So I have been very excited about the news of the adaptation of the books for television, which I have been following relatively closely. The first episode in the show is titled "Dulcinea" and has been available online at SyFy.com and other outlets since November 23rd. The official broadcast premiere of the show was Monday December 14.
Here is my review of the first four episodes of The Expanse, with episode 5 "Back to the Butcher" scheduled to air at 10pm PST on SyFy tonight.
The primary take-away I have from the very first episode of The Expanse was wow! But the wow was the exclamation of glee at my first look at Steven Strait's taut muscled body playing the lead character James Holden. The setting of the story is tripartite: On Earth we see Chrisjen Avasarala (well-played by Shohreh Agdashloo) torturing a very tall skinny guy who we are told is a Belter; On the Canterbury we see Holden having an improper sexual relationship with the ship's navigator and unsuccessfully avoid being named the new Executive Officer of the old space trawler; On Ceres we see Detective Joe Miller (played laconically by Thomas Jane) pick up the case of a missing heiress named Julie Mao. Overall, the episode looks amazing and ends with a bang (literally) as the Canterbury is blown to bits by nuclear missiles launched by a mysterious spaceship while Holden and the rest of our main cast members Naomi Nagata (Domonique Tipper), Amos Burton (Wes Chatham), Shed Harvey (Paolo Costanzo) and Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) watch mouths agape from the interior of a small shuttle.
S1E02: The Big Empty.
The episode starts seconds after the last one ended, with the crew reacting to the news that dozens of their friends, lovers and colleagues have just been obliterated by the Canterbury’s destruction. Holden immediately wants Alex to follow the mystery ship that fired the missile but he is thwarted by Naomi turning the engines off (and is seemingly undaunted by the very large gun Amos points at his head). The surviving crew of the Cant has bigger problems though because they are pummeled by the massive amount of debris and space rubble their former ship has been converted into. Back on Ceres, Miller is learning that his missing heiress was a lot more complex than just a spoiled little rich kid with daddy issues. This is a very taut episode where we learn much more about the main characters as they go to extraordinary measures to get themselves rescued before they run out of air. Holden is a hothead but is also very brave. Naomi is extremely resourceful, scary smart and an engineering wizard. Amos does anything Naomi says but is also brave. Shed and Alex are both goofy, but Shed saves Alex’s life by sharing his air with him. This episode ends with the crew being “rescued” by the one ship they would have least liked to see: the Donnager, the massive and mighty flagship of the Mars Congressional Republic Nacy (MCRN). However, before they are boarded Holden creates some insurance by recording and broadcasting a message with his suspicions that a Mars ship was responsible for luring him and his crew to the Scopuli and probably destroyed the Canterbury.
S1E03: Remember The Cant.
The episode opens with multiple shots of screens depicting Holden’s face with the audio coming from his recorded message that was broadcast essentially accusing Mars of destroying the Canterbury. The surviving crewmembers are put into holding cells on board the Donnager by some very militaristic looking MCRN Marines. Everyone, that is, except Alex, who we find out spent twenty years in the Martian Navy and is therefore treated differently than his fellow crewmembers. This episode is where we learn even more about the crewmembers and discover how much they don’t know about each other. Curiously we are only shown Naomi’s and Holden’s interrogations and we see that the Martians (especially the Donnager’s Captain Yao) believe that Naomi is an OPA terrorist and are wondering why (and how) the rest of the crew are going along with her plans when none of the rest of them (Shed, Amos, and Holden) are Belters. We also learn that Holden was given a dishonorable discharge from the Earth military for attempting to strike a superior officer for asking him to fire on a ship smuggling Belters. Back on Ceres we follow Miller’s partner Dmitri Havelock (Jay Hernandez) as he links up with a hooker, not for sex, but to learn Belter hand signals. By the end of the episode it becomes clear to Holden’s crew on the Donnager and Avarasala on Earth that Mars actually did not kill the Cant and it might have something to do with those mysteriously nonresponsive ships that are approaching Mars’ largest warship without hesitation. However, the Belters on Ceres are starting to riot as conditions are getting worse since the ice the Canterbury was hauling would have provided much needed water for the station and the chant “Remember the Cant” becomes a rallying cry for enraged (and violent Belters), one of whom shoots what looks like a meter long stake through the unfortunate Havelock at the very end of the episode. Yipes!
This episode features one of the most graphic scenes in the elimination of (what we thought) was a major character ever seen on television. I don’t want to spoil what happens, but suffice it to say, Shed picked the short straw. And what is so amazing is that this scene happens very early into the episode and just leads to another near-death experience for our Canterbury crew. Naomi, Amos and Alex are left in an enclosed space with limited air while the mysterious ships from the previous episode engage in a close quarter battle (hence the eponymous episode title) with the Donnager. “What kind of ship would take on a CQB with the Donnager?” asks Alex, unbelievingly. We don’t actually find out because we never see the ships that attack the huge Martian warship but we do know they get boarded by soldiers wearing quite advanced tech. Holden was in the command center (on Star Trek it would have been called the bridge) of the ship with Captain Yao when she realizes he (and his crew) are the reason her ship is being attacked and sends him away with Lopez (Greg Byrk) the guy who was previously interrogating Holden and Naomi. Before that happens we are introduced to Fred Johnson (Chad Coleman) on a huge generation ship being commissioned by the Mormon Church called the Nauvoo. The Mormons are nervous about Johnson’s OPA ties but he threatens them with the collapse of the entire project and they give in to him. Back at the Donnager the MCRN Donnager is getting its butt kicked and Holden (with Lopez in tow) barely manages to find Amos, Alex and Naomi in time before they run out of air. They all fight their way through a hail of bullets to what looks like a speedy ship in the docking bay of the huge Martian ship and literally blast their way out of the ship and get away only seconds before the entire ship self-destructs (“The Captain has initiated Condition Zero” Lopez tells Holden tersely). Meanwhile back at Ceres, Miller has tracked down Julie Mao’s last hookup but the guy whom he thought it was is in the morgue but he is carrying a lot of tech which spoofs the identifying software. The episode ends with Havelock (the guy who was impaled by a spike in the previous episode!) waking up groggily as someone tries to rifle through his pockets. Whaaaaat?