The Expanse Pilot Review
Finally the first episode of The Expanse has streamed on Syfy. The show is a space opera adaptation of authors (plural) James S.A Corey novel series of the same name. The show has been hotly anticipated with expectations running high as comparisons were made to Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones. Indeed, the author of A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) G.R.R. Martin has given his thumbs up to the novel series started in 2011 and which saw its 5th release this year with Nemesis Games.
The Expanse features an ensemble cast that includes Thomas Jane and Shohreh Aghdashloo. Officially the show won’t start airing until December 14th, but the first episode, entitled Dulcinea, was released for streaming on Monday. Those who have already viewed the first episode won’t have to wait long for more. The second episode will be released on December 15h, the day after the premiere. If you haven’t seen the pilot episode yet, then take a chance with this review. You will find you should definitely keep an eye on this show.
Set in our solar system 200 years into the future, various planetary factions are in a quasi-cold-war as corporations continue to exploit the asteroid belt for gain. Detective Miller serves in The Belt, where access to water and air are a premium. Miller’s days are spent working in a new recruit while doing what little he can to maintain order on CERES_STATION. Miller is not above taking the odd bribe, but he is sensitive to the needs of the locals who suffer bone-degradation from the low-g and the aforementioned poor access to clean air and water.
The first episode takes it time setting up Detective Miller’s world and routine, almost to a flaw. Yet, his routine his interrupted when he is ordered to go on a solo hunt for Julie Mao, member of the powerful Mao family on earth who has turned her back to her family.
The rest of the episode follows the daily lives of those onboard the ice-comet scavenger Canterbury. After the executive officer is deemed insane Jim Holden is promoted to the post, with his reluctance. Though he seems well suited for the job his more direct concern is that he would have to end his steamy relationship with the ships navigator, Ade Nygaard. The Canterbury receives a distress signal while on its way back from a successful comet hunt. The captain seems willing to ignore it just to get home, but Holden goes behind his back to ensure their employers find out about the signal. Forced to make a high-g turn back to the signal they discover an abandoned ship near a chartered but isolated asteroid.
The viewer already knows that one passenger on the ship was Julie Mao, as it was shown in the opening scene she was forced out of her zero-g passenger chamber to try and shutdown the reactor. Instead the crew of the Canterbury take a shuttle occupied by Holden, engineer Naomi Nagata, pilot Alex Kamal and mechanic Amos Burton to the abandoned ship only to discover that the distress signal was planted. As they try to make their escape after detecting a stealth ship close by they are attacked. The Canterbury is destroyed by nuclear missiles in an act that as viewer had me profoundly shocked.
For a good part of the episode the story tried to establish who was who onboard the Canterbury, only to see them killed except those on the shuttle in an act that I can only describe as being reminiscent in impact to the Red Wedding from Game Of Thrones. The emotional impact is considerable as navigator Nygaard, the captain and even the insane XO are obliterated in a second.
Meanwhile on earth U.N. Deputy Undersecretary of Executive Administration, Chrisjen Avasarala sees her idyllic world threatened by the increasing factionalism of Mars and The Belt. She attempts to counter this threat by any means necessary including torture. We see her casually interrogating a man with low-g bone degradation while he is suspended on a wall from hooks. The 1 g of earth is causing him immense grief. Avasarala seems to be set up to be the Tywin Lannister of the show, but it too early to say for sure.
The episode ends with a preview of the coming season.
At first I really wanted to hate this episode. The opening scene with Florence Faivre as Julie Mao was slow. After that the introduction of detective Miller hardly sped up the story, though it did fill us in on the world of The Belt. The only saving grace is the gorgeous set design and special effects. Yet, the story seemed to have grown on me. This show is hard-hitting in the spirit of Game of Thrones. People swear, are injured (one less arm for example) and people get killed. In short, people are real and realistic. This pays dividend onboard the Canterbury where the interpersonal relationship are more than interesting enough to keep the episode going until that shocking finale. The scene on earth still felt like filler, but as this is a space opera it is vital for the show to set the stage. After Dark Matter and Killjoys I was doubtful I wanted to invest in another space opera / bounty hunter series but The Expanse is in a league of its own. This show is a bold move by Syfy to create something as potentially popular as Game of Thrones and Star Trek. The episode may have started slow, but then Darth Vader did not throw the emperor into the abyss in the first Star Wars movie. The Expanse feels like a show that will pay off those viewers who try to follow the story!