The Expanse Pushes Beyond Its Horizon

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.

protomolecule julie mao and miller

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.

Rocinante Crew

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.

Bobbie Draper

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.

Chrisjen Avarsarala

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.

martian marines on ganymede

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

Syfy’s Brave New Worlds Of The Expanse

expanse poster

The latest TV show on the Syfy channel, The Expanse, is that channel’s most ambitious and intriguing series since their re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica. Easily one of the best TV shows ever done from Syfy, The Expanse has been described as a Game of Thrones in outer space. It’s an easy hook to bring in viewers, and one that doesn’t do the TV show justice.

expanse cast

Based on a series of books by James S.A. Corey, The Expanse takes place in the 23rd century where humanity has colonized Mars and the asteroid belt, as well as the moons of the outer planets. A fragile state of cold war exists between Earth, Mars and the colonists living in the Belt, with Earth and Mars being the two superpowers that rely on the resources mined from the Belt. Those living on the Belt, principally on the dwarf planet Ceres, are called Belters and live a hardscrabble existence. Looked down upon by the rest of humanity, these Belters disdain non-Belters and are on the verge of open rebellion. A group called  the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) has emerged and become a major thorn for Earth and Mars, which considers them to be a terrorist organization.

The Expanse has three peripherally linked storylines; miller investigatesone takes place on Ceres and details the investigation by a gumshoe-like detective called Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane), who dresses the part and has a combover from hell. He gets an assignment to track this missing rich girl from Earth called Julie Mao (Florence Faivre). During his investigations which take him into the seediest corners of the station, Miller begins uncovering a huge conspiracy that threatens to upset the balance of power in the solar system.

expanse EVA

At the same time, The Expanse chronicles the odyssey of James Holden (Steven Strait), the first officer on the Canterbury, an ice freighter on its way back to Ceres. After answering a bogus distress call from a ship that was the last known location of Julie Mao, the Canterbury is destroyed by an unknown party. Only Holden and a handful of his crew manage to escape in a shuttle. As they struggle to make it back to Ceres, they witness first hand elements of the same conspiracy that threatens to ignite a war.

Meanwhile, on Earth, United Nations diplomat Chrisjen Avasarala (Shoreh Aghdashloo), suspicious of the OPA, becomes aware of the machinations to foment a war between her world and Mars, and tries to uncover the truth before it’s too late.

expanse earth

The Expanse has so many nice touches in its depictions of what life in the 23rd century might be like. It’s very commendable that the showrunners often go out of their way to depict environments with low to zero gravity, people griping about paying for air, how much of a paradise Earth seems nyc future(the future skyline of New York City was simply stunning) compared to the cramped, squalid neo ghettoes of Ceres, the strange mishmash dialect of the Belters, and so on. The meticulous production values are worthy of awards and envelop viewers into an imaginative, all-encompassing future that’s reminiscent of sci-fi classics like Blade Runner.

Fortunately, the show also makes the effort to develop the storyline. Watching The Expanse is a lot like peeling an onion. At its core, is a mystery, and we the viewers are forced to figure it out along with the main characters. During the scenes at Ceres, again echoing Blade Runner, we’re presented with a future noir atmosphere that is colder than the space outside the fragile habitats that is hard to look away from. It may be cliché but it’s still effective. The Expanse - Season 1Then the plight of the former Canterbury crew as they witness realistic space battles and life in outer space evoke the grounded grittiness of the Battlestar Galactica reboot only it’s less cluttered with the former show’s ponderousness about lofty themes. At the same time, we’re plunged into this completely immersive and realistically rendered future. The result is a gratifying and involving viewing experience.

The characters are mostly interesting, though some could use more development. They’re all well played with exceptions given to Thomas Jane whose portrayal of Miller would fit perfectly in a Mickey Spillane story and Shoreh Aghdashloo’s dignified performance. However, her scenes often get the short shift in many episodes and many times feel superfluous. For that matter, aside from seeing militaristic Martian crew, we have little to go on how Mars is like except for some spoken descriptions. The red planet and more of Earth are definitely worth exploring in greater detail in future episodes.

naming ship

Showing some wise patience, Syfy has already renewed The Expanse for a second season. Personally, I haven’t read the books this show is based on (something that will be rectified soon), but I hope that the answers to the core mystery will pay off well. In the meantime, I eagerly look forward to the next episode of one of the best sci-fi shows in recent memory.

Lewis T. Grove