TV Review: The Expanse

Bright Center Star Cluster, by NASA
Bright Center Star Cluster_by NASA on Unsplash

A year passed between when I finished watching the fourth season of The Expanse by myself and when my family started watching the series at the beginning.

While I liked the series the first time, the second viewing was even better. There was the sense of sharing the story with my family and talking about it together. And I more appreciated the arc of the characters who become the crew of the Rocinante.

James Holden says in the first episode, “No heroes here, Cap,” to Captain McDowell of the Canterbury, as Holden and a handful of characters are on a shuttle to investigate the distress call coming from the Scopuli.

Well, those characters go a long way, literally and figuratively, in five seasons of the show. Traveling the solar system (and beyond), they become heroes.

I enjoyed the series for the complex storytelling involving many more characters than the main folks of the Rocinante. And the characters are interesting for their motivations and goals, from Chrisjen Avasarala to Joe Miller to Bobbie Draper to Fred Johnson to Jules-Pierre Mao. All of them contribute to the plot’s weaving, their motivations pushing against each other, and conflicts arising.

The show takes place (mostly) in our own solar system, so we get a chance to see how fictional humans have ranged from Earth. And those new homes have consequences. The main source of conflict is among three factions — people from Earth, Mars, or the asteroid belt — in how they view and treat one another. We see how the effort to terraform Mars, and the delay of that goal, has affected Martians. And how mining has affected Belters, as well as scarcity of water. They view Earthers as spoiled by having breathable air and easy lives.

For an overview of the plot, split by seasons, where you can drill down to episodes, check out the Wikipedia article.

The Fandom hosts The Expanse Wiki if you want to check out that for more info.

The storytelling and characters are huge strong points for the series. To me, the details add a great deal to the show’s feel. I’m not an astrophysicist, but these details seem more “realistic” than other science fiction series and movies.

What I mean about the details…

Ships don’t have “warp speed” or “hyper jumps.” Instead of getting to a destination in a flash of zoomy lines, a ship takes a while to get there. This is important for different reasons, such as military ships traveling toward conflicts. And for rescuing stranded characters. In season 4, one character says it’ll take their ship a week to get to Illus. In The Expanse, ships are equipped with the Epstein Drive, which uses fusion.

Also on the note of speed, communications aren’t instantaneous. If characters are in close enough proximity, they can chat back and forth on video — such as Luna (our moon) to Earth. However, long distances can take more time for a video message to be delivered. In those cases, a conversation doesn’t happen, just a video clip is shown.

In the scenes on ships, we’re not treated to lovely backgrounds of stars through windows. The ships have video screens instead of windows, so the characters can check out different views on the screens. This might not be as scenic as windows, but it strikes me as more practical. Especially in battles, when fired rounds can punch through ships’ hulls.

Some ships have comfortable space for their occupants: Rocinante and various military vessels. But that’s not true across the board, as many ships have cramped quarters. For example, the Tynon, which Klaes Ashford captains for a time.

Gravity on board the ships isn’t automatic. When ships are not accelerating enough to simulate gravity, characters turn on the magnetism on the bottom of their boots, so they can walk and don’t float around.

This story began as a book series by James S. A. Corey. While researching for this post, I learned that isn’t one person, but the pen name of two writers: Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. I haven’t read the books yet, but I’ll have to make time to do so.

The TV show ran on the Syfy Network for three seasons, then was picked up by Amazon Prime and came out with seasons 4 and 5. I’m looking forward to season 6. Wikipedia says that will be the final season, but the authors say that’ll be a pause.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens after that.