This is intended as a spoiler-light overview of the second season of The Expanse, but some familiarity with the first season might be an advantage. An overview of that first season is already available on this website. It includes some general comments which are not repeated here but which might be worth reading before starting on this one
...because we are jumping right in here:
The previous season ended with jaded but strangely romantic ex-detective Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane) teaming up with four survivors of the ice transporter 'Canterbury' on the Martian gunship they have renamed the 'Rocinante.'
This is the name Don Quixote gave to his horse, one of several not very subtle references to Cervantes' novel in the first season. Although it is the young Captain of "the Roci," James Holden (Steven Strait), who is presented deliberately as the dauntless knight born out of his proper time who wants to fight giants, it is Miller who is in many ways the more Quixotic character. The title of the very first episode of the show, 'Dulcinea,' is the name Don Quixote gives to a tavern girl on to whom he projects all his fantasies in much the same way that Miller projects his on to Julie Mao (Florence Faivre), the rich man's daughter he was assigned to track down.
So now that the principal Good Guys are all in one place, we can expect them to go off on a series of jolly adventures together...
No, this is The Expanse.
For one thing, they are far from one happy little crew. Although Holden and his fellow "Cant" survivors overcame some big differences and bonded over the first season, there are still deep cracks just beneath the surface, and Miller makes an uneasy addition. He feels completely lost since his great quest for his Dulcinea came to a very unromantic end, and then there is the minor matter of the brutish Amos (Wes Chatham) having killed one of his very few friends.
There are also a few plot issues left over from Season One - basically all of them in fact.
This is another of the apparently deliberate eccentricities of The Expanse. The structure of Season Two seems almost designed to be anti-commercial. Indeed, it is less a season than two separate half-seasons - or rather the first five episodes are in effect the conclusion of Season One and everything after that is the beginning of Season Three.
Yet the season begins by introducing a completely new strand that has absolutely nothing to do with what has gone before and seems at first a distraction from the ongoing story of which we are still in the middle. We meet Gunnery Sergeant Roberta "Bobbie" Draper (Frankie Adams) and her team of Marines training on Mars. Over the next few episodes we keep going back to them, and we find out a lot about them all and the developing relationships between them. They are obviously going to be very important later. It looks like they are the Martian equivalents of Holden and his team, possibly their mirror, possibly their future adversaries.
Wait and see. Remember this is The Expanse.
Meanwhile, on Earth, the political subplot centred on our favourite UN Deputy Under-Secretary for Executive Administration, Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), becomes more relevant and more interesting as mutual incomprehension of events out in Space heat up the Cold War between Earth and Mars. Avasarala herself gets a useful sidekick in the welcome form of Nick E Tarabay as Cotyar Ghazi, an experienced and world weary security specialist. Tarabay played a similar role in the excellent Person of Interest, but is probably best remembered as the scheming slave Ashur in Spartacus: Blood and Sand. He is always value for money.
On the 'Rocinante' itself, a weird family atmosphere has developed. Engineer Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) and Holden are now a sort of surrogate Mum and Dad, while Amos and Pilot Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) have got through their squabbling siblings’ phase with Amos becoming rather protective of Alex - but only because, as he tells Alex bluntly to his face, he considers him a weakling. The development of the character of Amos, or rather the discovery that he is a man of many layers, is one of the great joys of Season Two. He is far more than the stupid thug and apparent psychopath we met in Season One. There are obvious comparisons with Adam Baldwin's immortal Jayne Cobb in Firefly, except Amos is much deeper. Although he is honest that there are things about which he knows little and defers to others, especially Naomi, he turns out to be a perceptive man with considerable insight into human nature. This is based on life experience of which we are given only hints at this stage. It is a great performance by Chatham who keeps us guessing about Amos' true nature.
By contrast, the writers seem to have been at a loss with what to do with Miller, previously the most interesting character and played by the most substantial actor in the regular cast. The 'Rocinante' is obviously too small for two leading men. It is consistent with his arc that Miller should feel lost and uncertain after the failure of his quest. Even so, it is a rare lapse in the writing that Miller seems to bond with the crew of the 'Rocinante' far too quickly and then falls out with them equally abruptly - over an incident that should have been very predictable and would have generated none of the moral outrage on display, even if it did cause a lot of unnecessary inconvenience. It seemed like conflict for the sake of conflict.
