The Expanse’s alien protomolecule has always been a game-changer. It’s unpredictable, it makes people do weird things, and it reshapes reality and logic according to its own strange agenda. But this week, on “Dandelion Sky,” it didn’t just change the game—it rewrote all the rules.
Before Holden slipped off the Rocinante and blasted himself toward the Ring’s spherical “station,” he left a message for Amos and Alex. “I have to do this on my own,” he explains. “Just stay safe. Thanks, both of you, for everything... and do not follow me. That’s an order.” (Amos offers the only acceptable reaction: “Shiiit.”) And, by the way, Holden’s not alone; Proto-Miller is floating through space right beside him, because there’s no better time for witty banter than during an open-air cruise through a mysterious, blobby void. Holden mutters something about how he’s cursed, but Miller says that’s just part of his “programming.” Holden’s destined to be in the middle of every shitstorm in the universe, Miller explains, because “You’re the patron saint of lost causes, kid. Quit running from it.”
As the UNN Thomas Prince readies to enter the gate to the Ring, Anna is approached by Jordan, a terrified young crew member who’s got some big questions on his mind. “Do you think God wants us to be here?” he asks her. “As far as I can tell, the scripture is quiet on this one,” she says, brushing him off. Begone, buzzkill! This is a historic moment and Anna’s not gonna miss it! Once the ship is through, nobody aboard can make sense of exactly where they are, though the captain has an idea that’s as good as any right now: “Where angels fear to tread, if they had any goddamn sense.”
On her Belter skiff, heading to the Rocinante but unable to make contact, Naomi is hailed by the MCRN vessel Xuesen. They warn her to back off; as far as Earth and Mars are concerned, James Holden and his crew are in deep shit for destroying the UNN Seung Un, and they’re in no mood to entertain some random Belter’s claims that Holden’s being framed. Speaking of the MCRN, they’re readying a drop team that includes (who else?) Bobbie Draper. She may have butted heads with Holden in the past, but she knows he’s not responsible for the Seung Un tragedy. That said, she’s determined to carry out her orders, which are basically just to prevent him from doing anything. She’s able to reach him over the radio, but since Bobbie can only hear one side of his conversation with Miller, Holden sounds completely nuts.
The Roci, population two, takes note of the Martian fire team, but Alex knows the void’s whole “speed limit” situation means there’s no way the Roci can reach Holden first. What to do? How to react? Alex is flustered, but Amos reacts as only he can: “I get it... alien shit? Magic gates? Naomi bugging off to go play Belter? Holden doing... ? I have no idea what Holden’s doing. I wish that I could tell you I was freaked out, but I’m not. I haven’t felt fear since I was five years old.” Long story short, he’s ready to face the unknown, even if that means the end of humanity. Alex isn’t so sure... but then again, Alex has definitely felt plenty of fear in his life, including right now, for example.
Aboard the Thomas Prince, the captain now has a slightly more concrete theory about the void: “It’s a field that manipulates inertia in ways that we don’t understand.” Ok then. The Belter torpedo that was aimed at the Roci, for instance, is still burning its engines, even though the torpedo itself isn’t moving. Anna suggests that the strange fields they’ve been detecting are the void’s way of isolating the objects that it views as a threat... kind of how a cyst would surround, say, an infected splinter in the human body. Though a moment ago Tilly was relaxed enough to try and make a dirty joke about “bodies in motion,” she’s unsettled by the idea of the void being a living thing—as is Jordan, who’s been looking increasingly jumpy ever since the Prince went through the gate. Overwhelmed by what’s going on, he strolls back to his quarters and quickly commits suicide. When she hears the news, Anna is horrified that she didn’t help him when he needed her, and realizes she’s lost sight of why she came on the mission in the first place. “We can treat each other gently,” she says as part of his eulogy. “Reach out to those in need. It will increase our joy and diminish our pain.”
