Reviews

TV Review: THE EXPANSE, Season 3 (spoiler free)

 

The on-screen translation of one of the best space opera book series to see the light in recent times has now reached its third season – one that for some harrowing days also seemed destined to be the final one, a subject to which I will return in a short while.

What never ceases to amaze me, in this visual version of James S.A. Corey’s epic, is the fact that even as a book reader I never experienced any dull moment, never took anything for granted, because the pace of the story is such that expectations always run high, even for those who know how the narrative journey develops.  This has become particularly true with this third season, where actions and characters have been shifted in unexpected ways, or changed completely, so that the viewing experience has become fraught with uncertainty for book readers as well as newcomers to The Expanse’s storyline.  If, with the previous two seasons, I was merely eager to see how certain events would be portrayed on screen – and still found myself enthralled by the way the creators managed that – now I am often speculating, together with non-book-readers, about how the story will move forward, what will happen to the characters, and so on.  The joy of seeing this amazing epic brought to the small screen is now combined with the deep sense of wonder and expectation that should always be part and parcel of any such experience.

The actors’ portrayal of the characters keeps being very enjoyable, and the characters themselves continue to gather new facets and offer deeper insights on their psychology and what makes them tick: we are given, for example, an important revelation about Naomi’s past (one that in the books happens much, much later than the point reached by the TV series), one that explains many of her past and present actions, and from my point of view gives some subtext to Dominique Tipper’s choice to always add a veil of wistfulness to her interpretation of Naomi, one that might have been a subtle form of foreshadowing.   Another delightful surprise came from Amos and the friendship he creates with distraught scientist Prax, who is desperately trying to find his missing daughter: actor Wes Chatam managed to keep his Amos the strong-armed, borderline psychopathic character we all know and love, but at the same time showed his gentler streak in his support of Prax, all without once changing Amos’ basic ruthlessness – not a mean feat indeed, and one that reached its peak in the famous (if you saw the show) “I am that guy” scene.

Fans of both Bobbie Draper, the Martian marine, and of Chrisjen Avasarala, the consummate, foul-mouthed politician, will certainly have enjoyed as I did their exchanges and how the balance of power shifts between the two of them according to the situation: where politics and the handling of people is concerned, Avasarala holds the upper hand, applying all her skills and craftiness to the manipulation of anyone unlucky enough to find themselves on her path, and at the same time she acts as a teacher to Bobby, who is indeed an amazing warrior, but suffers from a form of innocence where interpersonal talents are required.  On the other hand, when they are in danger and fighting for their lives, the roles become reversed, and it’s Bobbie’s turn to impart vital knowledge that can make the difference between life and death: the shared dangers they faced and are still facing have created a bond of mutual trust and respect between them, so that they know that any advice coming from the other is based on sound experience and can be heeded without reservations.

And these are only a handful of examples of what one can expect from this set of remarkable characters…

Story-wise, the third season looks more articulated and far-reaching: the mystery about the origins of the alien protomolecule now encompasses the questions about its goals (especially after the creation of the huge space ring), and intersects in a dramatic, breath-stealing way with the conspiracy to weaponize the alien substance and use it to affect the already precarious political balance of the Solar System. We spend more time on Earth, witnessing the power play between contrasting political forces, but we are also afforded a much closer look at Belter society and interactions as the Belters ask for a front seat on the general playing field thanks to their retrieval of the Mormon ship Nauvoo, now renamed Behemoth.   And speaking of space, it’s worth mentioning how well The Expanse shows the mechanics of life in vacuum, be it on a ship or a station, and the effects of microgravity on day-to-day existence or on the human body: space is vast and dangerous, we are all aware of this fact in one way or another, but it’s through some details of this show that the full impact of this reality hits home. One of the most striking scenes I can remember is that of the corridors of a damaged ship, where the bodies of the dead keep floating in an upright position because their magnetic boots keep them anchored to the deck; or the information about the effects of microgravity on a wound, because blood clotting cannot happen in gravity’s absence.

This attention to detail is one of the series’ distinguishing marks, and one of the aspects that many commentators have touched on, together with the excellent writing and the high-quality of character portrayal, so that it is unanimously acknowledged that The Expanse is one of the best genre shows on air at present.  Which leads me to the inevitable discussion about the proverbial elephant in the room, i.e. SyFy’s decision not to carry the show after its third season, a piece of news that came as a very cold shower around the middle of Season 3’s run.

When I wrote my review for Season 1 of The Expanse, I commended SyFy’s choice to commit to a quality story (and as a book reader I knew it had quality to spare), taking a step into the right direction for the network’s own chosen field, that had been neglected for some time in favor of other kinds of entertainment that had little or nothing to do with science fiction. You can therefore imagine my dismay when I learned of the decision to take The Expanse off their schedule, because of insufficient ratings due to SyFy’s distribution contract, which provided only for live viewing, a choice that apparently was not enough for the network’s goals.

Now, I have no idea about the workings of such contracts, so I might be barking up the wrong tree here, but it would seem to me that SyFy did not take into account the huge changes in the way TV viewing is approached now: live, direct viewing has dwindled in favor of streaming services or the more mundane recording of a show – not everyone can be in front of their TV on a given day and hour, our lives just make that difficult if not impossible, so that it’s far easier to record something we are interested in, to watch it later. So, basing the ratings of a show just on live viewing seems like a very narrow-minded interpretation, or an imperfect understanding of the modern dynamics of viewership, or both. Which leads to what, in my opinion, was a short-sighted and unfortunate decision that, despite the words of praise for the show expressed in the official announcement, immediately recalled other equally unfortunate and short-sighted decisions taken by SyFy in the past, as titles like Stargate: Universe or Farscape, just to name two, come to mind.

