I don’t know about you but I LOVE when I discover a new show that I love, especially those that have been around for a while with tons of episodes to catch up on. THE EXPANSE has been around since 2015 and I’ve often seen the banner pop up on Amazon Prime, but somehow I haven’t felt compelled to check it out. About a month ago, my hubby said a few colleagues of were talking about that show on one of their Zoom meetings and they highly recommended it–saying that it’s one of the best, most realistic sci-fi shows they’ve seen. So we decided to give it a go, since we actually loved Battlestar Galactica (the early 2000s version by Ron Moore) that we binged on a decade ago.
Well, right from the very first episode, we instantly LOVED it and we had been catching up to the first 3 seasons in just 3 weeks, so one season per week which is actually pretty fast as we usually don’t watch anything on weeknights. But fortunately each episode is only about 40-minutes long and always ends on such an awesome cliffhanger that it’s hard NOT to keep watching!
Apparently this show was originally on SyFy Channel, which cancelled the series in early 2018 just before airing its third season. Thanks to fan-campaign to save the show, Amazon picked it up and currently the show is on its 5th season. I’ve only finished season 3 so far, but I think we’ll be caught up with all four season by the time season 5 drops on December 15.
Hundreds of years in the future, the Solar System has been colonized by humanity. The three largest powers are the United Nations of Earth and Luna, the Martian Congressional Republic on Mars, and the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), a loose confederation of the asteroid belt and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
Sci-fi shows are a dime a dozen but I find The Expanse unique given that it takes place on multiple planets including earth, and instead of humans + aliens fighting or co-existing, all of the characters on Earth, Mars and those living in the asteroid belt (hence called Belters) are all humans who have since colonized other planets.
The series follows a disparate band of antiheroes – United Nations Security Council member Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), police detective Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane), ship’s officer James Holden (Steven Strait) and his crew – as they unwittingly unravel and place themselves at the center of a conspiracy which threatens the system’s fragile state of Cold War. I love the detective noir aspect of Miller’s narrative in trying to find a missing young woman, and the show-runners did an outstanding job mixing the noir elements with science-fiction and relevant political climate & intrigue that actually feels relatable to what’s going on in our world today.
Based on the book series of the same name by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey), they also serve among the show’s producers and writers. It’s the kind of shows that are super fun to sink your teeth into because of their excellent world-building and scientifically accurate of depictions of life in space.
Well, if the Rotten Tomatoes ratings are any indication, this is one of those rare series that consistently get high rating that get better and better each season. In fact, the first season’s rating of 77% is the lowest of the four seasons so far, with season 3 and 4 getting 100% fresh rating!
Here are just some of the reasons I LOVE The Expanse:
FANTASTIC ENSEMBLE CAST
I LOVE the racially-diverse cast who are massively talented but not big-name stars. I have to say the only two people I knew prior to watching the show are Thomas Jane and Shohreh Aghdashloo but I grew to love all the main cast, especially the four main crew of the Rocinante, the Martian gunship the crew managed to escape in when their original ship Canterbury was destroyed.
- Steven Strait as James Holden, the Earther executive officer on the Canterbury, later the captain of the Rocinante
- Cas Anvar as Alex Kamal, the Martian pilot of the Canterbury, later the pilot of the Rocinante
- Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata, a Belter engineer of the Canterbury, later the engineer of the Rocinante
- Wes Chatham as Amos Burton, an Earther mechanic of the Canterbury, later the mechanic of the Rocinante
This is a memorable scene when they renamed the ship Rocinante.
Each of the characters has an interesting backstory that’s slowly revealed as the series progresses, and the show feels like a terrific ensemble-piece instead of the merely focusing on just one or two characters. It’s hard to pick a favorite as I LOVE the four of them pretty much equally. Holden is an idealist reluctant leader whose principles somehow command loyalty from the crew… I like that he’s not a typical captain that just barks orders at the crew. Alex is a brilliant yet fun pilot, he always makes me smile, plus he’s a great cook, who doesn’t love that!! I gotta get some of those space pasta! I’ve grown to appreciate Amos more and more, I love his brutal honesty, his hot temper is actually endearing (though I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of his!). All the guys are super easy on the eyes as well, which makes them extra easy to love, ahah.
I think the real MVP of the Roci (love the cute nickname for the ship!) is Naomi Nagata, the super-engineer who can fix practically anything and she’s tough as nails!!
The four crew member have such a great chemistry and despite their different personalities, they somehow complement each other nicely. Of course they don’t always get along, which is realistic given each came from different backgrounds and their viewpoints/ allegiance don’t always align. Plus it adds to the dynamic element of the show when they do butt heads… or when sparks fly (as in the case with James and Naomi).
Let’s highlight the three other characters I love on the show:
Shohreh Aghdashloo is so bad ass as Chrisjen Avasarala (what a fun name!) one of the UN Security Council members who’s sharp and resourceful in maneuvering the fragile political situations between the three planets, definitely a stand-out amongst the cutthroat, male-dominated field. I LOVE how colorful and intricate her costumes are in this show, she’s always decked in sparkly jewels in nearly every episode, such a respite from the austere military uniforms most of the characters wear.
