The Expanse: Hard Science, Film Noir and Space Opera!

THE EXPANSE -- Season:1 -- Pictured: (l-r) Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata, Wes Chatham as Amos, Steven Strait as Earther James Holden -- (Photo by: Jason Bell/Syfy)
THE EXPANSE — Season:1 — Pictured: (l-r) Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata, Wes Chatham as Amos, Steven Strait as Earther James Holden — (Photo by: Jason Bell/Syfy)

The Expanse (Monday & Tuesday, 10/9C – then Tuesdays, 10/9C) is Syfy’s most intriguing series since its Battlestar Galactica reboot.

Two hundred years from now, the U.N. has grown a pair and now controls Earth and Luna; Mars is an independent military power and the asteroid belt is being mined for ice by the inhabitants of a series of a series of city-sized space stations. These stations mine the ice for Earth and Mars, but they don’t control it – their water and air are allotted by the mining companies, who have that authority from Earth.

When a Ceres Station cop is asked to find a missing heiress from Earth, it soon becomes apparent that something else is going on and the fragile peace/cold war between Earth and Mars may just be turning into something else – with the Belters probably winding up on the wrong end of the stick no matter what happens.

There’s a series of disparate plot arcs that will, eventually be linked together though that process has only begun over the course of the four episodes provided for review, but those arcs are all involving – smartly developed and peopled by interesting characters.

THE EXPANSE -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Florence Faivre as Juliette Andromeda Mao -- (Photo by: Jason Bell/Syfy)
THE EXPANSE — Season:1 — Pictured: Florence Faivre as Juliette Andromeda Mao — (Photo by: Jason Bell/Syfy)

Detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane, Hung) is given an off-book assignment to find Julie Mao (Florence Faivre), an heiress who was last seen on Ceres Station. On the official job, he tries to keep the peace by maintaining relationships with people in key positions among the blue collar workers – like the guy who keeps the oxygen filters clean – and being able to know when he’s been played.

Jim Holden (Steven Strait, Magic City) is acting executive officer on the ice freighter Canterbury when a distress call comes in from a disabled transport called the Scopuli. Although the captain orders the message purged, fearing it being pirate bait, Holden secretly recovers the message and sends it off to Ceres.

The next thing you know, he and four others are on a shuttle headed to answer the SOS – and, on the way, watching the Canterbury being destroyed by a vessel that just seemed to pop up out of nowhere.

On Earth, Chrisjen Avasarala (Shoreh Agdashloo, Grimm, 24) is a loving grandmother and the ruthless Deputy Undersecretary of the United Nations. She can give favors and apply enhanced interrogation methods with equal facility.

When the Canterbury is destroyed by a ship possessing Mars-like stealth capabilities, it sets in motion a chain of events that will lead to the eventual weaving together of all of The Expanse’s plot arcs.

THE EXPANSE -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Steven Strait as Earther James Holden -- (Photo by: Jason Bell/Syfy)
THE EXPANSE — Season:1 — Pictured: Steven Strait as Earther James Holden — (Photo by: Jason Bell/Syfy)

The Expanse melds hard science sci-fi, noir attitude and space opera action with a bit of commentary. It’s set in a world that feels lived in and flawed in the way of any real world must be. Although none of the show’s arcs overlap in any obvious way, the plot twists in some unexpected directions and connections are made on very basic levels.

If you pay attention to the news, the basic relationship between Earth/Luna, Mars and the Belt will feel awfully familiar – as will the increasing separation between the 1% and the 99%. That latter situation is made explicit when we see the depths of Ceres (the homes of the great unwashed are kind of like hi-tech favelas) and the heights (the rich have actual views of a park with real plants).

Then there’s the tension on the station that’s being caused by the Outer Planets Alliance – proponents of which attempt to incite the Belters to rebel against Earth and Mars and their greedy corporations.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a sci-fi series that has this level of depth and complexity – or a series that accepts as a given that its audience will be able to put things together for themselves – without being spoon-fed every little detail.

The Expanse is based on the novel Leviathan by James S. A. Corey (a pseudonym) and the best thing I can say about the series is not that I want to see what comes (though I really, really do), but that I really have to read the book – and hope it’s as good as the series!

Final Grade: A+