THE EXPANSE -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Florence Faivre as Juliette Andromeda Mao -- (Photo by: Jason Bell/Syfy)
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THE EXPANSE: Syfy Gets It Right

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THE EXPANSE -- Pictured: "The Expanse" Logo -- (Photo by: NBCUniversal)
The Expanse, Season 1 Episodes 1-4

You can forgive me for being… skeptical.

This is, after all, the network that cancelled Farscape and Stargate SG-1 and Warehouse 13 and Eureka and The Dresden Files and Alphas.

The network that decided that its programming should include wrestling and ghost hunting instead, alongside the filmic stylings of Asylum Studios.

The network that decided that Syfy was a better name than The Sci Fi Channel.

Yes, there is a pretty substantial list of great programs that … sigh… Syfy has aired over the years, but for many fans of the genre, the network seriously went off the rails a long time ago. Yes, there were some moments of glory, with Battlestar Galactica, The Lost Room, and the first Dune miniseries, but for the most part, it’s been a channel I avoid more than seek out. And that’s a shame.

But then things started looking up, with the news that Syfy was getting back into the original genre series game, and if Defiance wasn’t all that great, at least it was a move in the right direction, and if Ascension was a mess, then at least they were trying. Then we got Dark Matter, which was OK;  Killjoys, which was fun; and a surprisingly good rework of 12 Monkeys. I even found myself somewhat enjoying Z Nation.

Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata, Wes Chatham as Amos, Cas Anvar as Alex Kamal, Steven Strait as Earther James Holden -- (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)
Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata, Wes Chatham as Amos, Cas Anvar as Alex Kamal, Steven Strait as Earther James Holden — (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

Last month we saw the airing of the Childhood’s End miniseries and the premiere of the new series The Expanse, and while the former left a lot to be desired in my opinion, the latter is simply the best thing Syfy has put out since Battlestar Galactica, and I couldn’t be happier. Yes, the competition is not that impressive, but The Expanse really is.

Set 200 years into the future, The Expanse is a triumph of world-building that actually trusts its audience, because it hits the ground running and expects us to keep up. As someone who thinks one of the worst sins in entertainment is thinking the audience needs to be spoon fed, I appreciate that immensely, and actually liked the fact that I missed details the first watch through. Now 4 episodes in, I’m loving this show and its world.

Based on the critically acclaimed and very popular Expanse series by James S. A. Corey (writing duo Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), Season 1 looks to be an adaptation of the first novel in the series, Leviathan Wakes. I haven’t read the books, but word is that aside from the inevitable changes in character descriptions that casting a show brings and moving a 2nd book character into this story-arc, it’s extremely faithful. It doesn’t hurt that the first two episodes are written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, who created the show and are the show-runners for the series… these are the guys who wrote Children of Men and Iron Man, after all.

Here is a world that has humanity spreading out to Mars and the asteroid belt, in ships that obey the laws of physics – burn towards your destination, flip around, slow down to arrive; human biology changes by the environment – Belters are tall, thin, and essentially adapted to weightlessness; aaaand humanity’s flaws, lies and politics haven’t changed one bit. Tensions between Earth and Mars have reached the point where war is looking dangerously close to being a reality, and those who work the asteroid belt and the outer planets feel like they are slaves to Earth and Mars, and revolution is brewing among a society where air and water are the most valuable commodities in the Universe.

THE EXPANSE -- "Retrofit" Episode 106 -- Pictured: Thomas Jane as Detective Josephus Miller -- (Photo by: Steve Wilkie/Syfy)
Thomas Jane as Detective Josephus Miller — (Photo by: Steve Wilkie/Syfy)

In this tense situation three storylines emerge, intertwined in yet-to-be-revealed ways. On the dwarf-planet Ceres, Police Detective Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane) is asked to investigate the disappearance of the daughter of a wealthy Lunar family, who was last seen seeking transport off Ceres. In the asteroid belt, the ice-freighter Canterbury receives a distress signal from the Scopuli, which the Captain tries to ignore. His XO, James Holden (Steven Strait), hears a human voice begging for help buried in the distress signal and logs it, forcing the Captain to send a crew led by Holden to investigate the derelict ship. They find no survivors, but cannot return to the Canterbury, because a ship with stealth technology appears and destroys it.

On Earth, the tensions between the homeworld and Mars are edging towards war and outer system terrorists are emerging, pushing for independence. The news that stealth technology is real points towards the involvement of Mars, and U.N. Deputy Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) finds herself playing the most dangerous political games of her career, with a system-wide war inevitable if she loses.

THE EXPANSE -- "The Big Empty" Episode 102 -- Pictured: Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala -- (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)
Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala — (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

That the Scopuli was the ship that the missing daughter was on – and that she may be the last survivor of – and the ship that cost Holden and his surviving crew the lives of their friends and crew-members on the Canterbury obviously tie those two storylines together, and the political tensions between Mars and Earth are only inflamed when Holden sends out a system-wide message blaming Mars. That there are other forces at work, and other mysteries unfolding, promises to put Miller, Holden and Avasarala – and everyone they care about – in far more danger than any of them realize…

Stayed pretty spoiler-light there actually, because if you haven’t watched this show yet, you need to go here and watch the first four. From the high-quality effects and production design, this show is kinda beautiful in its grungy, run-down, lived-in way. Like Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, the world of The Expanse has a history and texture to it that is almost a character in itself. The tech is recognizable and realistic, and more utilitarian than aesthetically pleasing… no shiny Star Trek future here. The ship interiors look like high-tech battleships and submarines, which fits the realities of space travel extremely well, and the environment of Ceres – with its social stratification and its slums, dark alleys and crime – paints a vibrant and tragic picture of the lives of those who work for the inner planets. And the backstory of this future plays out in an organic manner, revealed by characters who have a reason to talk about it, as opposed to an info-dump that feels artificial. As someone who hasn’t read the books, the mystery is intriguing and the stakes high enough that I’m actively looking forward to each new episode.

Steven Strait as Earther James Holden
Steven Strait as Earther James Holden

If I have any criticisms at this point, they are minor and – to be perfectly honest – matters of personal taste. I’m finding the Miller and Avasarala storylines more interesting than the Holden one, and as he’s essentially the series lead, that’s a potential problem. Strait is perfectly fine in the role, and his supporting cast are interesting, but he’s such a square-jawed hero-type that the Noir-ish Miller and the scheming Avasarala and her political machinations are engaging me more. So much so that the 2nd episode focus on Holden and his crew’s struggles to stay alive in their shuttle lacked the urgency that the writers and actors would have wanted out of this viewer. The 3rd and 4th episodes somewhat reversed that, so it may be that I’m coming around on Mr. Holden’s tale, which considering how much the show really is the best science-fiction on TV right now, is a good thing.

So catch up if you aren’t watching this show yet, and if you are, what do you think? If you’ve read the books, how is the show holding up against the source material? Is there one of the storylines that is gripping you more than the others? We’d love to hear what you think, so use that comment thingy below and let us know!

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Timothy Harvey

Timothy Harvey is a Kansas City based writer, director, actor and editor, with something of a passion for film noir movies. He was the art director for the horror films American Maniacs, Blood of Me, and the pilot for the science fiction series Paradox City. His own short films include the Noir Trilogy, 9 1/2 Years, The Statement of Randolph Carter - adapted for the screen by Jason Hunt - and the music video for IAMEVE’s Temptress. He’s a former President and board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City, and has served on the board of Film Society KC.

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