This was originally published on The Simple Cinephile on March 12th, 2019.
Set in a future where humanity has colonised the Solar System, The Expanse follows a group of characters who find themselves at the center of a conspiracy that threatens the very existence of humanity. It’s based on the science-fiction novels by James S. A. Corey, the joint pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who have created a very rich and entertaining experience with diverse characters.
The main factions are Earth, Mars and the Asteroid Belt. Earth and Mars have their own governments — the United Nations and the Martian Congressional Republic — who both control and oppress the Belt. Those born on the Asteroid Belt are called Belters. They’re on par with the working class and have their own distinct language and dialect. They work for the other planets — mining and such, to ensure that everyone has enough resources.
In response, the Belters formed the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), believing that the Belt should be self-governing and equal with Earth and Mars, instead of being controlled by them. The OPA also aims to protect the interests of Belters, much like a trade union. Some members are anarchists who want nothing more than to watch the System burn, whilst others genuinely want equality and a better life. But Earth and Mars, who already have tension between themselves, tend to focus on the bad eggs and consider the OPA to be a terrorist organisation.
It’s no surprise that the political and social issues that exist today are also present in the future depicted in the series, but on a much larger scale. The characters are a perfect reflection of this divide, each of them belonging to different factions who come together for one common goal: to save humanity.
James Holden, Alex Kamal, Naomi Nagata and Amos Burton all work together on The Canterbury, a large ice hauler ship, and find themselves in danger after responding to a distress call. Joe Miller, an ex-detective born and raised on the Belt’s Ceres Station, also finds trouble when he’s hired to track down Julie Mao, the missing daughter of a very powerful man within the System. There’s also Bobbie Draper, a tough Martian Marine who feels something doesn’t add up when she and her crew are attacked by a mysterious being. Somehow, everything is connected and it’s very exciting and intense to watch these characters explore the conspiracies around them.
In addition to Naomi and Bobbie, The Expanse has many strong female characters. Chrisjen Avasarala is a fan favourite who serves as Deputy Undersecretary of the United Nations. Portrayed by Iranian-American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, she is a powerful woman who takes her job very seriously and will do anything to defend Earth. Her character arc is a notable one to watch unfold onscreen.
Camina Drummer, a Belter who is senior staff aboard the Belt’s Tycho Station, is someone else who stands out. Cara Gee’s characterization of Drummer — everything from the way she looks, acts and speaks (in her fascinating Belter dialect) — is a very captivating performance. She’s not the only character raised on the Belt who has strong views, but she’s the one that truly captures what it’s like to be a Belter. Holding a position of power within the OPA, Drummer really represents the fight.
Most of the characters interact with one another at some point and their varying experiences are inherently reflected in their words and actions, which is a sign of great writing. This can even cause conflict among those on the same side of the fight, but it ultimately paints them all as anti-heroes who are just trying to do their best. There is no one right point of view in The Expanse as the series works to show things from everyone’s perspective.
This makes for an interesting watch; it proves that complex characters are worth writing and varied social classes are worth exploring. As a bunch of people who started out with seemingly nothing in common, they work exceptionally well together when they find out they all care about doing the right thing for humanity no matter their birthplace.
Having a series set in space means you can tell when special effects are limited, but The Expanse has a decent budget which they certainly haven’t wasted. We get to see many beautiful and terrifying visuals of various planets, their stations and asteroids, in addition to what life is like on them for their inhabitants. There are countless ships, of all sizes, each with different interiors. There are weaponry, explosions and special maneuvers, as well as shocking, graphic and sudden deaths. Not to mention the special effects pertaining to the alien life they find, which is both chilling and captivating. These are all key staples of the series which wouldn’t work as well without the budget to achieve them.
It’s also based on real science. There’s no “Beam me up, Scotty” or messages received from across the galaxy in a matter of seconds. In The Expanse, characters wear gravity boots at all times whilst abroad their ships. Some also have to be properly strapped to their seats whilst doing high G burns, and can need gravity injections to prevent their bodies from turning to mush. Everyone has adjusted to their environments and the series reflects this throughout.
This is refreshing to see as it’s noticeably different to shows like Star Trek, and these factors can also affect the narrative. However, as it’s science-fiction, there are still many things that have been invented to aid the story and its advanced technology. The includes the invention of the Epstein Drive, which allows for long-range space travel. Either way, the characters get themselves into some pretty anxiety-inducing, life-or-death situations as they try to cope with the unpredictable dangers of being in space.
There’s always so much happening in The Expanse and each season dives further into the mystery created by the writers. The way the story perfectly unravels on-screen in both political tension and suspense-packed action is mesmerising. The Expanse definitely lives up to its name. It’s one of the best sci-fi series of all time and if you’re not watching it then you should start.
Seasons 1–3 of The Expanse are available on Amazon Prime and season 4 is expected later this year.