On the other hand, Aghdashloo is immediately promising as the perpetually frustrated Deputy Undersecretary for the United Nations back on Earth. Her long-winded, expletive-laden rants have yet to make an appearance one episode in, but she shows the potential to be the strong-willed, soul-stricken woman Corey wrote in Caliban’s War. It makes sense to pull her storyline backwards from book two so new viewers have somewhat of an earthy foothold on the heady material, but it also provides the only glaring cause for concern in the series this early on: will the writers be able to keep on their toes in tying all of this together?
With the solid forty-two minutes presented for review, I’d be okay with saying “yes.” There’s just so much to like here, with so many cool little details that a lesser adaptation would have omitted – the crack across Miller’s hand terminal, rising seas around New York, the Belter’s trippy language – that it makes for an intriguing, fun experience in the face of all its bleak undertones. That’s another trick lifted straight from the book: Leviathan Wakes, for all of its war-filled drama, is downright bonkers by the time the last 300-or-so pages come about.
The Expanse‘s true staying power will be in the way it handles that tonal shift when it happens. The arc that Corey has written – which seems to be nigh-biblical for showrunners Mark Fergus and Hawk Otsby – demands a uniquely different view of the material to be taken once all is said and done. It’s a bold move, but it lost me a bit in novel form. If everything goes completely off the rails, The Expanse could turn into Sharknado in space (which actually already happened). If it stays true to the course presented in the pilot, it could be better than Battlestar Galactica.
It’s been over five years since that show went off the air, and much like the army of Lost imitators, no hard sci-fi show has really gotten close to Battlestar‘s intricate, dense, and oh-so-addictive mythology, characters, and stories. Corey’s novels are far from high art (if Game of Thrones is filet mignon, The Expanse is a Big Mac), but they are damn-near bursting at the seams with interesting ideas on class strife, race, the idiocy that spurns wars and the people smart enough to wade through it all.
The Expanse as a TV show may not be as revolutionary and nuanced as top-tier golden-age TV (“What’s the deal with the hat?” Havelock, Miller’s partner, asks early on. “Keeps the rain off my head,” he responds with the lilt and drama of a first-year high school poetry teacher), but it makes a big, bold crater in the category it falls in. That of actual, hard science fiction, where the repercussions for high-gravitational environments are tangible and the simple act of redirecting a space ship is its own set-piece; within that genre, it’s essentially perfect.
But, really, it’s most refreshing for the simple, devoted mantra of let’s not mess with the source material, especially after a few years of big-budget Hollywood projects that shuffle up details in transition to screen that didn’t need to be altered. Syfy’s version of The Expanse is, essentially, the words of James S.A. Corey (pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) in fluid, operatic motion.
It may deviate into over-familiar character archetypes, repackage a few familiar sci-fi themes for its own purposes, and can sometimes trip over its byzantine world-building, but it is never-boring, frequently-thrilling television. It’s also surprisingly prescient of humanity’s need to be better, look further, aim higher, and remember the light in eras of darkness, especially in today’s dour Earth-locked racial, political, and sexual strife. And, besides, who wants to eat filet mignon for dinner every night, anyway?
With a gung-ho attitude in adapting its source material and enough endearing grit to fuel an ice trawler, The Expanse twists and careens through its occasionally overbearing set-up and cements itself as the first exemplary sci-fi show on TV in a decade.