying in an alley. Assuming that he’s dead, she goes to scavenge the body, only to find that he’s somehow still alive. The woman runs for help.
On a separate space station, construction is underway on a massive new ship called the LDSS Nauvoo. The “LDSS” stands for Latter Day Saints. Yes, that Mormon missionary in last week’s episode wasn’t just a throwaway gag. The Mormons are apparently a significant power in the 23rd Century. The Nauvoo is intended to undertake a 100-year voyage to colonize a new world in the Tau Ceti solar system.
A Mormon representative meets with the man in charge of the project, Col. Frederick Johnson (Chad L. Coleman, a.k.a. Tyreese from ‘The Walking Dead’) to inform him that he’s being replaced due to his ties with the OPA. The Church is uncomfortable being associated with that organization. Johnson unsubtly hints that the ship will be sabotaged if that happens. The Mormon quickly rethinks his decision.
This will undoubtedly long be remembered as a breakthrough episode for the series – one that not only gets the fanboys’ juices flowing, but brings the show’s vision into sharper focus. Quite simply, it’s awesome as hell.
One thing I’m not quite clear on yet is why the mysterious forces attacked the Donnager. If they’re trying to frame Mars for the destruction of the Canterbury to stir up a war, wouldn’t destroying a Martian vessel undermine that purpose? What were they coming for on board the Donnager? Did they want Holden or one of his crew, and if so, why?
I expect that these questions will be answered later. I’m already anxious to get to that part.