Luckily for The Expanse, though, the show is not produced by SyFy themselves but by Alcon Entertainment, and they immediately set to work in search of a new home for the series, backed up by a huge, really huge, fan involvement that included the signing of a petition to save The Expanse, and which brought on the involvement of Amazon and its owner Jeff Bezos – a fan of the book series even before the show aired – with the result that Season 4 (and the next ones, we hope…) will see the light on Amazon Video.  While I am relieved to know that the Rocinante and its crew will keep on traveling through space, I am also sad to have witnessed this further misstep from SyFy, one that – in my opinion – once again undermines their reliability as a network dedicated to quality science fiction.  And quality is always something one should strive for, especially in this genre…

That said, I am happy to close on the positive note of The Expanse’s new – and certainly more trustworthy – home and look forward to what Season 4 will bring.  Please, keep the Roci flying!

 

My Rating: 

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17 thoughts on “TV Review: THE EXPANSE, Season 3 (spoiler free)

  1. I’ve always thought of SyFy as sort of a hack network, as soon as they changed their name from “SciFi” to “SyFy” I knew we were in trouble. I’m so glad to hear about the Amazon deal. Streaming is the way to go, trying to find a show you love and remember what day, time and network it’s on is just too much these days!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, untreated syphilis can end up in dementia and I’d say SyFy has gone untreated for a VERY long time. What a bunch of clods.

      When Season 1 and 2 were on Prime, I wondered if this was going to be the eventual outcome SyFylis has bombed SO many opportunities and each time appears to have learned nothing.

      If Amazon gets this, I can only see it strengthening their video authority…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I thought it was stupid to cancel Dark Matter (which was outperforming Killjoys and was far more open-ended, with lots of promising directions for many new seasons). But I couldn’t blame them too much.

        But The Expanse? I know it cost them money. But do they not realise how cluttered the network market is now? There are so many organisations putting out genre TV shows now. People watch Syfy because they’ve heard of it. They’ve heard of it because they’ve heard of the shows on it. The Expanse was the only marquee project Syfy have to establish their place in the crowded new ecosystem, and I think it was an awful decision to scrap it, even if it didn’t make them money. Because all of their other shows made more money because they shared a network with The Expanse. [just as the network previously had a glory period on the back of BSG]. Particularly foolish in the same year they ended Z Nation and 12 Monkeys.

        [I was unsure of The Expanse back in S1 – it was intriguing, but too slow and depressing. But each season since has been better than the last, and I’m looking forward to the next considerably]

        Liked by 1 person

        1. As a book reader I knew the story had the potential to be a great one, if handled correctly – and the writers have done it justice – so it’s doubly disheartening to see how SyFy seemed to be unable to understand the value of such a valuable show and dealt with it with utmost short-sightedness. From the comments I’ve read online, they took a huge misstep here and it might cost them dearly in the future…

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  2. LOL never trust Syfy not to shoot themselves in the foot, I have no faith in them anymore! I’m just glad this series got to continue. I still need to finish the first season, but not having enough time for TV these days is a whole other rant 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love your metaphor about SyFy shooting themselves in the foot, although they must have run out of feet by now, considering their previous history… 😀
      As for the difficult balance between reading and watching TV I understand: most of the time it feels as if we’re stealing time from one to enjoy the other… (((SIGH)))

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  3. Great it continues to be a superb show, but I’m facing a dilemma… Amazon Prime Video has a really bad offer in my country, and I gave up after my 6 half-priced months ended, maybe I’ll wait until they have several shows I’m likely to enjoy and return for a month or two of heavy watching 🙂 Maybe, until the LotR show is ready?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I tried the yearly subscription (it costs less than the monthly one, in the end) and so far I’ve enjoyed the first season of The Marvelous Ms. Maisel (and started on the second), the first season of Jack Ryan (not a fan of the Clancy books, but the series is a strong one), and I have my eye on The Man in the High Castle. Moreover Good Omens should start soon, and since I have not read Pratchett yet, I think it might be a good introduction. Of course much depends on what the… menu offers – and I believe it’s nothing short of crazy to present different offers according to the subscription country, but that’s just me…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is, and I couldn’t even find all Amazon productions I was interested in. Good Omens are too good to start with TV, though, read it first 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I think this show benefits from a “binge” watch vs a weekly watch. So much happens, it’s easy to forget between viewings. We just started season 3, have been watching 1-2 episodes per evening on Amazon (had to buy season 3 but who cares?). It truly is a big, beautiful production.

    One thing I’ve noticed, in binge-watching shows as different from Expanse as Grey’s Anatomy, This is Us, and A Million Little Things (the 3 being very soapy) is that commercial breaks ruin dramatic effect. Networks need to do a better job of tracking viewers, especially in the scifi realm where viewers are often more likely to use alternate ways to watch TV.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could not bear to watch a series like The Expanse and have to suffer commercial breaks: they would ruin the overall effect, especially since more often than not programming sets the time for breaks at very inappropriate sections! Recording and fast-forwarding through the ads might be a solution, but still the streaming option of platforms like Netflix and Amazon is a much better way to enjoy a show that counts on dramatic pacing to enhance its overall effect…

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    1. Even though I’m aware that the story would have continued in the books – where I first learned about it – I would have been devastated not to see it growing on screen as well, since the creators have been doing an amazing job so far. Still, it’s quite sad when a show is canceled, leaving its fans without a decent end…

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