Hello Multiversity TV bingers! For this year’s Summer TV Binge, I’m tackling the first season of
Syfy’s recently canceled The Expanse (which just got picked up for a fourth season by Amazon!) – – and for this, I’m enlisting a little help in the form of my boyfriend, Frank, who is a big fan of the show and its source books by James S. A. Corey. What’s going to make this fun? As I said, he’s a big fan of the show and has been watching it from the beginning, whereas I’ve never watched it before. Two people with different perspectives watching the same show, who also happen to be dating. Hilarity is bound to ensue.
Today, we’re starting where you should start, with the premiere episode, “Dulcinea.” Of course, there are spoilers within, and there may even be spoilers for other seasons (though Frank promised me he would be careful). I’ll show my good manners and let our special guest start kick off this recap. Off to space we go!
Frank’s Five Thoughts:
The pilot episode of The Expanse launches us into a galaxy of spaceships, politics, and conspiracy. We are going to let the kids that summon Captain Planet break it all down for you.
Earth is unique in being the single place in the known universe that we can survive on without assistance. It looms large in The Expanse even when it is barely visible as a pale blue dot from the reaches of the Belt or the moons of Jupiter. In the razor-edged political games being played in the Solar System, Earth is the major player, with Mars and the Belt running distantly behind. Even when the action is not centered on Earth, its actions and reactions are considered and weighed.
The connection to Earth goes beyond just its stature in the solar system though. A theme that runs throughout the entirety of this series (both television and novels) is that no matter how far we travel from Earth, we are still the animals that climbed out of the trees thousands of years ago. In order for humans to even exist in The Expanse they need to recreate aspects of Earth. We see in the show the various ways the characters bring Earth with them. I think it is noteworthy to highlight the focus on the Canterbury’s original executive officer (played by the incredible Jonathan Banks from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul) stepping through the spilled soil in his bare feet when he has his breakdown. His lost mind was trying to reconnect with his home through a sensation that every human before the space age knew personally. Then we also have the plants and birds on Ceres. Even the most independent Belters, who carved their home from an asteroid, need to connect to humanity’s home.
Air is the most basic necessity for our survival, and yet it becomes a most precious commodity in the far reaches of space. Another theme that carries through the books is that Belters learn from an early age to never ever screw around with the environmental systems of a ship or station. Doing so not only risks your life, but the life of every single person on the vessel. The Belters already live on the extreme edge of existence – – the life we see on Ceres and the Canterbury (aka The Cant) is plush compared to the folks just eking out survival mining asteroids, and they are extremely careful to balance on that edge. This gets illustrated nicely when we encounter the slumlord (appropriately played by Supernatural’s Death, Julian Richings) that was too cheap and negligent to replace air filters, but not too cheap and negligent to pay his bribes. We see Detective Miller make a not-so-subtle response to this egregious breach of safety in the Belt and cheer him on for it. On a side note, this event illustrates a major way that the TV series differs from the books. In the novels, the incident with Miller and the airlock was mentioned in a conversation about Miller’s past. The TV show, instead, actually shows it to us, and uses it to begin revealing who Miller is.Continued below
Water is something we take for granted. We turn on the faucet and the water turns on. Out in space, not so much. Water is only a little less required for survival than air, but we see the impact it makes in The Expanse. The Canterbury’s sole purpose is to gather ice from the rings of Saturn and bring it to Ceres and the other major stations in the Belt – – not an easy task. In the introduction of the Cant and her crew we see someone’s arm get ripped off by a stray piece of ice. (It is okay though, Paj has served enough time with the company to get an awesome prosthetic when they get back to Ceres!) We discover that their cargo is valuable enough to be the potential target of pirates. Remember, this is simply water we’re talking about. Later in the episode, the Cant’s cargo of ice becomes a concern when they need to do a hard acceleration (high G burn) and we are given a display of the damage done in the cargo hold.
BOOM! The end of the episode gives us some something spectacular with the destruction of the Canterbury. This gives us a moment that sets into motion the action for the rest of the season. It was also an interesting move, as we have been introduced to various members on the ship. From the captain that saw officer material in James Holden. To poor Paj that was looking forward to his awesome new prosthetic arm. To poor Navigator Nygaard (what was she going to tell Holden at the end there?). We had been introduced to them and spent some time and with a brilliant flash of light, they are now gone, leaving the viewer with the question, “Now what?”
This first episode of The Expanse has a lot of heavy lifting to accomplish. It must introduce to the solar system that the viewer will inhabit with the characters. It needs to present a mystery or plot hook that will keep the characters moving forward, as well as keep the viewers tuning in week after week. It does a lot of this giving us brief glimpses of the characters’ complexities and using those complexities to set up the momentum for the show. The biggest moment of course is when Holden, driven by his conscience, decides to restore the deleted distress log and reports it, which requires the Cant to respond. This starts the trend that continues through the show of Holden standing up for what he believes is right, the consequences be damned.
Another instance of character complexity is when we are introduced to Chrisjen Avasarala who, in the flash of a scene change, goes from tickling her grandson to torturing a Belter smuggler. It shows us that despite her grandmotherly demeanor, Avasarala is a real player when it comes to the security of Earth.
