The Expanse: Season Finale – Wholesale Carnage (Review)

The last few episodes of The Expanse, including the two episode season finale of Critical Mass/Leviathan Wakes featured an amped up amount of wholesale carnage.

The Expanse - Season 1

The last few episodes of The Expanse, including the two episode season finale of Critical Mass/Leviathan Wakes featured an amped up amount of wholesale carnage.  Unlike the start of the series, where death came in small doses, against a squalid and bleak background of suppression and racism, the end of season one offered up death in economy sized quantities.

A few questions are answered amidst all this morbidity.  Not least of which being who was behind the destruction of the Cant and the Martian vessel (Donnager)  that Holden and his small crew escaped from by the skin of their teeth. The horrific death of Julie Mao is also revealed as is the connection between the Earther who became an honorary Belter and Anderson Dawes.

The pacing of the show increased as Holden and his survivors discover the Anubis with its deadly cargo from Phoebe (in the episode Salvage). They also learn of the existence of Lionel Polanski (Mao) and that the lone crew member to escape the Anubis was headed to Eros; the place where the U.N.N. plans that James Holden (Steven Straitwill die.

The Expanse - Season 1
Julie Mao, aka Lionel Polanski

The Expanse may not manage to top that huge shoot-em-up aboard the Donnager, where the entire crew of the Martian vessel fought ferociously for Holden and his crew  to escape the stealth fighters attacking the ship, but it comes close in the final three episodes. In terms of death count, the carnage may not be as bloody or spectacular but the body count, in the season finale,  is massive.

After Mao’s body is found, lying on the floor with the Phoebe organism infused throughout her corpse, the dead girl’s father gives his scientist (Dresden) the go ahead to infect all of Eros while irradiating the entire populace as well.  In Salvage,  Miller (Thomas Jane)  teamed up with Holden, Naomi, Alex and Amos in the middle of the tech shootout set up by the Tycho spy, who gets away before the battle starts.

This new team stick together and once the Dresden experiment begins, where the population are herded into shelters for infection and death,  Holden and Miller scramble to escape Eros as Namoi and the rest head to the Roci.

As the finale moves to its conclusion, the former cop and the Earther team up to learn what is happening in the shelters and receive fatal doses of radiation for their trouble While  Naomi, Alex and Amos, along with Semi, head toward the Roci,  The two dying men fight their way to the ship hoping to get there before Naomi takes off.

They have three hours.

Amid all the carnage on Eros, quite a lot of it actually; with denizens killed wholesale in shelters, criminal gangs killing those who refuse to go into the areas, Holden, Miller and Naomi killing off a number of baddies and the Phoebe organism consuming everyone else, there is a moment for poignancy and a chance to consider poor Julie Mao.

The Expanse reveals the lonely death of Lionel Polanski (Florence Faivreand it is horrific as it is tragic. As this world moves toward war, players in this drama are scrambling to stay safe. Christen Avasarala decides to hide in plain sight while everything unravels around her.

Some questions are answered about the less important curiosities in the series. For instance Miller’s hat has a backstory (turns out to be Semi’s hat and not Miller’s at all) and a small slice of the ex cop’s childhood is revealed.  (A brilliant scene that takes place in a pachinko parlor.)

The Expanse - Season 1
Miller got backstory…

By the end of the season finale, The Expanse sets things up for its second season with finesse.  Miller has joined forces with Holden, Amos has shown he follows Naomi without question when it counts and that Julie Mao’s father may have shed a tear when she died, but her death will not stop his plans to exploit the Phoebe organism.

The cast have all performed impeccably in terms of fleshing out their characters and making them memorable. Kudos to Cas AnvarWes ChathamDominique Tipper and Shohreh Aghdashloo who gave their roles moments of splendid truth. 

SyFy have approved the series for a second season and one can only hope that it entertains as thoroughly as this one.

The Expanse: Space is Dirty and Biased (Review)

Not having read the novels that The Expanse is based on, the pilot feels a little like the subplot of Total Recall (1990). Where “Cohaagen” (played with suitable smarmy menace by Ronny Cox) punishes the local Mars denizens by shutting off their air. In this new SyFy space drama, the cosmos is dirty and full of bias. Extreme opposites mark the opening episode.

