Syfy’s ambitious and fascinating space drama ‘The Expanse’ drew its first season to a close last week with a two-hour finale that answered a lot of questions, but still left enough lingering to tease us for the already-announced Season 2.
Throughout the season, we’d been given little bits and pieces of the Julie Mao storyline, primarily through Miller’s investigation, but I was still very confused as to what exactly happened there or the timeline of events. The first part of the finale clears that up with an extended flashback that shows us her whole story.
Seven weeks prior to the events of the series premiere, Julie was the hotshot pilot recruited to fly the OPA ship Scopuli as it intercepted a science vessel called the Anubis, which had recently left Phoebe Station. The plan was to raid the ship and steal a science experiment that Julie’s father had financed. (Julie joined the OPA to rebel against her dad.) Believing the ship to be manned only by scientists, the OPA crew expected the job to go easily. However, they were surprised to discover that the Anubis was actually a gunship fully prepared to fight back.
A shuttle from the Anubis attacked and docked with the Scopuli, sending a boarding party to take over the ship. The entire Scopuli crew was killed except for Julie, who was spared due to her family connection. (The Anubis captain described her as a “complication.”) Julie got tossed in a cell aboard the Anubis while the Scopuli was planted as bait for the Canterbury. She heard and sat through the entire attack but was powerless to do anything about it.
Eventually, something happened aboard the Anubis that Julie was not witness to. When she finally broke out of the cell, the entire Anubis crew was dead and Julie found those weird glowing crystals around the reactor. She set a beacon for the OPA to locate the ship, then fled in a shuttle and headed for Eros station.
Already, this helps greatly to clarify the timeline. The first scene we saw in the pilot episode (Julie breaking out of her cell) actually took place after the attack on the Canterbury, not before. You can call it a flash-forward, or you can call the entire Canterbury plot a flashback.
By the time Julie got to Eros, Miller’s investigation must have been well underway, because his friend Inspector Sematimba was already on the lookout for the Anubis. (Traveling time in space is slow, so this is plausible.) When Sematimba noticed the arrival of a shuttle from the Anubis, he sent word to Miller, who’d been searching for the ship.
Infected by something from the Anubis, Julie grew increasingly sick. She holed up in the Blue Falcon hotel waiting for Anderson Dawes to send someone to rescue her, but he never did. The disgusting growths spread all over her body. She smashed all the lights in her room, and eventually died in the shower.
All Caught Up Now
As we left off in the previous episode, Miller had linked up with Holden and his crew. They discovered Julie’s body in the hotel shower. Miller is heartbroken. Holden has to pull him out of the room and convince him that they need to leave immediately. On the way out, they run into Sematimba (who works for CPM, the station’s security force) responding to the shootout they’d just had in the lobby. Miller convinces him to let them all go. He tells him about the body in the room with a warning not to touch anything.
As Miller and Holden compare notes on Julie Mao and how their paths have crossed, Alex, Naomi and Amos leave to prepare the Rocinante for launch.
Before Sematimba has a chance to do anything about Julie, a bunch of shady investigators allegedly from CPM barge in and take over the scene. The guy who seems to be in charge, a scientist named Dresden, takes samples from her blood and prepares injections. He then contacts Julie’s father to tell him that his daughter is dead, but Dresden is nonetheless excited about something call the “protomolecule,” which has reached “Evolution Phase 2.” He ends with the cryptic message, “We can only learn by letting it learn.”
Before Alex and the others can get back to the Rocinante, the entire Eros station is shaken by a quake. Alarms go off warning of a radiation breach due to a ship explosion at the port. All of the docks are in lockdown. No ships will be allowed to leave. The Belter populace of Eros are herded toward radiation shelters by CPM goons and are given shots they’re told are iodine supplements. Holden is very suspicious of this. The operation is far too organized and orderly, as if station security knew in advance about the explosion, or actually planned it.
Miller and Holden kidnap one of Dresden’s bodyguards and torture him into talking. He admits that CPM recently hired gangsters and thugs like himself to fill its ranks. Until today, they’d mostly been paid to install a lot of cameras all around the station. When he thinks they can’t get any more information out of him, Miller shoots the bodyguard.
Sematimba gets into an argument with some CPM goons that erupts into a shootout. Fleeing that, he then runs into Alex, Naomi and Amos. Even though he doesn’t know anything about them other than that they’re somehow allied with Miller, he doesn’t trust anyone else and asks to tag along with them.
