S3 / Ep 12 “Congregation” and Ep 13 “Abaddon’s Gate” / Syfy
Oye, you know what’s up. Inside the Ring has been an unmitigated disaster for everyone involved. The Earthers and Martians haven’t the faintest idea what to do with themselves. The crew of the Roci is beat to hell, but at least they captured the villain of the 2nd half, Melba aka Clarissa Mao aka Murderous Milly Who Killed Tilly. Holden is all the way out his mind, which happens when you touch the alien tech. (Anyone who’s watched any sci fi of the last 40 years knows this.) Folks is dead and those who aren’t dead are slowly bleeding out. It is a party, start to finish.
As if in answer to all this mess, Captain Ashford makes a call — come to the Behemoth and enjoy our gravity! It’s free, if you’re sharing your medical supplies. Thus begins the slow gathering of the congregation in the giant former church. Is there gonna be a sermon?
Symmetry of Pain
The Ring has pulled all the ships into orbit around the Nucleus, equidistant apart. Because there’s nothing alien tech likes more than balance and order.
Melba comes to in the MedBay of the Roci. She finds that her endocrine implant, that allows her flashes of inhuman strength, is being blocked. Enter The Rev and Nurse Amos. At this point, all of Melba’s pretense is gone, she’s a snarling animal. This is in chilling contrast to the bare logic of Rev Anna, and the dawning realization on Amos’s face. Melba was the one who set them up, who tried to kill them. Well no, Amos, Melba doesn’t give a shit about you, personally. She’s after Holden, everyone else is collateral damage.
Rev Anna wants to do the right thing, obvi, and take Melba somewhere for prison and charges and all that other Earther stuff. Recognizing that Melba’s murderous intentions will not be fixed by the prison/industrial complex, Amos offers to put her down, first with a bullet, then with a drug cocktail — that’d be painless, he says. Rev Anna is having none of that. She’s a by-the-book, servant of the Almighty and there will be no summary executions while she’s around.
This sets up the beginning of Amos’ next relationship, as he looks at Rev Anna and sees a true moral compass. Rev Anna, while she may occasionally be distracted by fame or science, really knows the difference between right and wrong, in her own parameters. She’s not a Naomi who will forget about him, or a Prax who will return to his real life elsewhere. Amos knows a center he can hold onto when he sees one. Obligingly, he doesn’t shoot Melba. (And more’s the pity.)
Meanwhile, Naomi and Alex receive the invite from Ashford and determine that Holden is probably over there with the OPA. Off they all go to the Behemoth.
On the Behemoth
In fact, yes, Draper and the Martians have taken Holden to the Behemoth. There, a Martian captain gives him a stern talking to, and then introduces him to Ashford. Ashford plays the good cop to the Martians’ bad cop, and quickly gets Holden to unload his madness. And whoa, does it sound like madness. Josephus Miller, the Nucleus, the alien brain download, all a dat. Here’s the important part: The Protomolecule is trying to phone home, but there’s no one to pick up the call. In the time between when it arrived in our system and now, its civilization has been destroyed. By opening the Ring and interacting with the Nucleus, they’re terrifyingly close to a danger they cannot even understand. How much of this Ashford believes and how much he doesn’t, he keeps to himself at this point.
Meanwhile, Drummer is on a medical bed about to be put into a coma so the doc can regrow her spinal column. Our girl is not having any of that. Her people are dying and she’s got to get on her feet to help. With a defiant roar, she lays on eyes on some discarded supports and gets to solving her own problems.
All over the ship there are problems a plenty. They’re running out of blood for the wounded. Ashford is having to manage the Martians and the Earthers. The crew of the Roci arrive, and Naomi is immediately taken into “custody” by the OPA. They even take Amos’ gun.
Every Belter on the ship knows Naomi Nagata as a deserter now, and they treat her accordingly. If she wants anything out of Ashford, she’s going to have to pay for it; she’s all out of goodwill and credit from her former crewmates. They set her to work on the power grid. If she can stabilize it, they’ll give her access to Holden. Deals getting made all around this ship today.
