As its second season draws to a close, it is very clear that The Expanse, arguably the flagship TV series on Syfy, has thrived and become must-see TV.
Based on James S.A. Corey’s series of novels, The Expanse tells several related stories that take place two centuries from now in our solar system as it has been colonized by humanity. From Earth to the the asteroid belt to Jupiter’s moons we see how life is for humans living under different conditions. People living in the Belt deal with harsh conditions and are stigmatized, while those on Mars appear war-like and disdainful of everyone else, especially Earthers. Meanwhile, life on Earth isn’t exactly a picnic from the few glimpses we’ve been shown as it seems that the citizens live under a severe dichotomy where most people are unemployed and destitute while the privileged few control the planet under luxurious conditions.
The Expanse has many interesting characters with segments devoted to their diverse locales. Tying everything together is the mystery of the protomolecule. It’s an extra-terrestrial substance discovered on Saturn’s moon Phoebe by an Earth-based company called Protogen. It interacts with living tissue and radically alters it, and of course, the company tries to weaponize it. What happens is that the protomolecule is difficult to contain and quickly threatens humanity as it infects anyone that comes into contact with the substance.
There are roughly three storylines devoted to the impact of the protomolecule. Out in the Belt and Jupiter’s moons, we follow the story of the crew of the Rocinante, who try to contain the spread of the protomolecule. The best way to think of them is to look at Firefly, meaning the characters are supposed to be your average joes who live in space in a hard-scrabble existence. The crew is made up of citizens from different planets such as the Rocinante’s Earth captain James Holden (Steven Strait), his lover and ship’s Belter engineer Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), Martian pilot Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), and Amos Burton (Wes Chatham), the ship’s Earther mechanic. The four have distinct personalities ranging from easy going (Alex), to brutish (Amos). In the first season, the protomolecule overran a colony on Eros and nearly consumed the Rocinante crew. Now, they’re on an unsanctioned mission to hunt down all traces of the protomolecule elsewhere and to destroy it. Thanks to their likable nature and heroism the crew are effectively the heart of The Expanse.
We also follow the story of a tough-as-nails Martian marine, Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams). Introduced in the beginning of the second season, she came off as an unlikable thug who was itching for any opportunity to fight Earthers. But she saw firsthand the destructive nature of the protomolecule as a solider intentionally altered by the substance wiped out her team on Ganymede. This incident nearly starts a war between Earth and Mars as the two powers are bitter rivals. This experience has a profound impact on Draper and she starts to question her way of life. Out of all the characters in The Expanse, hers is the one that has grown the most and her development has made Draper a quick fan favorite.
The other storyline is devoted to the United Nations assistant secretary Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), who is trying to get to the bottom of the protomolecule and to prevent a war from breaking out between her planet and Mars. Aghdashloo easily provides the best acting in the show and presents a mature, regal presence that is so captivating to watch thanks in part to her husky, hypnotic voice that vaguely recalls Lauren Bacall. While the Rocinante crew are the show’s heart, and Draper the soul, Chrisjen Avarsarala represents its mind as her scintillating dialogue with diplomats and corporate heads provide much needed food for thought.
The Expanse has another distinguishing element and that is its adherence to hard science. Although we still hear the sounds of spaceships flying about great pains are taken to show life under microgravity. We see the perils and fragility of life outside of Earth where being able to breath can be a life-or-death situation. There is time-delayed communications between colonies and Earth. One interesting segment had a group of Martians (including Bobbie Draper) arriving on Earth and having to deal with life under alien conditions. The gravity was hard on them, the sun was too bright for their eyes and they needed medication to be able to breath Earth’s air. These were nice, realistic touches. It’s not always accurate but kudos to the producers for trying their best.
Syfy should be applauded for championing The Expanse early on and allowing it to prosper in its second season. It has pushed the envelope in its story and given us fascinating characters. On a side note, it is regrettable that Thomas Jane’s hard-boiled detective Joseph Miller died this season but his final actions helped save Earth from being infected by the protomolecule. On the other hand, The Expanse’s second season has introduced interesting new characters that have kept its momentum. Add terrific scripts and superb production and special effects and it is easy to see why The Expanse is the best science fiction TV show airing right now.
Lewis T. Grove and José Soto