2018-12-27 by W.M.
The Best Thing on TV This Year Was: ‘The Expanse’
There are levels of loving a TV show. There’s “I love this show” in the moment you watch it, well knowing you’ll forget it as soon as it’s replaced by another great one. And then there’s the show that knocks you on your ass, becomes an all-time top favorite almost immediately—an “I love this show so much my friends and family have put a moratorium on talking about it, because we love you, honey, but we’re sick of hearing about deep space.”
The Expanse belongs in that celebrated last category—anyone who has breathed air next to me knows that I love it to the point of annoyance. It’s a space opera set in a future where Mars has been colonized into a militant, technologically powerful state, and the asteroids have been converted into a working class series of ports. These two powers teeter on the brink of war with Earth. Conflict between Martians, Earthers, and Belters (asteroid dwellers) comes to a head when an extraterrestrial pathogen called the “protomolecule,” is unleashed. The show unfolds like a sci fi noir mystery-thriller, taking us across the expanse of the universe to figure out where it came from and how it impacts everyone. It’s been called Game of Thrones in space.
The season 3 premiere, “Fight or Flight” is a banger of an episode. After teasing it for two full seasons, the two main heroines finally are in one small ship working together to escape certain death. Martian Marine Gunnery Sergeant Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams), a brutal, straight-laced young Polynesian woman, must rescue United Nations Deputy Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), a deeply manipulative political force of nature whose primary goal is to make sure Earth does not go to war. Each of them would die for their planet—and in preceding seasons they constantly went toe to toe as one of each other’s primary foes, each of them attempting to manipulate and outwit the other.
Finally seeing them forced to work together to survive an assassination attempt, potentially fatal bullet wounds, and the crushing force of high G space burn is exhilarating. They do not like submitting and they do not like being wrong. But Avasarala is older and her body cannot withstand the crush of fast space travel. And Bobbie is used to being in charge and calling shots that her unit must endure without question.
You end up with small moments like Draper urging Avasarala to whistle to keep from going unconscious, and Avasarala coaching Draper how to leverage political advantage on Earth with the information they received. The episode is a solid hour showcase of The Expanse’s strong character development. Draper and Avasarala sass each other, even as it becomes more and more clear that they’re closing in on death. And you find yourself screaming at the TV.
Chrisjen Avasarala enduring high G forces. Photo by Syfy
Even if you haven’t watched this show, you might have heard of it from its wildly loyal fans who launched a “save The Expanse” campaign after Syfy dropped the show earlier this year. They raised money to fly an airplane banner over Amazon Studios in Santa Monica, and to send a small model of the Rocinante—the show’s main spaceship—into space. This fandom is part of the reason Amazon picked up the show and is currently producing its fourth season (seasons 1-3 can be streamed). I count myself as one of those fans, and would happily throw money at sending another Rocinante (or maybe a Razorback) into space if it ever comes to it. But I would much rather you all watch it, so I won’t have to do that.
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