A farewell to The Expanse: the last bastion of spacefaring Sci-Fi TV
Pop quiz. Right now. What is the last truly great Sci-Fi TV show that you all watched? If your answer is a resounding Battlestar Galactica, you would be right on the money. You would also be guilty of missing out on a masterfully carved gem that is just as profound and intelligent. And dare I say it evokes the same sense of grandeur that only shows like BSG could command. Or should I say it DID?
The Expanse, Sci-Fi’s greatest hurrah of the last decade, has fallen. The show has been cancelled in the midst of its third season run.
Being in the spectrum of any given fandom is not always easy. We put the love all our hearts can muster in the pedestals of artisans and creators who bring us great characters and imaginative worlds. But behind the curtain lies the bitter truth of corporate backing, boardroom meetings and the pure math of profit margin of giant corporations. The Expanse is just the latest in a long line of show business victims. But today should not be about grief. Today we look back and celebrate an exquisite television artistry that might become a bigger cult classic than Firefly down the line.
James S.A. Corey’s (Corey is, in fact, a shared pseudonym for authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) popular series of space novels are the basis of the Expanse. The show imagines a future 200 years from now, where the premise of political tension among Earth, a colonized Mars and a ring of blue-collar space stations called the Belt is ripe for great storytelling. Between Earth’s larger army and Mars’ better one, the Belt accommodates the solar system’s lowest social class and is in both planets’ crosshairs because of its rich resources.
The show’s narrative is three-pronged, which it handles effortlessly. We have Captain Jim Holden (Steven Strait) and his ragtag crew aboard the stolen Martian warship Rocinante, a police detective named Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane) who is obsessed with a missing girl named Julie Mao and the sketchy proceedings of a savvy U.N. leader Chrisjen Avasarala (Shoreh Aghdashloo) to keep the shaky peace between Earth and Mars intact. The way The Expanse shifts its perspectives from the grand theater of an escalating cosmic Cold War to the very personal interrelationships of its characters is just a pleasure to watch. The crew of Rocinante resonate the spirit of Firefly; the political intrigue of BSG permeates the whole show and Detective Miller’s noir mystery thread is just a page out of Blade Runner. This is a formula that just works. On top of that, the more the story progresses, the more it branches out and introduces new characters, ices some old ones and holds some truly great surprises.
Of course, a great setting and an engaging story can go only so far without three dimensional characters that will make us invest in said setting and story. Arguably, this is where The Expanse shines the brightest. Packed with characters with different motivations and agendas, The Expanse spares no time to put them in high stakes situations where every choice can be their last. From the square-jawed leadership of Holden to the tortured portrayal of Miller, this show crafts a character driven journey that is bound to get you hooked. You cannot but treasure all the scene-stealing moments Avasarala or Amos just sparingly sprinkle around you. Of all its awesome aspects, there is one single truth that binds The Expanse as a whole. At its core, The Expanse is all about people responding to fear- fear of each other, fear of the unknown, fear of inequality, fear of death. And the actors expertly bring those struggles to life with nuance and passion. Also the writers have reached a point where you can tell they feel completely confident in the world they’ve created and can do whatever they choose within it. Sadly we will not see what could be in store for these awesome characters in the future.
One of the biggest strengths of this show is its complete attunement to hardcore science fiction. The Expanse is not Star Wars. There are no space knights and space wizards. Nor it is Star Trek with “alien of the week”. This is a show that is grounded on established science while extrapolating a few hundred years. FTL (Faster-Than-Light) travel, while taken for granted elsewhere on the Sci-Fi genre, does not exist in this show. There are no laser shields or weaponry because nothing beats trusty old ballistics. Travelling in high-g requires passengers to sit in “crash couches” which pumps them with drugs to keep them awake and not crush under extreme pressure. The commitment the writers have bound themselves to in maintaining such staggering authenticity amounts to a gritty take on an already engaging universe.
Many years from now, we will look back upon The Expanse and be amazed at its majestic contribution to Sci-Fi. But it will always sting to not be able to see this show grow to be something even more special and reach its true potential. I guess we fans are all Belters now- a tribe without a country. While the production company is still trying for continued life of the series, it isn’t looking hopeful. But let us not despair. Keyboard warriors among us, now is your time to shine. Spam that #SaveTheExpanse hard to make some noise. Let the noise split the corporate boardrooms asunder!
Yam Seng Beltalowda!