We've said it before and we will no doubt say several more times before the end of this season, "The Expanse" on Amazon Prime Video is seriously cerebral television and it has well and truly earned its place in the Sci-Fi Hall of Fame.
There's been some debate over how best to release a new series on a streaming service, with Netflix still seeming to prefer an all-at-once approach and Amazon opting instead for a taster — typically comprised of three episodes — followed by new episodes dropping on a weekly basis. Consequently, fans were able to watch the first three episodes of "The Expanse" before beginning the agonizing seven-day wait for the next one, but what a mind-blowing three-episode taster this was and the icing on the cake, was that episode 3, entitled "Mother" was directed by none other than Thomas Jane, who played Detective Joe Miller and later the protomolecule construct that called itself "the Investigator."
It begins with a glimpse of another holographic representation of incoming weaponized asteroids to remind us that time is still very much a factor, but this time we see a different rock than the one we saw at the end of episode one, 50-E-75680, and it's on a direct collision course for Pennsylvania, in the continental United States with only 22 hours and 47 minutes. So the ticking clock is even more critical.
An exquisite edit takes us from one rock to another, now it's ice in a bucket on a bar as UN Admiral Delgado (Michael Irby) is making a cocktail for Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) when the reason for their meeting walks in, Dr. Alaoui (Danny Waugh). He is quizzed about the theoretical possibility that the asteroid fragments that destroyed the UNS Hasami near Venus in the season premiere episode could've once formed a single, much larger asteroid.
Related: 'The Expanse' Season 5 premiere reminds us what makes quality, cerebral sci-fi
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Moreover, each fragment still appears to have lower return signatures on one side, suggesting the original rock could've been covered in radar absorbent material. Avasarala correctly concludes that Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) launched an asteroid at Earth covered in stolen stealth tech and it accidentally broke apart. She begs Delgado to retask the only satellites Earth has that can penetrate stealth tech, but he's doubtful that he'll be taken seriously by his superiors and fears for his own reputation. Roll opening credits.
Interesting side note, if you watch the opening credits with the subtitles on, it says "woman singing in Norwegian" and Lisbeth Scott's haunting vocals that accompany Clinton Shorter's ethereal theme are indeed based on the Scandinavian language, but they're a fictional variation that's being coined "future Norwegian," which makes perfect sense given how we've seen languages evolve like Lang Belta.
We cut to deep space and Camina Drummer's (Cara Gee) ships, the Dewalt and Mowteng coming up on the Tynan, Klaes Ashford's old ship. They can see as they approach it that it's been totally stripped of anything useful.
As they board and explore the wreck, Drummer has some emotional flashbacks as she respected and had built a strong relationship with Ashford. Her crew report that the point defense cannons (PDC) has been stripped along with the data cores and comms buffers. Drummer gives order to patch up the hull, restore power then search for the backup data cores that she knows Ashford will have hidden somewhere.
Related: 'The Expanse': Here's a recap of Season 4 to gear up for Season 5
On Tycho station, Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman) and Jim Holden (Steven Strait) look over the data that's been leaked to reporter Monica Stuart (Anna Hopkins). A recording taken on Ceres a few days ago shows a protomolecule scientist named Paolo Cortazar (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio) who was taken from a secure research facility by a Belter strike team. Holden is concerned that the same militia will now come after Johnson since he knows where the only existing sample of protomolecule is. They enlist Chief Engineer Sakai (Bahia Watson) to go over ownership records of the container where Stuart was held and they come up with a lead: Tamir and Vedasto Duru. Unfortunately, upon visiting their quarters, they are discovered dead, undoubtedly to keep them from being captured and questioned.
Naomi Nagata's (Dominique Tipper) sub-plot has so far taken a backseat, now we see her ship, the Chetzemoka approach Pallus Station. There's a lovely "fuselage angle" camera shot that we've seen recently in movies like "Interstellar," "Dunkirk" and even "The Mandalorian." Once aboard she makes her way to a bar and almost immediately attracts the attention of some angry, intoxicated Belters, bitter about their lot in life but also resent enraged that Naomi has been serving on a Martian with an Earther captain. She gets a helping hand from a stocky elderly man who she seems to know from her past and a woman who's not exactly showing the same levels of enthusiasm. We recognize her from the premiere episode as being a member of the boarding party led by Filip (Jasai Chase Owens) that executed the scientists aboard the Hasami.
Upon telling them that she wants to see her son, Naomi's "friends" react with a series of expletives and tell her, "He no want you in his life." She attempts to explain that with the bounty on the head of his father, Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander), she doesn't want any harm to come to him or any of her Belter friends, but they don't seem convinced.
She waits at the bar until finally Filip enters and it goes about as well as you'd expect. It doesn't matter what Naomi says, she's not going to get through to him. An awful lot of teenage angst has accumulated over the years since Naomi, his mother, left him. She pleads with him not to follow the path that his father is taking him on and offers him the ship that she arrived on since she bought it, but it has little effect.
Later, as Naomi is back on the Chetzemoka, still docked at Pallus, pondering her thoughts and feelings, Filip unexpectedly appears. Only it's not to reconcile or even express remorse, no, he arrives with the two goons from the bar earlier and shocks her with a stun stick and steals the ship Some son.
