In the third season of SYFY’s The Expanse, the Sol system is on the brink of war and the crew of the Rocinante might hold the key to stopping it
SYFY’s The Expanse is one of multiple space-based shows the cable network has introduced in the past few years, and it’s arguably the most ambitious show of that nature currently on TV. Based on the popular hard sci-fi book series with the same name by James S.A. Corey, The Expanse is set approximately 200 years in the future after humanity has begun colonizing the solar system. The inner planets, Earth and Mars, are controlled by the United Nations (UN) and the Martian Congressional Republic (MCR), respectively. The Belt is controlled by both Earth and Mars at the expense of the new race of humans (called Belters) that populate it. The Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), a loosely affiliated network of Belters made up of numerous factions, represents the Belt.
The discovery of the alien protomolecule on Saturn’s moon Phoebe (believed to be an extrasolar object shot at Earth by an ancient alien race) and the devastating experiments that followed have pushed the Sol system to the brink of war as old disputes resurface and bring out the worst in the three factions of humanity. The complicated politics of the solar system are often a focus but the series also explores the ethical ramifications of developing biological weapons, what would happen if humanity discovered an advanced alien technology, and more. The hard sci-fi-like nature of the series also helps it stand apart from many other space-based series.
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The second season of The Expanse covers a lot of ground. After the Earth-based private corporation Protogen unleashes the protomolecule on tens of thousands of unsuspecting Belters on Eros Station as part of an attempt to weaponize it, the protomolecule continues to learn and adapt as it reorganizes and rebuilds the organic matter of the Belters. Eventually, with the help of former Ceres detective Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane) and the protomolecule-transformed Julie Mao (Florence Faivre), Eros crashes on Venus and continues constructing whatever it was designed to construct. Captain Jim Holden (Steven Strait) and the crew of the Rocinante discover another project called Project Caliban that further weaponizes the protomolecule. It does that by creating human-protomolecule hybrids using people with weakened immune systems as the foundation.
With each faction of humanity in the solar system wanting access to the protomolecule and its power to reshape humanity, the future of the system and humanity itself looks bleak. But there is hope to prevent all-out war through the actions of Holden, his crew, and key Belters, Earthers, and Martians. The stakes have never been higher on the show and because of that, the upcoming third season is set to be one of the most exciting and thought-provoking seasons yet.
1. The unconventional family that crews the Roci is at the heart of the series and their continued development should push the show in new and interesting directions
There’s no denying that The Expanse has a lot of highly important and interesting characters. But the crew of Rocinante is at the heart of the series. They’re a group of misfits that originally served together on the ice hauler Canterbury and are forced to come together after the ship was nuked by a Protogen stealth ship.
Jim Holden, an Earther from Montana, is an idealist and was dishonorably discharged from the United Nations Navy. Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), a Belter with a mysterious past and likely has OPA connections, is a self-taught engineer with multiple advanced degrees and intensely dislikes the use of violence to solve problems. Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) is a former MCR Navy pilot with a Mariner Valley accent and has a love of adventure. Finally, Amos Burton (Wes Chatham) is a mechanic from Baltimore, Earth and appears to lack a conscience. Together, these four characters form an unconventional family.
Over the course of the first two seasons, the Roci crew goes through numerous rough patches due to disagreements and various personality conflicts. Despite that, the four of them grow closer and begin to trust and rely on each other’s expertise. There’s a lot of conflict but there are also a lot of smaller moments that show just how much they’ve grown to care about each other despite their differences. Holden officially becomes the captain of Rocinante and along with Miller, they help stop Eros from crashing into Earth. In the second season, they discover that Praxideke “Prax” Meng’s (Terry Chen) daughter Mei is the key to tracking down the people behind Project Caliban, the next phase of Protogen’s protomolecule project.
Alex: “Okay, it’s kind of an emergency. So, listen. I’m thinking to myself, I’m thinking, how often do we all just hang out together and just talk, you know, without work? No, no, without work. Hey! Listen, listen, listen. So I’m thinking to myself, and I say to myself, ‘Self, we ought to just do that, right?’ So. Vee-o-walla! That’s lasagna.”
Naomi: “It’s ‘voilà.’”
Alex: “Sit down. So that, my hungry friends, is a Kamal family recipe. It’s a staple of the Mariner Valley. Now, granted, we had to improvise a little bit, without any real cheese, or wheat, or tomatoes or anything.”
Amos: “Damn, Alex, you’re getting us really excited about this lasagna.”
Alex: “Now, don’t go judging it before you taste it, Earther.”
