Guys, I have an announcement to make. You might want to hold on to your butts for this one. I’ve just finished binge watching The Expanse (insert immense fanfare and trumpets here). I’m sure you’ve been berated into viewing SyFy’s latest and greatest space opera countless times. Your mom is a fan, your best friend, your hamster. Everyone loves it. We at Geek Girl Authority have expressed our love for it numerous times, here. Alas, I was a day late and a dollar short.
Now, I’m about to make a bold claim, and forgive me if it offends your sensibilities. I wholeheartedly believe The Expanse is the best sci-fi series on television right now. Not to worry, I have a substantial amount of evidence to back my claim. I’ve conjured eight reasons for this very subject, although I’m positive I could double that number (I won’t for the sake of word count). So, get ready to flip and burn!
DISCLAIMER: There are mild spoilers for the series throughout the article. Tread with caution.
1. Relevance to Today’s Political Climate
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (if you have, I envy you), you’re well aware of our current political situation. I won’t delve into my personal beliefs, but the world is in shambles right now. History is repeating itself as we are in the throes of a potential Cold War, with North Korea threatening to incinerate the United States and Russia also boasting of their immense nuclear arsenal. Anyway, good sci-fi is like a mirror – while the events usually take place in a technologically advanced world; human morale, ethics and politics are always similar to current events. The Expanse shoves today’s world under a microscope and reminds us that yes, history does repeat itself.
Set two hundred years into the future, Earth has successfully colonized Mars. Unfortunately, relations between Earth and Mars are incredibly tense. Now, throw in a group known as the Belters, who mine the asteroid belts for minerals and water. Think of them as the “blue collar” workers of the future. They’re tired of being used as a celestial doormat. So, there are three groups going toe-to-toe, one pin drop away from precipitating all-out war. Earth has advanced weaponry, but Mars has a better military. Belters are also strong fighters. Doesn’t this all sound familiar?
The Expanse does an incredible job of staying relevant in terms of our current world events. It’s eerie, uncanny – but boy, does it take a hammer and bash the nail on the head.
2. Stunning Visual Effects
Now, another key ingredient to a perfect sci-fi (in my book) is the imagery. The Expanse has a team of VFX artists that are almost too good at their jobs. Breathtaking views of the solar system, coupled with beautiful images of the stars should be enough to get any astronomy lover to tune in.
Now, check out this image of Mars. While they haven’t successfully terraformed yet, I think it’s safe to say the amount of progress put into the colonization of the Red Planet is staggering. We could easily be at this level in two hundred years.
Even Earth appears to be more high-tech and structurally advanced. New York City looks incredibly different here.
3. Compelling Characters
I don’t know about you, but sometimes all it takes for me to get hooked on a show is the characters. Of course, it also helps immensely if gifted actors are at the helm. Thankfully, The Expanse has both of these things.
Steering the ship is Jim Holden (Steven Strait), the newly promoted captain of the Canterbury who’s thrust into a dense mystery after answering a distress call. He is arrogant and willfully resists all kinds of responsibilities. His arc from cocky little punk to a true leader is one to behold.
Next, we have Joe Miller (Thomas Jane), a jaded cop living on Ceres Station (located on an asteroid). Jane himself describes the character as “one to take handouts,” whose moral code is a bit murky. That is, until he stumbles across a case involving a missing girl named Julie Mao (Florence Faivre). He too begins unraveling the story surrounding her disappearance, and starts to find meaning again in his own life.
Then, there is Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), the Deputy Undersecretary for the United Nations on Earth. She is a strong and cunning political figure. However, despite living in the world of politics, she has a true desire to do right by Earth. So when tensions between Mars and Earth rise she’s in the thick of it, trying to curate peace between the two planets.
In short, the writers don’t shy away from giving us incredibly relatable characters in this futuristic setting. After all, good science fiction also allows us to look at ourselves, as humans. We see that not everything is black and white – in fact, the world is suffused in grey.
