An Eros Problem
The Expanse: Season 2, Part 1
If there's a complaint to be made about the first season of The Expanse it's that it stops at a slightly awkward time. The heroes have discovered that the protomolecule has been spread around Eros station in the Belt. Holden and his crew, along with Miller escape, but the station is still there, the molecule is spreading. The story isn't yet resolved. What is going to happen? Who knows!
Had you been reading the books before watching the show, you would have knows that the first season was based on the first big chunk of the very first novel, Leviathan Wakes. The second season picks right up with the novel, continuing the story through the rest of its first half before switching gears over to the second novel, Caliban's War. Because of that, it makes sense to review the season in two halves: the first, the conclusion from the previous season, taking up episodes one through five, while the rest are practically a different season for episodes six through thirteen of season two.
The weird thing about season two (beyond its strange, bifurcated structure) is that it continues to follow the weird three threads structure of the first season even as characters have moved around and plot threads have merges. Miller and Holden are now working together, plotting what to do after the infection of the protomolecule has spread around Eros. The asteroid is a quarantine zone, no one allowed in or out, but the crew knows that will only hold for so long before someone goes sneaking around and gets infected. And then, the molecule will be out in the solar system, doing who knows what. As our heroes on the forefront of the protomolecule story, these guys know what has to be done.
Alongside this is the story set at the UN. Undersecretary Avasarala has to deal with a growing conspiracy within the government as it's clear that those above her are using the protomolecule to either engineer a weapon to use against Mars or, worse, using the fear around it to force a war with Mars regardless. Either way, the goal is to weaken the other planet's military so that the Earth forces can invade and take over the planet that was once their own colony. Earth first, and some might say.
Finally, we have the introduction of a new character, Gunnery Sergeant Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams). She and her team are fighting their own internal politics (with one member being from Earth, at an early age, while the others are born Martians), all while a backdrop of war looms over them. This finally gives us a Martian perspective, a lead character we can see from the red planet, as she deals with her own politics even as things she's not aware of -- the protomolecule -- influences everything going on around her.
If I'm honest, the Bobbie Draper plot line is the weakest of the three sections in this first half. That's largely because I'm sure her character wasn't introduced until the second book so the creators on the series had to pad for time to give her something to do parallel to the story that didn't need her. But it's very obvious the story doesn't need her here as she gets five episodes to stand around and talk about Mars before the season shifts plot lines. She's tacked on, so she can be a series regular for what's to come, but if her storyline here were ignored it wouldn't change anything at all in this first chunk of episodes.
With that said, I do want to credit the series' introduction of Bobbie Draper for one reason: it's perspective with her and her crew allows us to see what it's like to be a Martian. Their planet is dead, so they have to build it up and make it habitable. It's a dream of their people, the goal every Martial aspires to. They want their own living planet, their own Earth, and every Martian sacrifices to see that dream become a reality. It's very different from Earth, where everyone is on basic dedicated income (in this future) and can just live. It's a perspective we didn't see in the first season, and it is good, even if her plot line does feel tacked on.
It is the protomolecule story, though, that's the real focus for these five episodes as the short wraps up the story of Leviathan Wakes. The characters have to decide what to do about Eros. How do you get rid of an asteroid when it's filled with intelligent blue alien goo that will infect you. Eventually the decision is made to try and destroy the asteroid, hitting it with the biggest ship ever built, a century ship, and eliminating all the bits with nuclear explosives. But this, too, doesn't go to plan, and that reveals so much more about the protomolecule that gets explored down the road.
Make no mistake, the first half of this season is propulsive. It had a lot of action, and lot of story cranking forward, and it moves as a fast clip. Seeing these Belter crews out there, trying to fight an alien substance they weren't responsible for and didn't release into the wild, makes you care so much about these characters. Earth and Mars are battling back and forth, fighting their petty war, and its the Belters caught in the middle forced to clean up everyone else's mess in the process.
Honestly, what this cements is that it's not Earth, nor Mars, that are the real heroes here. It's the Belters... at least for now. Politics being what it is, that will slowly evolve and become more nuanced in later seasons, but for now it's impressive how the series is able to craft a culture for these asteroid dwellers and make them so compelling that you want to focus on them over the stories going on with Earth and Mars. The Belt is where it's at in this series.
This first half of the second season, if I'm being blunt, really should have just been aired with the rest of first season. Splitting it like this made for a convenient cliffhanger, sure, but it also screws with the flow of the season going forward. Between episodes five and six we get a time jump of a few months, with characters in new positions, and we have to recalibrate. It would have been better to do that at the end of a season, not in the middle. While these first five episodes are great, they're going to feel really tacked on to what's to come. That's the only major flaw with the season... but I guess it really doesn't matter much if you're binging this series in great, big chunks.