Amos: “It’s not bad, Martian.”
The crew of the Rocinante has gone through a lot together. They survived the destruction of the Canterbury, the MCRN Donnager’s destruction, the Eros incident, and successfully killed a protomolecule-human hybrid. Despite being on better terms than ever, Naomi decides to give a sample of the protomolecule to the Belt. Earlier in season two, the crew had decided that no one should have the sample and that it should be destroyed. Naomi’s decision risks tearing the crew apart and severely damaging her personal relationship with Holden.
With such a large betrayal of trust, will the crew start to question Naomi’s motives? Amos has always been mostly held in check by Naomi and Holden but will Naomi’s decision impact his trust as well? Or will he simply move on? Will this decision cause Naomi to reveal more about her mysterious past? As the crew has made more extreme decisions to protect themselves and stop others from committing horrible atrocities, they’ve gradually started using more morally gray methods to achieve their goals. Despite the likelihood of internal turmoil and their slow descent toward darkness, we’re confident that, like many families, the crew of the Rocinante will overcome whatever obstacle that’s thrown at them and end up stronger in the long run. Will it always be smooth sailing? No. But that’s part of what we love about the crew of the Roci.
2. Project Caliban is in full swing and threatens to tear the solar system apart
Earth, Mars, and the Belt have been at odds for generations. Mars started as a United Nations colony that eventually declared independence. The two planets have had an uneasy relationship ever since. The Belt, on the other hand, has been consistently exploited by the inner planets and treated like second class citizens of the solar system. So when the alien protomolecule was discovered on Phoebe, it shouldn’t be surprising that everyone would want it and that weaponizing it would be a high priority.
The first season of The Expanse explores the initial protomolecule project led by the private corporation Protogen, which is owned by Jules-Pierre Mao (François Chau). The second season concludes that phase of the project and begins to explore a direct use of the protomolecule through Project Caliban. The goal of the project is to create protomolecule-human hybrid super soldiers. These soldiers would presumably be made available to the highest bidder. UN Undersecretary Sadavir Errinwright (Shawn Doyle), who was originally working with Mao, hands detailed information about Project Caliban over to Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo). The final cliffhanger of the season shows an unknown number of humans being prepared to be converted to hybrids, and Prax’s daughter Mei is one of them.
Amos: “I’m sorry about your little girl.”
Prax: “We still don’t know what happened to her. Not for sure.”
Amos: “You’re right. That thing that broke out of the lab… Do you think that used to be a kid?”
Prax: “I think so.”
At the beginning of the third season, Project Caliban’s existence will still largely be a secret to the majority of the solar system, and the same is true of the protomolecule. However, the two largest powers, Earth and Mars, are both aware of the existence of both, and that means both will want it. Errinwright’s murder of the Martian Defense Minister is unlikely to be discovered but the death of such an important official amid the rest of the tensions will probably lead to Mars strongly suspecting foul play.
The hybrids themselves are able to survive in vacuum and are extremely resilient to conventional weapons. One such hybrid nearly destroys the Rocinante. What would an army of super soldiers be able to do? Can the hybrids be controlled or would unleashing them on an enemy produce unpredictable results? If top government officials are willing to murder other government officials simply for trying to obtain information related to the project, then they would be equally willing to go to war over the hybrids themselves. Neither side truly wants a war yet both sides desperately want the technology for themselves, and none of this takes the Belt’s role into the equation. With tensions higher than ever between Earth and Mars and a devastatingly powerful new technology in play, the political situation in season three is bound to be the most intense in the series to date. We’re completely on-board regardless of where the politics take us!
3. More of Avasarala, Bobbie, and Cotyar working together
Chrisjen Avasarala, the UN Deputy Undersecretary of Executive Administration, is arguably the most skilled politician in the solar system. Or at the very least, she’s the most skilled politician on Earth. She’s ruthless, hates to lose, and will go to almost any length to protect Earth. That even includes illegally reaching out to the enemy to prevent a war. Despite never winning an election, she holds one of the highest positions in the United Nations. Instead of holding elected office herself, she manipulates elected officials and other high-ranking members of the government.
Despite all of this power, Avasarala is unable to fully act on her own. She needs genuine allies or unwitting accomplices. To complicate matters, the conspiracy at the heart of the first two seasons makes it difficult for her to know who to trust. Her circle of allies is incredibly small and gets smaller when they start being killed. Early in season two, Avasarala recruits a man named Cotyar (Nick E. Tarabay) as part of her security detail. An attempt on her life is made by the extremist Black Sky faction of the OPA and expanding her personal security is important. However, she mainly recruits him for his other skill set: he’s former military intelligence.
