'The Expanse' Is the Epic Sci-Fi Show You Need in Your Life
You should thank diehard fans for saving it from the cold vacuum of cancellation, because now you can stream it on Amazon.
Photo from Syfy Media LLC
You may have missed The Expanse. It’s not the easiest show in the universe to sell—a narratively dense sci-fi epic that’s ending its three-season run on the SyFy channel Wednesday night. It will return on Amazon, thankfully, which gives you even more of a reason to catch up.
The show details the geopolitical struggles in a future where humans have successfully populated Mars—though the planet has yet to become truly livable. Both Earth and Mars rely on the working class of “Belters” who live on asteroids and suffer extreme poverty, poor air quality, water rations, and muscle underdevelopment and atrophy from low gravity. The sociopolitical dynamic between these classes of people has reached a tipping point when the series opens. (I won’t spoil it beyond that.)
The show explicitly grapples with social and philosophical issues as its obvious predecessors, Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek, did in their time. But the story moves at a roaring pace, leaving the cast in a constant state of peril that demands you watch the next episode. The shortest accurate description of it is probably “Game of Thrones in space”—even Jim Holden, one of the show’s main characters, looks like Jon Snow. And just like the ubiquitous sex-and-dragons epic, The Expanse’s narrative strength owes a lot to its source material, a series of books penned by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the joint pen name James S. A. Corey. The novels are still being written—the newest is coming out in December. The first volume, Leviathan Wakes, as well as the entire series, have been nominated for Hugo Awards.
Beyond the deeply bingeable narrative, the The Expanse’s attention to detail really makes the show sing. Living in space is more than a series of near-death experiences, it's a parade of indignities. Holden spends a lot of time looking for a good cup of coffee—we learn that phosphorus, which he scrapes from a match, is the key to neutralizing the acidity of the shitty space coffee he has been drinking. Pilot Alex Kamal makes lasagna, telling his crewmates that it's pretty good for not having tomato or cheese, and detective Joe Miller chimes in with a story about busting a black market cheese ring. We also see Miller’s water run out on the Belter-populated asteroid Ceres while he has a full head of shampoo. These details humanize the colder aspects of space travel, and remind us that humanity occupies a fragile place in the cosmos. But humans are capable of surviving in the most dire circumstances as well.
The cast of the show is remarkably diverse, in a global sense. Two of my favorite characters are women of color: Naomi Nagata, portrayed with incredible force and command by Dominique Tipper, is the brilliant chief engineer of a range of spaceships that our core cast find themselves on. Shohreh Aghdashloo delivers a chillingly powerful performance as Secretary-General of the United Nations. At any given ten-minute slice of the show you’ll hear accents from around the globe—New Zealand, the American South, the UK—coming out of non-white characters' mouths. Belters even get their own dialect.
Much of this can be credited to the authors of the books, but also to executive producer Naren Shankar, who got his start as a writer on the notably diverse Star Trek: The Next Generation. The lack of race- and gender-based prejudice in this imagined future allows the show to more effectively dramatize the prejudice between Mars, Earth, and Belter factions. It also offers a salve to the on-screen whitewashing of characters in other sci-fi and fantasy franchises, like the adaption of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea, which she was vocally displeased about.
The plot, cast, and fanatical attention to detail—the scripts are apparently color-coded to denote the gravity in the scene—has spawned a fanbase who went to great lengths to campaign for the show when it was initially canceled in May. An online petition to “Save The Expanse” gained 138,00 signatures, and fans even flew a plane with a banner reading “Save The Expanse” over Amazon Studios. Luckily the show was picked up by Amazon, and will return for a fourth season.
Luckier still, it’s all available for streaming now, and waiting for new converts to dive in.
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