Ramping it up.
By Christopher Robin Negelein
In less than a month the second season of the Expanse hits SyFy on Feb. 1st. That is a lot of binge watching in three weeks if you want to catch up. Or you could settle in and enjoy our rewatch articles at a much more relaxed pace. Come on, it will be fun.
And of course before we start … ahem … SPOILERS!
[We’re now watching Chris now do the Spoilers dance. It’s not pretty. Please make him stop.]
(Dulcinea, The Big Empty, Remember the Cant, and CQB)
Even if we were going to cover single episodes before Season 2, I’d still cover these four in one article. Because they are mostly about settling into the universe of the Expanse, but that’s not to say it’s airtime wasted on extraneous exposition.
In anything, the series is wonderful in the way it rarely holds you hand. My rewatches were rewarded with new details and puzzle pieces of worldbuilding that I didn’t notice the first time. In my watercooler talk about the show, some of my buddies who thought the first few episodes were slow also invariably missed vital clues to how the world worked.
To lay out an example, no one ever explains that in this show there’s no artificial gravity. Instead of someone saying, “Captain, we’ve reached 1 G thrust, we now have normal gravity,” thing float or fall as the engines go off or on. And if someone is walking in zero-g, you can always hear the mag boots click-clacking.
These four episodes are also the brackets for the mysterious enemy who show up in episode one and four, but are absent in between. There’s no cut away scenes to villains twirling their mustaches or monologuing about the personal grudges that drive them.
Instead the show does the other kind of worldbuilding, letting you understand the narrative rules of the universe. This is a place where people keep their heads down. Reckless heroes are either lucky or dead in this solar system. And that the past defines and haunts our protagonists.
James Holden (Steven Strait) is third in command of an ice hauler, the Canterbury, and likes to keep himself there instead of rotating out like everyone else eventually does. But a nervous breakdown of the First Mate (an awesome cameo by Jonathan Banks ) forces him to accept more responsibility. Unless it’s distress call by the Scopuli, because his captain thinks it’s pirate bait and orders the logs erased. Now the Scopuli is someone else’s responsbility.
But after spending the night shift to refine the distress call audio and making out a lone female voice buried in the static, Holden goes into reckless hero mode and forces the crew’s hand to check it out. (and yes, I said a night shift. The show really seems lean on a level of hard science we don’t get on TV. Warp drives and jump engines aint here yet, baby. So things are back to the Age of Sail when it comes to how fast craft move around the Solar System. Trips are measured in days, weeks and months.)
By now, as a watcher, you’re seeing how some of this series is going to play out throughout the season as the Canterbury plays the middle ground between Firefly and Star Trek — like a weekly Space (Merchant) Marines show.
And then …
I did say SPOILERS!
The whole ship is nuked – take that George RR Martin! Spinning in space inside a dead shuttlecraft with no radio are Holden and four more more survivors, Naomi (Dominique Tipper), Amos (Wes Chatham), Alex (Cas Anvar) and Shed (Paulo Costanzo). None of whom like Holden too much after they find out he set up the duped rescue mission and that he publicly fingers the Martian Navy for the deed before their radios went out.
That radio call, though is the shot that was heard around the universe.
It complicates the job of Josephus Miller (an almost unrecognizable Thomas Jane who does an outstanding performance with this character), a “security consultant” that plays a cop on the asteroid Ceres. The Cant’s destruction causes riots from the “Belters” who are already endure water rationing.
This is a spot where the viewer is going to have to keep their eyes and ears open or come back and rewatch because world details come at you like every five seconds. The Belters’ patwa never comes with subtitled. you have to get understand what they mean from context. The politics also comes in hot in heavy. And Miller gets it from both sides. His paycheck comes from the Earthers, but he’s born and raised a Belter. Though no one knows why he insists on wearing his piebald hat.
One of those paychecks, under the table, is to find and turn in a Rich earther runaway, Julie Mao, who we saw as an unnamed survivor of the Scopuli who sees some messed up shit before she goes missing for a good chunk of the series. As Miller figures this out, he starts to poke the bears that are the OPA (the Belters unofficial government) and Earth.
And if you want to see what kind of bears Earth has, look no further than politician Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), who can go from sweet grandma, to charismatic socialite to full-on Amanda Waller (classic comic book Waller — not Suicide Squad movie Waller.)
Aghdashloo’s performance is another stand out, and it has to be. Avasarala’s arena is all board rooms, phone calls and interrogations that inform you of Earth’s motives and machinations, but it’s more set up for further plot lines. Any lesser actor would have tanked the Earth thread here.
All but the Earth plot lines come to a head in the fourth episode CQB. If you liked the Expanse before, you’ll love in CQB, which — in rare moment of actual given exposition — you learn means Close Quarters Battle.
Man, you almost have to feel sorry for the Martian Navy. When Reds first pick up Holden’s crew, they think they are dealing with OPA terrorists punks. By the end of it, the Martins meet the mysterious enemy and lose their top ship of the line, the Donnager in a great space battle. This fight was the dream of any David Weber fan. In the Expanse, there’s no room for one-man fighters. It’s capital ship vs captain ship. It’s pure Space Navy porn.
The Cant crew also takes some emotional casualties. We find out that Shed was never a medic, just a drug dealer who was playing doctor to pay off his gambling debts. Alex was a Martian Navy all the time — retried. And Naomi might be an OPA agent.
I’m thinking that we’ll get to the bottom of Amos and Holden in later episodes.
We lose poor Shed, but gain the sweet, sweet Tachi , who is a bull in a docking bay china shop. Inside the Tachi, the last Cant survivors and one dying Martian marine race to escape the blast radius of a self-destructing Donnager.
And with the viewers catching their breath, the crew wonders who is already sending them a coded signal as CBQ wraps for close.
Next week, we’ll cover the next three episodes. And when Season 2 of our favorite hard scifi show kicks it into high G, we’ll still be here to keep up the Expanse coverage with our weekly recaps.