Interestingly, Naomi consistently refers to Holden as her friend, never her lover or boyfriend as she might in a modern setting. I’m not sure what to make of it. Is that a statement about their relationship? Is she hiding it from the OPA? Or just how people talk in this future?
Proving that irony isn’t dead, even in the void, Melba the Murderous is locked up across the way from Holden. She recognizes him, but he still doesn’t know about her. She laughs, in that way you know is to keep from crying.
Trying to Call Home
As it turns out, the Behemoth has the largest communications array ever. Based on a Earth scientist’s idea, they try to use it to call outside the Ring, to no effect.
Cooperation is breaking out all over the ship, with doctors and medical personnel from all factions working together to save lives. Rev Anna joins in, again drawing the watchful eye of Amos. He’s fascinated by her, and he quickly attaches himself to her side. On the other end of the ship, Naomi reunites with friend Drummer where together they finish working on…not sure what yet. With all this love and light, someone’s bound to start singing in a minute.
Science-Earther-Man wants to run an experiment. The most Earther of all experiments: Let’s blow up a nuke out in the void and see what happens!?! Again, if you’ve seen any sci-fi of the last 40 years, you know that poking the alien tech with a nuke ends in one of two ways: you either win, or you piss it off. Now you’ve been watching The Expanse as long as I have. Which do you think applies in this situation?
Speaking of that Sermon
Rev Anna delivers one. It isn’t a stirring speech, you won’t leave feeling inspired. What you do get from the conversation Anna has with Melba is a glimpse into two women struggling with their own sides of the same rage. Their powerlessness, their lack of understanding of the way the universe works, is overwhelming. Anna at first tries to make excuses for Melba’s behavior, but there is no easy answer, and Melba doesn’t want to give one.
Anna has to embrace her own call for vengeance. Despite her status as a minister, she has no sympathy or love for Melba. Realizing her own unlovability, and perhaps that she doesn’t care, Melba cries silently. Why, she asks, didn’t Anna let Amos kill her? Because in spite of it all, maybe because of it all, Anna doesn’t want Melba to get off easy. And jail, a trial, a showing on television that her famous father will see…that’s the best punishment there is. Rev Anna is a real one, fosho.
What were Naomi and Drummer building? A half-body MECH!! Drummer storms down through the ship and lets Naomi see Holden.
There’s kissing. It’s…what it is.
They do have a conversation, in which Holden tells Naomi everything. With Drummer standing outside listening, oh, and Melba across the way. Does Naomi tell him about his stalker?
Oh, and that nuke…pissed the alien tech off. The Nucleus is charging up for something now. Ashford remembers Holden’s words, about destroying whole systems through the Ring, and sounds the alarm. He sets into motion a plan to destroy the Ring using the Behemoth’s communication laser. Is this the right answer? Has he interpreted Holden’s vision correctly? Everyone reacts as expected:
Earther: I’ll never go home.
Martian: I’ll never be famous.
Belter: But it’ll be *amazing*!
Holden the Hero
I still don’t understand what you see in him.” C. Drummer
Drummer is the girlfriend that Naomi needs all the time. The two women watch on video as Holden pleads with ProtoMiller to give him some direction. After waiting long enough to be fashionably late, ProtoMiller comes through with an answer, but it isn’t one anyone wants to hear.
While Holden is talking to ProtoMiller, Ashford and the Blow ‘Em Up team start arming up for the revolt that going down when everyone on all these ships realizes they aren’t going home. They’re gonna need more techs on the command deck, more police-types in the hallways. Oh, and Ashford’s gonna need to get his hands on Holden and the Peace and Love team. He sends Diogo (the twerp with the face tattoo) down to the brig to get them. But they’re not standing still.
Holden sends out directions to Amos and Alex — info dump here — what with the nuke and all, the station now thinks that all the ships are threats. The only way to convince it otherwise is for all the ships to turn off their reactors. Effectively, they all have to roll over and play dead. That will get the nucleus to release the speed limit and they can all go. But how are Alex and Amos supposed to convince all these folks to turn off the lights? Holden doesn’t know, he’s going to be too busy turning off the Behemoth to be much help to them. But both plans have to work. Get it? Got it? Good. Holden out.
