The Great Space Onion Ring
The Expanse: Season 3, Part 2
As noted when discussing the first half of season three of The Expanse, the season is bifurcated. The first half follows on from the back half of season two, finishing up the storyline from original novel Caliban's War. The second half, though, adapts Abaddon's Gate, the third novel in the series. And, extra nice, it tells a complete story without any part of it getting stunted off to another season. That's lovely.
Does condensing the entirety of a novel down into a single half season really work? You would likely have to ask the book readers about whether this was a good adaptation of the source material (I only now have the physical books on order so I can read through the whole series), but I will say that this set of seven episodes tells a tight, interesting, effect story that works in its own context. Maybe there are characters or storylines that are lost from the novel to fit the story into seven episodes, but if that's the case it isn't reflected in these episodes, and that's a credit to the production team.
Picking up a few months after the events of the first half of the season, the protomolecule structure from Venus flew out to the area of space past the Asteroid Belt and opened up a gate, a dimensional pocket into a sphere of blue space. Since then, the UNN, along with Mars, and the Outer Planets Association (OPA, aka the Belters), have kept the place locked down. No one has been allowed in or out while scientists and governmental types take their time investigating just what this blue space really is.
There's trouble, though, brewing on the horizon. Holden and his crew on the Rocinante have been called to the ring as part of the investigation, in part because random Belter racer when flying to the ring to make a name for himself and immediately died. He was going too fast and the ring space grabbed him, killing him instantly from the sudden deceleration. Was it an attack? Is there more going on with the ring? That's something Holden and his crew will have to find out, and fast. A faked message of Holden claiming the ring for the Belt is broadcast, putting a target on the backs of the crew of the Rocinante and they'll have to head into the ring to flee from their pursuers and, in the process, find out just what is going on in the ring space.
There's a lot going on in these seven episodes, maybe more than had to fit in seven episodes. I'm sure there's a version of this season that was given a larger ten- or thirteen-order, giving more time for characters to play out their stories and build up the various factions that will end up chasing the Rocinante. You feel this especially with the new characters introduced in this season as their characters are forced to make big swings and fast changes to keep up with the ever evolving story.
This is predicated on just how many twists in the story there really are. To start, Holden needs to investigate the ring because a vision of Miller (Thomas Jane) is back, in his head, demanding he go there. Is Miller real or just a construction of the protomolecule? Who's to say right now (although later stories do address that). That gets the crew to the ring, but it also means that each step of the process -- going to the ring, following Miller's instructions, finding out what else is going on -- eats up a fair bit of screen time and keeps the plot constantly churning forward.
The reason everyone is chasing the Rocinante is all because of Clarissa Mao (Nadine Nicole), the daughter of Jules-Pierre Mao, and she blames Holden for the downfall of her family. She can't acknowledge that her dad was up to some bad shit and really did deserve to be punished. She just sees him as a hero, Holden as a villain, and she had to get her revenge. That's an important and interesting story to tell here, and Clarissa makes for an effective villain, of a sort here. But it would have been nice for the series to have more time to develop her and explore her as a character, both before and during the events at the ring, because there's a late-game twist for her character that causes her to change allegiances, and it would have been nice to see that play out more subtly. It's a big shift for her that, honestly, I'm not sure is earned.
We have Drummer (Cara Gee) as the captain of the OPAS Behemoth, the largest ship in the OPA fleet, and she has to balance being the head of the OPA Navy against the needs of her people and her friendship with the crew of the Rocinante. Then we have the introduction of her first in command, Klaes Ashford (David Strathairn). Ashford is a great character, played with oozing charisma by Strathairn, and I love the scenes he's in. Unfortunately, due to the speed the half-season has to travel at, we don't get as much development for him as we needed. Later seasons fix this, of course, but here his motivations, and his desires, are unclear and we don't really get a good grasp of who he is as a person, not yet. And the two of them working together here feels very different from where they'll end up in later seasons. It's odd.
Then there's the big twist of the end of the season (and spoilers here). When Holden finally gets the ring tech working properly, and manages to get all the fleets to prove they are not threats, the ring defenses shut down and suddenly rings to thousands of systems open up. the protomolecule is the engine that drives this ancient civilization's tech and it's also a seed to open up more transport to other solar systems. Each world gets a ring, and then they can travel to any other system in a matter of weeks (instead of centuries like the Mormans wanted to do all the way back in season one). That's a huge change. A sea change for the solar system, and what it means... well, that isn't rightly explored just yet (you have to wait for fourth season for that).
I think the ring is an interesting idea, and a smart development for the series. This version of our future doesn't have Faster Than Light (FTL) travel, so the only way to get to other solar systems would be through some kind of pocket universe cheat. A worm hole, or a ring in this case. It works, it makes sense, I like it. And the crescendo for these rings opening up everywhere does feel earned. It's amazing... but the season doesn't have time to explore the idea any further before it had to wrap up and wait for season four. It's not a cliffhanger, but it does feel a little incomplete. No tease of what's next, no sense of a conclusion just in case the series was canceled between seasons. Just waiting for what's next.
Of course, then the show was canceled between seasons and fans were left waiting, fearful. Thankfully Amazon PrimeWhile Netflix might be the largest streaming seervice right now, other major contenders have come into the game. One of the biggest, and best funded, is Amazon Prime, the streaming-service add-on packing with free delivery and all kinds of other perks Amazon gives its members. And, with the backing of its corporate parent, this streaming service very well could become the market leader. did then come along and take the series along for another three seasons... but what if it hadn't. What if this was all we got of The Expanse. Well then this would be but half a story, incomplete and untold. I like third season in many ways, especially for its propulsive back half, but it does leave me wanting. I'm happy we got more, but if this had been the end of the series we got, I think I would have been mad. It's not enough, not the way it's written.
Does the third season work on its own, without the context of what's to come? That's a hard question to answer. As told in two halves, one focused on the previous story, it's a little uneven. I do appreciate that the took this back half and (more or less) gave us one complete story. If we hadn't even gotten than before the cancellation, that would have sucked extra hard. But even still, this does feel like a truncated story, a little rushed and pushed to go forward fast. And then it ends without as much resolution I would like and that could have really sucked. I hate thinking of Amazon in good terms, but at least they did give us three more seasons...
Still, overall I think this is a pretty solid season. Maybe not perfect, but really good. And any time spent in The Expanse is good time, that's for sure.