The Expanse (S03E02) “IFF”

on

The opening is lovely and the color scheme is different. Mei (Leah Madison Jung) is having a dream. She wakes up when Dr. Strickland (Ted Atherton) opens her pod. He sends her off with a nurse to get medication.
Mao (Francois Chau) visits Io. Strickland mentally runs through opening greeting lines, but Mao didn’t like his anyway, striding into the abandoned mining facility that Strickland is now using.
Flying through the Guanshiyin’s debris field, we see Bobbie (Frankie Adams) and Avasarala (Shohreh Agdashloo) in the Razorback. Bobbie monitors the debris field. They don’t see the escape pod, and the clarity is bad because the scan is passive to keep them hidden. Bobbie notes that they are within firing range of the UN ship, but they slowly move out of range. Avasarala, “Are you a good pilot?” Bobbie, “No. I’m a marine. Pilots carry me to kill things.” Suddenly, they are detected. Bobbie accelerates rapidly, but has to slow down to avoid killing Avasarala. Avasarala explores the ways they can send a message for rescue. The only option is for Bobbie to send an MCRN encrypted signal.
On the Roci, well, the Pinus Contorta, Holden (Steven Strait) limps into the galley and notes that the table is missing. This is because Amos (Wes Chatham) and Prax (Terry Chen) have used the table to create a matrix for plants. The ship needs air scrubbers and green is a welcome sight. Alex (Cas Anvar) is listening to the war news when Naomi (Dominique Tipper) approaches him and mentions that the ship is eating too much fuel. She suggests a method of improving fuel use while still masking what the ship is. Alex hears what this episode is named after: an IFF signal, “identify friend or foe.” He knows it’s a message from a Martian. While Bobbie said she was keeping their names out of the message, the screen capture shows that the suit operator is identified, so they know it’s Draper.
Bobbies message
At the UN Building in NYC on Earth, we meet a brand new significant character. Reverend Doctor Anna Volovodov (Elizabeth Mitchell) is walking to the UN building through a protest, and intervenes when a protester is injured. Anna breaks in to a meeting of Errinwright (Shawn Doyle) and Secretary-General Sorrento-Gillis (Jonathan Whittaker) (much to the displeasure of Errinwright). Errinwright is dismissed and leaves, receiving a message that pursuit of Avasarala is active. SecGen apparently had Anna picked up, precisely because he wants someone who will speak truth to him, as well as reassure people. He wants Anna to write his message. She’s conflicted, but agrees in return for funding for supplies for undocumented for a year.
On the Roci, Alex alerts the crew,“Guys, we have a situation.” Amos, “story of our lives.” So true. Alex, tells them that he’s received a Martian distress signal which evokes a big shrug. Alex loses his shit, and insists that they conduct a rescue, when Naomi figures out the ship is registered to Julie Mao! The crew has a big argument over whether rescuing the ship is more important than saving Mei.
Using the comms, Errinwright scolds Mao, and Mao responds angrily that his assets are frozen and family threatened. He won’t do a thing until that is resolved. Mao is annoyed at what the war is being fought over, which he sees as simply fightig each other rather than understand the significance of the weapon they’ve discovered. Mao notes that if Errinwright were to use the hybrids, he could destroy Mars. Strickland notes that the protomolecule isn’t what they thought it was. They walk into the lab, where we hear that hybrid number 86(!) has been loaded and they are ready for transfer.
On the Razorback, Bobbie is trying to keep Avasarala from having a stroke. Every time Bobbie asks a question, Avasarala is resistant, but Bobbie is giving practical suggestions. Avasarala notes the irony of a Martian marine saving her life. Bobbie slows down, but there are incoming missiles, a huge amount. Bobbie conducts evasive maneuvers while Avasarala whistles. The missiles explode, shocking Avasarala and Bobbie. The Roci has arrived to help. It turns out that there was a tie vote, and Prax decided to help the Martian.
