Published on February 26th, 2016 | by Lauren McPhee2
The Expanse – Review
Part noir detective series, part science fiction mystery, part space opera; The Expanse is a heady genre cocktail topped up with political conspiracy and class warfare. Recently finished airing season 1 on Syfy and developed from the series of science fiction novels by James S. A. Corey, The Expanse is rich and textured, taking its cues from the early seasons of Game of Thrones in terms of storytelling and production value. It has scope, it has ambition, and at least for now, it is effectively navigating a tightly woven narrative at a concise 10 episodes long. All in all, it’s perfect; you can knock it back in one shot and still taste the intricacies, but it’s also worth savouring, to work through all the delicious nuances.
The Expanse is set in a near future, only a couple hundred years from now, where humanity has succeeded in colonising the solar system. Mars is an independent military colony while Earth and the United Nations controls the Belt, where Belters mine and source resources delivered to the inner planets via the main port on Ceres. Earth is considered extravagant with its free air and water; Mars is rich but frugal, intent on bringing life to a dead planet; meanwhile, Belters toil on asteroids and space stations in low-g, deprived of sufficient air or water rations, and many Belters are associated with the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), described either as a social reform movement or a terrorist organisation. The peace rests with the cold war, with tensions high between Earth, Mars and the Belt, but not quite spilling over.
That’s until the ice trawler Canterbury gets blown up on its return from mining ice around Saturn; the loss of the ice means increased water rationing on Ceres and subsequent rioting; meanwhile, a transmission gets out from the five survivors of the Cant claiming advanced stealth ships were to blame that could only have come from Mars. The undisclosed development of stealth technology puts significant firepower into the hands of whoever destroyed the Canterbury, but whether it is Mars trying to wrest control of the Belt from Earth, or stolen tech being used by the OPA to try to take control of Ceres, or an unknown independent party trying to start a war for their own ends, is yet to be seen. This mystery is what drives the characters and the action in this series, taking us across the solar system to collect different pieces of the puzzle.
The level of detail that drives the plot is seriously impressive, and this is even before we touch on the various characters that add their own unique flavours to the mix. Each character is worthy of our in-depth attention, and while there’s not the time for this now, I must give credit to the cast for their impressive performances. First up is Chrisjen Avasarala, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, who depicts a brilliant and manipulative politician with incredible grace and presence. Next up is Detective Joe Miller of Star Helix Security on Ceres, played by Thomas Jane, who embodies a rougher Det. McPherson from 1944’s film noir, Laura, in his search for lost daughter, Julie Mao. Then there’s James Holden and his crew played with so much humanity by Steven Strait, Dominique Topper, Was Chatham, Cas Anvar and Paulo Costanzo, not forgetting Julia Mao, played by Florence Faivre. I can seriously remember the exact moment I fell in love with each and every one of these characters. Despite the relative realism of the series, in terms of the science fiction, it is the characters with their language, mannerisms, and their emotional honesty that truly cultivates belief in this series.
It’s hard not to go into detail with a series as complex and textually thick as this one; aspects of Belter physiology and patois, comment on social issues and class inequality, and character depth and exploration all deserve far more attention than could be offered in this introductory review. Suffice to say that if you enjoy genre, if you like being challenged, and if you like the intrigue of political conspiracy, you will enjoy this series. Similarly, if you enjoyed the likes of Firefly and Battlestar Galactica, you will recognise and enjoy the shared tone and character colouring. If you appreciate tight, concise storytelling with a lot of meat to it and are looking for something that is visually stunning and beautiful, complete with high production value and excellent writing, directing and editing, this is it. The Expanse is your beautiful, textured tapestry of science fiction, drama, mystery and film noir all mixed up in one, set within a vast universe spinning with life, giving lie to the silent peace of the void in its title.