Miller and Holden discover a bunch of deathly sick Belters in a so-called radiation shelter. As they stand inside, the whole room is hit with a blast of sterilizing radiation. They back out of the room and Miller asks how bad it is. Holden responds, “We’re dead.”
With routes to the docks sealed off, Naomi suggests that they go to the station’s “mech shafts,” which are used as OPA smuggling routes. She says she can use those to get them back to the Rocinante. I guess this confirms that she really did used to be in the OPA. As they head out, they’re joined by a Belter man and a child (not his own) who beg to come with them.
Holden and Miller steal a bunch of medical supplies, mostly painkillers and stimulants. Holden thinks that can keep them going for a couple hours. Miller wisecracks, “At least we’ll be sharp when we melt from the inside out.”
Dresden takes more samples from Julie Mao’s corpse. He says, “She’s gonna save us all.” What the hell does that mean?
Holden and Miller don’t have any luck making their way toward the docks. They run into a CPM blockade and have to hide in a pachinko parlor. Miller is already puking blood. He also hallucinates Julie Mao talking to him. When a dipshit CPM goon breaks off from the others to go play pachinko, Holden has to kill him to keep him quiet. This is the first time he’s killed a man and he’s hit hard by it.
Outside the parlor, the other CPM soldiers set up a bunch of towers with cameras and transmitters, then eventually leave. Miller and Holden find a subway pod still working, but it’s completely filled with dying infected. They put together that CPM (or whoever is paying CPM) is spreading the infection deliberately in order to monitor the results. Eros Station is one big science experiment, and they’re stuck in the middle of it.
The Belter man with Naomi’s group accidentally gets blood from a corpse on him. Obviously, that doesn’t seem like a good thing. The little girl named Molly who’d been with him runs off. Naomi chases after her. They run into another group of Belters, one of whom knows Molly. Naomi tries to convince them to come along to the Rocinante, but they refuse to leave the station. They take little Molly with them. Only the possibly-infected man stays with Naomi’s group.
Holden has to kill a second CPM goon. It doesn’t get any easier for him. He and Miller dress up in the CPM uniforms hoping that the disguise will get them past some obstacles. They separate briefly and Holden encounters Kenzo, the spy who betrayed him. Kenzo claims that he was tricked and had no idea what was going on at the station. He swears that he can help Holden find a route to the ship and begs to come along. Holden doesn’t trust him worth a damn. He fires his gun at him several times as a warning, but can’t bring himself to take another life. Kenzo gets the message and runs the other way.
Naomi and her group finally arrive at the Rocinante. The Belter man has disappeared and Sematimba is acting really sketchy about it. (The implication is clear that he killed the guy because he didn’t want to risk spreading the infection further.) He says he has access codes to release the mooring clamps holding the ship in place. When Naomi tells him that they’re going to wait for Holden to return, Sematimba argues with her that they can’t risk it and need to leave immediately. As the argument heats up, Amos coldly shoots Sematimba in the head. Discussion closed.
Holden and Miller hit another obstacle at the docks. A big group of CPM mercenaries have been blocked from boarding the ship they were supposed to evacuate in, and are ordered to catch a different ship on the other side of the station. (Clearly, they’re all expendable and there is no second ship.) The mercs don’t buy this story and argue with the scientists in charge. Posing as a CPM cop, Miller deliberately inflames the situation by yelling antagonizing statements. This then erupts into another big shootout, which allows Holden and Miller to slip onto an elevator down to the dock where the Rocinante is supposed to be parked.
They’re both terribly sick at this point and barely survive the ride, but the Rocinante is fortunately still there. Amos brings them aboard and hooks them up with medical devices that pump anti-radiation drugs into them. (Ah, that wonderful 23rd Century medical science…) Alex worries that they might be infected by whatever overtook the station, but Naomi overrides his concerns and orders him to take off.
When Alex can’t get the mooring clamps to release the ship, he ejects all the pieces of the gas freighter disguise and shoots his way out of the station. As they get out, he detects a transmission from Dresden that he announces will give them a fix on the bad guys.
Fred Johnson records a public statement denying OPA involvement in the attacks on the Canterbury or the Donnager. As proof, he transmits the full data log of the Donnager battle, which includes detailed scans of the attacking ships. He reveals that the ships were in fact built on Earth, at the Bush Naval Shipyard. (Seems like the writers are getting a touch political there…)
Chrisjen Avasarala makes a trip to Anchorage Island (I guess climate change has taken its toll), to talk to the husband of her friend DeGraaf, the former Martian ambassador who was fired in disgrace due to Chrisjen’s scheming and later killed himself. The husband naturally (and rightly) blames her. Chrisjen claims that she just wants to say goodbye to her friend, but really uses the visit to go snooping in his office and steal some pencils.