Thomas Jane’s Josephus Miller (with his iconic detective hat) is quite a fun character as he seems like he’s sort of disillusioned and just cruising through life, that is until he starts investigating the disappearance of Julie Mao (Florence Faivre). In a way, she brought his mojo back as he’s becoming more inspired the more he learns about her life.
Last but not least, one of my fave characters from season 1-3 is Mars’ Marine Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams). I love her no-nonsense character from the moment she was introduced in Mars, and she’s got tons of memorable moments that just makes me love her more and more.
The meticulous world-building that as scientifically-accurate as can be
It’s always important for any series that they come up with a compelling universe and its own sets of rules… I think even more so in a science fiction that deals with worlds other than our own. The show-runners have definitely done a phenomenal job setting up complex, intricate narratives with high stakes that build genuine tension from one episode to the next.
For example, the zero gravity concept which this Wired article sums it up nicely ‘There are no pew-pew lasers or faster-than-light space travel here—just serious science.’ For example, unlike many sci-fi shows where humans can just walk normally on a spacecraft, in this show, they’d be floating around if they’re not strapped in, unless they wear magnetic boots that ‘lock’ them to the ground so they can walk. This article talks about the science of spinning aircraft, which the show also depicts in a much more realistic way than other similar shows.
The opening of the first episode sees a girl trapped on a ship that’s apparently has been abandoned. It’s the scene that started it all, which also does a good job in introducing the kind of world The Expanse is set in.
Now, obviously The Expanse is a fantasy sci-fi show, but I like that the showrunners at least has a pretty good understanding how science works. One of them, Naren Shankar, holds a PhD in physics and engineering from Cornell and he also said the book authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck also have extensive knowledge about science. This Wired article talks about how the show paid great attention to real physics, such as how gravity or orbital trajectories work. I read this interview with Shankar on Sciencemag and I definitely come away with the notion that this show raised the game for other shows in similar genres.
It’s not just the space science the show get right, but also the cultural ramifications that resulted from humans living in different planets. Instead of racial tension between people of different skin colors that we have today, in the future we have tensions between the Earthers, Martians and Belters who are all humans that have ‘evolved’ to have different physical appearances due to the climate of the planets they occupy.
For example, Belters suffer when exposed to Earth’s gravitational force, due to their altered physiology from growing up and living in low gravity environments. So Earthers would use Gravity torture is a form of torture that is used on Earth against Belters, such as the one seen in this scene.
It’s interesting how watching the show reinforces how we earth-dwellers have taken so many things for granted–blue sky, breathable air, oceans, etc. which are foreign to Martians and Belters. The Belters are raised in low gravity environment which makes them have longer bones and larger skulls than the humans of earth. Martians are highly efficient society as everyone there are laser-focused on the terraforming project, that is trying to make Mars to be the new earth. Martians are highly advanced in terms of military and technology, as the terraforming project is considered the greatest engineering project in human history.
The culture of the show is so fascinating stuff but yet somehow relatable because despite the show being set mostly in space, the story is about humans and their journey navigating the new reality. The discrimination, prejudices and other sources of tensions between the three planets feel eerily similar to what’s happening in our world today.
The genuine mystery + terror of the mysterious enemy
Out of the many mysteries presented on the show, the protomolecule is at the heart of it as it affects the lives of all human kind. Per The Expanse Wiki, The protomolecule is an infectious agent of extra-terrestrial origin that has the ability to radically alter infected life forms and utilize their biomass in various ways. The show’s main villain, a wealthy tycoon Jules-Pierre Mao (François Chau), has been working on a project to weaponized the protomolecule which leads to unfounded war between Earth and Mars.
The horrific Eros-incident revealed in Critical Mass is downright horrifying and heartbreaking. The stakes are truly high here as Miller and Holden + crew have to figure out just what evil they’re dealing with that could do such unimaginable horror to the Belters in that space station. The moment Marine Bobbie Draper first encountered the Protomolecule Hybrid on Ganymede Station is pretty darn scary as well and deepens the mystery of the whole illicit project.
Whenever I’m watching shows that are full of intricate concepts, I find it helpful to get a crash course on the world it’s set in after I watch the first couple of episodes. I only watch them if I decide the show is worth investing my time on, so I found this one that explains the many worlds presented in the show without any spoilers:
Now, this Kevin Smith one is fun but I recommend waiting until you finish all three seasons as it has quite a few spoilers. It definitely made me anticipate season 4 even more!
More of The Expanse series in the works, yay!
Well, the good news for fans is the show is far from over!! Season 5 will arrive on Amazon Prime on December 15 and according to this article, it’s already been renewed for season 6!
I’m excited to start season 4 next week, as soon as I’m done watching The Queen’s Gambit (which is also very good but glad it’s only a limited series with 7 episodes!). I actually miss the characters of The Expanse already after not watching for a few days.
Have you seen The Expanse? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the series!