Moons Over Jupiter
The Expanse: Season 2, Part 2
As I noted in my review of the first part of season two of The Expanse, the series did a very odd thing with its material. It took the first book, Leviathan Wakes, and split it between the whole of the first season and the first five episodes of the second. It worked in context, but then you had a second season with eight more episodes to fill with a totally different story. Sure, the second book, Caliban's War picks up a little while after the previous, and the next eight episodes do the same, but it does create this rather jarring moment, week to week or episode to episode, where suddenly you're in a new story, with a time jump, and you just have to adapt.
Assuming you can do that (or you do like I do and treat each chunk as it's own chapter while binging), what we have here is the solid first half of an adventure... that won't get completed until third season (when the series pulls the same dumb trick again). It's fine. I don't mind it here either, but you have to go in prepared for it because these first three seasons do a lot of weird mashing of stories into chunks that, were the done just for streaming and not on cable TV (Syfy being the original home for The Expanse), these each would have just been their own, full, complete seasons. It's just so weird.
The second part (second half, second two-thirds, whatever you wanna call it) picks up a few months after the protomolecule-infected Eros asteroid has crashed into Venus (see the end of the first half of season two). That doesn't mean the threat of the protomolecule is over, as MCRN Gunnery Sergeant Bobbie Draper finds out. When she and her team are on a routine patrol of Ganymede, the "bread basket of the solar system" due to all the farm domes on the moon, they find the Terran forces in a pitched battle against... something. It's a "seventh man", all in blue, who is seemingly on exterior of the moon without a vac-suit. The Terrans run towards the Martians, shots are fired, and this leads to a pitched battle above as well. Satellite mirrors are hit, which then crash down to the domes, and suddenly there's a massive disaster right in the heartland of the solar system's farms.
Into this mess flies Holden and his crew of their salvaged ship, the Rocinante. They're there to aid the colonists and workers of Ganymede, but in the process they learn about a possible resurgence of the protomolecule. They learn, from new character Prax (Terry Chen), a plant biologist that was working on Ganymede, of the disappearance of his young daughter, and how it might tie into a man they're hunting for who could be behind protomolecule experiments here in the outer edges of the system. Teaming up, the go out in search of his daughter, as well as the scientist, finding their goals to be aligned.
Taken as its own whole, this back half of season two is much improved over the previous half. I say that mostly because the story feels far more cohesive now than before. The first five episodes had two goals in mind -- introduced Bobbie Draper, who would be more important in the later episodes, and finish the tail end of the story from the first novel -- but only one side of that was really important. I like Bobbie Draper as a character. I think she's great. The stuff with her and her crew though, felt very tacked on and didn't go anywhere in the first five episodes, and all of that material really could have been covered or summarized, elsewhere.
The batch of eight episodes, though, corrects all that. The inciting incident, the battle on and over Ganymede, brings everyone's stories together, all focused around that one event. Bobbie is sent to Earth to talk about what she saw. There she realizes that Mars was behind the weird blue soldier, a protomolecule hybrid, and that causes her to turn on her side. She jumps ship to work with Undersecretary Avasarala as the two dig deeper into the protomolecule conspiracy and try to bring everyone behind it down. That's a good use of Bobbie, and it brings Avasarala's story further to he forefront as well.
I'll be honest, the least interesting part of the show is the politics. This is a series with space, and aliens, and pitched battles. Seeing people back on Earth talking about things we could be watching is far less interesting. Credit to Shohreh Aghdashloo, she makes the Undersecretary into a watchable character, but there's still only so much of the politics I can take. It feels weirdly shoved in here. Uniting her story with Bobbie's makes it far more compelling and gives us a new hook to work with.
Of course, the meat of the adventure focuses on Holden and his crew on the Rocinante. Even here, in just their second full adventure, you get this vibe from the crew that they're sick of being the only ones that can find and stop the protomolecule. "Can't anyone step up to do this?" seems to be their vibe, but there's also the knowledge that they're the only ones that would be willing to destroy all the samples, and they can't trust anyone else to do it. As proven by the hybrids that start running around this season, people will use the alien tech to try and make weapons. It's too dangerous to leave in other people's hands.
Although I like most of the material here, with the crew having solidly bonded together and Prax coming on as a new "fifth crewman" for their team in a way that really gels -- I do have one quibble with the story. Holden here doesn't really feel like himself. He has what I think of as a "Captain Ahab Moment" where he becomes so obsessed with eliminating the protomolecule that he feels like a completely different person. Yes, he gets over it eventually, then vowing to never be that man again, but it just makes for such a weird character turn that it feels out of place from where he was previous (and where I know he's going to go after this season).
With that said, this set of episodes does a good job of illustrating the problems, and the fear accorded, to the protomolecule. While the first season made it into an obvious biological threat, it was still hard to understand how the alien tech could be used as an effective weapon. Even as a bio-weapon it was too dangerous to use as it was far too contagious. All it would take is one person carrying it elsewhere and everyone in the whole system would be infected. But here using it to make super soldiers, that at least makes more sense. Sure, the best use of them, then, is releasing the hybrids onto Mars or Earth and letting them destroy the populace, but that's still a weapon you can understand.
However, before we can get to the conclusion of this story we have to wait for the first half of season three. Yep, once again the book is broken up into two chunks and we won't get the conclusion until next time. It's another weird move from the series, especially when this time around half the plot lines are still ongoing and nothing is truly resolved just yet. It does make for a very weird half a season (and an even weirder season two), but if you're binging the show no at least it won't seem quite so strange.
Overall I do like this season, especially in the latter chunk of episodes. it feels assured, and cohesive, and it pulls the story along in a very compelling way. This is the show that people rave about and, especially in this back half of season two, you c an see why so many people are invested.