The episode 11 twist on 'The Expanse,' one of TV's best shows, is also its most depressing
The second season of The Expanse, Syfy's space opera that's become one of the most politically relevant shows on television, started at a breakneck pace, culminating with a shocking death in episode five. For a series that's often compared to Game of Thrones, it was The Expanse's Ned Stark moment; the death of its lead character, Joe Miller, signaled a shift in the narrative.
It hasn't been a seamless transition since Miller's death. The show slowed its pacing, and at first, it wasn't really clear what the Rocinante crew's purpose was once its most imminent threat — the protomolecule heading towards Earth, but eventually crashing on Venus — was dealt with. However, the introduction of another major character, Dr. Praxidike Meng, gave the show a promising new direction.
Dr. Meng — or as he's usually referred to in The Expanse novels and on the show, Prax — is a botanist working at the station on Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons. But once the station is attacked — an event where the Martian Marine Bobbie Draper lost her entire team to a mysterious human-like creature who wasn't wearing a suit in deep space — Prax's home is destroyed. Many of his co-workers are killed, and he assumes his young daughter Mei is among the victims.
Which brings us to episode 11, "Here There Be Dragons." By this point, Prax has joined the Rocinante crew on its mission to Ganymede. Turns out, Mei's pediatrician on the station, Dr. Strickland, is a Protogen employee with a scientific background in biology, which suggests he may be able to work with the protomolecule. Not only that, but in the last footage of Strickland on Ganymede before he retreats to an abandoned part of the station, he's bringing Mei with him. So that's the good news: Prax's daughter could still be alive.
Unfortunately, she's far from OK. "Here There Be Dragons" skips between the past and present, as the Rocinante crew journeys through the abandoned sections of Ganymede station, giving viewers flashbacks of Mei and Strickland traversing the same path moments before the station was originally attacked. In the flashbacks, it's not long before Mei misses her father, and Strickland's assurances that she'll see him again soon are, well, total bullshit.
The disturbing truth is that Strickland and other Protogen employees on Ganymede were experimenting with the protomolecule on children, including Mei. The last we see of Mei in the flashbacks, she's being strapped to a standing gurney alongside some other kids, terrified. When Prax and the Roci crew make it to the same room, the employees are still there (sans Strickland) and Mei's backpack is among a pile of miscellaneous items. After a brief shootout between the Protogen employees and the Rocinante group, we see one of the children infected with the protomolecule left in an incinerator room. It's not Mei, but the child was infected, and killed.
As Holden posits, the attack on Eros station from season one was a test to see how the protomolecule would react in an uncontrolled area. This was the case of Protogen testing on specific people, though why it had to be children on Ganymede remains to be seen. What is clear is the children experimentation is tied to the attack on Ganymede. However, before Holden, Prax and the rest of the group is able to get answers from the Protogen employees, they're attacked by one of the creatures, who breaks free on Ganymede.
One of the employees barely survives the attack, and before she dies, she explains to Holden what they were trying to achieve. "We made the protomolecule to do what we wanted," she says. "We made it in our own image. And there's a lot more where she came from."
Though the episode doesn't say it outright, it's a near certainty the creature that attacked the employees and escaped is Mei. It's also possible Mei was the one who killed Bobbie's Martian unit and the U.N. soldiers. It's about the most depressing thing imaginable for a character, Prax, that's already been through the wringer. In Prax's introductory episode, his friend from Ganymede was sent out an airlock, along with other Martians and Earthers, by some spiteful Belters in a callous act of butchery.
"Here There Be Dragons" sets up the Roci crew to hunt down the escaped creature in the penultimate episode of the season, where there's a good chance Prax will learn the truth about his daughter's fate. In a show that's already made apparent the heartless lengths mankind will go in the pursuit of absolute power — in this episode, Bobbie also finds out that it was Mars who gave the green light to her own team's massacre just to see what the protomolecule was capable of — it's an especially cruel twist.
But the future The Expanse presents is a cruel world. The marketing for the show loves to tackle the idea of its fans choosing a "side" in the interplanetary conflict: Earth, Mars or the Belters. However, just two seasons in, it's clear that the only people worth rooting for are the members of the Rocinante crew: Holden, Naomi, Alex, Amos — and now, Prax. It's not a coincidence that this group of heroes represent Earthers (Holden and Amos), Martians (Alex) and the Belters (Naomi and Prax).
There's no side worth choosing; humanity fucking sucks. That too, feels especially relevant in 2017.
The Expanse season two airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Eastern on Syfy.