Having gone to school for Television Writing, I have a decently sizeable social circle of snobby boob tube connoisseurs. One would assume that some discourse surrounding Syfy’s The Expanse would be generated in the vicinity of my presence (A.K.A. Facebook)…
But no one’s talking about it!
I suppose it should come as no surprise. Who the hell has Syfy on their HD Box plans? (It’s a joke Syfy, please don’t send me your army of bodacious female Korean hackers!)
Regardless, The Expanse is a great show overall. Hard to follow at times, especially to those who have not read the same-titled source material by James S.A. Corey (insert-embarrassed-emoticon). Beyond that, however, the show has some legitimate qualities that place it in the realm of “give-it-a-chance”ness. All it would take from the viewer’s part is an expansion of their expectations.
Wikipedia describes The Expanse as a “space opera/ mystery science fiction”. I would say that this unholy trifecta of genres– space opera, noir, science fiction— while an intimidating mix, is an accurate take on the show’s voice. After all, as we have all come to know in our late night essay-writing moments, if it is written on Wikipedia… it must be so.
Without giving away spoilers, the show takes place in the vast reaches of space 200 years into the future and has elements of “whoddunits” as the three protagonists– more on them later– try to unravel the conspiracy that threatens to initiate a solar system-wide war. In an era where each of the following—Dune, Star Trek, Fire-renity, Xeno-Gears-Saga-Blade, Gundam, Star Wars—has a dedicated audience, this title merits its own. The Expanse falls under the sensibilities of what made those other titles so alluring—the possibilities of space, of the known-yet-unknown and articulating all these in a compelling mystery.
Good story telling but not Great
By no means should the replacement of “Good” over “Great” detract potential viewers from giving the show a chance, as “Good” might potentially turn out to be “Great” after all.
The Expanse has a very intricate tri-protagonist way of telling its story. The audience follows three characters with awesome names: 1) Josephus Aloisus Miller (played by Thomas Jane), a cop born in one of the Asteroid Belt colonies who investigates the disappearance of a rich girl-turned-terrorist for the oppressed, 2) Crisjen Avasarala (Shoreh Aghdashloo), a peace-goaled big shot on Earth serving as one of the U.N.’s political figures (officially dubbed, “Deputy Undersecretary of Executive Administration” but let’s be real… neither of us know what that means), and 3) an officer of a space ice freighter by the awesomest name of… (eyeroll) James Holden (Steven Strait) whose story arc will not be revealed here—lest you want the first episode to be spoiled. Suffice it to say, his arc is directly connected to the plot points of the other two and it involves bad things happening to those who make the right decisions.
Perhaps due in part to the show’s tri-partite viewpoints, what really speaks volumes to the story telling style is that not everything is revealed in a convenient sequence of expository scenes. I would argue that, while necessary world-pertinent information is revealed early on, a lot of the plot-pertinent information is revealed in the middle of the series. Traditionally high-stakes act breaks are then more identifiable in the earlier and later episodes.
But what does this mean? For one thing, the viewer is left to do a lot of latent thinking, a lot of connecting the subtleties between episodes that may not have appeared significant at first glance.
In other words, viewers must go beyond traditional story telling and work a little for their prize. There is in essence, a great story here, but it must be “found”. Believe me when I say, “Every scene has its purpose,” even the ones involving the uncle and nephew (for those who have seen the show).
I was neither a Science nor Astronomy major, so if you happen to be either of those, best to ignore this following spiel… lest you yearn that I be shamed for my attempts at haughty space-oriented discussion. In that case, go for broke!
Nevertheless, the way I see it, The Expanse beats some of the other abovementioned Space Opera titles in the believability department.
Two things in the world of The Expanse. First, people born on space colonies outside of Earth actually grow to look like malnourished giants with hollowed bones. I don’t know whether this is a scientifically reasonable assumption to make but I do know that environment plays a significant role in shaping processes of human growth and evolution. Humans shouldn’t have the good fortune of looking like Asian pop stars like they do in the Gundam space colonies.
Secondly—and possibly the most important argument in this entry—the Asteroid Belters’ Patois! The show has received a lot of criticism for this added depth. But how cool is it that 30% of the actors in this show were pretty much forced to speak a creolized English with which they were most likely unfamiliar? Can you imagine the whiny arguments that took place between actor and director?
“Cut! Do it again!”
“Wah gwan bredren? Me so dinnae do again ye piece’a gobshite, ye!”
Point is, languages in isolated areas do appropriate from the root language and shape it into something different over time, perhaps as a means of collective redefinition. Ireland, Scotland, Jamaica, Singapore—despite the degree in linguistic differences in these areas, the residents still speak… well, English. It’s the same for the Patois in the Asteroid Belt. Although, why this isn’t Miller’s quotidian lingua is beyond me.
What are you waiting for?
Okay so, I am fully aware that despite the lack of explanation, the space colonies and ship vessels in The Expanse need a LOT of energy to sustain themselves (what is their source?), not to mention large horticultural sectors to keep their oxygen-reliant organisms alive… but… … sssshhhhhh… let’s just… just… yeah.
So the show is still not 100% believable, not 100% cohesive, not 100% anything, really.
Because science fiction.
What I can appreciate about this show is its daring boldness at making its world a tiny bit more believable, its story a bit more challenging, and its voice a bit more muddled and unconventional. At least in comparison to some of the other titles in its genre(s).
So what are you waiting for? Get lost in the world, get confused in the Patois, and waste more time than usual in making links to its divergent story line. Those who find it difficult to take this last extra step… the show just finished its first season, so binge watch away!!!
Er, I mean, wait till your subscription-based streaming provider acquires it in its library… yes…