After last week’s “let’s check in where we left off” season premiere, the action explodes forward in episode two, “IFF.” Thanks to a high-speed space chase and the wonders of Martian power armor, The Expanse’s two most prominent Earthers are finally about to come together for the first time, a meeting fans have been waiting since the show began—and a new character has arrived to majorly disrupt the war between Earth and Mars.
We open with a screaming child—it’s Prax’s missing daughter, Mei (Leah Jung), reacting exactly how you’d expect upon waking up in a cryogenic chamber in a creepy science lab on Io, a zillion miles from home and her daddy. Making matters worse: the oily Dr. Strickland (Ted Atherson), Mei’s pediatrician-turned-kidnapper, who may or may not be part protomolecule himself. Those glowing blue eyes when Mei first glimpses them from inside her chamber—was that part of the child’s nightmare or... foreshadowing of some kind?
Anyway, there’s definitely something off with Strickland. His faux-caring interaction with Mei, whom he clearly views as nothing more than an ingredient in his sinister hybrid experiment, is something we’ve seen before; the robotic way he rehearses how he’ll greet Jules-Pierre Mao (François Chau) while hustling to meet him is a higher level of bizarre. Mao—a fugitive from Earth justice who’s without access to his massive fortune, thanks to his slippery dealings with crooked UN Undersecretary Errinwright (Shawn Doyle)—seems about to pull the plug on the protomolecule project. The alien organism is simply too unpredictable and dangerous, he points out; if Earth gets ahold of an army of hybrid soldiers, per Errinwright’s demands, there’d be nothing left of Mars. Wait... does Mao, who barely cried one salty tear after his daughter Julie’s agonizing death, have a conscious after all?
Haha! No chance. While Strickland agrees that “the protomolecule is not what we thought it was,” considering how it turned an asteroid into a missile (among other aberrations), he also has a bombshell update. All of the children he snatched from Ganymede (telling them he did it to protect them from the war, because he’s a monster) share the same genetic immune deficiency, which he’s discovered can be exploited to inhibit the protomolecule. Mao’s frown turns upside down, because this means he’s back in the game.
But he shouldn’t count his reclaimed billions just yet, because the ship formerly known as the Rocinante, now the Pinus Contorta, is heading straight for Io. Tensions have eased just a bit with this new mission underway; the presence of Prax (Terry Chen) has been beneficial, not only because he’s a calm and peaceful dude, but also because he’s been using his botany know-how to enhance the ship’s air filters. But he’s understandably troubled. While he’s grateful for his crewmates, particularly Holden (Steven Strait), taking on the task of finding Mei, he’s also terrified of what he might find when they get to Io. That’s why he casts the deciding “yes” vote when everyone else can’t agree whether or not to hit pause and answer a strange Martian distress call—one that gets even stranger when Naomi (Dominique Tipper) realizes the ship it’s coming from is the Razorback, registered to their old pal Julie Mao.
Obviously, it’s Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) and Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), still running like hell from Errinwright’s goon squad. They’ve got the speed, but no real defenses—and Chrisjen, who’s not used to high-speed space travel, is in real danger of having a stroke or worse. “If I die, make sure you tell someone what really happened here,” she gasps to Bobbie... whose mind no doubt flashed back to the last time that she was the lone survivor of some dicey shit, and Mars immediately threw her under the bus. She may have since defected from her home planet, but she’s still got her sweet Martian power armor, which contains a radio that lets her hail nearby MCRN ships. It all comes together just in the nick of time, as Holden and the Contorta crew are able to fire off some strategic missiles to disable the UN ship and get the Razorback to safety—though, as Holden dourly points out, they’re out of ammo and have more or less declared war on Earth, and Chrisjen is in terrible shape. We’ll have to wait for next week, presumably, for everyone’s favorite elegant yet foul-mouthed diplomat to wake up and meet Holden properly, but this is a meeting we’ve been waiting for since she dropped in on his family home in Montana back in season one.
Speaking of Earth, one of The Expanse’s major new characters for season three debuted in “IFF,” and it looks like she’s going to do an amazing job filling the huge void left by Chrisjen’s absence: Pastor Anna Volovodov (Elizabeth Mitchell). An old friend of UN Secretary General Esteban Sorrento-Gillis (Jonathan Whittaker)—she once helped write a speech that greatly advanced his political career—Anna’s summoned (against her wishes) to assist with another important address now that Earth and Mars are at war. Thing is, Anna’s not a big fan of Esteban, thanks to a falling-out they had years before (it’s not explained in detail, but it must’ve been bad, because she hasn’t forgiven him for it). And she’s also against the war and violence in general, because when she arrives at the UN, she doesn’t hesitate before breaking up a skirmish between cops and protestors.
Unlike Chrisjen, Anna is a UN outsider—though she does let a well-timed “Bullshit!” fly, so the two women definitely share an affinity for colorful language. Anna, who has an adorable wife and daughter back home, also has something very strategic going for her: the total trust of Earth’s most powerful politician. Naturally, her sudden appearance in New York City infuriates Earth’s second-most powerful politician, Errinwright, who’s already walking a high-tension wire behind everyone’s backs. You can practically see the smoke coming out of his ears when he realizes how much influence Anna has over his boss. But something tells me that Anna, who is smart as hell and the opposite of naive, is not going to fall for the “hey, let’s have a friendly drink, except yours is laced with deadly, untraceable poison!” trick Errinwright pulled on his Mars counterpart last season.
- Alex: “Guys! We got a situation!” Amos: “Story of our lives.”
- It’s safe to say Prax has learned his lesson about securing all the closets—especially those containing, like, every single kind of pointy tool imaginable—aboard the Contorta.
- However, let us not forget about the glob of protomolecule lurking below the deck, because that situation’s eventually gonna be way worse than a random airborne drill.
- The anti-war protest signs outside the UN, including “Eros was an inside job,” were a nice touch.
- The kid named Katoa that Mei recognized on Io was a callback to season two. When Prax first returns to Ganymede, he meets the boy’s father, who’s frantically searching for Katoa just like Prax is searching for Mei. Unfortunately for that other family, it looks like Katoa’s transformation into one of Strickland’s blue-goo super-soldiers may be irreversible at this point.
- No Fred Johnson this week, which made sense for the story. Still, MORE FRED ALWAYS PLEASE.