The Expanse is a sci-fi series that’s the perfect blend of an exciting story, grounded politics, well-written characters, perfect casting and loads of breathtaking outer space action. The Expanse is a Sci-Fi series that ends up feeling less and less like one and more like its the damn near future.
If you’ve stumbled across The Expanse on Netflix or by someone’s recommendation, so happy for you! But before you dive into the binge, there’s a great deal you need to know to get up to speed.
So what makes The Expanse on SyFy so good that there is palpable hype for the premiere of season 3? Let me “In a nutshell” it for you:
The sci-fi series is the perfect combo of an exciting story, grounded political maneuvers and loads of outer space action. Well-written characters with almost perfect casting that can only be trumped by its special effects. The Expanse is a Sci-Fi series that ends up feeling less and less like one and more like it’s the damn near future.
There have been two seasons so far and at the end of Season 2, lots of cliffhangers and questions arose. Season three of The Expanse has just premiered so here’s your cheat sheet.
What is The Expanse about?
Backstory: The Expanse is based on a series of sci-fi novels by James S.A. Corey (a pseudonym) set 200 years in the future. Advances in technology, such as the game-changing Epstein Drive, have allowed for efficient, inter-planetary travel. This has led to the colonization of Mars and the inner Asteroid belt. Earth is seemingly lush & plentiful but has a shit-ton of problems, while a more focused Mars has placed terraforming on the backburner for a formidable military force.
The series starts off with raging political tensions between Earth and Mars that has both sides on the brink of all-out war. A third player in the politics of the Solar system is the Belters of the Outer Planets Alliance(OPA), a bloc of settler groups repping various asteroids of the Asteroid belt. The OPA’s constant efforts for rights & independence from Earth & Mars’ dominion, while seen by some as inspirational, are considered by the planets as outright acts of terrorism.
Of War and a Protomolecule...
Surprisingly, the Inter-planetary war is not the main story-arc on the show. An already tense setting with the struggles and choices of a wide array of characters is turned upside-down with the discovery of an alien “Protomolecule” on Saturn’s moon Phoebe. At first, it just seems like a horrible infestation which guarantees a slow, agonizing end to anyone who touches it. But as the series progresses, it’s clear that this alien substance has a whole lot of capabilities we can’t even comprehend.
Introducing, Protogen: An Earth-based, double-dealing, works-for-the-highest-bidder evil corporation. They try everything from unleashing the protomolecule in secret on thousands of Belters living and working on the asteroid Eros just to experiment with it — and later using it to turn a group of hand-picked children into terrifying “hybrid” soldiers/monsters.
At the end of The Expanse season 2, the protomolecule is no longer one of the galaxy’s best-kept secrets. It has become so widespread that it is no longer possible to “contain” it. No one knows what it is, where it came from or what its purpose is… yet. Naomi, one of the main characters, ends season two with a grim statement, “It’s part of the equation now”.
The who’s who of The Expanse
The Rocinante crew: Captain James Holden (Steven Strait), pilot Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), engineer Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), and mechanic/muscle Amos Burton (Wes Chatham) form the unlikeliest of crews of the warship Rocinante. Originally part of the ice hauler Canterbury’s crew and subsequently captives aboard the Martian flagship Donnager, they’re thrown together after surviving the destruction of both these ships by a Protogen stealth craft. After managing to escape the disasters in a Martian warship, they rechristen it as the Rocinante and inadvertently find themselves smack-in-the-middle of an interplanetary clusterfuck of power struggles.
Though a mixed group of Earthers, Martians, and Belters with OBVIOUS differences, the crew is more loyal to one another than to its own faction/planet. The strength of this bond culminates with the whole Roci crew agreeing with Naomi’s declaration that “We have to do good where we can when we can.”
Also, they’re one of the first ones outside of Protogen to encounter the protomolecule and inadvertently helped its spread across the System.
The Politics: United Nations assistant Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is the woman no one would want to argue with. She is by far, the most phenomenally dressed, as well as the most foul-mouthed character on the show. An expert manipulator who has been a staunch advocate for Earth her entire career.
But for all her wit & sheer ruthlessness, she underestimates the one person she shouldn’t, the UN Undersecretary (her boss) Sadavir Errinwright (Shawn Doyle). After coming clean to her about his secret involvement with Jules-Pierre Mao (the head of Protogen) and consequently, his role in the Eros disaster, he agrees to take the fall for his misdeeds and face justice. However, he instead makes a play for absolute power by betraying Chrisjen, secretly murdering his Martian counterpart, and taking control of the protomolecule project from Jules-Pierre Mao.