Journalism to the Rescue
The PR arm of the Peace and Love team, Alex, Amos, and the Rev, go find Monica the Journalist. In its continuing work to complicate all the narratives, Monica has morphed from a muck-raking reality tv producer to a hard hitting news reporter in these last few episodes, running an information channel. She alternates between delivering reports to coordinate cross-ship activities and criticising the behavior of the ship captains. Questioning and supporting the leadership, Monica does both well. Too bad there isn’t more of that in the real world.
After your regularly scheduled Amos Quote of the Show, (“You want me to feel bad, I don’t. And I never will.”) Rev. Anna convinces Monica to help. They need to shut the ships down, and the only person who can reach everyone at once is her. Off they go to the relay station, stolen guns in hand.
Monica and Alex work to uplink the techie blah blah, leaving Rev Anna and Amos time for more chat. She begrudgingly admits that what they’re doing is something worth killing for, but that she’s not happy about it. They talk about revenge, hate, unfinished business — every scene with Anna brings a tender humanity to the show that is fantastic. I didn’t realize we needed some light in here until she brought it. She’s an asset just as impactful as Ashford’s menacing privateer.
Grenades to the Rescue
Holden and the Shut it Down faction are on the way to the control room. Staring down death, again, some more, Holden confesses all that mushy stuff to Naomi, which she reciprocates. It is all love and kisses. They leave the rotating drum and its spin gravity. This relieves the pressure on Drummer’s back, so even she’s smiling.
In one of those cinemagraphic moments for which the Expanse is famous, the three of them drop in to the reactor control room and take over.
Here begins the back and forth between Ashford in the Command room and Drummer/Naomi in Control room. They each are aware of the other’s actions, switching and moving power around the ship, but can’t stop it. Into this round robin comes… Melba??!!?? She’s got a power certification, you’ll remember, that’s how she got the contractor gig in the first place. She’s put to work managing power converters. Does anyone else know she’s got murdering tendencies? Do they care?
The old pirate Ashford finds himself the victim of an internal mutiny as Drummer tries to tell him what’s going on. Immediately the crew starts to question his decision to blow up the ring, if there’s another way, shouldn’t they at least try it? No. He insists, and he isn’t wrong, that if they leave the ring usable, eventually a human is going to come through and make the station mad. It is in our nature to explore, we won’t be able to help making a mess of it. He can’t leave this unexploded bomb out here in space. But he doesn’t have to be the one exploding it either.
That’s when Monica’s broadcast comes through. She leverages Rev Anna’s honest midwestern ministerial personna and puts her on screen, explaining everything. Even in space, a genuine looking white woman on television can convince folks of anything.
The Martians head down to stop the broadcast — without their armor mind you, because Diogo has already stolen it to storm the reactor control room. He can’t use the guns, but he can punch like hell. This is when the episode goes from speecifying to bloody space conflict.
Melba, continuing to be not a very good electrician, almost gets herself electrocuted. She and Ashford talk. He recognizes her as the woman out to kill Holden. Melba convinces him to remove her chemical restraint, which answers my previous question — yes, he knows she’s murderous; no, he doesn’t care. Melba asks Ashford one question: Can one act erase all a person’s previous sins? He says he thinks so, yes. We’re left to figure out what that means. Is Melba looking for forgiveness? From whom?
There’s a little gun fire on the Monica and Rev. Anna show until Bobbie and Alex realize they’re shooting at each other. Alex uses his best skill, his ability to talk, to disarm himself and Bobbie. They meet in the middle of a long hallway to try to find a way to not get killed. The Martians *really* want to kill these non-Martians, so they ignore Bobbie’s orders and come in swinging. Bobbie gets to trade fists with the Black woman pilot who’s been giving her grief for 3 episodes and they come down dirty. Alex has to fend off the other Marine, eventually with an assistive bullet from Amos. Once again, Bobbie tries to follow her convictions and ends up on the opposite side from her Martian comrades. She’s a Belter now.