4. We Are Women, Hear Us Roar
There’s nothing I love more in my TV than watching powerful women get sh** done. This show has a slew of them, kicking butt and taking names throughout the solar system. Besides Chrisjen and Julie, we have the resident engineer for the Rocinante, Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper). Naomi is unapologetic and unafraid to speak her mind on top of being incredibly clever. Roberta Draper (Frankie Adams), a Sergeant of the Martian fleet, rounds out the female leads of The Expanse. Draper impressively took out her fair share of skilled fighters throughout Season Two.
Another thing I adore about these leading ladies? They’re all beautiful women of color. What show on television can boast about that? Now, excuse me while I blast some “Miss Independent.”
5. Beautiful Score
I love music, especially film/television scores. Music can help convey the story and highlight key moments. If you’re an orchestral junkie like me, then you’ll appreciate The Expanse‘s breathtaking score by Clinton Shorter. His work has just the right amount of melancholy one would expect a sci-fi series set two hundred years in the future to have. The music is quite simple for the most part – only truly noticeable when it’s needed. For example, there’s a lovely string arrangement toward the end of “Home” (Season 2 Episode 5). When the action is heightened, the score reflects that – much like something you’d hear in a Marvel movie.
6. Intersecting Storylines
Have you ever watched a film or TV show that had multiple converging storylines but they were too complicated to make sense? You turned off the TV or left the theater scratching your head in confusion? Well, The Expanse will only leave you itching for more (bad choice of words, I know). Remember the three lead characters I mentioned earlier? Their stories intertwine. As it turns out, the distress call Holden answered was linked to Julie Mao, which in turn is connected to Miller. Chrisjen, while playing peacekeeper on Earth, is also connected to Julie’s father. Of course, her disappearance is known by the UN. These intersecting storylines are introduced gradually, and in an easily digestible manner. Like the MCU, it’s all connected. Let’s see how many times I can mention Marvel in this article…
7. Intricate World Building
Now, I’m also a sucker for details. It’s the little things that count, right? Introduce a super cool mythology on a show and I’ll geek out over it for days. Fortunately, we have The Expanse novellas by James S. A. Corey to thank for the show’s intricate world building. Everything from the technology to advancement in space exploration is perfectly nuanced and executed. How inhabitants on Ceres Station speak and dress versus those who live on Mars. All of the vastly different ships flying through the solar system. So much detail is involved, which always makes me giddy. It’s like opening presents on Christmas day!
Relationships between characters are crucial to the survival of a series. The Expanse is no different, giving us a plethora of friendships and romances that instill warm fuzzy feelings. Not to mention tense rivalries and flat-out arch nemeses. We have Naomi and Amos (Wes Chatham), who share a brother/sister bond. Amos would kill for Naomi. He never questions her decisions or commands. Amos simply does as he’s bid. On the opposite side of the spectrum there’s Chrisjen and Sadavir Errinwright (Shawn Doyle), her colleague but also sort of her enemy. Well, only in that he’s involved in shady business practices that collides with the good work she’s trying to do. However, they must keep appearances and look as if they work well together. All of these intricate, complicated relationships alone make this series worth a watch.
BONUS: You don’t have to read the books to understand the show.
Ha, gotcha! You thought I was finished, eh? Remember The Expanse novellas I mentioned earlier? I haven’t read them, as much as it pains me to say that (I’m a lover of the written word). Now, you don’t need to gobble up the source material to understand its televised counterpart. The Expanse does a fine job of telling you the story so it’s understandable regardless of your book knowledge; however, it doesn’t underestimate the intelligence of its viewers. So, don’t let that discourage you from watching. Belters, Earthers, Martians alike.
Alright, folks. I have a mission for you, should you choose to accept it. Give The Expanse a whirl. Binge watch it till your heart’s content. I solemnly swear you won’t be disappointed. Now, what lies ahead for you is loads of mystery, intrigue, space, romance and a lot more space (it’s very large, you know). Go here to begin your mission. Godspeed, friends, and happy streaming!
The Expanse will return to SyFy for Season Three in 2018.