I’m not going to waste your time comparing The Expanse to other science fiction offerings out there. A quick look at my list of posts will give you some idea of my nerd credential bona fides. Yes, I’m a Star Trek/Star Wars geek, for sure, and I’ve spent enough time telling you why I enjoy those franchises.
But, here’s the thing: The Expanse just may be the science fiction television series I’ve needed to watch for my entire life. It’s honestly that good. And, if I were asked today, I might—just might, mind you—say that it’s my all-time favorite science-fiction television series, ever.
Take that statement with a grain of salt. We’re still in our honeymoon phase, The Expanse and I, because I just watched the final episode of Season Two this morning—that’s “Caliban’s War”—and, I also just began reading the James S. A. Corey novel, Leviathan Wakes. It’s good as well, and I’m thrilled that there are a bunch more already published after it.
The first season of the series was, in hindsight, largely a worldbuilding one. As the second season kicks off, we already understand the basic nature of this fictional world. There are three main factions of humans: Earthers, Martians, and Belters. There has been no indication of racism in this series. In fact, I believe it may have the most diverse cast of any show, ever. Please let me know if you disagree with me. Diverse not just in terms of race but also in gender. There are many strong female characters on this show.
However, because humans have proven time and again that they just can’t play nice together, racism has been supplanted by a fierce type of nationalism based on where in the solar system you grew up. “Nationalism” is probably the wrong word for it, but it still seems better than “planetism.” The political climate is rife with friction between our three main groups, and it provides not only a backdrop and setting but also the impetus for much of our story. It is a richly fleshed-out milieu that is, in many ways, as much a main character as our central group of well-cast actors.
Speaking of actors, several new characters join our already large cast in this season. Martian Marine gunnery sergeant Bobbie Draper, one of those strong female leads I mentioned earlier, is introduced, and she’s with us for the entire season, and, hopefully, beyond. She has a definite character arc in the season, and she’s not the same person in the last episode that she was in the first. While she is more a part of the Avasarala storyline, I hope she becomes a part of the Rocinante crew at some point. She would be a welcome addition, the female counterpart to Amos.
Praxidike “Prax” Meng, a Ganymedian botanist, becomes a member of the Rocinante crew. When we first meet him, Prax believes that his daughter Mei was killed after orbital mirrors crashed into the Ganymede station following a battle between UNN and MCRN forces. Later, when he learns that his pediatrician, Dr. Strickland, may have saved Mei, he has hope of being reunited with her. But, it turns out Strickland, a former and perhaps current employee of Protigen, was involved in the protomolecule project and Mei may have been turned into one of those creatures like the one that—SPOILERS—wipes out Bobbie Draper’s squad and nearly kills her. Or she may not have. I’m not going to spoil everything for you. Prax proves his worth to the rest of the Rocinante crew before the season ends, and it looks like he may be around a while. Of course, with this show, no one is really safe.
Another new character I really came to enjoy during the season was the freelance spy, Cotyar Ghazi, who is hired by Avasarala. As it turns out, he was the one responsible for getting Avasarala’s son killed as well, so there’s a little bit of depth to their relationship. By the end of the season, we discover that Cotyar is dedicated to keeping Avasarala safe not because he feels like he owes the politician anything, but because he owes it to her late son. If you will allow me one little Game of Thrones comparison, his character seems a bit like the Hound, Davos, and Brienne of Tarth—you know, that kind of energy.
The story this season continues to expand upon that of the first. The protomolecule is more than merely a MacGuffin, and it drives much of the action, even when characters don’t realize it. Former Ceres detective Joe Miller isn’t a part of the entire season, but that’s all I can tell you without spoiling the story for you. I will make a speculation, however. I think he’ll be back in the third season. No way are we letting Thomas Jane get away that cleanly, with or without the hat or the wicked punk rock mohawk.
A lot of stuff happens. There are some injuries, and more than a few deaths, some of them quite shocking (I’m thinking about Prax’s story here). There’s also a brief vignette that I rather enjoyed about the man who accidentally discovered the Epstein Drive, Solomon Epstein. This is the starship drive that allowed Mars to break away from Earth’s control and allows all of our characters to travel around the solar system more easily. It’s not quite warp drive technology, but it’s something. The special effects, as always, are nothing short of amazing, although I’m discovering that I’m beginning to take them for granted.
In spite of all the science-fiction trappings, and the semi-futuristic technology and well-wrought spectacle that The Expanse brings to the table, it is, in the end, a story about people. And, it’s the characters who we care about that keep this an engaging story.
Like I said, I’m still in the honeymoon phase here, but I like this series a lot. Easily 5 out of 5 stars from me, and I’m contemplating giving it extra-credit points as well.