Everything changes with the pivotal fifth episode of the season, 'Home.' It is masterpiece of dramatic tension. There is real uncertainty whether a leading character might live or die as tragic destiny, hope, despair, and a strange catharsis succeed each other. It is ultimately very moving. A deeply flawed man, not a perfect Saviour, drags himself painfully towards his personal Calvary, carrying not a Cross but a nuclear bomb, which he has to keep resetting to stop it from exploding, with the salvation of the whole Solar System at stake.
After what feels like a finale, the show spins off in a whole new direction. The political manoeuvring between Avasarala and her political rival Sadavir Errinwright (Shawn Doyle, deliciously slimy) comes to the fore. Circumstances force Avasarala, Cotyar, and, most surprisingly, Bobbie to work together - and they make a great team.
A completely new subplot involves a scientist friend of Avasarala's setting out on a mission headed by a traditionally stubborn military man. This sets up some good dramatic conflict which is resolved as both characters develop - the opposite of the Miller-Holden misstep. These people are also obviously going to be important later...
It is good to see Jared Harris return as "Belter" rabble rouser Anderson Dawes. Sadly, he is only there for a couple of episodes, but he has a great scene at a political meeting, where the director gives him a superb low key entrance, and where he gets to do what he does best. This sets up another interesting subplot ...which has been ignored ever since. At the time of writing, it has been announced that the upcoming sixth season will be the last. If so, it will be very disappointing if the producers do not get Harris back to wrap things up as Dawes deserves.
It was also good to see the juvenile delinquent Diogo (Andrew Rotilio) from Season One maturing - a bit - as he finds a new role in life. He becomes half of a surprisingly likeable double act with Miller.
The visual effects are, once again, stunning, especially in that outstanding fifth episode. We start to see part of the grubby underside of Earth, which was previously only mentioned in passing by the powerful bureaucrats in their glass palaces. We also see something of Mars. If anything, the Martians, exemplified by Bobbie Draper, are even more admirable close up - serious, patriotic, hard working, determined - especially compared with the Earthers, but we are given hints that even there all is not well.
Season Two of The Expanse delivers what Season One set up, and it delivers with style. It excels in almost every department. There are no weak links in the cast. Frankie Adams does particularly well in a difficult role, at first a convincing leader of men, then a vulnerable young woman lost in a world where all her basic assumptions begin to crumble, and finally a warrior rediscovering who she really is. Cara Gee also makes a mark as a character introduced at first known in the cast list only as "Fred Johnson's Second in Command" but later given the name Camina Drummer. Chad L Coleman shows us a more political side to Johnson.
The only real weakness is that we are never really sure where the story is. Is Holden our hero? Or Miller? Or Avasarala? Or perhaps even latecomer Bobbie? Miller's epic quest for his Dulcinea is replaced by a botanist's search for his young daughter, which is worthier but not as compelling. Sometimes we are watching 'Alien,' sometimes 'Starship Troopers,' and sometimes Game of Thrones in Space. Only in the next season do we get a clearer sense of direction.
Review: John Winterson Richards
John Winterson Richards is the author of the 'Xenophobe's Guide to the Welsh' and the 'Bluffer's Guide to Small Business,' both of which have been reprinted more than twenty times in English and translated into several other languages. He was editor of the latest Bluffer's Guide to Management and, as a freelance writer, has had over 500 commissioned articles published.
He is also the author of ‘How to Build Your Own Pyramid: A Practical Guide to Organisational Structures' and co-author of 'The Context of Christ: the History and Politics of Rome and Judea, 100 BC - 33 AD,' as well as the author of several novels under the name Charles Cromwell, all of which can be downloaded from Amazon. John has also written over 100 reviews for Television Heaven.
John's Website can be found here: John Winterson Richards
Published on June 17th, 2021. Written by John Winterson Richards for Television Heaven.