Thursday, January 05, 2017

‘The Expanse’ Hits a Lot of Science Fiction Marks

The Expanse debuted in 2015, and the first season ended early in 2016.  But it was only last December that I got to watch it.

Based on a series of novels by James S. A. Corey (which I haven’t read), The Expanse is a science fiction TV series from SyFy (the same network that brought two other science fiction TV shows I’ve liked in the past few years, 12 Monkeys and Defiance).  Fusing the space opera, cyberpunk, political thriller, and mystery noir genres, its 10-episode debut season features engaging storytelling, grounded dialogue, believable acting, well thought out worldbuilding, and impressive production value and cinematography for a TV show. 
Set two hundred years in the future – wherein Earth is totally centralized under a United Nations government, Mars is colonized and independent, various stations occupy the Asteroid Belt, and uneasy tension exists between Earth, Mars, and the Belt – The Expanse revolves on three main plotlines: 1.) A Ceres police detective named Josephus "Joe" Aloisus Miller’s (Thomas Jane) is investigating the mysterious disappearance of a woman named Juliette "Julie" Andromeda Mao (Florence Faivre); 2.) James "Jim" Holden (Steven Strait) and other surviving crewmates from the ice hauler Canterbury find themselves being in the center of a plot that could ignite a galactic war; and 3.) Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), a UN official, is working on Earth to keep the peace… by any means necessary.  As the series progresses, pieces from the three gradually converge.     

The political intrigue, heavy but engrossing conversations, and ambience of unpredictability involved in The Expanse somewhat reminds me of Game of Thrones.  By that, I don’t mean that The Expanse is the Game of Thrones of science fiction TV (Westworld has a better chance of getting that title).   It’s still a long way from that.  But the quality of this show inspires such musing.
The series also has a hardboiled, down-to-earth feel.  Despite being set in the future, the themes and characters are effectively relatable and relevant to a modern day angle.  Its fascinating futuristic setting is never a distraction, nor does it overshadow the narrative as focal point.  It means even if you remove the space ships and gadgets, and bring the story to a different genre context, it probably will still work.  But it works best as it is – a science fiction drama set in a futuristic, space setting.

But even with all these good things said, I understand why there will be others who won’t find it as appealing as I do.  Though it gets its footing, it does feel wobbly at its early episodes.  If one is turned off at that point, one might find it difficult to get invested down the line.  Also, it does get a bit tedious and hard to follow sometimes.
In the end, The Expanse probably comes down to having a taste for science fiction (space opera in particular).  I simply love science fiction, hence, I tremendously appreciate the science fiction marks it hits – visually, thematically, and narratively.  For The Expanse is a gritty, beautiful-looking, thoughtful show that has a lot going for it as a work of science fiction to make it a riveting watch for fans of the genre.

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