Diogo flushes Holden and squad out of the reactor control room. They retreat up the exterior elevator shaft, with Diogo in his stolen armor hot behind them. They can’t outrun his Martian Marine armor, so Drummer insists on staying behind. She goes face to face with Holden: “I’m sorry I tried to kill you. Tell Naomi I said that.” Drummer stays not caring what Holden thinks, only that he lives. Holden pulls up and away, leaving Drummer in an alcove, armed with grenades and ready to go out suicide style. At this point, I made my peace with Drummer dying, AGAIN.
But again, she doesn’t die!!!
Naomi drops an elevator on Diogo, crushing that wanna be pirate like a bug. Fosho.
All around the void, ships are going dark in response to the Monica and Rev Anna show. The Earther scientist over on the Thomas Prince feels particularly bad, seeing as he started it and all. Ashford pushes forward, trying to shoot the Ring but failing. He tries again, but the power is all a mess. Naomi and Holden reach the command room and face off with him as more ships go dark.
Holden gives his martyr’s speech, but Ashford is 100% OVER that kaka falota (floating bullshit). Shoot them, he says.
And then the twist!
I don’t know at what point Melba/Clarissa decided that maybe Holden was *actually* out for the greater good. Was it when she listened to him in jail? Or did her heart to heart with the Rev dislodge some truth in her mind? Whatever the reason, she activates her endocrine boost and uses it to knock Ashford senseless. Then she flips the breaker on the laser, overriding the whole system and causing a full shutdown — just like her electrician mentor told her back in her intro episode. It is a fantastic moment, not because she suddenly finds peace with Holden or her father, in who’s name all her crimes are committed, but because maybe, in using her strength for this, she can find peace with herself.
Voice Over Ending
Things get a little trippy. There’s eerie music and ominous lighting. In the darkness, the station let’s them go. And what’s more, the station opens all the other rings that one guessed were out there. A thirteen hundred black doorways open into space. We’ve got access to the interstellar Grand Central Station — we can go anywhere.
Holden’s voice over continues, accusing ProtoMiller, and by extension the intelligence behind it, of setting us up. Whatev. We’re here now. What’s more compelling are the human relationships that Holden talks over. Drummer makes peace with Ashford. Rev Anna and Melba/Clarissa come to some state of grace. Amos looks at Naomi and doesn’t feel like he hates her. Bobbie finally joins the crew of the Roci, hanging with her friend Alex. Avasarala plans her next move — because really, isn’t that Avasarala’s favorite thing?
The civilization that built the rings is gone. What could have killed them?
I have to begrudgingly give credit to James Holden here as played by Steven Strait. Strait’s portrayal of Holden has beaten down my dislike of the character, really bringing nuance to the same old white guy hero. Holden isn’t easy, he isn’t merely reluctant or conflicted, he’s so much more. Bringing that complication to television isn’t easy, but Strait did it with a slow-burn acting approach that reached its peak as Holden went slowly mad.
The success of Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata mirrors this. Yes, she’s the hero’s girlfriend and in another show that’s all she’d be. But this Nagata is more — she’s deep with her own backstory and her own friends. She acts against “the hero” when she feels it necessary. Nagata is never a follower, but she is a supporter, and her role on every crew she’s on demonstrates how important that is.
Everyone else brings in a stellar last 2 hours of television here — Rev Anna’s faith, Melba’s nihilism, Amos’ deadpan brutality, Drummer and Bobbie and Alex and Ashford and…there were moments when the season faltered, but here at the end, all the threads really came together.
What a close! As glad as I am that The Expanse is returning for a new season next year, I could also have been satisfied with this episode being the last one. It is both final — we have learned something about the Protomolecule, finally — and open ended. It is optimistic, while we all know we will ruin whatever magic we find on the other side of those rings. There is an alien out there somewhere; but humans remain the monsters in the dark one should fear the most.
Cover image: THE EXPANSE — “Abaddon’s Gate” Episode 313 — Pictured: Steven Strait as James Holden — (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)
Watching The Expanse? Find BNP’s other recaps of the series here.
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