Don't Mess with a Dad
The Expanse: Season 3, Part 1
As with the transition from season one into season two, season three of The Expanse picks up the cliffhanger story threads from the back half of season two to conclude in this first half of season three. As before, it leads to an oddly disjointed season that feels like it really should have been combined together differently.
I don't really blame the producers on this show. You never know what kind of mandates they may have gotten from the higher-ups at Syfy (who were still in charge of this series through all of season three, before dumping it so 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. could pick it up). It's possible the execs wanted the series divided in half like this so they had "meaty cliffhangers" that would keep viewers coming back between seasons. Certainly the end of season two left a fair bit of stuff unresolved. What would happen with Bobbie and Chrisjen aboard Mao's ship? Would the crew of the Rocinante find Prax's kid. Very little really got a resolution at the end of season two, so if you were hooked by the show you absolutely had to come back for the third season.
I do think, though, that there are some viewers that could be turned off by this. I know there's a history of doing season finale cliffhangers to draw back in sci-fi fans. Star TrekOriginally conceived as "Wagon Train in Space", Star Trek was released during the height of the Hollywood Western film and TV boom. While the concept CBS originally asked for had a western vibe, it was the smart, intellectual stories set in a future utopia of science and exploration that proved vital to the series' long impact on popular culture. did that all the time, and the two-part Borg episode from Next Generation is considered one of the classics. But do people really enjoy this. Especially now, in the era of streaming and shorter TV seasons, is anyone sitting there going, "man, I can't wait for the year to go by so I can get the conclusion to that story?" I think TV tastes have changed. I know they've changed for me, and if I don't get a complete story in a season I get irritated.
Of course, that's also a change of tastes caused by the way these seasons are made in comparison to, say, Star Trek: The Next Generation. That was an episodic TV series, with "story of the week" structure that didn't have one long storyline going throughout. It wasn't serialized, so you had plenty of fun, self-contained adventures to give you that feeling of getting a complete story. The Expanse, though, is a serialized story, one long arc among all the characters and twists and weaves and interlinks, and when you have a cliffhanger it leaves you without any sense of closure. That's annoying.
That's really a comment for season two's ending, but it does also mean that season three has to pick up the pieces and complete that story before we can move on. This first half of season three finds the crew of the Rocinante chasing after Dr. Strickland, who has Prax's daughter, Mae, and a bunch of other kids from Ganymede, and has taken them to a remote outpost elsewhere in the belt. They end up also picking up Bobbie and Avasarala, who escaped Mao's ship and have evidence of the conspiracy to start a war spearheaded by Deputy Secretary Errinwright. They all come together to try and head off the conflict, and destroy the protomolecule, hopefully once and for all.
Now, let's be clear, this section of the season is cracking. It's got a great story that finally brings every last story thread we've had ongoing in the series together. Holden and his crew meet up with Bobbie, Avasarala ends up on the Rocinante. The conspiracy to start a war between Earth and Mars all comes to a head. It's great stuff, and you can tell this is what the TV series has been building towards. This is likely what viewers of the show were hoping would happen all this time.
The show also gives us real villains to hate. Before this we had people making vague proclamations about what the protomolecule could due. That was tightened in the back half of the second season, when we got a hybrid protomolecule solider, so we finally learned what these creatures could do and how dangerous they were as weapons. Now, with Dr. Strickland, we have someone actively trying to make hybrids and use them as weapons. But, more than that, he's using kids to do it and he doesn't even seem to care. No thought about them as people, no remorse. That's a proper villain.
Having a villain means that we really get to hate everyone involved. Vague plans for a war are one thing, sure, but when you have people acting alongside a guy that is willing to experiment on children, that paints everyone involved in the conspiracy with a broad brush. That's evil, through and through, and it makes the whole conflict a whole lot more digestible. Nothing strange or alien about this, just a bad guy doing bad things, and we get to hate him for it in a satisfying way.
I guess a complaint could be that it boils down the conflict a little too far, giving us a man to hate instead of the heady science of what the protomolecule is doing. This will actually be the norm for the series going forward -- there's always some kind of villain to deal with, some kind of guy at the center that you can hate, even as the alien science continues to drift around causing further problems for the solar system. The first couple of seasons went broad with big concepts, but here we turn towards heroes and villains. That might not have worked for everyone.
It does certainly make the series more digestible, in a way. I don't mind that, though, because it also allows for new kinds of stories to be told. Having our heroes run from one location to another, always chasing the protomolecule and always being one step behind on what the madcap alien science was doing was find for a couple of seasons, but if they kept doing it as the only story thread the whole time it would get stale. Villains are fun, villains help tie a story together, and villains give us someone to focus us. That's smart story craft, even if the blue sky science does take a bit of a back seat.
If you like the first half of season three, which goes for the first six episodes of the season, then it's probably because you were invested in the story from the previous season. But if you were looking for more heady science and the weird tales of what the protomolecule was cooking up next, then you'll likely enjoy the second half later. There's a big shift coming for the season, and as we head into Abaddon's Gate, everything is going to change in the solar system...