Last year’s adaptation of The Expanse book series from James. S. A. Corey was easily one of the strongest science fiction shows of 2016. Returning as a two-part opener, the Season 2 premiere feels like a solid movie as much as an episode of a series and it’s still one of the best shows that not enough people are watching.
(Spoilers for “Safe” and “Doors and Corners” of The Expanse Season 2 to follow.)
The first season of The Expanse unfolded as a very slow burn, taking its time to explore the details of its world and characters. And there’s a lot to get into, from the political and social dynamics between Earth, Mars and the Belt to the unfolding conspiracies and the mystery of Julie Mao that drove the plot. Season 1 ended with the discovery of Julie Mao’s fate and the existence of the protomolecule, the horrific virus that basically ate Eros.
With all of that out of the way, Season 2 is able to start on a strong note, able to pick up right where the action left off last time. For the first half of the premiere, the crew of the Rocinante, Miller included, spend the majority of the run time digesting the events of last year’s finale and easing the audience back into this world. Slow first episodes are a necessary evil in shows with such dense plots as The Expanse‘s but it doesn’t feel like padded or wasted run time.
The increasingly volatile relationship between Earth and Mars gets needed attention, with Avasarala and long awaited fan favourite Bobbie Draper representing the two sides for the audience. Shohreh Aghdashloo’s Avasarala has always been a delight on the show, but here she feels a little more in tune with her book characterisation compared to last season. Most importantly finally allowed to fucking curse.
The character dynamics already feel a lot stronger this time around, with the Rocinante gang no longer at each other’s throats and actually feeling like a crew. The fact that Holden and the others know what they’re facing now helps the pace immensely. Whereas last season saw them primarily reacting and stumbling around mostly blind, the revelation of the protomolecule and the events on Eros allow the Rocinante crew to act with purpose and interact more comfortably amongst each other and allows each of them to have at least one decent character beat.
The galley scene with Alex’s home-made space lasanga is a highlight, the type of scene that the first season was missing. One of the strengths of the original books is the relationship between the crew and their development as a family amidst all the chaos that unfolds around them. Season 1 took a while to let the crew reach something approaching this place and now the new season is free to enjoy it.
Where the first half eases us back into the The Expanse, the second half dives straight into the action as the Rocinante finally gets to strike first against the mysterious enemy. The scenes aboard the mysterious station are effectively creepy in a way that The Expanse has gotten very good at. Instead of virus monsters, this time we have the equally unnerving architects of said virus and the reality of their work. The revelation of the extra-solar organism ends with a bang, as Thomas Jane’s Miller shatters whatever trust he earned with the crew and executes the only remaining scientist. It’s a great moment to end the episode on, as Miller proceeds to put a couple more bullets in the guy for good luck.
The action sequences in The Expanse have always been terrific and this episode is a fine example of that continued excellence. We’ve seen plenty of space combat over the years, but The Expanse‘s feels different to something like Star Wars or Star Trek.Space feels very real and very dangerous in this show. When the Roci trades fire with the enemy ship, there’s no fancy shields and rail-gun fire tears through both ships like they’re made of cardboard, leaving holes looking straight out into space and barely missing the crew. When Amos is forced to leave his seat to make repairs, there’s a real chance that a heavy-g manoeuvre could kill him. Space battle isn’t glorious here, it’s terrifying.
From Page to Screen:
(Mild spoilers for Leviathan Wakes)
We get the show’s version of Dresden in this episode and I’m a little disappointed. Compared to the purely pragmatic and emotionless businessman that Miller shoots in disgust in Leviathan Wakes, this version is an unkempt, almost generic mad scientist type. Business-Dresden came off as a lot more intimidating to me and it’s a shame they didn’t carry that over.
Holden and Naomi finally hook up, a little differently to how it happened in the books but in a way that works effectively with their development so far. Rather than have the little back-and-forth present in Leviathan Wakes, this relationship springs from a powerful moment shared during a space walk that becomes what is probably the sexiest removal of space suits put to television.
Bobbie is one of my favourite characters from the books and I’m really excited to see what Frankie Adams does with her. She doesn’t get much to do in this episode so I’m not quite ready to make a judgement yet, but I don’t remember Bobbie being quite so gung-ho about war with Earth? But we haven’t reached her original introduction yet, so I’ll be patient.
As an adaptation, there’s a lot in the air right now. Season 1 only covered the first 3/4s or so of Leviathan Wakes, the first book in the series, and there’s still a significant amount of plot to cover. With the introduction of Bobbie Draper, we are also clearly moving into Caliban‘s War so it’s going to be very interesting to see how the show handles the transition. Will there be an overlap or, especially considering how Leviathan ends, are we potentially going to see a time jump in an episode or two?
The Little Thoughts:
- The OPA strike team use FedEx containers as assault pods. Even in the space-faring future, it seems FedEx will always have a place. Even as just a joke, it visually emphasizes just how terrifying these space cans are.
- “Invincible me!” Diogo is awesome. His dynamic with Miler aboard the FedEx pods are great to watch, the enthusiasm of the young soldier versus Miller’s brand of cynicism. It’s also a nice touch how Diogo’s attitude towards Miller shifts when he learns Miller was at Eros. It sells the horror of what happened at Eros and how they all feel the weight of it.
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