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Episode Recap: Assured Destruction
Life on Earth will never be the same after The U.N strategizes a costly ploy to gain advantage in the war against Mars.
Avasarala is unconscious but recovering in the Rocinante med bay while elsewhere, Draper gets used to her new surroundings. That those surroundings include a defaced Martian flag (courtesy of Amos, after Earth nuked Deimos) sets her off, and it leads to a tense series of arguments between her and the Roci crew. Draper demands they get her and Avasarala to their destination, but Holden is adamant about going to Io.
Below deck, Naomi follows Holden and gives him a hard time for his efforts to ignore the realities of the war. But Holden turns it back on her and says she should go to Tycho alone if that's what she really wants.
At the UN, Gillis, Errinwright, and their inner circle review intel about Martian ships with "planet-buster" missiles that are being positioned to strike against Earth. Errinwright backs a plan to preemptively strike and take out all such ships. Gillis is worried about unnecessarily escalating the war, and what Mars would do if their strike isn't perfect, but Errinwright strongarms him: this first strike will end the war and save lives.
Elsewhere, among a debris field, we see that the drop ship survived and Cotyar and Theo are still alive. They get discovered by the UNN ship Agatha King, and Theo immediately begins nervously sputtering about getting their story straight. This is not someone built to hold up under pressure. Which is probably why Cotyar tells Theo to close his eyes and calm down and then — regretfully, even tearfully — chokes him to death.
Aboard the Agatha King — a charming old rust bucket of a ship — Admiral Souther gets briefed on the situation, which is essentially they don't know who they're picking up. Then they get a communication from Admiral Wynn, saying that whoever they recover from the ship should be treated as a prisoner, and that no one is to speak to them until Wynn himself arrives.
On Io, Strickland continues to experiment on the protomolecule using children as test subjects, while Jules-Pierre Mao observes. He notes Mei and her close friendship to Katoa, whose abilities now include being able to scale walls.
Amos tends to Prax, fixing up an old wound, and the two continue to bond, Prax over his missing daughter, and Amos over his dark Baltimore past. Amos says the only way anybody ever got out of Baltimore was by dying. So how did he get out of Baltimore? He died.
In med bay, Avasarala and Holden finally get to have a conversation. She tells him what she and Draper were doing on Mao's ship and that she needs to get a message to Admiral Souther, that it's of the utmost importance. Holden stubbornly refuses, saying he's through fighting other people's battles. Even Avasarala's please to help stop the spread of the protomolecule fall on deaf ears. "I'm nobody's savior," Holden says.
Admiral Nguyen boards the Agatha King and informs Admiral Souther that Avasarala was conspiring with Jules-Pierre Mao in treason against Earth. Souther requests to accompany Nguyen to interrogate Cotyar, who lies that Avasarala was killed by Mao's men. Wynn doesn't believe it, and he also refuses to believe Cotyar's claim that it's Errinwright who is working with Mao.
At the U.N., Anna tries to help Gillis craft his speech, but there's still tension between the two. She says his words about cooperation and learning from each other would sound better if they weren't waging war. Gillis, meanwhile, wants to talk about "overcoming fear" (i.e. getting the courage to make tough military choices). Anna is not about it. "Maybe this war was inevitable. But you want it to be holy and it's not. The best you can hope for is that it's justified."
On Io, Jules-Pierre Mao runs into Mei in a hallway. They introduce each other, the little girl clearly reminding Mao of his own daughters in some way, and he accompanies her back to the medical area. She asks if he saw Katoa jump so high and says that Dr. Strickland tells her she could do the same one day. She hopes so, because she wants to show off for her dad when she sees him. We're definitely seeing a softer side of Mao, as he bonds with Mei and actually appears somewhat conflicted about the experiments being carried out on her.
Alex runs a comms check on the Roci and comes across an unopened message from his wife. In it, a tearful but resolute Talissa tells Alex that she's glad to hear he's okay, but he left her and his child high and dry. Now, his kid has learned to live without a father, and in fact, she says, "We don't need you." Alex is pretty devastated.
