When I started to watch The Expanse I was still a channel snob. I was still holding onto the remnants of a bygone era, when great content only came from a few key places. And then there was the first season of ‘UnReal’ on Lifetime of all places.
And there was ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ on Hulu.
And suddenly, you could begin to hope against hope for high-quality science fiction to come out of SyFy channel. SyFy has since doubled down with the staggeringly amazing Happy!
But The Expanse?
The Expanse blew my doors off. It was waaaaaaaay better than I ever imagined it would be. The production values were insane compared to what I expected coming into it. The story and the writing and the quality of the show was head and shoulders above what I had anticipated. I had enjoyed Thomas Jane on Hung and I followed him to SyFy wondering if they had just put an old goat out to pasture.
But they hadn’t.
The Expanse was fresh and interesting and the story felt like it was growing at the right pace. I became invested in the characters, though I had never seen any of the other actors before, with the exception of Shohreh Aghdashloo.
Whom I had seen years ago in The House of Sand and Fog, and heard more recently as the voice of Admiral Shala’Raan vas Tonbay in the Mass Effect video game series.
She has a fantastic voice. Full stop.
When you commit to The Expanse, you immediately have a sense about the world. It’s fully realized in the way that usually requires a book series to fully develop. The Expanse is based on a series of books by ‘James S. A. Corey,’ the pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the first of which, Leviathan Wakes, was nominated for a Hugo in 2012.
Because of this backbone, the language and mythology of the solar system feels easy to grasp and incorporate. Season Three premiered on April 11th and anyone who has watched the show was already well versed in the various subtleties of the taxed relationship between Earth and Mars and The Belt. The show has done an outstanding job of painting a colorful picture of a future where humans have colonized all the way out to the moons of Jupiter. I’ve heard that some people have trouble adjusting to the language of the Belters, but I suspect that applies less to Pajiba’s demo and more to a casual, sort of drop-in viewer.
The series opens … kind of nowhere. On a shitty ice barge in the middle of black space, piloted by a motley crew of expelled, exiled and generally shunned idiots.
And from there it pirouettes in wildly unpredictable but completely believable ways until this crew, this bizarro collection of castaways, has the fate of humanity in their hands.
I don’t want to give you much more if you haven’t seen it. It’s just delightful if you’re dorky enough to enjoy some kick-ass science fiction. And it has great character names and locations and ship names. Tycho. The ‘Butcher of Anderson Station.’ The Donnager. Star Helix. The OPA. The Canterbury. Juliette Mao. Jules-Pierre Mao. The Rocinante. The Arboghast. Chrisjen Avasarala.
If you’re not crazy about Chrisjen Avasarala by season three, I just don’t want to know you anymore.
Most importantly for the Pajiba community, ‘The Expanse’ “gets the science right,” according to astrophysicist Adam Frank, who calls it “The Best Science-Fiction Show In A Decade.”
This is a good point to stop reading if you haven’t seen The Expanse yet. I’m going to get into more spoilery stuff below.
So…season three. Who’s all caught up?
Here’s my take on the series up til the launch of season three: It’s great. There’s so much to love about the show. The tactical encounters have been amazing.
The rail guns? They’re awesome. The crew itself is fantastic. I’m a little crazy about Amos of all people. I know! Amos!
He’s such a fixture. I don’t know how much Wes Chatham is just playing himself, but he’s great. He does meathead so so so well. But there’s real depth there. Like, he was the one who was able to connect with Cortazar when no one else could get through to him. “You ever talk to a pedophile?” Huh. I read that in the books Amos grows up as a child prostitute. That certainly informs his outlook on a host of things. I just really like how casual he is about his skill set. Like, he’s the toughest motherfucker in the verse and there’s no point even talking about it. It’s a fact. His propensity to be profoundly dissociative is terrifying. But he loves what he loves, and there’s zero grey area. Heading into season three the dynamic between him and Naomi (Dominique Tipper) has shifted a bit. Which is new. Did he actually go through that procedure to have his empathy removed? It sure looked like it last season. I never thought I’d end up an Amos fan, but he’s somehow won me over. And his season three beard game is on point! It’s looking to give Fred Johnson’s beard a run for its money.
Some characters I’m fully on board with. I dig me some Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman).
Dr. Praxidike ‘Prax’ Meng, played by Terry Chen just has an awesome face. I love looking at him because he can say as much with his expressions as many actors can with their whole body and full lines of dialogue.
Cas Anvar does yeoman’s work as Alex Kamal. Not easy to pull off a Texan accent as a Martian aviator. I love the relationship between Chrisjen Avasarala and her dead son’s pal, Cotyar (Nick E. Tarabay). Cotyar is so great.
I love the relationship between Chrisjen Avasarala and her husband, Arjun Avasarala, played by Brian George. Byron Mann (who was one of the Takeshi Kovacs in ‘Altered Carbon) plays a true-believing but flawed Admiral Nguyen. I’m fully on board with everything that Joe Miller is, from the Star Helix days to him fucking up everything for everyone, like when he put down Dresden like an animal. I can get behind it.
I love Martin Roach’s no-bullshit Admiral Souther, who talks truth to power like nobody’s business.