As the situation between Earth and Mars drastically heats up in season two, MCR Gunnery Sergeant Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) becomes a critical witness to Project Caliban’s initial test on Ganymede. After Mars attempts to silence her due to the Martian Congressional Republic being directly involved in the test, she requests political asylum on Earth and becomes another key ally of Avasarala’s. Without her, linking Project Caliban to the MCR would become trickier.
Avasarala: “Nice of you to join us.”
Cotyar: “Just making sure they didn’t lose our luggage. When was the last time you left Earth?”
Avasarala: “None of your god–mn business.”
Cotyar: “Thought so.”
Avasarala: “When you mysteriously vanish, no one will ever find your body.”
Bobbie (pointing at UN logo): “We used to use that for target practice.”
Cotyar: “Ah, this must be weird for you.”
The second season ends with Avasarala, Cotyar, and Bobbie onboard Jules-Pierre Mao’s ship, the Guanshiyin. Cotyar is shot and Bobbie retrieves her MCR power armor to overpower Mao’s security force and protect Avasarala and Cotyar. Between Avasarala’s political skills, Cotyar’s intelligence background/contacts, and Bobbie’s military experience, the three form an unlikely yet powerful group of allies.
But the group isn’t limited to their professional skills. While they are mostly all business when interacting, their personalities often clash in highly entertaining ways. Cotyar is fiercely loyal to Earth, feels guilty for getting Avasarala’s son killed, and has a sarcastic sense of humor. Bobbie, on the other hand, has recently defected from Mars. Avasarala has a morbid sense of humor and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, regardless of how rude or condescending she may be.
Once the trio makes it off of the Guanshiyin (and how can they not with the skills they have?), what’s next for them? Will they immediately go after Jules-Pierre Mao or will there be a longer political game that has to be played first? What would Bobbie’s role look like in that? Regardless of what’s in store for these characters next, we can safely say that whatever they do, it’ll be a lot of fun to watch unfold.
4. Fred Johnson now has a sample of the protomolecule, which may change the balance of power for the Belt
Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman), who is known as the Butcher of Anderson Station in the Belt, is a former UN Marine from Earth. After killing over a thousand Belters on Anderson Station, Fred became the Chief of Operations on Tycho Station and a strong advocate for the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) and Belters. Given his background, Fred’s motives are questioned by Earthers, Martians, and Belters alike.
Many Belters are loyal to Johnson and his cause, while more extreme factions of the OPA don’t trust him and will always see him as one of the Inners/a non-Belter regardless of his actions or intentions. Throughout the second season Fred suspects that the crew of the Roci is hiding something from him. To Fred’s surprise, he finds out exactly what that secret is when Naomi gives him the last known sample of the protomolecule to be used for the Belt at the end of the season.
Naomi: “The protomolecule has changed everything, except everything it didn’t. I don’t ever remember a time when Earth, Mars, and the Belt weren’t fighting. […] Guns. Rail guns. Nuclear bombs. No weapon ever brings peace. No one knows what the protomolecule wants or what it’s doing, but they are using it anyway. […] It’s part of the equation now, and it will be from now on. […] Earth has it. Mars has it. And the Belt needs it, too. I didn’t destroy our sample. […] There was a moment on the Somnambulist when I thought I wasn’t going to make it. I was sure we were all going to die there. And that our sample would be lost. And I couldn’t let that happen.”
Holden: “Naomi. What did you do?”
Naomi: “I gave the protomolecule to Fred Johnson.”
Going forward, a lot will be riding on how Fred responds to having access to the protomolecule. While he’s repeatedly claimed that he’s changed since Anderson Station, we’ve seen multiple indications that it’s still an internal struggle for him. When a member of the Black Sky faction of the OPA directly challenges Fred, Fred’s response is to throw him out an airlock to prove that he isn’t playing around. That Black Sky OPA member was a terrible person and a case can be made that he should have been spaced. But if that’s Fred’s reaction to a single insurgent, what would it be if the Belt was directly attacked by Earth or Mars? Can such a man be trusted with the most powerful form of technology humanity has ever been in possession of?
Like other weapons of mass destruction, how do you deploy a weapon based on the protomolecule without the opposing sides of the conflict also deploying their versions of it? Threatening to use such a weapon is also completely different than actually using it. We know that Fred is capable of killing thousands of people but using the protomolecule would likely have a death count significantly higher than that. If he uses it in the name of the Belt, how does that make the Belt any different than the two factions they claim to be opposed to? Fred may only use the protomolecule as a means to help even the playing field when dealing with Earth and Mars.