At the U.N., Errinwright and the central command tell Gillis that they have the location on all five Martian missile ships. The projections for knocking out all five ships before they can launch an attack are 82%. Errinwright deeply wants Gillis to order the strike, but Gillis — trying out his "sacred duty" language — says 82% isn't good enough and strides out.
On the Roci, Avasarala is out of her sick bed, but she won't be walking until Amos can fit her with her mag boots and teach her how to walk in them. Avasarala is typically put out about it all, but Amos tells her that once the boots are activated, she just has to walk around like she's wearing pumps. Avasarala: "How do you know what it's like to walk in pumps?" Amos: "I didn't always work in space."
Elsewhere, Alex is moping around the kitchen when Naomi walks in. He acknowledges the tension there's been among the crew and says he noticed her checking out coordinates to Tycho earlier. He says while he's still upset about the protomolecule, he really respects her commitment to the Belt. As a peace gesture, he offers to split lunch with her.
Avasarala calls a team meeting to put everyone's cards on the table: she tells them about Errinwright commissioning Mao to create protomolecule super-soldiers for the purpose of destroying Mars. Holden shows her footage of them fighting off the hybrid on their ship. Prax tells her about the experiments being done on the children on Io. And after Avasarala inquires what they would do with the protomolecule they find on Io, Naomi tells her about giving the protomolecule to Fred Johnson. Avasarala thinks that was idiotic and lashes out at Naomi for the failure of "good Belters" to curb the OPA. She says in this case, they should nuke anything (besides the children) they find on Io. "I told you we want the same things," she tells Holden. "Maybe now you'll believe me."
At the U.N., Errinwright continues to try to peer-pressure Gillis into ordering a first strike. Rather than framing it around attacking Mars, though, he talks about the uncertainty of what's to come from the protomolecule on Venus. He says Gillis can be remembered as the leader who united humankind on the face of first-contact." "That's a legacy you don't need anyone's help to write."
On Io, the kids are horsing around, Katoa walking on his hands, when he collapses and begins convulsing. It clearly appears that his body and the protomolecule coursing through it aren't getting along. Mei looks scared and Mao, looking on from behind glass, begins to look remorseful.
On the Agatha King, a curious Admiral Souther arranges with one of his crewmen to have the cameras on level 11 knock out while he goes there to interrogate Cotyar alone. Souther says he doesn't always agree with Avasarala's message, but she'd die before betraying Earth, so what's up? Cotyar comes clean about Errinwright, Jules-Pierre Mao, and Avasarala's escape. He says, wherever she is, she has proof of Errinwright's treachery. He also tells Souther that Avasarala said he was an honorable man and challenges him to help them.
Later, Admiral Nguyen, suspicious of Souther's loyalties, takes command of the Agatha King. Souther steps down without putting up a fight, but he's clearly seen Nguyen's true colors.
Back at the U.N., it's yet again the moment of truth for Gillis. This time, he orders the strike. Earth missiles launch to take out the five Martian ships. The first five missiles take out their targets, but a launch malfunction on the fifth delays things long enough that the fifth Martian station is able to fire off a rocket before it's destroyed. And while the Earth defenses take out almost every nuke launched by that rocket, there is one that gets through and detonates in South America, killing approximately 2 million people in the blast zone. Mars's first-strike capability has been wiped out, but at quite a cost.
On Io, Mao gets a message that the Agatha King is en route to take over the project. When Dr. Strickland joins him full of apologies for the day's unpleasantness with Katoa (who is currently sedated), Mao orders him to shut down the experiments. He's clearly haunted by what he's seen and doesn't want to be torturing children or creating killing machines. Strickland pushes back, but Mao says it's not up for debate.
On the Roci, Avasarala tries to make peace with Naomi, but Naomi isn't having it. "We're not going to be friends," she says. She assumes Avasarala is going to try to obtain a protomolecule for herself on Io, because she needs to stay in the game. She says the only reason she hasn't left yet is to make sure Avasarala doesn't get it. "You're right," Avasarala says with a smile, "we're not going to be friends."
On Earth, Errinwright faces off with Anna, who is deeply shaken by the day's events. He's half gloating to her that Gillis followed his counsel over hers and half playing mind games with her. He says Gillis could have saved lives if he'd gone with the plan earlier, and he adds that Gillis will need her help "now, more than ever."