One episode was provided prior to broadcast.
There’s a moment in the second novel of James S.A. Corey’s “The Expanse” series, Caliban’s War, when one of its characters suddenly stops looking at his problems on an intimate, personal scale, and puts them in comparison to the turmoil ushering itself across the story’s gritty, gripping version of the solar system. “He was in a tiny metal-and-ceramic box that was exchanging matter for energy to throw a half dozen primates across a vacuum larger than millions of oceans,” he thinks to himself. “Compared to that, how could anything else matter?”
There’s a similar euphoric malaise dripping from the edges of Syfy’s interpretation of The Expanse (season one is mostly book one, Leviathan Wakes, with a handful of tidbits and characters corralled in from Caliban’s War), which chart the adventures of a few unlucky individuals who find themselves embroiled in a war between Earth, Mars, the spindly Belters in between, and a possibly malevolent fourth party lurking out farther into the stars. As a fan of the sometimes chaotic, sometimes grim, always imaginative source material, I’m near foaming at the mouth to report that the new show is one of the most honest, loving book-to-screen interpretations I’ve ever seen.
Which makes sense, since The Expanse books’ episodic, sprawling structure doesn’t need to change much in transition to TV. And like its printed counterpart, it’s all about a girl. Juliette Andromeda Mao, to be exact, the missing daughter of big wig Jules-Pierre Mao, head of the Mao-Kwikowski Mercantile corporation, one of the biggest interplanetary shipping conglomerates in the system. The coolest thing about The Expanse is that for all the head-spinning confusion you probably just trudged through in that last sentence, it’s also niftily nimble on its toes, for the most part, in explaining exactly what all of it means. The solar system – from the tuna can living quarters of Ceres to the dingy hallways of the Canterbury – feels full and realized and, damn near unprecedented nowadays, unique.
Thankfully, it’s also full of interesting characters, as well. First met is Julie Mao (Florence Faivre), floating in a locker on the abandoned ship Scopuli in an opening sequence that’ll make fans of the books tense with knowing and non-fans immediately enthralled in the near-ethereal rendering of a brutal life in low-gravity. Her mysterious disappearance is assigned to be solved by Detective Miller (Thomas Jane), representative of Star Helix Security on Ceres Station. Jane’s half-buzzed haircut, perfectly tipped porkpie hat, and hilariously on-point “sad basset-hound face” (that’s straight from the book) infuse Miller with a brusque, somber energy. He’s a punch first, ask questions later kind of guy, but also brutally self-aware of his own frailty.
His counterpoint is Jim Holden (Steven Strait), a lowly deckhand on the ice trawling ship the Canterbury who is so afraid of leadership he refuses the opportunity to become the ship’s new executive officer when its current one goes bananas (Jonathan Banks, in a brief but tense scene). Holden’s much more comfortable having zero-gravity sex with the freighter’s communications officer Ade (Kristen Hager) or pining after the best cup of coffee in the system, and although Strait can be everyman-bland he has just enough of a chip on his shoulder to make Holden well-rounded.
The series can be a bit male ego-centric – which is taking its cue from the books – but the women here thankfully don’t feel like part of the sci-fi set dressing. They in fact get a bit more to do in the pilot than series staples Amos (Wes Chatham), the team’s heavy, and Alex (Cas Anvar), the pilot. Ade is fully capable of drawing the line between sex and a relationship, somewhat to Holden’s chagrin. She doesn’t want to be on the Canterbury her whole life, but will enjoy what time she’s got. She’s the most realized in the pilot, which works fruitfully given the dramatic stakes that come into play, but may cause book fans to question the future of novel staples like Naomi (Dominique Tipper) and Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo). Tipper perhaps gets the shortest end of the female empowerment stick here, resigned to brisk pouting and acting as a feeble potential third-party to Holden and Ade’s relationship.