Anna calls her wife, Nono (Raven Dauda), who helps Anna to explore what she is feeling, which is anger at the SecGen. They conclude the call with Anna saying goodnight to her lovely wife and daughter Nami (Loreva Joy).
Holden suggests a complicated maneuver because the Roci is smaller than the ship she is fighting. Amos and Prax are locked down in the storage hold.
Anna is eating dinner while SecGen gets a briefing. An aide approaches Anna and plays an apparently well-known speech, and Anna acknowledges she was partially responsible. Her choice of words discloses that she no longer supports what happened as a result of that speech. Errinwright smoothly apologizes for interrupting her dinner. They discuss the Arboghast and Errinwright asks if that’s a sign from God. Anna blisters him in her response, showing she will take no shit over her faith. She says that it’s a sign there are things in the universe bigger than we are. The rest of the folks in the room discuss who they think is responsible, what they will do and that they can destroy Mao’s family. Anna is pretty shocked at the bloodthirstiness of the group, mentioning that there’s been a whole new testament written. She reminds the room that collective punishment is still a war crime.
There are missiles traveling in concert with the Razorback, and occasionally peeling off and exploding. Amos coaches Prax through high G, but a tool locker comes loose and all of the tools become missiles. A wrench knocks Prax’s oxygen hose loose. (Note: instead of a natural instinct to “shrink and cover his face,” Amos watches the tools and effectively knocks them away, diverting their path. This is brilliant and what a space-faring individual would be trained to do.)
On Io, Mao decides that the hybrids should be dismantled because they can’t be controlled. Dr. Strickland notes that they can be controlled using children who have a special genetic abnormality. (Mei is one, and so is an acquaintance, Katoa (Jaeden Noel)). Mei is injected with blue goo (ahhh!) and Katoa tells Mei that Strickland can now cure them, showing off his blue shiny forearm (shudder). Seeing video of the kids, Mao says “do what you have to do.”
Amos slowly maneuvers over to Prax, getting yanked around and pelted with tools. He reattaches Prax’s air and intercepts a drill, calmly handing it to Prax.
The maneuver Roci uses to disable the UN ship, rather than destroy it, was spectacular. Roci launchs six missiles around and beyond the Razorback. The missiles are detonated creating “fog” debris field. Heading towards the UN ship, the Roci passes the Razorback, flipping sideways and launching missiles when perpendicular to the UN ship. The detonated missiles sheer off the engines (because the UN ship didn’t have time to react to the incoming missiles since the Roci was hidden and the maneuver was conducted so quickly). First class graphics! Afterwards, Prax and Amos visit the devastated plant panels. They have a conversation about how important Amos feels it is for Prax to not give up on Mei. This has struck a nerve with Amos.
Unfortunately, the high G has seriously damaged Avasarala, whose blank look during the maneuver shows she’s injured. The Roci docks with the Razorback, and we see from Avasarala’s perspective a reflection showing Bobbie carrying a badly injured person, herself. The hatch opens and the Roci crew is horrified to see her injuries.
avasarala with bobbie
Thoughts on this episode: As usual, a huge amount of material is crammed into this episode. I definitely had to watch more than once to get some of the subtle details. If you miss them, you can misinterpret what is happening, but the good news is that it becomes clear in any case. This episode introduced a compelling new character, Anna Volovodov. She brings at least a teeny bit of restraint, but it’s unclear that this can stop the speeding train wreck that Errinwright is responsible for. It’s lovely to see Bobbie and Avasarala meet up with the Roci crew, which now includes Prax. There is some real potential for sparks with these combinations. I was happy to see that there were some residual effects of Holden’s crushed leg – to be honest, I was surprised at his recovery speed in the last episode. The complexity and beauty of the Roci’s and Razorback’s space moves was breathtaking. The manipulation of the children by Strickland is stomach turning. One hopes he gets his in some future episode.
Grade: A
The Expanse airs on Wednesdays on Syfy at 9/8c. The next episode, Assured Destruction, airs April 25, 2018.