I'm going to start off by saying I not only liked “The Expanse”, I loved it. Loved. It. So much so that I watched all four screener episodes I was sent one after the other with the passion I normally reserve for Red Vines at the movie theater (don't get mad at me, Twizzlers fans. You know RV are usually the only movie option.) So, yeah, I wanted that out of the way so I could skip past any idea of a critical review (there are people who do those so much better than I do) and go right for the fangirling.
I came into “The Expanse” pretty much cold. In fact, my husband was the one who started talking about it when Syfy first announced the series. He was the one who piqued my interest. I've never read the book. It was only through promo videos for the show I learned James S.A. Corey was two people. That meant that I didn't have any expectations, but it also meant that I didn't have anything to bias me as far as any past information.
Much like I enjoyed how “Killjoys” drops you into a world that's already built and eschews a lot of exposition, “The Expanse” hits the ground running. Yeah, you get a quick rundown: Earth has now colonized Mars and Mars is very much about its own independence. Meanwhile a space station called Ceres sits in the middle and gathers water for both planets and themselves.
Guess who gets the short end of the stick in that arrangement?
But it's Ceres that intrigued me most. Not just the characters surviving the daily life of just being on Ceres, but there are all the socio-political issues that come with living there. And they are plentiful. It can feel a little bit like being tossed into the deep end of the pool and being forced to learn to swim, but I love being challenged to immerse myself in a story without much handholding. I like having to rewind to make sure I heard something right, or pausing to think about something that just happened. To quote a phrase from “Dune”, ‘I see plans within plans,” which had me gleefully rubbing my hands trying to figure out everything I could.
From the outside, I'm sure people could consider some of the character's trope-y, but I prefer to think of them as archetypes. Much like “Battlestar Galactica” had archetypes: The Diplomat, the Pilot who Doubts Themselves, the Person with Ulterior Motives.
Thomas Jane's plays Detective Miller, a man who's seen too much, but still manages to see beauty in small things. Not a “Heart of Gold” sort of dude, but more someone who's trying to just muddle through life, do his job, and try and find something good in a place that feels like it's slowly dying. He also has the best haircut on the planet, as far as I'm concerned. Very Zorg from “The Fifth Element,” but freed from restraint, save for a cool fedora.
Shohreh Aghdashloo is nothing short of exquisite as Chrisjen Avasarala, Deputy Undersecretary for the United Nations. Honestly, if this show was strictly about her, I'd be happy. There are moments where I was physically slack-jawed at some of the things she does and says because she really is mesmerizing and terrifying at the same time.
Standouts for me were Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata and Cas Anvar's Alex Kamal, but the entire cast feels pretty good and no one feels out of place. Four episodes in, you know more about everyone than you did when you started, but that doesn't mean you know the truth. I like that. Make me guess.
The sets, the look and feel of the show, the environments –– those are what I truly loved best. Just like “BSG” built a world within a ship, “The Expanse” builds multiple worlds between planets, a space station, and ships –– and each of those worlds feels unique. One of these days, I'll figure out a better word for “gritty” when I mean “real/worn down/scarred/lived in” but you get the drift. How you live is directly related to your circumstances and some have it better than others. Certain things you would have never accepted become commonplace and, before you know it, it's the new normal.
One running gag that made me grin is Stephen Strait's character Holden, and his ongoing mission to find a decent cup of coffee in space. It really is the little things that can make life livable. Me? I'm like one of the Belters who just wants something green.
You'll likely hear positive, negative, and neutral reviews on this series. My guess is that it's going to fall into different camps for people because of how it's made and the feel of the show. But, I have a suggestion. Don't decide based on the reviews alone. Syfy's airing the first episode digitally on the 23rd and the first episode premieres on Syfy on December 14th.
Watch the first episode. See what you think. If you hate it, hey, you checked it out. Feel free to come back and tell me I'm wrong and why. If you love it, come back and tell me that, too. I just feel like this is really something…special. It feels like BSG to my sci-fi loving heart and, as I recall, there was a lot of magic in that old ship.