the expanse

5 Reasons To Watch The Holy Effing Shit Out of The Expanse

by Brian Bradley

So Syfy wrapped up Season One of The Expanse a few weeks ago and we’ve been jonesing for it ever since. Mainly because it felt like Detective Miller, James Holden and the crew of the Roci had just gotten into the good stuff when… BOOM… finale. This is especially true for those of us that love the series of novels the show is based on. So much juicy goodness left to be served and the first season felt like it was just a tasy zero G amuse bouche that we sipped hungrily through a straw. Well they’ve announced a second season (though its airdate is set in the inexplicably distant future… January 2017… really?). We’ve got a long wait, but hopefully the Epstein Drive on this show will spool up in the New Year and we’ll all be able to settle down at the table and enjoy the next course (Are you done with this food metaphor? Me too. Sorry).

If you haven’t heard of The Expanse or didn’t get a chance to watch the first season while it was airing, this is a perfect time to go back and binge away. You can, of course, watch all nine of the eps from Season one at SyFy.com or find it on the streaming platform of choice. But if you need a nudge, here’s five solid reasons to watch the holy effing shit out of The Expanse right now!

1) The World of The Expanse is small, which is what makes it HUGE…

The world of any science fiction series is key to its success. That world needs to be rich, varied and, usually, pretty large if it’s going to sustain the show over multiple seasons. In a space-faring context this is usually accomplished by introducing a warp drive or FTL drive or a wormhole or Stargate or a super trans-light inversion mega-dimensional time bubble so that people can traverse the endless, black void of space to where other people, and the stories, reside. The Expanse treats this problem a little differently. They eschew that kind of “black box” tech in favor of a very believable fusion drive that moves humans quickly, but not too quickly, between populated outposts. That means (for now) we’re limited to our own solar system and that’s great.

expanse belter

It’s great because that slowness means we have time to dig into the reality of what life might be like under these circumstances. And, in the case of The Expanse, that means we get a potent look at the economic, social, political and even biological differences between humans that live on Earth and Mars where the air and water are cheap or free and the people who cobble together an existence on the cold, dead asteroids, moons and planetoids of The Belt. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this isn’t just a show about space in the astronomical sense, but also the space between rich and poor, the privileged and the excluded and the struggles between these groups. But don’t get the idea that The Expanse is just a boring sociological think-piece. Nope, all that space is filled with killer ships, amazing battle scenes and sexy people doing sexy things in zero-g. In other words, this show is smart and fun and, from a story perspective, it has some serious legs.

2) Thomas Jane is exceeding expectations…

The-Expanse-Syfy thomas jane

For lovers of the books by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of writing duo Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham), the character of detective Joe Miller is a real favorite. Miller, like all great noire detectives, views the world (or in this case the solar system) with a practiced sarcasm that is blended with an unshakable moral code. As a cop on the corrupt port of Ceres Station he’s seen it all and yet he believes there’s good in the Universe and that it’s his job to seek it out and protect it. In season one this takes the form of his obsession and search for the rich girl turned rebel, Julie Mao. Miller is key to making the show work and Thomas Jane is killing it in the role.

For many Jane seemed miscast. Too young, too bro-ish, not enough mileage on his tires… he didn’t seem a natural fit. And it’s true, his take on Miller is somewhat of a departure from the books. Sure, there’s the fedora and the smart mouth, but Jane couples this with something fresh and desperate and thrilling. In his hands Miller is not just a clammy neo-noire detective, but a real product of a life lived in the sealed tunnels of Ceres. He’s part ex-junky, part cop, part nihilist and grimy good guy. And his performance is reason enough to check out season one.

3) Because, SCIENCE!

epstein drive expanse

I love the storytelling and the performances on this show, but one of the best reasons to watch The Expanse has got to be the science involved. Maybe The Expanse isn’t exactly the nuts and bolts “hard sci-fi” of writers like Neal Stephenson and Andy Weir, but never (at least in my memory) has there been a “space opera” on television that hued so closely to the actual laws of physics.

