Aug 22, 2018

[TV] The Expanse: Season 1 Review

Adaptations are all the rage in the entertainment world and it seems that the industry is actively working to remind me of the many books that I still haven't read. I've always been the sort of person who wants to read the source material before enjoying the adaptation, but that's really not feasible in the current landscape.

And thus we come to shows like The Expanse, which is based on a series of highly-rated science fiction books. The premise of the story is definitely in the realm of the sort of book that I'd want to get into but time is a fickle thing and there's so many forms of content to juggle. And so the books remain unread in my never-ending reading queue.

But that didn't stop me from diving into this series head-first without the advantage of advanced book knowledge. And in some ways that probably helped me appreciate the show as a separate creative venture and not just an adaptation.

But it's certainly a heavy show that's not at all for the faint-of-heart in terms of overall worldbuilding and concepts involved.

Synopsis: The Expanse is an American science fiction television series developed for SyFy by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby. The series is based on The Expanse series of novels by James. S.A. Corey.

Some 200+ years in the future mankind has colonized more of the solar system. detective Joseph Miller (Thomas Jane) gets assigned to investigate the disappearance of Julie Mao (Florence Faivre). Around the same time, the ice hauler Canterbury receives a distress signal that they opt to respond to. They find no one alive aboard the Scopuli and before they can share their findings the witness the destruction of their ship. As the distress signal was determined to be of Martian origins, Executive Officer Jim Holden (Steven Strait) broadcasts a desperate message that pins the blame for the destruction of their ship on Mars.

Tensions were already high with regard to interplanetary relations and part of the opening of the show involves UN executive Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) interrogating a prisoner from the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) about contraband stealth technology. The news of the Canterbury's destruction only further fans the flames of animosity between Earth and Mars and the diverse residents of the Belt.

What I Liked: This is a series that is quite deep in its worldbuilding and pretty vast in the range of concepts involved and the possible stories supported by its setting. It's this sort of rich narrative experience that can really create a unique entertainment experience provided you have the patience to understand and eventually try to explore the story world to its fullest. And this series is definitely a "hard sci-fi" sort of tale with its efforts of using technological concepts that are more or less feasible yet still well-advanced beyond our present level of ability.

Beyond the obviously rich source material, there's a noticeable attention to detail in how the show has been put together that clearly is an effort to do the books justice. Thus you have all the little things like the quirkiness of propulsion based "gravity" on ships or the very nature of their interstellar combat depicted as warheads taking a fair amount of time before reaching their target and all that good stuff. It all helps support the distinct reality of this setting and presents things in a way that on the whole makes sense.

What Could Have Been Better: It is hard to get into a series like this because there are so many different groups and factions involved, not considering a lot of fictional historical context that clearly informs the actions of many characters in the show. But as the show begins with the disappearance and the destruction of the Canterbury, it also means you have all the acting going full-tilt more often than not and it's hard to catch up and fully understand the nuances of the narrative such as what has Earth and Mars so far apart despite both planets being home to human populations.

And this show has a pretty big cast with a LOT of people having stories that matter to the larger meta-plot across episodes and you kind of need to take notes to make sure you don't lose track. This is especially true since a large part of the first season is an actual mystery - the disappearance of Julie Mao. So there's a lot that people need to understand quickly in order to keep up with the narrative as it unfolds.

TL;DR: The Expanse is a smart, complex and narratively rich television series which offers a great story with a lot of different elements involved. If you pay attention to this first season you should get a good grasp of the world and that'll help you further enjoy the stories to come. Thus the first season gets a great 4 surprise stealth ships coming out of nowhere out of a possible 5.


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