Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Expanse (Season 1)

The Expanse; science-fiction crime series, USA, 2015; D: Terry McDonough, Jeff Woolnough, Rob Lieberman, S: Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Dominique Tipper, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Cas Anvar, Chad Coleman, Florence Faivre

In the future, human colonies exist both on Mars and on Ceres in the asteroid belt. However, the "Belters", people in the asteroid colonies, are denoted to de facto slave labor, performing dangerous extraction of gas, water and other resources from asteroids for Mars and overpopulated Earth. Detective Joe Miller is given the assignment to find Juliette Mao, the missing daughter of a rich man. At the same time, ice trawler Canterbury is destroyed by mysterious spaceship Scopuli, and only workers Holden, Naomi, Amos and Alex survive. They meet Fred Johnson, the leader of the militant OPA faction that fights for the rights of the Belters, who gives them the assignment to retrieve the only survivor of Scopuli. Holden, Naomi and Amos team up with Miller at Eros station, where they find out that the only survivor from Scopuli was Juliette, who died from an unknown virus. A martial law is proclaimed, while both Mars and Earth suspect the other created the virus as a biological weapon.

The first season of "The Expanse" sets up an interesting premise: the anger of the "asteroid mine workers" who contemplate fighting against their exploitation from Earth and Mars reminds of a futuristic vision of Emile Zola's novel "Germinal"; the various political ploys played by the UN politicians on Earth are reminiscent of a science-fiction "Game of Thrones" whereas the finale even adds another ingredient in the formula when it introduces a mysterious virus which could be used as a biological weapon. Unfortunately, for some reason, "The Expanse" follows the often trend of TV shows of its time: since the first 10 episodes last for about 7 hours in total, it takes way too much time to set up its storyline, and thus the real plot tangle, a one that awakens the most interest, only starts in the last two episodes — which leaves the viewers forced to watch season 2. The plot involving Detective Miller (played brilliantly by the charismatic Thomas Jane) works the best, yet the plots revolving around Holden, the UN Assistant Undersecretary Avasarala and the OPA leader Fred Johnson often cause the viewers to question why so much running time is invested upon them.

Despite the overarching story leading to a point in the last two episodes, the said three plots are not always inspired, but sometimes insipid, with your 'run-of-the-mill', standard dialogue. This could have been condensed into only 5 episodes, not 10. The futuristic setting has some interesting details in the first episodes — for instance, a couple has sex in zero gravity, floating two feet above their bed. When one astronaut runs out of oxygen in his spacesuit, the other astronaut saves him by attaching his suit to his own oxygen supply. There is also a poetic moment of Miller on Ceres colony observing a bird that flaps its wings only sporadically, since the lower gravity allows it to fly with only half of effort. However, these technical wonders are abandoned in later episodes, when the plot focuses more on character development and political intrigues. Sadly, some of these plus points are nullified by humorless, lifeless episodes, which cannot be quite camouflaged by great cameras or effects. The 1st season is thus a good "origins" series — it spans a colossal narrative range from Earth to the asteroid belt — yet its true "boiling point" and inspiration seem to be left for the next season.


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