Our intrepid reviewer, Heather Thayer, is back with a review of The Expanse. This show opened to a lot off hype, but Heather has not been feeling the love 100%. Here’s her review!
The Expanse – Old Fashionedy Space Opera, But Read the Books First
I’ve rewritten this review from scratch several times now – poor Carrie keeps asking me when I’ll be done and my answer is always “I have to rewrite it again.” Here’s the overview — I’ve watched the first six episodes of The Expanse, and it could be pretty good stuff, but it is confusing. Not mind-blowingly great, but still definitely worth a watch – if you can figure out what is going on. It has been compared to Battlestar Galactica or Game of Thrones in space. I suppose its “gritty realism in space” could be compared to BSG, although BSG was much, much better, but I am not seeing the Game of Thrones comparison — perhaps that might make more sense as the series goes on.
The show is based on books by James S.A. Corey, which I have not read. The basic premise is this – it is the future and mankind is divided into essentially three factions – Earth (run by the UN), Mars, and the people who mine the Kuiper Belt for ice and other resources – these folks are called “Belters.” Earth and Mars have been locked in a cold war for many years. Life is not good for the Belters: they work hard at monotonous manual labor only to send the products of their hard work to Earth and Mars, they live on cramped space stations where water is strictly rationed and clear air can be a luxury, and they are starting to adapt to life in low gravity to the point where some of them can no longer live on a planet with normal gravity.
Our story follows two primary point of view characters and a third character who is mostly there to provide context for the primary stories. The first point of view character is a hat-wearing detective on Ceres Station, the home of the Belters. He is a walking cliché, after six episodes I still have no idea what his name is. It isn’t important. Detective Cliché is a hard-bitten veteran, maybe a little on the take but with a heart of gold and a desire to do what is right. Yawn. In between trying to calm Belter tensions, he is given the task of finding a rich girl who has disappeared — the viewers know that something strange and bad has happened to her because a scene with her encountering the Weird and Unpleasant is a prologue to the first episode. Our second point of view character, and the one whose story is most interesting, is Holden. He’s the second officer on an ice-mining ship that receives a distress call. Holden and four colleagues are dispatched to investigate and Bad Things Happen. We follow this group for our primary action. The third point of view character is a woman who is high up in the UN, maybe the head of UN Intelligence or something. She’s boring and one dimensional. We only come back to her when the show finds it necessary to explain something about what is going on politically between the Earth, Mars and Belters – hers is not a separate story but merely serves as an expositional frame for the real story being told through Detective Cliché and Holden.
The special effects, particularly the space ships, are spectacular – exceptional for television. The acting, particularly the group with Holden, is quite good and many of the characters are interesting. There is something mysterious going on and I am invested in the story of Holden and his team. So far, so good.
However, I have to call this show out for its inexcusable gender inequity. To double-check my initial perception that this show is a complete sausage fest, as I watched the first three episodes I counted every speaking part for a female and every speaking part for a male. After three episodes the male speaking roles outnumbered the female 3 to 1. The story is largely told from the point of view of two male characters. I note that there is nothing in their stories requiring either of them to be male – either one of these characters could have been female and it would have worked great – probably even better because then the characters wouldn’t be so familiar and uninteresting. As I’ve noted, Detective Cliché and his investigation are not compelling – I suspect that if they had changed the actor to being a woman so that the character wasn’t such a complete trope, the character and the investigation might hold my attention more. In this day and age, post-Mad Max, there is no excuse for this. I don’t care that the source material has gender inequity – there is no reason for SyFy to have adhered to the source material in that way – after all, is there anyone who would argue that it wasn’t brilliant to have Starbuck be a woman in the rebooted BSG? Every time I try to watch this show the lack of interesting and crucial female characters sets my teeth on edge.
The other issue is that it is seeming more and more like it is necessary to have read the books to understand what is happening. For the first four or so episodes I was willing to give the show a pass even though I didn’t know what was going on, because I assumed that my confusion would be cleared up as I got to know the characters and story better. Instead, the opposite has happened. In every episode more new characters are introduced that I have to keep track of, and I don’t have enough context or backstory to be able to figure out who is important and who is not. After six episodes, I’m pretty lost.
Will I keep watching? Maybe. The effects and production values are great. But it is clear that this is a show for the people who have read and enjoyed the books. Apparently, the rest of us gals aren’t invited.