For me, summer constitutes a time to remember that I actually do care about learning, despite what my spring semester attitude might say otherwise. I exchange assigned books for ones that have been on my shelf since Christmas, sitcoms for documentaries and soft sci-fi for hard sci-fi. So putting aside Marvel, for the time being, I binged “The Expanse.” While I didn’t tear up during “Avengers: Endgame,” I did cry while watching season three of this brilliant series.
In the multitude of science fiction shows to choose from, “The Expanse” sets itself apart in its plausibility. Varied spin-offs of “Star Trek,” which might be the best-known sci-fi television show, struggle to stay relevant and believable while not drifting too far away from the original sixties series. “The Expanse” has no such obligations. Its landscape falls more into political drama, spanning between a U.N. controlled Earth, the highly militaristic Mars and the economically abused “Belt.” Please stifle your yawns, though. The first season definitely takes a minute to become interesting, but its diverse, psychologically complex characterizations compensate for any initial confusion.
The main cast follows James Holden (Steven Strait), your typical troubled — not to mention well-kempt — hero aboard a mining ship. After unintentionally getting caught in a political scheme, he and surviving crew mates need to fight for their protection which drags them further into the solar system’s unrest. The crew, including cowboy pilot Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), clever and level-headed Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) and cuddly sociopath Amos Burton (Wes Chatham) slowly come into the orbit of a system-wide mystery. The investigation is lead in the Belt by the volatile detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane — yes, the one from the disturbing and little known Stephen King movie, “The Mist.”) His investigation follows the disappearance of a wealthy Earth girl, Julie Mao (Florence Faivre), which seems fairly standard until his findings get shut down. The turmoil that ensues entangles diplomatic tension, xenophobia, space combat and some weird alien growth called the “protomolecule.” But, no, I won’t give you any more than that, partially because I want to entice you into watching and also because it’s just too complicated to fit everything here.
To Binge or Not To Binge?
Absolutely to binge. Granted, I wouldn’t recommend this show to just anybody — it’s intricate and occasionally slow with nuanced political intrigue. It isn’t your “I just need something to stare at to unwind” kind of show. But if you have the patience, I would say that “The Expanse” deserves your attention. Every single character, regardless of how minor, has a layer — a quality probably indebted to the fact that the show started as a book series. The future it depicts is rendered almost to perfection, not in the utopian sense, but in terms of detail. The impact of gravity, technology, genetics, religion, cultural repercussions and more gets packaged into each episode like an ideal game of Tetris. While the first season does take time to gain momentum, the mystery genre helps introduce the audience to the world.
By season two, the show has established the direction it will take and every episode can be described as captivating. Although “The Expanse” does a good job of making sure character dynamics are shown through every coupling, the show rarely has sentimental moments. As a result, they mean more when they occur. The scene that made me cry? An interaction where Alex offers to make dinner in season three. Little moments like this become endearing. Vicious diplomatic heads become favorite characters. Political perspectives are so diverse that you may want to add your own voice to the science “friction.” My only caution is to watch with subtitles. The “Belt” has a pidgin language that reflects the painstaking effort put into the show’s conceptualization but is often impossible to follow.
The SyFy channel just released its third season before canceling it. While canceling might usually signal a failing show, that does not automatically mean that the show’s quality is poor (“Firefly,” anyone?) Thankfully, Amazon picked it up for the fourth season, so hopefully the production value and character development continues to impress.
Season 3, Episode 6: “Immolation.” A beautiful culmination of the series’ tension, although “Leviathan Wakes” from season 1 took a Hugo award and “Abaddon’s Gate” from season 3 is up for the same award.
“The 100,” “The Orville,” “Star Trek: Discovery,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Dark Matter,” “Firefly,” “Killjoys,” “Babylon 5,” “Farscape” and “Ascension”
Be prepared for some pretty graphic scenes and frequent swearing.
5 out of 5 stars
Available to stream on Amazon Prime
36 episodes, 1,566 minutes (a little over a day if you’re really dedicated)