On another part of the ship, Melba plots to intercept the Roci, but realizes the speed rules mean the Xuesen will get there first. She runs a number of scenarios, including fucking with the Roci’s reactor from afar, and grows increasingly frustrated when she’s not able to get her mitts on a skiff. And, worst of all, Tilly’s recognized her from their days swanning around together as part of Earth’s high society... and she calls her by her real name: Clarissa. Tilly finds Anna and tells her she’s spotted Jules-Pierre Mao’s daughter aboard. She’s surprised, but she thinks perhaps Clarissa is hiding out there because she’s trying to escape her father, who, let us not forget, was a raging asshole even before he became galactic enemy number one. Still feeling the uplift of her sermon, Anna encourages Tilly to reach out to the girl—not realizing, of course, that Clarissa is very, very dangerous.
Meanwhile, on the Behemoth, the tension’s rising between Drummer and Ashford. He’s pissed off that she let Naomi leave, and there are anti-Drummer rumblings among the crew (notably from Diogo, though Ashford tells him rather sharply to “tread carefully”). Later, as Drummer is reprogramming the ship’s agricultural probes so that they can be used to explore the void, she and Ashford have it out. “We have a problem, and we need to work it out,” he admits. “Or else what?” she asks.
But all the Belters are more or less united, for now at least, in their journey toward “the thing in the middle.” The first person to get there, however, is Holden, and he hesitates before dropping into what looks like a tunnel that’s spontaneously carved itself out of the sphere’s side, a display of WTF that we’ve come to expect from protomolecule-fueled tech. Can you blame him for holding back? He demands that Miller tell him what it is, and he gets this answer: “There used to be something here. A lot of something. A civilization, billions of years ago. But now, all that’s left is a bunch of locked doors and some lights and a timer... You figure out how to pick the locks.” Holden’s gotta be the one to do it, because he “exists.” Apparently, the aliens need a human or at least an organic, real being to pick those locks. The surreal, snarky banter between man and protomolecule-man keeps up while the pair are sailing through the bizarre blue structure; the high point is maybe Miller trying to get Holden to understand how much more advanced his operating system is. Pointing to himself: “Calculus.” Pointing to Holden: “Amoeba.” Then, the reverse: “Monkey. Mozart.”
As the well-armed Martians close in, Holden reaches the central chamber of the station. A structure forms between the ceiling and the floor, with a small gap between, and Miller instructs him to “complete that circuit... finish the job.” Again, Holden hesitates. Again, you can’t blame him. (Seriously, even Amos would probably be freaked out by this situation.) He tries to turn the tables on Miller by asking questions about Julie, but the former detective doesn’t want to talk about Julie. When he finally relents, it’s enough to convince Holden that there’s actually some of the real Miller left in there, beneath all the artifice and technology. But before he can complete the circuit, the Martians charge in.
“It doesn’t want to hurt us,” Holden yells, but—despite Bobbie’s best, Avasarala-style efforts at diplomacy—the marines fire on him when he moves toward the structure. The ammunition hangs in a frozen blob, just like the Belter torpedo. Bobbie’s commander tosses a grenade, but of course it doesn’t have the desired effect—as if we could forget, they’re in “a field that manipulates inertia in ways that we don’t understand.” Instead of destroying the structure, the blast reverberates throughout the void, jarring ships and sending people flying—including Tilly aboard the Prince, who’s just been pounced upon by a superpowered Clarissa. Saved by the spacequake! Back on the station, the Martian commander’s body shoots to the ceiling, then shatters (power armor and all) before dissolving into the floor.
As everyone else absorbs the insane shit they’ve just witnessed, Holden takes this moment to shove his hand into the circuit, an act which plunges his mind into a trippy, 2001-style sequence that shows us the ring’s formation in reverse, taking us back to Venus and the Arboghast and Eros and, weirdly, a naked Holden, before crystallizing into a shape that looks just like Julie’s bird. Then, there’s almost a Big Bang-type situation, a vision of an explosion so violent it snaps a screaming Holden out of his trance and he falls to the floor. He’s still at the station. Did we just get a glimpse of that “civilization, billions of years ago”—and see how it all ended the first time? The episode cuts there, leaving us to ponder WTF it all means. One thing’s for certain—there’s a whole lot more to learn about the protomolecule and the Ring, and whatever cosmic beings created them. (And when. And why. And why are they making a comeback now?)
There are only two weeks left in season three—next week, and then a double-header on June 27. No doubt we’ll get a whole set of new questions to bring into season four.