An interesting surprise of The Expanse was the choice to spread original book Leviathan Wakes over two seasons instead of one. The usual expectation in a book to television adaptation would be one season per book, similar to the first few seasons of Game of Thrones, but it wasn’t until last week’s “Home” and yesterday’s “Paradigm Shift” that we saw the effective conclusion of Leviathan Wakes and the beginning of Caliban’s War.
(There will be full spoilers to follow for The Expanse, up to Wednesday night’s Episode 6 “Paradigm Shift”, as well as some mild book spoilers)
So far the decision to split the book seems to have worked better than I would have originally expected. Leviathan Wakes absolutely could have been done in a single season, though it would have meant heavily increasing the pace of the first season. In hindsight, that would also have meant losing plenty of the world building and character development that the show took the extra time to include.
The final arc of Leviathan Wakes, told over the opening five episodes of this season, have been some of the most exciting I’ve seen in a long while, in huge part due to the momentum that was built up over Season 1. We know who these characters are, we know the workings of the world they live in and this allows us to feel the stakes and indulge fully in the action.
Episode 4, “Godspeed”, where the OPA and the Rocinante crew enact their plan to destroy Eros was an incredibly tense and exciting forty minutes, despite my already knowing what was going to go down. One of the most impressive things about this show is how it manages to keep that excitement going even when the events aren’t going to be a surprise, such as Holden’s decision to shoot down the quarantine-breaking rescue ship.
This arc also saw the end of Miller, played superbly by Thomas Jane. Miller’s death would have been an excellent climax to Season 1, but keeping him into Season 2 actually made his death all the more exciting. It allowed him to feel like an even bigger part of the show and give his character that little bit more room to breathe and make his final moments land that much harder. His bond with Diogo is a wonderful little expansion from a minor plot in the original novel, and allows us to see Miller almost finding something to stand for.
Miller’s arc is hugely important to the greater narrative in a lot of ways, as well as a reflection to Holden’s own development. While Holden condemned Miller for executing Dresden, his decision to deal with the potentially infected doctors makes him little better than the ex-cop. The crumbling of Holden’s sense of naivety is sure to be a vital part of his arc going forwards and giving us this extra time with both characters together helps lend both of their actions greater weight.
But most notably, it is Miller who saves Earth from an extinction-level event, all through his belief in Julie Mao, the girl he never met. Miller’s final scenes are incredibly beautiful, both visually and emotionally, as he wanders through the transformed Eros station with his pet nuke in tow. The transformation of Eros is eerie but stunning to look at it, utterly alien and surreal. His realization that Julie was still alive, in a loose sense, is a wonderfully powerful moment and makes for a much more interesting climax than simply destroying Eros.
In so many ways The Expanse is all about what it means to be human, beyond the distinctions of race or nation, and so it’s perfect that the final solution to the Eros crisis is a tender moment between two strangers, a Belter and an Earther.
I previously was a little worried that ending Leviathan Wakes mid-season could be jarring for a non-familiar audience, but the transition in this week’s “Paradigm Shift” (nice meta-joke there) is surprisingly smooth. Instead of the time jump that the book series utilized, the episode picks up almost straight after “Home” and successfully blends the aftermath of Eros with the events on Ganymede that ultimately jump start Caliban’s War.
“Paradigm Shift” is mostly a character driven episode, as everyone is given a chance to breathe after the non-stop action of the last few episodes. We get some great character beats with the Rocinante crew, who come closer and closer to their book counterparts with every episode, as well as one of Avasarala’s strongest moments in the series so far. Fortunately this breather doesn’t feel slow or boring and it’s amazing how well the transition works without a time jump.
Although the danger of Eros seems to have been averted, tensions are higher than ever and all the problems Eros created aren’t just going to go away like that. As Fred Johnson notes, Eros has changed everything and the stakes are only to get higher as we go on. The episode is effective in giving the audience a moment to take stock whilst making sure we know the story is only just getting started, as effectively established in the episode’s final moments on Ganymede and the brutal slaughter of the Martian marines.
The Ganymede scene was originally the opening scene to Caliban’s War, so it’s only fitting that it is used here to officially kick off the second half of this season. It’s one of my favourite scenes in the original series and one I was excited to see on-screen, so it was a bit disappointing that it happened mostly off-screen. That doesn’t dull my excitement at all fortunately, as we still get a solid build-up and a terrifying cliffhanger as Bobbie looks up onto the alien face of the monster that killed her marines.
I’ve said before that Bobbie is one of my favourite characters of The Expanse series so I’m excited to see what Frankie Adams will do with the character now that her storyline has actually begun. Though her previous scenes this season were good for setting the Martian marines up for this big moment, making their deaths a little more shocking, it hasn’t given her the chance to really sink her teeth into the role yet. Moving forwards, this is sure to change.
The big question is how The Expanse plans on handling the rest of its Caliban’s War adaptation. Will it last until Season 3 or can they wrap it up in the remaining episodes of this year? Caliban’s War is a very fast paced book and since the show so far has laid so much of the greater groundwork for this story, particularly in Avasarala’s case, it’s certainly plausible that they could cover the story in the next seven episodes. As well, whereas Levithan Wakes had an easy cut off point with the discovery of the protomolecule on Eros station, I’m struggling to think of a similar point in Caliban’s War.
Not to say that it can’t be done, just that I can’t think of it off the top of my head. Which is okay, because I’m not a writer on this show and they’ve definitely proven they can be trusted. It’s also worth thinking about the fact that the The Expanse book series is looking to nine entries long, so how possible is it that the show can go on that long, especially if they do a season and a half per book? Hopefully using a longer Leviathan Wakes to set up so much of the world as they have so far will allow the show to cover future books at a faster pace, and hopefully enough people watch this amazing show that it gets the chance to continue for that long.
The Little Thoughts:
- Sam Huntington (Being Human) as Solomon Epstein is a very welcome surprise. Responsible for the Epstein drives that power all of the ships in The Expanse universe, Epstein’s story was previously told in a short story “Drive”, as a part of the Edge of Infinity anthology. The flashbacks of Epstein’s discovery is used here as an interesting parallel to the discovery of the protomolecule and the danger of technology in general, a similarly game-changing breakthrough.
- I’ve really loved Diogo and Miller’s relationship over this season and I’ll miss having the kid around. Diogo challenged Miller and his lack of giving a shit in an interesting way, adding an extra layer of development into his decision to believe in and stand by Julie. As well as Miller getting a heroic legacy amongst the Belters on Tycho, “Paradigm Shift” has Diogo finally getting laid in Miller’s honour. Is there any better way to be remembered?
- (BOOK SPOILER WARNING): Thomas Jane is no longer in the opening credits but Florence Faivre, who played Julie Mao, is. Book readers will be familiar with Clarissa Mao, Julie’s sister who has a big role in the series from Abaddon’s Gate onwards and was mentioned off-hand in this week’s episode by Errinwright. Some viewers have previously theorized that Faivre could well be playing Clarissa too, a theory definitely strengthened by her continued presence in the credits.
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