Coriolis expanse

As previously mentioned, there’s no magical engine to propel our heroes across the massive distances between planets. Instead space travel is premised on something called an Epstein Drive, which is a fusion reactor attached to the butt end of spacecraft. Crafts, which seem closer in design to the boxy tech of real spacecraft than the aerodynamic beauties of shows like BSG or Star Trek. The Epstein Drive is fast (traveling at a percentage of the speed of light), but the show acknowledges that there’s a limit to how fast a ship carrying something as fragile as a human being can go before people start dying. Gravity is provided by the thrust of those engines or by the centrifugal force of asteroids, planetoids or space stations that have been artificially “spun up” using the power of massive versions of the Epstein Drive. Despite the distances, communication in the world of The Expanse is totally ubiquitous. It’s a culture that is fully integrated with a cloud-like web, which like today, can be manipulated to control public opinion.

But dying in The Expanse is easier than ever. Guns are, well, guns. Bullets fly around in The Expanse and when they hit you they kill you as much by piercing your sealed space suit or ship, as they do by piercing your flesh. But firearms, missiles and rail guns are only part of the danger. Air and water are not infinite, nor is food. Life, in short, is delicate and tenuous in The Expanse and that adds volumes to the tension, excitement of the storytelling. This is a sci-fi series for our tech savvy times and the creative forces behind the series are doing an excellent job of realizing a future that seems tantalizingly connected to our present.

4) It only gets better from here on out (at least in the novels)…

expanse novels

This one is simple: the story of the The Expanse is only getting started. Don’t worry, I won’t drop a bunch of spoilers here. Suffice it to say that, if the series continues as it began, there is a lot in store for the committed viewer. Though the first nine episodes followed pretty closely the events of the first book, Leviathan Wakes, they were not slavish to it. Characters from subsequent books were introduced early, relationships tweaked and plot points collapsed or expanded as the show needed. The effect of this is that, in some ways, the producers have not even finished the events of the first book (many of which are quite important to the overall arc of the story). But they have successfully dispatched with “the setup”. One likes to think that we will be off to the races when the show returns in the too-goddamned-distant future (Again, January 2017?! Come on SyFy!). So spool up your DVR and get on board now or, if you’re so inclined, pick up the books. They read quickly and will have you salivating for more.

5) SyFy needs our encouragement to stay on the right track…

syfy_channel-logo

Okay, this might be a weird reason to get involved with The Expanse, but bear with me. The network once known as The Sci-Fi Channel and, since 2009, as simply SyFy has a mixed record when it comes to its programming. Sometimes you get Battlestar Galactica and sometimes you get Sharknado. You also get wrestling and shows about street magic. And many of the genre shows they do feature are of the thinner, cheaper variety. Prior to this season Battlestar Galactica was the last real marquis series they had (many will argue this I’m sure). However the network seems to be returning to a focus on quality content. Which is to say, shows that are thoughtfully and skillfully written and which feature the scope and “big” ideas that the best science fiction/genre material provide. The Expanse is a perfect example of this effort. And we need to let them know we like it!

Shows like The Expanse are challenging for a Network. They are expensive and difficult to produce. In addition they are high profile, risky and expose the Network (and their nervous executives) to criticism from both outside the company and within. This is not true for their cheaper shows or silly monster-of-the-week movies. So why stick their necks out for a big swing like The Expanse when they can get by just fine on the cheaper, dumber stuff? Mercifully these attitudes seem to run in phases. We’ve just come out of a long period of middling creative from SyFy and they seem to be taking some risks at the moment. So why not encourage them to keep up the good work by watching the quality stuff early and often? Because, though critical acclaim is nice, it pales in comparison to actual ratings. And I’ll be super pissed if they cancel The Expanse before they get to the really good stuff down the line!

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Audrey Kearns