It'd be an understatement to say the stakes were raised in fifth episode of The Expanse's second season, "Home." The asteroid station Eros, which was swarmed by the mysterious protomolecule at the end of the first season, has avoided a direct hit by the Nauvoo — a giant Mormon spaceship meant to travel beyond our solar system — by literally moving out of its way. Yes, that's an incredible sentence.
Basically, the protomolecule has somehow made Eros sentient, and it begins heading toward Earth. To put this in the perspective of the show, an asteroid way bigger than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs is arriving, and it's coming with a potentially deadly alien organism on it. Who, then, is Earth's last hope?
"Alien life in the universe and I'm riding it like a tick on a dog," perpetually exasperated Joe Miller says. Miller and his notoriously terrible hair is stuck on Eros, because the explosive he was set to plant on the asteroid station malfunctioned. Unless he manually configures it every 60 seconds, the bomb will detonate.
This puts Miller in an impossible situation; one where he was consigned to his death in the previous episode because the Nauvoo should've hit Eros and killed him in the process. Now he has to find a way inside the station, plant the explosive and leave before the timer goes off. Oh, and while this is happening, Earth has fired their own missiles in the direction of Eros.
This thrilling, taut sequence of events makes "Home" the best episode of television so far this year, with The Expanse bringing together all its major characters for Eros' journey toward Earth. While Miller tries to make his way through Eros, we have James Holden and his crew on the Rocinante trying to keep up with the station, which has picked up considerable speed, and figure out how to save him. Meanwhile, on Earth, Chrisjen Avasarala comes to terms with the sobering fact that billions of people will die if Eros makes impact.
To make matters worse, not long after Earth fires off its missiles, they aren't able to hone onto Eros. The protomolecule somehow finds a way to lose its signature on the radar, meaning the missiles are flying blind. The only hope to guide the missiles is for Earth to put its trust in the Rocinante crew. Chrisjen vouches for Holden, but the rest of Earth's leaders are skeptical. It's easy to understand why: They perceive Fred Johnson and the OPA — who Holden and co. are working with — as terrorists. This is The Expanse's interplanetary conflict in a nutshell: Warring human colonies trust themselves so little that it may take an alien lifeform capable of wiping out our species for everyone to get on the same page. But even then, it might not be enough.
Thankfully, Earth agrees to give their missile control to the Roci crew, but it ends up being a moot point since Eros has picked up so much speed the ship can't keep up with it. The fate of Earth ultimately falls on Miller and the explosive he's stuck with. This leads to some expectedly tense moments, like when Miller has to climb a ladder with the explosive strapped to his back and he's barely able to turn off the timer as he climbs (naturally, he survives).
But the biggest surprise comes when Miller makes his way through Eros and finds the hub of the protomolecule's activity on the station. It's at the hotel where they found the infected corpse of Julie Mao — and not only that, but the protomolecule has somehow fused itself with Julie's consciousness.
Turns out, Eros is heading toward Earth because Julie perceives herself to be inside her old spaceship. She believes she's going home, unaware — as weird as it sounds — that she is connected to what amounts to a sentient asteroid station. Miller approaches her and, having a long-held fascination with Julie since starting on her missing person's case, is awestruck (granted, this could also be due to the fact that she's blue and sparkly now).
However, Julie says Eros can't stop — it has to land somewhere. So Miller convinces her to direct the station toward the uninhabited Venus. With the Rocinante still far away from the station, Miller consigns to his fate by removing his helmet and embracing Julie. The ship eventually crash lands on Venus; saving Earth while killing Miller and whatever remained of Julie in the process.
Miller's unexpected death on The Expanse is not unlike the first season of Game of Thrones with Ned Stark. The audience follows Miller and his missing person's case from the get-go — just as Ned tries to find out Jon Arryn's killer. And despite the mounting odds on Eros, you assume Miller would make it out somehow, if only because the show precipitously teased his death in the previous episode.
"Home" packs the type of punch few season finales achieve, let alone an episode in the middle of a season. Yet it doesn't feel like The Expanse is throwing all its cards on the table, either. With a series of books by James S.A. Corey as its backbone, Syfy's space opera still has plenty of source material to work with. If Miller's shocking death is the start, we can't imagine what the rest of season two has in store.
The Expanse season two airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Eastern on Syfy.