A deep narrative and interesting characters make this season a success.
Warning: Full spoilers for The Expanse: Season 1 follow.
Ever since shows like Battlestar Galactica and Stargate: Universe left the airwaves there has been a void of quality space based science fiction entertainment. The Expanse, based on the series of book series from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, is the science fiction space opera TV Series that we’ve been waiting for.
For most of the season The Expanse feels like two separate shows in one. There is the hard boiled detective story featuring Thomas Jane as Josephus Miller, a street smart agent of Star Helix Security on Ceres station, who is definitely a little rough around the edges but his heart is in the right place. Then we have the story of Jim Holden and the surviving crew of the Canterbury, who find themselves the unwitting pawns in an interplanetary conspiracy. Both narratives are linked from the start and part of the fun is watching both Miller and Holden work both sides of a shared mystery from two completely different angles.
There is a third point-of-view as well. It’s not focused upon in the same way that Miller and Holden’s stories are but Chrisjen Avasarala’s (Shoreh Aghdashloo) narrative provides a much needed viewpoint of events taking place on Earth that are the backbone of the conspiracy. While she may not always share the same amount of screentime, Chrisjen’s powerful presence in the UN Earth government is entertaining to watch as she manipulates and fights to get a better understanding of what exactly is happening. None of what she does is with any malice though as she simply fights to reveal a dangerous truth, a truth that she is willing to risk everything to reveal.
The disappearance of Julie Mao, the daughter of one of the most powerful men in the solar system, is the basis for Miller’s journey. A simple missing person’s investigation quickly evolves into a system wide conspiracy that tests Miller’s seemingly unwavering resolve to find Julie and crack a case that no one wants solved. Jane feels perfectly fitted for the role of Miller and exceptionally conveys the character’s complex mix of self doubt, loneliness and determination. He feels like a present-day throwback in a future that is threatening to swallow him up whole, yet he endures.
Jim Holden and the remaining survivors of the Canterbury are in a continuous struggle to control their own destiny. Following the destruction of their ship, Holden and crew are bounced around between Martian warships and space stations as they try to find a safe haven and an understanding of the situation they are in. Holden is a street forward hero archetype. He’s always trying to do the right thing and save everyone despite the complex circumstances of his situation. The problem for Holden is that the world around him doesn’t necessarily play by the rules he expects so doing the right thing isn’t always necessarily the right thing to do. That’s a realization Holden has to come to terms with over the course of the season without losing what makes him stand apart from those around him.
The rest of the surviving Canterbury crew is incredibly realized as well. Naomi Nagata, a strong-willed engineer, acts as the mediator of the group and on multiple instances has acted as leader. Her experience arguably makes her more suited to make decisions than Holden but it’s a role that she never seems to want to embrace. Alex Kamal, the pilot, can be described as the heart of group. He generally keeps things light with well-timed one liners. Then there is Amos who is, well, he’s complicated. Out of all the characters, Amos is the one who took the longest to grow on me. He’s hard to place and relies heavily on Naomi for guidance and as a moral compass. When he finally clicks however, I would say he can easily be one of the fan favorites out of the cast. Amos is dangerous and loyal.
While the narrative is captivating enough to keep audiences coming back, the cast makes The Expanse what it is. This diverse group of characters has some phenomenal chemistry that feels genuine; and something that is a treat to come back to every week. There isn’t a boring or expendable one in the bunch.
As for the narrative and the world building, those who are looking for a rich science fiction universe with plenty of small little details and information that most audiences will just gloss over will find themselves at home here. Naturally, a show based on a series of novels, is going to have a lot of detail, but credit is still deserved for the crew who put effort into making the world of The Expanse visually stunning with plenty of information in every scene. The small things, like how gravity reacts in the asteroid belt, or how those born and raised in space may react to gravity on Earth are the types of details that a lot of shows will miss, but standout here. It’s this attention to detail that first got me excited about The Expanse and it never let up throughout the series.
The only real downside to The Expanse is also the fact that it’s based on a series of books. There is always a great deal of difficulty in making that transition to the small screen and sometimes complex relationships between nations or characters are not clearly laid out. It took me a while to really grasp the relationship between groups like the OPA and the Belters who both are pivotal to the series’ narrative. A quick Google search can straighten things out but then you run the risk of reading a spoiler. The show itself eventually sorts out all these complications, so if you’re lost early on just stick with it and you’ll be fine.
The Expanse is the science fiction space adventure we’ve been waiting for. It’s deep narrative, diverse and fascinating cast of characters, and it’s attention to detail are second to none in the current landscape of science fiction television. If The Expanse is Syfy’s attempt to create a series that reaches for the same standards as a show like Game of Thrones, I think they’re on the right path. That’s not to say this is ‘Game of Thrones’ in space however, it’s definitely its own thing. Actually there is nothing quite like The Expanse, that’s a good enough reason to give it a try.