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Television

The Expanse: Season 1, Episodes 9 and 10 - "Critical Mass" and "Leviathan Wakes"

Elena Zhang

With an energetic and captivating finale, The Expanse solidifies its standing as one of the best sci-fi shows out there.


Cast: Thomas Jane, Stephen Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Florence Faivre, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Show: The Expanse
Network: SYFY
Heading: Season 1, Episodes 9 and 10 - "Critical Mass" and "Leviathan Wakes"
Air Date: 2016-02-02

With a terrific season finale packed with action, character growth, and masterful storytelling, I can now say with confidence that The Expanse is, without a doubt, a worthy successor to Syfy's masterpiece, Battlestar Galactica. It's not entirely fair to directly compare the two at this point, given the fact that BSG had the luxury of more than 100 episodes to explore heavier themes of morality and humanity. But based on this short season, The Expanse is more than ready to take on the challenge.

The entire two hours felt energetic and fresh, diving in to the mystery without a moment's waste. One of the things I was most impressed with in the finale, and in the show overall, is how everything made sense within a universe that was built from the beginning, including the character development. There were no shocking surprises thrown in for the sake of a twist, which a lot of shows unfortunately deem necessary for a finale.

This is especially true of each of our main characters. Everyone's journey follows a natural trajectory. The decisions and actions they make in the finale make sense. That's not to say everything in their lives are all neatly tied up and resolved; almost the opposite, in fact. Yet who they are at the end of the season is completely logical. Relationships are earned. Growth and evolution are inevitable.

Take Miller (Thomas Jane), for example. From the very beginning, there have been mutterings about how he has abandoned his Belter brethren, removing himself from their cause and adopting an Earther attitude. He's a welwalla, a traitor. Then along comes Julie Mao (Florence Faivre), a young, spirited woman who willingly took on the Belter cause even though she was from Earth. She was sincere, proving it by trying to help miners in their predicament. She was someone to be admired, protected.

Of course, Miller doesn't really care about Julie herself; that much is clear. He doesn’t even personally know her, and for that, Miller’s kind of a scumbag with a savior complex. But again, it makes sense for him to idolize her. All his life he’s had no cause to believe in, no group with which to align. Julie, to Miller, was finally an ideal he wanted to aspire to, and that made him pursue her like he’d never pursued anything in his life. We finally see Miller shouting in his native Belter Creole, inciting violence and Belter revolution. It's such a contrast from the apathetic Miller we used to know, but somehow, it feels right.

Maybe, just maybe, all of Miller's annoying character quirks were worth suffering through this season, just to see him buddy up with Holden (Steven Strait) in perhaps the most inept and hilarious pairing yet. It was such a joy to see them bickering at each other, trying to decide who was being the most useless ally at any given moment.

Comedic effects aside, the pairing also worked well because they both challenged each other to accept who they've become. Holden demands that Miller make a choice, to be an ass or be a boot, to be a good man or just accept being a louse like always. Miller takes up the challenge.

At the same time, Miller goads Holden to embrace the idea of moral ambiguity, of doing what needs to be done. Holden’s been the closest thing to a typical hero protagonist The Expanse has to offer. He's been compared to a knight before, and certainly since he left Earth he's been trying to save everyone and everything, from answering the Scopuli's distress beacon, to protecting his crew at whatever cost to himself.

It all stems back to his farmland in Montana. Everything he loved was dying, so he left Earth to make a new life for himself, snatching up the first opportunity to be a hero he could find. When he confronts Kenzo (Elias Toufexis) in this episode, it's a powerful moment. He showed Kenzo mercy before, and it backfired. Holden is finally done with being a "good man." Like Miller, Holden has finally found something worth fighting for, worth breaking the rules for, and that's his newfound Rocinante family.

The rest of the Rocinante crew has undergone some character development as well, although perhaps to a lesser extent. Naomi (Dominique Tipper) and Holden have grown to trust each other in what is really a beautiful, slow-blooming friendship built on mutual respect. Alex (Cas Anvar) is finally living his dream as a badass Navy pilot, breaking the Rocinante free of clamps in an awesome move. As for Amos (Wes Chatham), well, for a second there it looked like Amos was going to disobey Naomi's orders to wait for Holden, and I was all set to be shocked at his sudden betrayal. Instead, without a moment's hesitation he shoots Sematimba (Kevin Hanchard), confirming that Amos is the most loyal gunman anyone could ever hope to have. Naomi's a lucky person.

The only shortcoming of the finale is that it doesn't really feel like a finale, just a really excellent episode with a giant cliffhanger. Hardly any real explanations were offered, only that the people behind this whole mess stole fusion drives from Earth, are doing scientific experiments with the blue glow-y stuff, and want Earth and Mars to preoccupy themselves with the OPA so they’re left alone. There are still no inklings on who they are, what exactly the bio-weapon is, or what it's being used for. Nothing feels resolved or conclusive.

When you look at the show overall, however, it's a very minor complaint. This kind of long-term storytelling format deserves the benefit of the doubt, and to reveal everything now negates the need for another season. Still, I do wish we’d just one answer to satisfy our curiosity.

When you look at the season as a whole, you can see that this is definitely one of the best currently airing sci-fi television shows. In fact, I might even extend that to television shows in general. The mysteries are meticulously paced, the writing and dialogue are strong (the quips kept getting funnier and funnier), and the character evolution is fantastic.

But something that makes The Expanse stand head and shoulders over the current television landscape is its commitment to diversity, both in terms of complex female characters and international casting choices. Hopefully, the success of The Expanse and other shows like it will make it clear to Hollywood producers that representation is crucial in this current day and age. Diversity shouldn't be relegated to just shows about the distant future; they should be part of the present as well. Kudos to The Expanse for creating complex and interesting roles for both women and for people of color. I can't wait to tune in for season two; January 2017 has never seemed so far away.

Other Thoughts:

Chrisjen (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is shameless. She can't put aside her political schemes for one second in order to pay proper respect to DeGraaf (Kenneth Welsh). Hopefully, Chrisjen gets a little more screentime next season, because I'd love to see a different facet to her character.

I laughed when Miller hallucinated Julie; when Holden turned to look, he gets Amos. Also, Holden's facial expressions as he was trying to shush Miller's coughing were comedic gold. Best odd couple ever.

My best guess for the blue glow-y stuff is that it could be a possible antidote to all sorts of diseases. Like radiation poisoning, for one.

8

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