The Expanse - Season 2
The Expanse was developed for SyFy Network, which once seemed to have a bright future [its financial heyday having been the Battlestar Galactica series, a decade ago] but then fell on some lean years, with no projects really catching fire.
It got a second wind [in part via an infusion of cash from Comcast, which I guess was hoping to get into the content-development business] and decided to swing for the bleachers with another multi-year "space opera".
One strength of this series is that it is rooted in a series of well-written novels. That means the underlying story is going to be rich, complex and multi-layered.
A second strength is: well, almost everything! None of the actors look familiar to me but the acting here is pretty uniformly good.
The environments are spectacular. Excellent computer graphics are complemented by immense set-building for backgrounds. Much of this was filmed in Toronto, and used the largest film lot in the area. It's amazing how realistic most of this looks. It really seems like you are watching people suited up in outer space, or on board spaceships, or other off-world locations.
This story is set 200 years in the future. At first that doesn't sound like that much, but consider how much our world has changed between 1817 and 2017. Now extrapolate that amount of change or more, an additional 200 years and suddenly the universe this story is in does not seem
Another strength is the "science" part of the science-fiction here. Things are pretty realistic. There are no "warp drives" for faster-than-light travel, so humanity has not yet gone beyond our own solar system--but we have colonized the Moon, Mars, and larger asteroids out in the asteroid belt. There are no "teleporters". Laser blasts don't streak by slower than bullets, a la Star Wars. Nor can you hear sounds through space. You get the
So as humanity spread out and technology evolved, the universe 200 years in the future looks in some ways rather like our world today, just on a bigger scale. The earth and the moon have a unified government under the United Nations. Mars, originally a research and scientific project of the United Nations, later demanded its independence. Rather like the U.S. breaking away from Great Britain, as generations were born and lived their whole lives on Mars they came to feel that a distant government was not adequately representing their own interests. And then there's that asteroid belt and the third main faction, the "belters". Earth, more depleted and over populated than ever, has a population of around 20 billion. Mars, with almost no atmosphere and quite cold temperatures, needs a lot of resources to grow. Both now depend on the asteroid belt for a steady stream
of necessary raw materials.
As new generations are born and live their whole lives out in "the belt", they never develop a skeletal or muscular structure strong enough to live on earth. They do not yet have autonomy; they're all working for corporations based on Earth, Moon and Mars. But they certainly have a movement toward autonomy, the biggest obstacle being the immensely spread-out nature of the asteroid belt. Dozens of "gangs" and variants of belter patois have developed. The whole title of this series, "The Expanse", refers to the immensity of space in our outer solar system, compared to the
regions occupied by Earth, Moon and Mars.
The story begins with the explicit observation that a tenuous balance of power exists, virtually on a knife's edge--perhaps reminiscent of Europe 200 years ago on the eve of The Great War. Any incident could set Earth and Mars at war with each other, or a revolt of the Belters for independence, or both. And as in Emerald City or Game of Thrones, one more element is thrown into this multifactional mix, which could become the trigger for widespread disaster. Interestingly the one thing seemingly absent from this future setting, and one can legitimately ask "why?" is artificial intelligence. Nope, no visible androids or intelligent robots. Instead the unexpected appears to be the discovery of a very different form of life,
--probably having originated outside the solar system...
It's always easy to find something to criticize. Some complain that certain characters seem too "stereotyped" and not sufficiently nuanced. Frankly, I did not find this to be a problem myself. Sure, you can recognize certain regulars like "jaded cop", "true believer", "reckless youth" or "selfish bastard". But these figures have become somewhat stereotyped because we can see them often enough in the real world.
Networks for unclear reasons are much more close mouthed about their budgets than are movie studios. This series probably cost roughly $3.5 million per episode to produce. Initial interest was strong, then live viewership began dropping--however the online viewing has held up well. This
series had an impressive favorable rating of 8.2 in Season One and won a "Saturn" award for best new sci-fi series. SyFy apparently has contracted now with Netflix to continue this series. There is no definite announcement, but I really hope a third and fourth season are forthcoming. I saw the whole thing on Amazon Prime [same as with Humans] and for me, this was the most interesting American TV series I've seen in quite a long time now. For anyone who ever enjoyed a season of sci-fi on TV, I urge you to give this a try. Without sufficient audience, every series dies. It has to work financially to survive. I am hoping to watch a third season!
Just one caution: perhaps due to the rich story and future setting, it takes several episodes to really get a good feel for what's going on and to get hooked into it. Don't watch just the first episode and give up, because "it's too confusing." Other aspects to that: in part, this is suspense. The audience wasn't supposed to understand everything going on initially. The characters themselves don't always understand what's happening either--almost like REAL LIFE! Third: some complain that there's no English sub-titling, when belters are speaking in their own patois with each other. Ever been in a FOREIGN COUNTRY? Yeah--once again, kinda like real life! Don't worry--you really do not have to understand every word
to get the gist of the communication. Much of communication is visual anyhow. I give this...uh...an A- which is a pretty high mark. No, it's not necessarily deeply philosophical. But it's believable, it's well-acted, it's sometimes genuinely moving, sometimes highly suspenseful, sometimes a bit sexy, sometimes violent, sometimes funny, and it just has some kind of mixture of fun and serious that can be really hard to blend and make
it work. This does so. Oh-and I never was all that impressed with Battlestar Galactica anyhow. Personally, I think this is already a better series than that ever was.