Thanks to the lovely people at NYCC and the Syfy channel, I got the opportunity yesterday to watch in full the first episode of The Expanse, a new space-heavy SciFi series set 200 years into our future. Based off the extremely successful book series by James S.A. Corey, The Expanse will take us to a point in our history where interplanetary warfare is just a spark away.
Three factions exist. Earth, the mother planet of civilization as we know it. Mars, an advanced, mostly militaristic society. And the Belt, a people born and raised in null-gravity, who mine much of the resources needed for Earth and Mars, but are treated as slaves. By the end of this pilot episode, titled Dulcinea, we do see how that spark is lit before all out war commences. Not quite an archduke, but enough tension is already brimming to push the system into turmoil.
As a fan of the book series, this totally hits the mark. To the tee. We see a cast of characters thrown into mystery and intrigue, which plays out exactly as it does in the novel. But not only is this right on the money when it comes to the story. The depth of care they took in recreating the Belter accents, gestures, and language, a hodgepodge of multiple earth languages, is remarkable and rewarding. The entire show feels on the brink of a larger conflict, an atmosphere that leaves you wanting to see how everything plays out, immediately. The sets are massive, gritty, and totally SciFi. This really is the show we’ve been waiting for since BSG.
The camera angles purposefully mold your perception of gravity and twist what you believe is up and down, often panning entirely upside down. Gravity, or the extreme lack-thereof, is played with in detail. The first character we meet in the book is the first character we meet in the show, Julie Mao, who finds herself trapped on a space-vessel that holds a dark secret. She is entirely suspended in null-g, and the CGI team did some wonderful work on showing how hair reacts to that environment. There is even a scene where we see what at first appears to be a really poorly done CGI bird, but then is actually a bird flying in low gravity – something I’ve never truly stopped to think about. Well done, all around.
Knowing all the characters well before the plot ever truly develops definitely helped me understand the conflict and their reactions to it, as well as the nature of the space station on Ceres, the Canterbury, etc. I can’t help but feel that as a new viewer who isn’t versed in the series, it might get a little confusing. All the spaceships and space stations look rather utilitarian – or in other words, very similar, and not entirely unique. Many characters are introduced, some of which don’t show up this early on in the books, all given roughly equal screentime, and none of which we have any emotional attachment to yet. But plenty of people in the screening room with me who hadn’t read the books seemed to love it. Will the general audience, though?
The belter language isn’t given any subtitles, which too might alienate some viewers, as there are moments you really do want to know what’s being said. In a way, the series is given another layer of realism because of that, so I’m torn on whether I’d rather there should be any subtitles or not. On one hand, stylistically it’s so cool that they don’t. But the audience won’t particularly enjoy feeling excluded. With time, you will start to understand the language, as it does incorporate some English and several Romance languages. We’ll see how that plays out though.
The cast did such an excellent job of getting into character, they may actually replace the mental images of the Rocinante crew I have when I’m actually read the books. Cas Anvar, who plays pilot Alex Kamal, is instantly lovable. Thomas Jane, who plays the misunderstood and amoral Detective Miller, is equal parts hatable and crazy – and he’s the perfect fit. We even meet Chrisjen Avasarala a season early, a decision which totally makes sense, if they want to play up the interplanetary drama.
The Expanse airs December 14th, 2015, and the first season will run for 10 episodes. The first season roughly captures the events of the first novel, but will dial in some scenes from the many novellas and side characters we see throughout the writings of James S.A. Corey. The first episode does such an incredible job at introducing you to this would-be future, but at the end of the day it’s really all exposition until the ball drops near the end. The team is already confident on a Season 2 greenlight, and will begin writing Season 2 soon. With a $5 Million per-episode budget, you can be sure this’ll look and feel as epic as it should. This will definitely be the show to watch out for this winter.