Now that everyone’s agenda is crystal clear, season three might see the two former colleagues vie for the control of the Solar system.
Leaders of the OPA: Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman) and Anderson Dawes (Jared Harris) are the faces of the OPA. Apart from their belief that the “Belt comes first”, they have absolutely nothing else in common. Fred Johnson was an Earther and a decorated colonel of Earth’s military but cast himself out after he was made a scapegoat for slaughtering a Belter mining colony. Anderson Dawes was born a Belter and is seen by the Belt as their messiah. He recruited Johnson into the OPA, who rose through the ranks to eventually control the formidable Tycho Station.
Johnson’s goal is legitimacy for the OPA and to make the Belt a diplomatic equal to Earth and Mars. Dawes, on the other hand, has much more radical ideas. This already tense relationship turns disastrous when Dawes kidnaps a Protogen scientist held captive on Tycho Station. He intends to use the scientist’s knowledge to bring the protomolecule weapon to the Belt. The end of season two, however, sees Johnson get his hands on a piece of the protomolecule action all thanks to Roci’s moral compass – Naomi.
Naomi believes that since Earth and Mars both have the protomolecule, the Belt should have it too to even the playing field. Time will tell if Johnson and Dawes will come together again for the OPA or even unite with the Earth & Mars against a common threat.
The Ganymede factors
The Martian: We are introduced to Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) in season two. She’s a total badass Martian marine who embodies trigger-happy and is VERY eager to use all her training to put the hurting on Earth. But after the Ganymede attack takes out her entire battalion, she is forced by her superiors to lie about what happened as the sole survivor (a human-protomolecule hybrid ripped apart a dozen marines like they were paper). She loses almost all her faith in the Martian system and defects to Earth in glorious fashion by siding with Chrisjen Avasarala. She’s currently stranded in outer-space with Chrisjen on Jules-Pierre Mao’s ship trying to find a way out after a meeting went south due to the betrayal by #1 asshat, Errinwright.
The botanist: Newest member of the Rocinante is Dr. Prax Meng (Terry Chen), a botanist and “Dad of the year” mug owner who led a low-key life on Ganymede (agricultural asteroid). Everything changed when a battle between Earth and Mars lay waste to the station. In his quest to find his missing daughter, he encounters the Roci crew trying to uncover a Protogen black-ops wing. But they make a shocking discovery that his daughter has been kidnapped into the human-protomolecule hybrid project. His fight to save her before she’s forever transformed into a terrifying monster-soldier will come to bear in the third season.
Remember the dead
Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane) and Julie Mao (Florence Faivre) met a fiery end when Eros was transformed into a gigantic guided missile by the protomolecule and crashed into Venus. Miller was a Belter Police detective hired to find the missing Julie, who was a rich Earther & daughter of Protogen chief Jules-Pierre Mao. She despised her father & his involvement with the protomolecule and joined the OPA to expose Protogen’s plans for it. A loner, cynic, and serial-drinker, Miller briefly teams up with the Rocinante crew ends up falling in love with Julie while desperately trying to trace her last known whereabouts.
As season one progressed, we learned that Julie met a horrible end when she succumbed to the alien protomolecule on Eros before Miller could even see her alive himself. However, as the protomolecule completely infests Eros, he’s somehow able to connect with her “consciousness” that still exists on it. Realizing that she’s the one controlling the asteroid, Miller convinces Julie to steer Eros into Venus instead of its intended target, Earth, thus saving billions from utter annihilation.
Seemingly gone forever, their love story and subsequent sacrifice turn Julie and Miller into heroes of the Belt.
Reasons why you should watch The Expanse
If you just scrolled right to the end of this article or TL;DR-d it, let’s wrap things up with a quick list of reasons why you should watch The Expanse!
- A well-layered story with top-notch writing.
- Some of the most breathtaking visuals and CGI that TV has to offer.
- The motherload of thrilling space battles.
- Quite possibly some of the strongest female lead characters on TV today.
- Such a beautiful production and set design that it rarely ever seems like a set.
- Captivating character arcs, worldbuilding and everything about the protomolecule.
- Scientific accuracy to the T (Best presentation of simulated gravity in recent times).
- The sheer wit, sly humor, and sass that compliment Chrisjen Avasarala’s gorgeous ensembles.