“When the stakes are this high, many things are possible.”
— Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo)
With Feb. 22’s “Home,” the creative team behind SyFy’s “The Expanse” pulled a literal fast one on us, more or less wrapping up the Eros Invasion arc — and in the process, saying goodbye to Detective Miller (Thomas Jane) and Julie Mao (Florence Faivre) — much earlier than anticipated.
The execution (pun intended) of that arc’s conclusion was an almost perfect balance between apocalyptically epic and emotionally specific, with the Rocinante’s four-chambered heart of a crew beating out some real hope for humanity — even as the sentient protomolecule threatened to take the whole solar system down around them… And only the show’s dogged refusal to make Julie Mao anything more than Miller’s object of imaginary obsession flashing as its weak spot. (We have slight hope, still — but ghosts are tricky things, aren’t they?)
The timing of it, though — half a season sooner than readers, who realized last year the first book would be split into two seasons, expected — was genius. And considering how much energy they came back with this week, jumping into new arcs and a changed world, completely welcome. There’s a reason the episode’s titled “Paradigm Shift,” and it’s not just the invention of the Epstein Drive.
We knew, between the lovely, early additions of Chrisjen in Season 1 and Bobbie (Frankie Adams) at the start of this one, that the show was going to be manipulating major elements of the source material in the process of adaptation — that they did the same with the very framework of the series doesn’t just make sense, but reveals a smart savvy: It would be easy enough to stretch the last act of “Leviathan Wakes” through five more episodes, to wrap more naturally at the end of the season and surprise us with wonderful new material like what we’ve been seeing from Bobbie and her team on Mars.
Instead, the show speeds things up, slamming Miller, Julie, and proto-Eros down into Venus, and shooting the story forward to the second book — which, of course, they have already started manipulating away from the source material: Specifically in Bobbie’s arc, in which the powers behind her team’s massacre on Ganymede remain hidden until the last possible second, and this episode, in the show’s entire timeline.
In a charming, high-stakes riff on the classic sci-fi lonely-astronaut trope recapitulated most recently by “The Martian,” we spend half the episode this week beside scientist Solomon Epstein (the very welcome Sam Huntington, of “Veronica Mars” and SyFy’s own “Being Human”), as 137 years ago he accidentally invents the hyperdrive technology that allowed Mars to break away all those years ago.
What’s going on? What’s coming? Who knows!!! It’s fantastic.
It’s also the point: just because that crash into Venus was the end of the first book, doesn’t mean it was the only ending available, or even an ending at all. In the real world, any one thing can feel like an ending — but not a single one will stop time. Just ask Solomon Epstein: The story keeps going no matter what the ballot box/shot clock/Twitter timeline says.
On “The Expanse,” this plays out in the fact that, no matter how final Eros’ dive into Venus felt, or Earth’s 100+ nuclear warheads felt, neither was final: Their threats still remain, and peace is still a fantasy: As far as the warheads, Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman) finally finds a way to lead the OPA to possible victory — by living up to his piratical reputation. And as for the protomolecule…
Well, first of all, we have no idea what trouble it might make on Venus — just because it smashed through the planet’s atmosphere doesn’t mean it blew itself to smithereens (which, even if it did, Miller already pointed out was no sure path to safety). And secondly, of course, there’s the matter of the Roci’s secretly stashed second sample, waiting patiently all this time to resume its place at the center of the crew’s collective identity battle — and left ultimately the secret stash of Naomi (Dominique Tipper) alone, after her buried Belter loyalty pushes her to surreptitiously ignore the group’s vote — to send it into the Sun — and tricks the ship’s computer to make it seem like she’s done just that.
How will that play out — especially once Holden (Stephen Strait) cottons on? Who knows, but we trust it will be great. For a show that started with strong characters and beautiful moments, it’s quickly become a great deal more — and this latest jump into the structural fray just proves the show thinks it’s found a way to make all but the most focused nitpickers happy. All we ask is that we get to see Solomon again before it’s done.
“The Expanse” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Syfy.