On Mars, Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) along with Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) ponders the possibility that Admiral Emil Sauveterre (Tim DeKay) is dealing stolen Martian weapons tech. Alex is set to meet Lieutenant Emily Babbage (Lara Jean Chorostecki) and there's the slightest of hints that perhaps his interest in her goes beyond the black market weapons dealing investigation he is undertaking with Bobbie.
They meet in a very elegant hotel bar and at first Babbage plays it coy, but once Alex has agreed to have a glass of wine, she quickly and efficiently orders a bottle of high quality Cabernet Sauvignon. She then proceeds to expertly charm and simultaneously probe Alex for information about the protomolecule and events on Ilus. He enjoys the attention and certainly gives the impression that he's succumbing to her feminine wiles. When he turns the subject of the conversation to her and suggests that they order another bottle of wine, she quickly wraps things up. Alex is a tad disappointed as he'd clearly hoped this might lead to somewhere, but Babbage says she's leaving Mars the next day. Alex pounces on this and innocently asks on what ship. The whole set piece between the two is fun to watch and we're — quite deliberately — never exactly sure quite what Alex's priorities are and thus who will benefit the most from this tactical tease.
Alex saunters back to his apartment but is attacked as he tries to open the door. Once inside, they give him a powerful truth-telling drug and immediately begin asking him questions about why he's asking questions about Sauveterre. Thankfully, Bobbie arrives and manages to over-power them. However, when the police arrive, they have to downplay the event as an attempted mugging, but not before the officer in charge tells them that the two assailants were former Martian Marines dishonorably discharged for weapons smuggling. Alex tells Bobbie about Babbage shipping out on a ship called the Barkeith and they make plans to follow it in the Razorback.
On the Tynan, Drummer's crew work to make the ship spaceworthy again and look for Ashford's backup drives as well. She herself goes to fix an airlock seal and in doing so, spots an extra fire extinguisher, inconspicuously attached inside a control panel. Her suspicions are confirmed when she unhooks it and carefully checks the bottom for a hidden compartment. Inside she finds emergency rations, a loaded handgun and the backup data drive. She syncs her comms device with the drive and calls up the most recently saved file — which is the audio exchange between himself and Marco Inaros moments before he is forced out of an airlock. Her anger mounting, she listens.
The crew celebrates their success in getting the Tynan operational and Drummer informs them that after having put in to Hygiea for resupply, they are going to find Marco Inaros and collect the bounty on his head. She wants revenge for the death of her mentor and friend. Later, she stares at the unopened bottle of whiskey she bought for Ashford for them both to enjoy upon his safe return. Her colleague Oksana (Sandrine Holt) comforts her and the two share an intimate moment and Drummer grieves over the loss of her friend.
Later, we see her emerge from her bed leaving Oksana asleep and she tip-toes over to where she's left her comms device and she makes a call — more like a report — confirming Ashford's death and she sends the audio file from his backup data recorder. She looks again at the bottle of whisky, she even uncorks it…but she looks over it once more, she replaces the cork and finally places it back amongst her personal things.
Drummer wants to kill the murderer of her friend and that's why she'll commit her crew to hunting down Marco Inaros, so it stands to reason that she'll work with whoever else wants him found and/or killed while it also serves her purposes. And while everyone wants Marco Inaros caught and/or killed because he's a terrorist and threat to peace in the Solar System, we very much hope it is Drummer who is able to finally end his existence.
Turns out that the person she sent the message to was Fred Johnson. And now he and Holden know who is coming to collect the container that they still think Stuart is in, a trap can be laid. Meanwhile on Earth, Delgado reluctantly informs Avasarala that it will be impossible to retask the watchtower satellite defense system. No one will take his request seriously upon hearing the name Marco Inaros and he's not prepared to jeopardize his position. Avasarala is understandably furious, but he does make an interesting point and says that if someone came to her with the same outlandish and as-yet unsubstantiated conspiracy theory, she would laugh them out of the room. And while the events of the last few years have made Avasarala significantly wiser, if you think all the way to the first season and her ferocious nature back then, it's probably true.
Avasarala finishes a voicemail message to her husband, switches off the lights and is about to leave the office when her comms device beeps. She returns to her desk, where she left it, to see a message sent by Fred Johnson, forwarding the message that Drummer sent. It confirms, 100 percent, that Marco Inaros has weaponized asteroids and is launching them at Earth. The final montage shows the watchtower satellite defense system still pointing in a direction that prevents it from detecting a meteorite as it hurtles towards Earth and streaks through the atmosphere before hitting our planet off the coast of West Africa. We see an explosion and shockwave of biblical proportions before we finally fade to black.
There are some truly beautiful establishing shots in this episode, both of ships in space and of Lovell City on Luna. And if you want some idea of the damage that meteorite strike would have, just watch the movie "Deep Impact." Since it hit the ocean, it would create a tsunami a thousand feet high, radiating out in a circle across the Atlantic at the speed of sound.
In other sci-fi news, Deadline reports that the coronavirus surge in Southern California is affecting TV production, which is hardly surprising. One of the shows affected is "The Orville," which as already suffered from Covid-19-related setbacks throughout 2020. For the time being at least, post-holiday principal photography has only been postponed a week. Production of the second season of "Star Trek: Picard" has already been delayed, since unlike "Discovery" that's filmed in Toronto, it is also filmed in Southern California.
The first five episodes of Season 5 of "The Expanse" are also now available to watch now on Amazon Prime, along with Seasons 1 to 4.
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