The Expanse Television Review
The world of The Expanse came into existence as a failed MMORPG (massively-multiplayer online role-playing game) project author Ty Franck developed for a Chinese internet service provider that was looking for an incentive for people to sign up. However, once the company realized that backing a project of such a big scale wouldn’t be cheap, they backed off. They just didn’t have the resources to do it.
Though the deal didn’t come to fruition, Franck now had all the material he had assembled: a giant binder full of world-building. Years later, Ty moved to New Mexico and he met local author Daniel Abraham in a science fiction convention. It was him who suggested -after looking at the binder- that Franck’s sci-fi world could work as a series of novels. And so, a collaborative effort between the two started under the pen name of James S. A. Corey.
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The first novel, Leviathan Wakes (2011) made a big splash, getting nominations for the Hugo and Locus Awards. And then, three years later, Syfy got the rights and announced that the space-opera project was getting a straight-to-series green light. No pilot, a full season with 10 one-hour-long episodes. It was a bold, ambitious move that resulted in a critically well-received show with a passionate, loyal fanbase.
Sadly, The Expanse didn’t perform as well as the network expected in terms of ratings and after three seasons, Syfy decided to not renew the show for a fourth one.
Fans reacted immediately, expressing their discontent, and campaigned to save the series. They gathered thousands of signatures, petitioned Netflix and Amazon to pick up The Expanse, and even paid an aerial advertisement company to fly a plane carrying a “#SaveTheExpanse” banner above Amazon Studios HQ in Santa Monica.
Celebrities like George R. R. Martin also joined the effort, which eventually paid off when Amazon Prime Video announced that The Expanse had found a new home with them. The adventure would continue for two more full seasons and a shortened sixth and final one, concluding it’s nothing short of a spectacular run on January 14, 2022.
It’s a bit of a shame that it could never shed its “Best show you aren’t watching” status, flying under the radar from beginning to end. But even if The Expanse doesn’t need major awards to shine, this tough little sci-fi show deserves all the attention and love it can get.
What Is The Expanse About?
I have often described The Expanse as Game of Thrones in space, but other than a few surface-level similarities, it couldn’t be more different from the HBO fantasy drama. It’s carefully constructed story is set in a future when humanity has colonized the solar system. The United Nations controls the planet Earth. Mars is an ascendant of military power. And the Asteroid Belt produces resources for both planets.
The people of Earth, affected by the effects of climate change, have depleted the planet’s resources and depend on the Belt to survive, but the U.N. is a major military power and that allows them to hold the reins.
Mars, with a population consisting of scientists and soldiers, is chomping at the bit to be top cat and get out from under Earth’s shadow, but for all their military and technological might, they still find themselves centuries away from achieving their dream of terraforming the red planet.
The Belt is in the middle of both powers. They’re an oppressed, poor working-class without a voice who are disdained and mistrusted by the two superpowers, which makes the Belt fertile ground for radicalization. The constant tension between the three factions is such that a spark could be enough to trigger a planetary-scale armed conflict.
It’s a fascinating setup that can hit close to home since so many of the problems of the future society from The Expanse are the same we have to contend within our own reality. The series explores ideas much bigger IPs probably wouldn’t touch, such as the complicated politics of terrorism, the many forms of human exploitation under capitalism and the horrors it breeds, the recognition of inequality, and our relationship with technology. But it does so with nuance and no small amount of heart and hope for humanity.
It’s, at its core, a story about redemption and forgiveness. About the importance of diversity and the need to work for a future where everyone matters. It’s a reminder that humanity won’t be able to improve as long as there are populations who are socially and politically excluded and allowed to suffer unnecessarily.
We live in highly polarized, complicated times in which simply being a decent person or caring about others is almost considered a radical thing to do. Every day we get hit with a torrent of depressing news. A sci-fi series will not solve society’s problems, but it can inspire us to be better, to do better. Follow your conscience and hopefully others will follow theirs – it may sound like a fairy tale lesson, but what we do for each other will always mean something.
The Expanse Is An Outstanding Character-Driven Series
The cast of The Expanse plays with a collection of deeply complex characters with various allegiances. And they’re fantastic at it! There’s Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane), a fedora-wearing, world-weary Belter detective who is investigating a disappearance that turns out to be at the heart of a conspiracy that threatens to ignite a war.
