The Expanse 1×09 & 1×10 Review: “Critical Mass” & “Leviathan Wakes”

The Expanse 1x09, Julie Mao

Season 1 of The Expanse ended in an intense two-hour episode filled with bangs and bloodshed.

After an entire season of questions, The Expanse finally delivered with some long-anticipated answers; namely, what happened to the Scopuli, the Canterbury, the Donnager, and Julie Mao. “Critical Mass” dedicated its cold open to showing what happened to Julie and how she ended up the way we saw her at the end of last week’s episode. Julie’s fate is as disturbing as it is sad, left alone to die from the strange sort of bio-weapon that killed everyone on the Anubis and the Scopuli – at least those that hadn’t been killed when the ships intercepted.

Watching Julie succumb to the radiation – from the being that I’m assuming is the “leviathan” that the season finale references – was extremely haunting. The Expanse is the kind of good science fiction that is done very realistically, and seeing the lesions grown on her skin, and then being faced with how she looked when it was all over… Chilling. I worried I would have trouble sleeping after seeing something like that. Florence Faivre did a superb job of showing us both Julie’s fear and resignation as she realized what was happening to her and eventually accepted her death.

I was disappointed when we finally caught up to Julie only to learn that she was dead. When I spoke to Florence at New York Comic Con in October, I had gotten the feeling that Julie would play a bigger role in the season. Indeed, Julie’s disappearance was the catalyst for everything, but she featured sadly little in the following episodes. We only saw snippets of her as Miller investigated what happened to her. Still, Florence did an admirable job of fitting what amounted to an entire season of story arc into approximately ten minutes.

With red herrings and speculation running rampant for the past eight episodes, we at last learned who was behind the events of the pilot: Jules-Pierre Mao, Julie’s father. He’s been after whatever the reasearch team found on Phoebe and is clearly willing to sacrifice a lot of people to get it. Knowing this now, it makes you wonder how much of the events of the season were orchestrated by him. He seems to have known that Julie was onboard the Scopuli, yet he still sent the request to Ceres for someone to find her. Was he intending for Miller to get involved, or not? After learning that the people on board the Anubis absolutely intended for the Canterbury to investigate the distress signal so that they could be destroyed and war could start, I am questioning absolutely everything this season. How many strings is Mao pulling?

Avasarala has been a hit-or-miss character for me much of this season. I adore her for being a woman in a position of power on a show that has slowly gotten rid of most of its female characters, but I’ve always been unsure of her motives. In this episode, however, I absolutely loved her. When we learned last week that her friend Frank had committed suicide, I suspected that something was off. I didn’t think they would mention it if it didn’t prove to be important for the story, and it was. Avasarala also had her doubts, which led to her abusing her connection to him one more time in order to snoop around his office and discover the files he had hidden – files that indicate something sneaky was happening on Earth. Watching Avasarala realize Errinwright was playing her was brilliant, seeing her come face-to-face with Mao was perfection; after an entire season of being far from the action, Avasarala is now right in the thick of the conspiracy – just on the other end of it than the rest of our heroes – which makes her much more relevant than she has been all season.

The Expanse 1x09, Holden and MillerThe bulk of the action of both “Critical Mass” and “Leviathan Wakes” takes place on Eros. The Rocinante crew is trapped on the station – along with everyone else – by agents operating under orders from Mao. They immediately know something is up and make plans to leave, splitting up in the process. Alex, Amos, and Naomi make their way towards the docks to ready the ship; Holden follows Miller as he goes after Dresden, one of Mao’s scientists. Splitting up the Roci crew was genius, as it gave them the opportunity to pair Holden and Miller, two characters with vastly different personalities. This gave us some excellent scenes as we watched Miller basically trip into madness and Holden slowly lose his mercy.

Along with making Avasarala relevant, “Leviathan Wakes” is the episode that makes Holden a little more interesting. It isn’t that I haven’t liked him, but even with his unique backstory, I feel that as a character, he’s been a little flat all season. He hasn’t wanted to hurt anyone; he wasn’t going to let Amos kill the Martians, and he clearly didn’t intend to hurt Kenzo, even as he continually shot at him. However, in this episode, he has either reached his breaking point, or he realized that sometimes the loss of life is a necessary evil. True, he still doesn’t appear to approve of Miller’s “let’s shoot everyone” approach, but he started the episode as someone who had never taken a life before and ended it in a blazing shootout with Mao’s armed thugs. Perhaps that had to do with the fact that he and Miller were not-so-slowly dying of radiation poisoning.

The Expanse 1x09, Naomi & HoldenAs for the rest of the Roci crew, we seemingly got confirmation that Naomi is indeed OPA – or at least knows an awful lot about them. We also got to see a softer side of her. At the beginning of the season, she was heavily against investigating a distress call; at the end of the season, she laments to Holden that they should have tried to save more people. I just hope they don’t use the scene with her administering aid to Holden as the start of a romantic relationship between the two. I quite like their relationship the way it is, thank you very much. The finale also reiterated that Amos is absolutely, one hundred percent loyal to Naomi – willing to kill to protect her – for reasons we still aren’t entirely certain of. And there’s no way him killing Semi won’t come into play later on; they wouldn’t have shown him brazenly telling Miller that he shot Semi otherwise.

Whereas “Critical Mass” was about setup, “Leviathan Wakes” was truly a climactic episode. It brought a satisfying conclusion to events we’ve been speculating about all season while also clearly setting up the events of the Season 2 we are thankfully getting. We learned that Mao has been planning for months to experiment on the citizens of Eros – a colony no one will truly miss – using the “leviathan” that was discovered on Phoebe. We saw a brief glimpse of its horrors in the first hour, but it is the second hour’s parting shot that really hit it home. Kenzo being consumed by the leviathan being the last scene of the season really punches you in the face.

The Expanse is science fiction the way it should be. Sci-fi isn’t just about shiny effects and fancy technology. Sci-fi is about people, about science, about social commentary, and this show has all of these things in spades. Season 1 did an excellent job of introducing us to a world that could conceivably be us in the not-too-distant future, and the season finale proves that beyond the shadow of a doubt. I cannot wait for season 2.

What did you guys think of season 1 of The Expanse? Do you have anything to add about the season finale? Let us know in the comments!

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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1 thought on “The Expanse 1×09 & 1×10 Review: “Critical Mass” & “Leviathan Wakes”

  1. This blew me away. Easily hands down the best show on TV right now.

    That said, this episode had the only bit of science that didn’t jive with me. The magical “radiation cure” after Holden and Miller were basically leaking their melted insides out of every oraface seemed a bit beyond belief. Still,, this show has been one of the most scientically accurate and realistic shows I’ve ever seen so I can forgive this one head scratcher.

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