It’s no mystery I consider The Expanse – the space opera series written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank under the pen name of James S. A. Corey – one of the very best contemporary works in the genre, and the proof I’m not alone in this comes from the fact that what should originally have been a trio of novels has turned into a deal for nine of them, six of which have already been published, offering a continuously evolving story that branches off in often unexpected directions. And the seventh book is right around the corner…
In my review of the first season of the show inspired by this book series, I revealed my initial doubts about it being picked up for development by SyFy, whose record in the matter of science fiction production had not exactly been stellar in recent years. If Season 1 of The Expanse went a long way toward dispelling those doubts, Season 2 consolidated my certainty that SyFy might have found the way back to its intended origins, thanks to the exceptional narrative and visual quality of this show. For me, the mark of that quality comes from my burning need to see how the story develops on screen, even though I know what is going to happen thanks to my familiarity with the books: a story that still manages to get hold of my imagination, despite that familiarity, is indeed an outstanding one.
What’s interesting here is the choice of not falling prey to the equation “one book, one season”, so that Season 1 ended at roughly three quarters of the first book’s journey, taking up the story again with the new season right up where the previous one left, and with little or no room given to a recap: the Expanse (both written and televised) requires a good deal of attention from its followers, and rewards them with implicit faith in their powers of recollection and understanding – an attitude I greatly appreciate.
Wrapping up the events of Book 1 a little before the middle of the new season allows for the creation of a narrative divide of sorts, one that sends the story in a different direction and takes it away from the mystery at the heart of Detective Miller’s investigation, moving it into the realms of interplanetary politics, conspiracies and the possibility of an all-out war: not surprisingly, the episode marking the new run (nr. 6, for the record) bears the title “Paradigm Shift”, and opens the door to a new series of problems, and discoveries. Before that happens, though, Miller’s story arc of his search for Julie Mao is brought to a close with a perfect, deeply emotional and profoundly moving sequence: the jaded, cynical detective had been indeed looking all along for a purpose and probably for redemption, and when he finds them both it’s impossible to remain detached, both for the stunning visuals and the high emotional content that still is delivered with admirable restraint. Speaking of visuals, I need to mention the gorgeous segment of the Nauvoo’s launch: a wonderfully balanced choreography between the images of the ship itself (and the tugs moving it away from the space-dock) and the voices of the technicians coordinating the launch – I’ve watched it more than once and every single time it takes my breath away.
The new season introduces the character of Martian marine Bobbie Draper (a favorite of mine) and I appreciated the fact that the series gave us a brief glimpse of her in the very first episode, thus not forcing her to appear midway through as a perfect stranger: in so doing, the creators made sure we would be invested in her journey once the story moved back to her. Bobbie is a wonderfully complex character: on the surface she is a though, determined, well-trained marine who, like all Martian-born, dreams of one day transforming the barren red desert of her home planet into a lush paradise; there are chinks in her thick armor though, mostly where her squad’s fate is concerned, making her prey to survivor’s guilt, and where loyalty and training find themselves suddenly in conflict with political expediency. Despite her moral and physical strength, despite her career choice, Bobbie is something of an innocent, steeped in the ideals of the average Martian and unaware of the power plays running under the surface: for this reason her meeting with Avasarala is a life-changing occurrence in more ways than one, opening Bobbie’s eyes to a kind of reality she never knew existed. Avasarala herself is nothing short of magnificent in this new season (and they let her cuss to her heart’s content this time, to our collective delight), so that the encounter with Bobbie and the education of sorts she imparts the young marine are quite a joy to witness – although I must admit that I would enjoy Avasarala even if she were simply reading from the phone directory…
The four on the Rocinante are still in the process of transformation from strangers thrown together by circumstances to close-knit family (and some even beyond that 😀 ), and the trip is still fraught with misunderstandings and personality clashes, but they are learning to rely on each other’s strengths, and to tighten the bonds tying them together: knowing that showrunner Naren Shankar is moving the strings here, I’m certain that his previous experience with Farscape and a similar “dysfunctional family” will prove vital for the end result. The character of Amos takes on greater depth and facets with each new episode, and I never cease to be amazed at the degree of sympathy that an essentially sociopathic individual can engender in both readers and viewers: actor Wes Chatam deserves full praise for his delightfully balanced portrayal, not a simple feat considering Amos’ complexity. Naomi comes across as equally nuanced, though in a different way: much might depend on my knowledge of her story arc, but there are moments when Dominque Tipper’s glances and her meaningful silences hint at her past, and the scars she bears from it, much more eloquently than any heartfelt dialogue. Naomi’s acceptance of Miller’s shortcomings, her forgiveness for the acts the others are condemning, all seem to point in that direction without need for a single word, as my appreciation for her work grows.
Story-wise, much happens in this season, mostly because social and political tension step beyond the point of no return – ruthlessly aided by the faction that needs this kind of turmoil to cover their own activities – and we face the dire possibility of an inter-system war. At the same time, we are treated with closer looks at other parts of our Solar System beyond Earth and the Belt: Mars is given much space, and so is Ganymede, where a good portion of the action is based.
To say more might entail trespassing into spoiler territory, and my goal is to drive as many watchers (and readers!!) toward this awesome series, so I’m not going to ruin their fun, but once more let me advise you to either read the books or to start watching this well-deserving show: you will not regret it at all.
My Rating for Season Two: