(l-r) Byron Mann as Admiral Nguyen, Martin Roach as Admiral Souther, Morgan Kelly as Manusco
Photo: Rafy (SyFy)

After a good but slowly paced opening, “Triple Point” throws us back into the Earth/Mars war, devoting substantial time to events on the Agatha King and the Martian ship the Hammurabi as things take several turns for the worse. The crew of the Rocinante’s decision to head to Io to try and rescue Prax’s daughter initially seemed like a choice to stay out of the conflict as much as possible; while their path would take them through dangerous space, the first scene has Alex explaining how he plans to fly them to Io without attracting attention. But this is the Rocinante—the ship has a habit of ending up where the action is, whether its crew wants it that way or not.

But hold onto that for a second, because none of that is the scene that I want to talk about. At one point, Admiral Souther is talking with two of his officers about a potential mutiny on the Agatha King (both officers suggest the idea with no embarrassment, though Souther doesn’t seem keen). Boyer, one of Admiral Nguyen’s subordinates, enters, and after Souther leaves, he talks with the other officers about Nguyen’s most famous past experience with Martian warfare. How the Admiral saw thousands die in seconds.

No one in the scene matters all that much. By the end of the hour, both of Souther’s subordinates are dead (as is Souther himself), victims of the chaos that ensues when Souther tries to step in and take command. What’s important here is the brief, almost casual effort at giving us insight into Nguyen’s character. What we learn from Boyer doesn’t make the Admiral likable or sympathetic. But it does force us to accept that he has his reasons. All of the show’s villains do. It’s not a revolutionary move on the part of The Expanse, and I highly doubt if it changes anyone’s rooting interest in who comes out on top. But the fact that the show makes sure to find time to bring this up just before the shit hits the fan—shit which will inevitably lead us to dislike Nguyen even more than we already do—makes the chaos to follow all the more gripping and complex.

It’s hard to discuss “Triple Point” without jumping to the final act when everything falls apart. For most of the episode’s running time, things looked to have calmed down after last week’s nailbiter. We see Ensign Sinopoli delivering Avasarala’s message to his commanders, a message (and a video) which is met with skepticism and some interest. Souther receives a copy of the message as well, and he immediately goes to question to Cotyar to see if he can get confirmation of the recordings provenance. It’s interesting how both Souther and the Martian captain eventually come to believe that the Errinwright video is real (or at least, potentially real enough to be worth discussing), given how easy you’d think it would be to fake such material. But maybe that makes sense—why would Avasarala go to the trouble? And who knows, maybe the Martian captain and Souther don’t actually want another war.

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The Rocinante edges closer and closer to Io, finally landing on the moon and making their assault on the base just as all hell breaks out in the space above them. And on Io, Mao and Strickland try and communicate with Katoa about the protomolecule’s intentions. The alien material is engaged in some sort of “work” that’s nearly complete, Katoa tells them, before lashing out. The efforts to use Katoa’s genetics to control the protomolecule have failed, but Strickland and Mao still have hopes they can make it work the next time, with poor Mei. Prax and the others arrive just as Mei is being strapped down for the injection—we’ll have to wait until next week to see if they got there in time.

Then there’s that final act. In the span of maybe ten minutes, everything gets worse, then better, then worse, then better, than all right, and then real fucking bad, like a non-comedy version of that Simpsons’ gag when Homer visits the scary antique shop. (“The frogurt is also cursed.”) Typically this sort of catastrophe would play out over multiple episodes, but the show has done a good job of getting us to this point, building in various pieces throughout the season up until the moment it all falls apart. And it makes for thrilling, unpredictable storytelling.

By the end of it, Souther and his officers are dead, as are several of Nguyen’s men; Nguyen himself has been gut shot; Earth forces are tearing each other apart thanks Souther and Nguyen’s efforts; and Nguyen has launched the pods on Io with the hybrids. In trying to stop the carnage, Avasarala (and, as ever, Holden) has managed to sow more chaos—chaos with just enough in hope in it to keep you going. The remarkable thing about the finale of “Triple Point” isn’t its bleakness but it’s refusal to completely commit to either optimism or despair. The show’s continual ability to walk that knife’s edge, to allow for the possibility that things could work out while acknowledging that they rarely do, is what makes sequences like this so thrilling to watch. There’s no point at which you know for certain that everything is decided, no point where you can either relax that the heroes have won or bemoan the fact that they’ve lost. There’s just madness, spinning outward, looking for a place to land.

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Stray observations

  • Okay, the show subtitles called it the Rocinante, so I am going back to calling it the Rocinante, thank goodness.
  • James and Naomi have another nice scene together; I’m impressed at how much I want those two crazy kids to get back together.
  • Alex gets another message from home, this time from his son. At this point, I have to assume these videos are eventually going to pay off with something.
  • The slow drip on the protomolecule plot is impressive. It feels like we’ve been waiting ages for the other shoe to drop, and yet it also doesn’t feel like anyone’s been stalling or playing for time. And when whatever happens next does happen, it’ll hit all the harder for the build-up.
  • I appreciate how the episode finds time to check in with the Rocinante crew before all Hell breaks loose; it’s impressive how compelling that last act, when you consider that it focuses almost entirely on characters we’ve never met before this season.
  • Apologies for managing to continue to misspell Admiral Nguyen’s name, despite having it correctly labelled in the photo above.

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