However, the temptation to use the technology to help give the Belt an edge might be overwhelming. What happens if Anderson Dawes (Jared Harris) is able to obtain the sample and gives Dr. Cortázar (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio) access to it? It’s unclear what will happen next with Fred Johnson, the OPA, or the Belt in general. But the amount of anger and resentment the Belt has over the way the inner planets have treated Belters for generations is unlikely to be diminished once they have access to a powerful new technology. Will Fred Johnson be able to help keep it in check or will he fall victim to his darker impulses?
5. The protomolecule is continuing to construct something on Venus
Ever since the opening scenes of The Expanse’s very first episode, the alien protomolecule has played a consistent role in the overarching story of the series. Even when the politics of the solar system take priority in the story, the protomolecule subplot is always ominously looming in the background. Protogen’s research on the protomolecule initially started on Phoebe. The more organic material they give to it, the more it learns and the more complicated it becomes. All of that culminates on Eros Station when the researchers intentionally infect the entire population with the protomolecule, slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent Belters in the process.
Eros takes on a life of its own early in the second season and begins to accelerate toward Earth. With the help of Miller and Julie Mao, Eros avoids crashing on Earth and instead crashes on Venus. When the UNS Arboghast arrives at Venus to determine the fate of Eros and study the crater, the scientists discover that the protomolecule survived the impact and is constructing something massive on the surface. The Arboghast attempt to get a closer look at what’s being constructed and is immediately ripped apart by the protomolecule. The crew is presumably infected and killed by the protomolecule to be used for its larger purpose.
“Well, there’s clearly something else going on down there. Now, there’s no way those structures around that crater are natural formations. […] There. There it is. Right in the middle of the crater. The radiation signature of those pulses is the same as what was recorded on Eros. The ridge structures have grown an average of nine millimeters since our first scans. The atmospheric acid levels above the impact site are rising while the temperature is falling. There’s no doubt about it, that crater is active.”
‒ Dr. Michael Iturbi
As the show enters its third season, the situation on Venus is still unresolved and raises numerous questions. Given the alien nature of the protomolecule, what is its ultimate purpose? Is it sentient? We’ve seen the protomolecule briefly mimic another human. Is that an attempt to communicate or is it simply learning about its surroundings? Is it building a weapon? Or is it doing something completely different? What happened to the alien race that originally created it? Are they still out there in the universe? With an ancient, advanced alien technology playing a role in the solar system and unanswered questions about the aliens that created it, the possibilities for future storylines are effectively limitless. Needless to say, we can’t wait to see where this part of the storyline goes next!
With the protomolecule building something on Venus and the existence of protomolecule-human hybrids, the fight to save the solar system, and humanity itself, is only just beginning
The second season of SYFY’s The Expanse raised the stakes significantly for both the story and characters. Now that the Belt has a sample of the protomolecule and some of the more extreme factions of the OPA have access to one of the last known scientists who worked on Protogen’s related research project, the balance of power could very well shift dramatically in the future. Will Fred Johnson weaponize his protomolecule sample or will he use it as a bargaining chip to help advance the interests of the Belt? How will Anderson Dawes use Dr. Cortázar’s knowledge?
Holden and the rest of the crew of the Rocinante, after having just barely survived against a single protomolecule-human hybrid, will have a renewed interest in stopping the experiments once and for all. Will they be able to find Prax’s daughter Mei before it’s too late or will she also be turned into one of the hybrids? If the hybrids are unleashed on the solar system, is there any hope of stopping them? On the political front, Chrisjen Avasarala has an uphill battle in front of her. Sadavir Errinwright is known to have conspired with Jules-Pierre Mao and Protogen to weaponize the protomolecule. Will Avasarala be able to take both of them down and make sure they’re held accountable for the atrocities on Eros and Ganymede? Is war between Earth and Mars inevitable? Will Bobbie be able to adapt to life on Earth now that she’s defected?
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With so many subplots in play and just as many ways for war to break out in the Sol system, the third season of The Expanse has even more ground to cover than the first two seasons. The potential of the protomolecule threatens to tear the solar system apart but the unknowns it represents are intriguing and thought-provoking. There’s a lot of uncertainty regarding the future of the solar system and humanity. One thing, however, is certain. The third season of SYFY’s The Expanse is set to be one of the most exciting seasons to date!
THE EXPANSE returns on WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11th at 9/8c on SYFY.