If you like old fashioned sci-fi of the multistranded, multidimensional epic variety, The Expanse could be for you, says Emily Wilson
5 August 2020
Shohreh Aghdashloo plays a high-powered politician in The Expanse
Amazon Prime Video
Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby
Available on Amazon Prime Video
This review contains as few spoilers as is humanly possible.
WHEN the Syfy channel pulled the plug on The Expanse three seasons in, that looked to be it for the sprawling TV show. But then Amazon picked it up for a fourth season, the show went on and a fifth season could come out at any time. What we have now is a really ambitious programme with legs – one that all sci-fi fans should at least consider.
If you haven’t tried it yet, The Expanse deliberately starts rather mid-sentence, but then makes perhaps too few concessions to people who haven’t read the source books by James S. A. Corey.
Your heart slumps a bit at how much exposition you have to swallow, at the tendency of some of the characters to talk in a grating fake patois, and at yet another scene of people you don’t recognise in dark spaces (on ships, in asteroids etc.) cutting away to a scene of other people you don’t recognise in other dark spaces. But press on, brave TV soldier! All will be starlight-clear soon enough.
The Expanse is 100 per cent old-fashioned proper sci-fi of the sprawling, spaceship-studded, multistranded, multidimensional epic variety.
It is a future vision of the solar system in which a horribly polluted Earth has become horribly divided between the vastly rich and the occupation-less poor. Then there is colonised Mars, its citizens extremely militarised and dressed in absolutely killer space armour when out-ship and otter-sleek uniforms when on ship. And then there is the rough asteroid mining belt, reminiscent of Blade Runner in its aesthetics, that is home to the annoying patois.
We join the action as a rich young woman goes missing somewhere out in the belt. A belter detective is tasked with finding her and so begins a story that will take us to the edges of the solar system and beyond. There is also a strange, glowing plant-thing… but of that I should say no more.
The ideas are wonderful, the effects and action fantastic and the writing – while nothing can be perfect – good enough. But the reason I stuck with The Expanse, and will continue to do so, is, predictably, because the characters work, whether stuck on different planets or, if we are lucky, thrown together on ships hurtling this way or that.
On paper, the show’s chief hero is Earther-turned-belter ship’s officer James Holden, played by Steven Strait, and he actually holds his end up fine given that everyone around him is given a lot more room to have fun with their parts.
Of those given more room, my favourite is the furiously patriotic Martian marine Bobbie Draper, played by Frankie Adams. Whether sweetly agonising over her loyalty to Mars or abruptly bursting into ultraviolence, she is totally convincing. Need anyone to take back a hijacked spaceship or similar? Definitely call for Bobbie!
My second favourite is the politician Chrisjen Avasarala, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo. Early on, her arch-manipulator-of-worlds character seems rather implausible, but the amazing Aghdashloo soon has you eating out of her jewel-encrusted hand.
It’s not yet clear where season five will take us in terms of new ideas or even new galaxies. And we still don’t know when it will be released given the pandemic. But that makes this an excellent time to sit back and get bang up to date with the Expanse-verse, ready for whatever our heroes face next.
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