We also have UN undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala (Oscar-nominated actress Shohreh Aghdashloo), a shrewd and determined politician who’s willing to torture prisoners for information as well as manipulating friends and allies to advance her goals. She knows her way around people and is a master of deception. Though ambitious and seemingly unapologetic, much of her drive comes from her sincere desire to protect the Earth and the grief of losing her son to terrorists.
The crew of the spaceship Rocinante (named after Don Quixote’s horse) -Captain James Holden (Steven Strait), executive officer and engineer Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), pilot Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) and mechanic Amos Burton- are the main characters of the series.
Each one of them hails from each major faction: Earth (Holden and Burton), Mars (Kamal) and the Belt (Nagata). They’re the embodiment of the show’s thesis: peaceful cooperation and coexistence, flying no flag and working with each faction as “independent contractors”.
They aren’t stereotypical gun-toting heroes with all the answers, but normal people who are constantly improvising and hoping that they’re making the right calls.
Future seasons expand the cast with Martian Marine Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams), who goes from being a fierce and proud nationalist to develop an unlikely friendship with members of other factions, becoming their trusted ally. And also members from various leaders from the Belt who go from the moderate and pragmatic (Cara Gee’s Camina Drummer and David Strathairn’s Klaes Ashford) to the extremists and fanatics (Jared Harris’ Anderson Dawes and Keon Alexander’s Marco Inaros). And many more talented people, all providing top-notch performances.
One of the show’s accomplishments is that it introduces a divided universe without simplifying things into a “good versus evil” affair. No side is a monolith with clear heroes or villains.
The characters are flawed and complicated. They can be caring, but also capable of being ruthless. Many of them are broken, dealing with emotional or physical trauma. They screw up; they make mistakes. They can be frustrating and tough to love. But it’s that humanity and sincerity what makes them fascinating and compel us to root for them. We want to see them succeed against all odds.
We aren’t expected to support their every action, but to understand what makes them tick, the root causes of their behavior. Why they do what they do.
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Action scenes in The Expanse are few and tend to be brief, but they’re hard-hitting moments. There aren’t flashy aerial battles between spaceships or pew-pew futuristic, neon-colored ray gunfights in long corridors. Simply put, though obviously, the show takes an artistic license, what you’ll see in The Expanse is much closer to real-life warfare than Star Wars.
There aren’t fancy energy shields – bullets and torpedoes rip through hulls of spaceships and turn bodies into minced meat. And being in zero gravity means that whenever there’s a breach, air will rush out instantly, endangering everyone on board and forcing the crew to deal with it. Space is quite a hostile environment.
When a ship launches a volley of missiles, the target will have to resort to evasive moves or defense cannons to try and avoid them. It all comes down to the pilot’s skill and physical resistance, as high-g maneuvers are dangerous and characters can die from having a stroke.
And if everything else fails, there’s always the last resort of self-destructing to prevent precious cargo or sensitive information falling into the hands of an enemy. Ships flip and burn (that means turning the thrusters off, changing direction and then flipping the thrusters on at top speed). Large, 500-meter long battleships fight smaller spacecraft.
The stakes are high and real – characters are pushed to the limit and the possibility of them losing a limb or outright dying is sadly not that uncommon. And despite it all involves long-range computer-guided missiles, rail guns, and nuclear warheads, it always feels close and personal for those involved.
The Expanse Leave You Wanting More
It’s hard to believe that more than a decade has passed since Leviathan Wakes hit bookshelves. After nine books, eight short stories and novellas (with one more novella coming soon), six seasons of television, and much other complementary material, it’s safe to say that The Expanse has gotten far and earned a notorious spot in what is a fairly crowded genre.
The team behind the tv series did their best to deliver a satisfying ending, but also made a conscious decision to not answer every question, leaving some plot threads loose. Fans who’d like to see more will need to pick up the books.
I feel like nowadays there’s little space for mystery in fiction. Many fans expect every enigma to be solved, endings to tie up everything in a neat bow. Vagueness provokes powerful reactions on the internet, as seen recently with David Lowery’s The Green Knight (2021), a movie with an ambiguous ending that prompted angry comments and a lot of review bombing.
I think it’s no exaggeration to say that leaving some things to the viewers’ imagination is a daring creative choice. And from what I’ve gathered, the show passed the test with flying colors.
I’m happy and grateful about The Expanse finishing on its own terms, as the show it wanted to be, building a big, marvelous universe with limited resources and boasting a fantastic cast that deserves much success. Hopefully, more people will find it and enjoy it, helping it to keep growing in popularity and hold a place among the best series TV has to offer.
Have You Watched The Expanse?
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