You Should Be Watching The Expanse
Genre fiction in broad terms exists in a peculiar middle ground of beloved and reviled, of popular culture and niche interests. For science fiction, specifically, this statement is even more accurate. Like any genre, sci-fi has suffered from a history of overused tropes and an oversaturation of creators, but more recently sci-fi has borne the brunt of franchise fatigue. Hollywood and TV giants like Star Wars, Star Trek, MCEU productions, and works of their caliber have dominated the entertainment industry for decades, with only a few original series breaking through to find popular acclaim. Think Stranger Things, Annihilation, or A Quiet Place. Others remain underappreciated and on the downlow despite winning combinations of actors, directors, production teams, and popularity online.
You may remember #savetheexpanse from a few years past. The hashtag became the touch stone for fans fighting to prevent their favorite show, SyFy’s The Expanse, from cancellation after its third season in 2018. The trend took over social media, spurring petitions for Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video to save the show. Not only did #savetheexpanse achieve exactly it set out to do thanks to Prime swooping in to continue development on the project, the movement brought attention to the show and the book series that inspired it. The sci-fi show that had been cancelled for low viewership exploded in popularity. That this massive increase in popularity still did not lead to the show reaching Stranger Things level of smash hit says a great deal about the industry. Regardless, the show has found success with Prime and been invested in for longevity and quality that will stand the test of time. So although the show is currently slated to run one more season, for a total of six, here is why you should start watching The Expanse now.
While the show naturally has to take some futuristic and plot-driven liberties with how space travel and human evolution would work, from the jump it is obvious that the thought and research put into the ships, travel, gravity, and so much else works. Rather than your typical front to back vehicle, ships in The Expanse recognize there is no real directional orientation in the big black. They’re built around a central control room from which the captain directs his crew. The ship is built from top to bottom so that when propelled forward, the layered floors remain underfoot.
And windows? None to be had. There are apertures in the inside and outside of some airlocks and ports, but otherwise, this feature has no place in war ships. Sensor arrays are used to navigate extraterrestrial environments. Artificial gravity was dismissed, replaced with asteroid-spinning thrusters that provide less than 1G but enough to live with. In ships and on stations, you must wear magnetic boots that keep you rooted to the floor. Watching the show is an experience in realizing how little sense most Sci-fi adventures make, and I couldn’t be happier to see artificial gravity done away with.
The exploration of new worlds prevalent in sci-fi has made the genre a popular platform through which creators can confront issues of colonialism, resource and worker exploitation, social stratification, and inhabitation rights. The Expanse is no exception, but the way it sets up the issues and players takes the debate abroad while also bringing it closer to home. Rather than alien races being colonized and razed by expansionist humans, the colonized and the colonizers are human. There are three main players in conflict: Earthers, Martians, and Belters. As generations passed, Belters and Martians changed physically from Earthers, though they remain recognizably human. Each region has developed their own cultures and traditions, shaped by what populations from Earth initially ventured into the outer planets and asteroid belt. The deep, layered history between the three groups offers a nuanced, intricate exploration of humanity.
You may wonder, if the Martians and Belters are both just second cousins of Earthers and no other groups are involved in the central conflict, are there no aliens in this space-set sci-fi romp? The answer is complicated. Extraterrestrial life was and is part of the show but not in the way one might expect, and the majority of characters deride the very idea of finding “little green men” out and about. Horror mixes with sci-fi like bread and butter, and a lot of that has to do with alien presences occurring in either extraterrestrial or invasion settings. However, if horror isn’t your thing, don’t let that scare you away.
Genre-Bending Settings and Tones
There’s genre and there’s subgenre, both affect the tone the plot takes on regardless of the overall categorization. Over the course of the five seasons, The Expanse has inhabited the worlds of sci-fi horror, political thriller, frontier western, and more. Each season, despite their vast differences, has seamlessly blended from one to another through the heavy-lifting powers of the writing team and central cast. Whatever your tastes, the show offers something to love and ongoing refreshing changes to keep you hooked.
Game of Thrones in Space
This designation isn’t necessarily fair, but it is a good tool for understanding what you can expect from this show. It’s unfair because The Expanse is, of course, it’s own entity, but also because it does what it does without overusing and cheapening shocking imagery and brutality. Are these things in the show occasionally? Yes. However, The Expanse shares more in common with GoT’s intricate political ties, complicated web of interconnect events, and unexpected consequences than it does it’s cruelty. Don’t be fooled by it’s straightforward beginnings. The show takes it time to set the foundations of an immaculate work of fiction.
Ignoring the plot for a moment, the cast of characters and how they interact is most certainly worth mentioning. First and foremost, found family. Watching disparate individuals come together and forge unbreakable bonds never fails to generate emotionally raw, dynamic, and multicultural character moments. Among those relationships are a number of friendships between men and women that are powerful without turning romantic—an almost unimaginable feat, I know. Additionally, the show has several female friendships, some platonic, some which become romantic, and some in middle grounds, all of which pass leading equal representation tests. Last but not least, people act like people which means sometimes they’re shitty. Sometimes, characters will make decisions that work in the context of the show while audience members squirm at the moral implications, and, honestly, half of the time that leads to the character eventually becoming one of the most beloved in the series.
So, those are just a few of the reasons you should be watching The Expanse. Check out the recently released season 5 now streaming on Amazon Prime and prepare for season 6 in late 2021.