No, pencils are not strangely valuable in the future. However, they can be used to hide data files. After leaving the house and boarding a private jet back to New York, Chrisjen discovers plans for the drive engines to the prototype gunships that destroyed the Canterbury and the Donnager. This would seem to back up Fred Johnson’s story.
When Chrisjen meets with her boss, Undersecretary Errinwright, to disclose what she’s learned, he brushes off the information. Although he admits that the fusion drives were indeed built on Earth, he says they were stolen and smuggled to Tycho, where Fred Johnson built the rest of the ships. Chrisjen immediately recognizes that his story sounds like total bullshit, but plays along with it. Errinwright then introduces her to Jules-Pierre Mao (François Chau from ‘Lost’), an important scientist and also the father of Julie Mao.
Later, Chrisjen sends her husband and grandchildren on a trip to Luna, hopefully to get them out of harm’s way. She’s about to play a very dangerous game to uncover what kind of conspiracy is afoot and how deep it goes.
Back on Eros
With everyone either dead or evacuated, poor Kenzo is stuck on Eros Station. While wandering about, he walks into a patch of weird glowy spores. You’d think he’d be more freaked out about this considering everything else that has happened recently, but perhaps he’s just resigned himself to the fact that he’s a dead man walking?
A group of lights form the shape of a humanoid figure that appears to look at Kenzo, then a giant tentacle swoops down from above, grabs him, and whisks him away to some undoubtedly terrible fate.
For as many questions as the finale answers, we’re still left with a ton of mysteries to explore later. I’m a little frustrated at how little information we’ve been given about the “protomolecule” business, but my assumption is that the scientists are trying to create a new form of life (or activate an alien form of life) for purposes yet to be disclosed. Why they want to do this, I have no idea.
Nor do we yet know who actually destroyed both the Canterbury and the Donnager. Even assuming a conspiracy on Earth, does this mean that the U.N. was behind the attacks, or some shadowy organization working within the U.N.?
I haven’t read any of the books that this show is based on. It’s my understanding that the first season does not get all the way to the end of the first book. However, the ending that the show-runners chose still feels like a good, climax-y stopping point for the season. I think it’s pretty satisfying and excited, and I can’t wait for the show to come back next year.
“Nor do we yet know who actually destroyed both the Canterbury and the Donnager.”
It was clearly established in this episode that the Anubis destroyed the Canterbury, and that the Anubis and the other stealth ships are owned by Jules-Pierre Mao. Julie says of those on the Anubis, “They work for my father.” If that isn’t enough the episode just blatantly shows that he is at least one of the leaders behind the conspiracy in his communications with Dresden. The episode also implies pretty hard that UN Undersecretary Errinwright is involved in the conspiracy. It was explicitly said that Avasarala believes Errinwright had Ambassador DeGraaf killed.
Right, but what I was getting at is that we don’t know who’s behind that conspiracy. Are Mao and Errinwright the leaders of the conspiracy, or just pawns in it? Is it based on Earth or somewhere else? As I recall from the Donnager battle, the one soldier who was briefly captured and questioned was not clearly Earther, Martian or Belter.
A good review Josh as usual. However for me I almost feel deceived by the writers. After 10 episodes we’re still in the dark about what this series is really all about. I’m not even sure why it’s called The Expanse. There’s too much misdirection, assumed understandings for me to keep track of. I’m dropping out of this series but will continue to read your reviews just to find out how it all plays out. Watching it just isn’t worth my time.
I streamed the first episode of this on SyFy’s website (because I don’t get the channel) and loved it. Science-fiction for adults that does ‘t condescend to it’s audience is a rare thing. I’m saving the rest of the season for April when it’s released on Blu…
Confused by what you wrote at the end of paragraph 19 “Miller has to kill him to keep him quiet”. Wasn’t that Holden? I thought it was Holden who killed a man there for the first time and was disturbed by it. Miller doesn’t seem to have those qualms, and as you noted, killed the guy earlier after getting information about him.
You’re right. That was supposed to say Holden. My mistake. I’ve fixed it now. Thanks for catching that.
I really enjoyed the whole season, though I thought it seemed more like a mid-season finale than a season finale when we have to wait a full year for more episodes. Seemed to end in the middle of a fair bit of action with the Rocinante (now without its disguise) getting away from Eros in close proximity to the bad guys, who could be very hostile.