I was rewatching some stuff and he sounded even more familiar. Turns out he’s also the voice of Pastor Jerome Jeffries in the video game ‘Far Cry 5’, which launched March 27th. (I knew he sounded familiar! I just liberated him and the whole Holland Valley like last week!)
And that’s not the only Far Cry 5 crossover. Greg Bryk, who was outstanding as MRCN Lieutenant Lopez,
…also plays the ultimate big bad in Far Cry 5: Joseph Seed, The Father. This dude can act, yo. I was truly sad to see Lopez die on The Expanse and The Father is suuuuuuper creepy. Totally believable, too. Go, Greg Bryk!
Then there are the characters I know are well acted, but I hate them. I hate watching them. I hate their stupid fucking faces. Notably Jared Harris as Anderson Dawes…
…and Shawn Doyle as Sadavir Errinwright.
They have the most punchable faces. I would groan when it was an asshole Anderson Dawes episode. Not because it’s not good, but because he’s such a disgusting piece of shit. And so familiar. The world is chock full of Anderson Daweses.
Then you have the characters that I’m still on the fence about. I think Jim Holden is acted as well as possible by Steven Strait. But is it me or is he super strange to look at? Sometimes he seems gaunt and I think “wow he’s a super thin choice as a lead actor” and then other times he looks kind of jacked but his head looks small. Like a Mondoshawan. I don’t know. Sometimes the darkness of his stubble-stache makes the rest of his face look alabaster. I’m sure it’s just me. He acts his ass off and that’s really all that matters, I suppose. It’s just that the camera does funny things to him. I really like his idealism in the face of Miller’s realism, though, and how after Eros and Ganymede he starts to sort of become darker and more Miller-ish.
I’m not fully sold on Jonathan Whittaker as UN Secretary-General Gillis yet. Maybe I don’t understand the chain of command there enough. As far as I can tell, he’s the elected official and Errinwright and Avasarala are his advisors. But the latter two feel like they have so much more actual authority than he does. I don’t know. Maybe I haven’t seen enough of the performance heading into season three. I’m also slow to warm up to Frankie Adams as Roberta ‘Bobbie’ W. Drape. She’s really growing on me in season three, I just felt like I was seeing her trying to act too much in season two.
One thing I really love about the show is its scale. In a world where interstellar travel is not yet realized, it feels huge. Space is vast. Like, indescribably vast. And you get that. You also get the smallness of the interiors. They make you feel claustrophobic, especially in the shitty Belt.
Okay so, as we enter season three…Miller has become the greatest fuck up in the history of anything. With the obvious exception of Doug Forcett. (I’m very lucky to have that).
Miller’s weirdo stalking of Julie Mao could have been just that, but they manage to make it a love story. And it works. At least for me. His character’s resolution in the season two finale for me felt somehow absolutely right. And because of his connection to Julie Mao and his love affair of sorts, albeit never having actually met, he manages to get her to steer the protomolecule safely to Venus. For the time being.
And now we’re three episodes into season three…
And all hell has broken loose.
I usually accept the diplomatic machinations pretty readily, considering I’m still not sure what everyone actually does, but Sec-Gen Gillis believing that Avasarala is a spy for Mars because Errinwright says so? That’s a little far-fetched. You’d have to be a complete moron to buy that, which Gillis may be. He’s certainly manipulated by Errinwright to a shocking degree, enough to wipe out millions of his own people. It’s hard to watch.
Nice to welcome Elisabeth Mitchell, (Lost’s Dr. Juliet Burke) as Anna Volovodov. With luck, she’ll foil asshole Errinwright at some point.
When a show starts to attract more well-known actors, you know it’s being recognized in the industry. Looking forward to seeing David Strathairn join the cast as a recurring role later this season…
And I spoke about the sheer vastness of space, so it stretches credibility that the Rocinante or rather the Pinus Contorta, just happens to be the ship in range when that mayday signal comes across Martian secret comms. But do I actually care? Nope! It makes for great television. I love how much Chrisjen hates being in space. I’m 100% with her. And putting her and Bobbie on that ship makes for that much more drama. Love it.
I can’t believe that Earth launched that first strike attack on Mars. It’s reprehensible. And I can’t believe that Admiral Nguyen just relieved Admiral Souther from his own ship. That’s bullllllshit.
I’m really liking how Jules-Pierre is growing attached to Mei, and probably seeing Julie in her. But there’s no way that fucking dirtbag scientist, Dr. Strickland, is going to let his life’s work just be torn out from under him, no matter who paid for it.
There’s a danger here that this show becomes all about the Protomolecule.
I remember when The Expanse was ghost ships that attacked The Donnager and The Canterbury. It was also a murder mystery in space. For a while, it was the plight of Belters and the rise of the OPA. Now, the protomolecule could swallow all of them whole. But I have faith that showrunners Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby can keep the ship on course. They’ve done a stellar job so far.
I haven’t read the series of books that the show is based on, so many of you may already know where this particular Nauvoo is headed. But what things do you love about the show? And what, if anything, doesn’t quite match up? I meant to write about ‘The Expanse’ like a year ago and didn’t. I wish I had though. A show this good deserves more press.
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