Finally, we have Detective Joe Miller who works for the security forces on Ceres station. Through much of the episode we are viewing Miller through the lens of his partner, who seems to be a newcomer to Ceres and out of place in the Belt (like us viewers!). He appears as a world-weary security officer that is just putting in his shifts so that he can have a drink at the bar and go back to his apartment alone. There are flashes of a deeper Miller though. We see him talk gently to the prostitute at the murder scene. There is a simmer of rage present when he notes that the slumlord was paid up with the right people. That rage boils over after he sees the child of a neighbor and realizes that he could not tolerate children being harmed. Finally, there is the start of his obsession with Julie Mao, the kidnapped victim of his latest assignment. Keep watching folks, this is actually important!
– The rat on the Canterbury was a nice touch. We are used to conceiving space travel as sterile, so this neatly counters that expectation. I do wonder what happened to that rat when the Cant did its high-G burn.
– There are beautiful little touches highlighting how different things in space might be for us. My favorite being the bird that has learned to fly in low-G.
– Remember the Cant!
Kate’s Five Thoughts:
1. Scenes from the Class Struggle in Space
The words that open this series explain the world we’re about to enter beautifully: “In the 23rd century, humans have colonized the solar system. The U.N. controls earth. Mars is an independent military power. The inner planets depend on the resources of the asteroid belt. Belters [those who work on the asteroids] live and work in space. In the Belt, air and water are more precious than gold. For decades, tensions have been rising – Earth, Mars and the Belt are now on the brink of war.” If you thought humans are past class distinctions, well, you’re rather mistaken. Earth versus Mars and the Belters versus everyone else could be a metaphor for conservative versus liberal politics, Democrats versus Republicans. (Given that this season aired from late 2015 to early 2016, just as the American presidential election was kicking into high gear and Brexit was moving closer to reality, this might very well be true.) Belters have a look, language, and belief system much different than the Earth bound (Earthers), with Detective Miller remarking to his new recruit that he doesn’t look like a Belter. Space did more to divide than unite.
2. The Blemishes Make Her Beautiful
This is one of my favorite lines from Supernatural, and I was reminded of it so much when I first saw and heard about the Cant. In the Supernatural fifth season finale, the opening narration reflects on the third Winchester, that 1968 Chevy Impala. This is the car that a means of transport and a vessel of memories – – memories that sometimes prevented the car from doing what it intended to do. (Think Legos in the vents.) The narrator ends this reflection with this thought: ” ‘Cause its the blemishes that make her beautiful.”
The Cant may be one of the older vessels in the fleet. She can’t take high gravity acceleration as well as she probably could have done so in her heyday. But to that crew, she’s their “sweet old rust bucket” and “a legend for her scars.” The crew seems to have enough experience and gravitas to request a newer, shinier, faster, ship . . . but why do that, when you have a home where every crack in the wall, every missing ceiling tile, tells a story?
3. Holden Hears A What? (And It Wasn’t Yanny or Laurel.)
In this episode, the crew of the Cant receives a distress call, and the decision of whether or not to respond to said call and put their delivery bonuses at risk leaves the crew divided. In the end, the distress call gets deleted just like a child hiding the test with the failing grade on it from their parents. (Not like my mom would read this but just in case, I want it on the record that I never hid bad test papers from you and Dad. Maybe my homework book with bad remarks, but never a test.) Holden’s conscience got the best of him and he dug out that biology test with a D- to show Mom and Dad . . . in the form of restoring the deleted distress call and logging it, obligating the crew to respond. High praise for honesty, but the sense of that honesty getting everyone into more trouble lingers.
4. Hell Hath No Fury
Shohreh Aghdashloo makes gold out of any script: Marvel’s The Punisher, X-Men: The Last Stand and Star Trek: Beyond. I think this may be one of her bigger genre roles to date, the politician Chrisjen Avasarala. The first you meet of her, she’s having quality grandparent time, and one imagines all that familial love to carry that same selfless affection and devotion into her political work.
And then in the next scene she’s ordering the continued crucifixion of a imprisoned Belter, whose prolonged time in space has left him weak to Earth’s gravity and in intense pain from the simple act of standing.
You do not want to get on this woman’s bad side.
Syfy’s character dossier for Avasarala indicates that she achieved her high post in the UN without standing for election. I wonder if that will come into play later.Continued below
5. Chasing Windmills
I can’t neglect the fact that the title of the episode is “Dulcinea” — the name of the titular character’s unseen love in Miguel de Cervantes Don Quixote. Today, referring to something or someone as a “Dulcinea” implies hopeless devotion and love. The destruction of the Cant by (presumably) enemy forces, while the escape pod looks on helplessly must certainly color all their actions from that moment onward. These survivors’ Dulcinea is that beloved hunk of space metal and every person on board, and whatever they do or say – – even the simple fight to survive with limited resources – – is in devotion, love, and memory to that ship. I also have a feeling this isn’t the last Don Quixote reference we’re going to see on this show, as a later episode in the season is titled “Windmills” (Don Quixote’s foe) and I have heard reference, via Frank watching later seasons, to another ship named Rocinante, which is the name of Don Quixote’s horse.
– Upon spotting a Broadway billboard in the city center of Ceres . . . well, I figured Hamilton would still be playing in the 23rd century, not The Book of Mormon.
– The transparent phones are really cool, but Detective Miller could clearly use a Popsocket or a better case based on the crack in his phone screen.
We’ll see you next Saturday for “The Big Empty!”