Every week while the season is airing, I log onto a website and click on a link for the latest episode of The Expanse; and every week, I breathe a sigh of relief at the running time. Out of every drama I’ve covered in the past three or four years (or more), this is the only one that consistently sticks to the 43 minute mark, week in and week out. And that is a wonderful thing, partly because it makes my job a little bit easier, but mostly because it means that the show rarely gets bogged down by pacing issues. Yes, there are occasional missteps—no matter how important she is to the series as a whole, I’m not sure the first season ever entirely justified having Avasarala around—but you never have to worry that a scene is going to drag on longer than it should, just because it could.
That said, while I wouldn’t want the folks behind the scenes to make longer episodes, I could definitely go for longer seasons. Right now the show is erring on the “fast and tight” approach to narrative, moving from beat to beat with well-honed efficiency. And while that makes it much easier to watch (even if you have to always be paying attention, for fear of miss critical plot details—not that that’s ever happened to me, ha ha, people don’t reread these right), it also means that the show is lacking some of the rich lived-in feel you get from full 22-24 episode long seasons. I’m not sure how that would work, exactly, considering this is a book adaptation and may not have the inherent structure necessary for a handful of standalones each year, but there’s so much going on in “Delta-V,” from a time jump to a massive shift in narrative focus to Amos getting hit on multiple times, that I wish there was a chance to slow down and take all of it in.
Regardless, we’ve been here before. Not the specifics, of course, but the sudden transition to a new ongoing storyline should be familiar to anyone who watched the show’s previous season; this is basically just “Home” to “Paradigm Shift” all over again. Thankfully, due in no small part to the pre-existing source material, the way The Expanse builds its serialization means that plots very rarely seem to come out of left field. The protomolecule is a major character every bit as important as Holden or anyone else on the series, and the way the books and the show have used the alien substance’s flexibility to support various different plotlines while still making sure they’re all ultimately connected is impressive and smart. We spent much of last season and this one worried about the hybrids, but now that the Protogen efforts to harness the protomolecule for its own ends seem to have been sunk, we’re reminded that this was always secondary to the main threat/possibility: just what the protomolecule is trying to do for itself.
Turns out, it’s “building a giant space ring in space,” although there’s probably more to it than that. “Delta-V” employs a clever, darkly comic framing device to jump everything ahead about half a year, opening with a loopy Belter doing a slingshot speed run around Jupiter in a souped up racer, and we get much of the news as it filters through his screen. Frustrated by the lack of coverage of his attempt to break a record, and determined to win back his girlfriend, the Belter decides to make history by going through the Ring himself. This doesn’t go well; the “empty” space in the middle of the ring turns out to be some sort of energy field that stops his ship cold, splitting him down the middle (more or less). It’s a clever, if mean-spirited, way to remind us that even the discovery of alien life in the universe isn’t going to stop people from being selfish idiots. The opposite, if anything.
Avasarala appears to have gotten a promotion (I think Esteban resigned? All we get of her is a quick speech to the masses), and several other major characters are pn one ship or another headed towards the Ring. Even Holden and the Rocinante crew (minus Naomi) is on its way, getting filmed by a documentary crew to presumably raise some spare cash—as Holden notes, running a spaceship isn’t cheap. Pretty much everything we see makes sense as a logical extension of how the previous episode ended, and there’s the usual thrill of a time jump (even a relatively small one)—doing something you can only do in stories and getting to the good bits quicker. Still, between this and the montage that ended last week’s episode, it’s hard not to feel a little rushed. It works, but it’s not, y’know, ideal.
I mentioned Naomi—she’s serving as Drummer’s XO on the Behemoth, the repurposed Nauvoo, as the Belt sends its own reps to the historic Ring summit. It’s a good context for her, giving the character more to do than just snipe and moon around Holden (not that Naomi’s ever seemed like a token girlfriend on the show; I’m just glad she’s getting what looks like more of a full storyline in her own right), and it also gives us more time with Drummer, who is a continual delight. Plus, we get the introduction of a new character, Ashford (David Strathairn), a man with an apparent history with the OPA which we only get a glimpse of here. He immediately starts to undermine Drummer’s authority, but in smart ways, and it’s a delight to see yet another talented actor on the show; Strathairn lends an immediate humor, dignity, and just a little menace to the role, helping to ensure Ashford catches the eye even of people who haven’t gotten that far in the books.
There’s more going on here, including a woman and a bomb, but I have to mention the episode’s final scene, even if it was a bit spoiled by the episode’s opening credits. Ever since Miller crash landed with Eros on Venus, I’ve been waiting for him to come back—noble sacrifice wasn’t the worst way to go, but I liked the character (and Thomas Jane) enough to hope he might have more to do. He’s only seen briefly here, sitting on Holden’s bunk and repeating an old line (“There’s no laws on Ceres. Just cops.”) before vanishing, but Holden is too astonished, and the sighting is too well-timed, for it to be a simple hallucination. Plenty of interesting things happen in “Delta-V,” but this bit is the most exciting. Or maybe I was just happy to see that that hat again.
- So, I read Leviathan Wakes, the first book in the Expanse series over the weekend (I was on a mini-vacation). It’s good, and if you enjoyed the first season and a half and are in the mood for some smart, well-paced sci-fi I recommend it. My only caveat is that Holden is much more insufferable in print. (On the plus side, it made me appreciate Steven Strait’s performance even more.)
- At one point the guy in the slingshot ship listens to what is very obviously a Belter rip-off of “All By Myself.”
- Both a female reporter and a male camera operator try and seduce Amos into talking about himself more. Amos turns them down (“I don’t shit where I eat”). Also, he was apparently a mob boss at some point.
- Prax and Mei are off on Ganymede; we don’t see either, but Amos seems to miss them.
- The cameraman is up to something on the Roci bridge. I wonder if he’s in cahoots with the woman who placed the bomb on the Thomas Prince?
- Straitharn isn’t the only familiar face this week; the guy Anna talks to on the Prince is Chris Owens, probably best known for playing Jeffrey Spender on The X-Files.