The Expanse - Season 1

Not having read the novels that The Expanse is based on, the pilot feels a little like the subplot of Total Recall (1990). Where “Cohaagen” (played with suitable smarmy menace by Ronny Cox) punishes the local Mars denizens by shutting off their air.  In this new SyFy space drama, the cosmos is dirty and full of bias.  Extreme opposites mark the opening episode. 

The “subway” system on Ceres, where the series begins more or less, is loud, like real subways, or the tube in England, and compared with the relative calm and low level decibel emissions on the surface, is too loud.  The show’s main protagonists are, thus far, Detective Miller (Thomas Jane) a “Belter” cop, Holden (Steven Strait) acting XO on an ice freighter. 

There are other characters in and around the periphery and the most important of these is Julie Mao, played by Florence Faivre, who we see at the very start of the premiere episode. This young woman, first encountered in a locked room which she has to escape from, is the motivator of this story. Detective Miller is assigned the job of locating and returning the rich girl to her home.

The Expanse follows recent popular ideas of what space in the future will actually be, an uneasy alliance of miners, companies and a certain hostility between same.  In this instance, Mars, Earth and the “belt” are at odds and the currency is powered by air and water; precious commodities in the future.  There are also  other nods to existing science fiction themes and films.

The splendid character actor Jonathan Banks has a minuscule cameo in the pilot as the stressed out XO who suffers a breakdown.  In the scene where Holden has to break into the executive officer’s room,  Banks’ character is treading  barefoot in dirt;  from his plants, and softly singing “Daisy, Daisy.” (The character is also muttering other things, not least of which is the oft seen “why did we not bring more light” from teaser trailers.) This singing of “Daisy”  is a clear nod and wink to the Stanley Kubrick film A 2001 Space Odyssey and HAL’s singing of Bicycle Built for Two.

*Sidenote* It has to be pointed out that only Banks could so solidly steal an entire episode from the rest of the cast with his killer breakdown. 

The Expanse - Season 1
James Holder, Earther and reluctant hero?

In this future world of mankind’s move to the stars, people who are born and live in space, i.e. the Belters, suffer from birth defects because of the minimal oxygen levels and dirty air, along with the lower gravity and smaller G forces.  Michael Jane’s character has “spurs” at the top of his spine where the bones did not knit properly.

Later in the opening episode a Belter is taken to Earth for questioning. The too skinny prisoner is held up against a wall. The suspect is in agony as his lungs and body cannot cope with the crushing gravitation forces that are killing him.

The Expanse may spotlight a future that is dirty and full of biases based upon which world one is born on, but it is, thus far, an intelligent mystery.  Unlike other futuristic settings in space, there are no aliens, unless one counts that large bulging mass that envelops an unidentified crew member while Julie Mao screams in horror.

In some ways, the Julie Mao character feels like a McGuffin, or at the very least like the female character of Laura Palmer in David Lynch’s Twin PeaksTime will tell whether this new offering really is a space age “TP” or not…

This hungry “mass” could well be a ball of energy or some space anomaly, there is no real indication that aliens are part of this verse. Once again, not having read the novels that the series is based on, any observations are from this version of  James S. A. Corey’s world  (aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).

Clever nods and winks to other science fiction works aside, this world appears bleak and life is, apparently, cheap and very disposable.  This is pointed out when the ship that Holden is on received Julie Mao’s SOS.  The crew on the bridge, consisting of the ship’s captain and the new XO all vote to ignore the distress beacon and erase it from the freighter’s logs. All done in a matter of seconds.

Only later does Holden rethink what he has done and recovers the erased log entry forcing the ship to answer the beacon.

The Expanse - Season 1
Jay Hernandez and Thomas Jane as Havelock and Miller two of Ceres’ finest.

Viewers expecting a fast-paced,  action-packed space opera will be disappointed. The Expanse is moving slowly forward taking its time introducing the players and the plot. The series premiere, which can be seen now via the Internet with VoD and on SyFy’s site, will debut properly Monday, December 14.

This looks pretty impressive, if not a bit slow, tune in and see what you think.