The Expanse – Ranks with the best Space Westerns

The Expanse is a space western about three story arcs unfolding on Earth, Mars and the Asteroid Belt that converge with the discovery of an alien substance.

Table of Contents

3 Story Arcs Unfold

The Expanse opens with three separate story arcs unfolding:

  1. On an ice freighter, the first officer responds to a distress call.
  2. In the asteroid belt, a police detective investigates the disappearance of a young woman.
  3. On Earth, a United Nations under-secretary uncovers a vast conspiracy that threatens all the major players in the solar system.
The Expanse
Photo: Syfy.com

The Expanse is set a few hundred years from now with the Solar System colonised. A large underclass of workers lives in space settlements around the asteroid belt, which is critical for resources. Mars, a former colony, is now independent and an enemy of Earth. It is a technologically advanced society with an almost fascist-like military culture. The United Nations is now the central government on Earth, a planet affected by climate change and high sea levels.

A Reluctant Hero

One of my favourite scenes in The Expanse is from season one. A Space freighter called the Canterbury receives a distress signal from a ship named the Scopuli and dispatches a shuttle to investigate. They discover it eerily abandoned when subsequently, the Canterbury is attacked and destroyed by a sinister stealth ship. A Martian warship intercepts the shuttle, and the crew believe they are about to perish as they board their shuttle.

The second officer, James Holden (Steven Strait), records a video broadcast explaining what they have witnessed and the perilous fate that awaits them. The horrified crew attempts to stop him, but James prevails and transmits the message, hoping that someone will receive it.

Photo: Syfy.com

James Holden

Later, we find out that the message has gone viral across the solar system and is headlining every news service, every video billboard and on everybody’s mobile device. Though unbeknown to James Holden, he has become one of the most recognisable faces in the solar system and its new, reluctant hero. His previously disappointing life now dramatically alters course. The separate story arcs are now converging as it becomes evident that all the events are connected.

On board the Martian ship, James Holden negotiates confidently with his captors and saves the remaining crew. His strengths are now brought into focus as he demonstrates courage, loyalty and the ability to act decisively in a crisis. Afterwards, they escape on a Martian light frigate, renaming it the Rocinante, with Holden as captain.

Photo: Syfy.com

Steven Strait is convincing and likable in the role of Holden and is the unassuming hero of The Expanse. He gains the respect of those close to him and those paying attention from afar. Holden has high ideals and desires to do the honourable while constantly ensuring that the crew stays alive. Unfortunately, the latter is becoming an increasingly difficult task.

Chrisjen Avasarala

There are some memorable characters in The Expanse, one being Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), a high-ranking player in the UN. Shohreh Aghdashloo’s stunning and bold performance takes her character to an unrestrained height. She dominates scenes she is in with the power of her presence and delivers a great one-liner.

Photo: Syfy.com

Chrisjen Avasarala is a very skilled politician and networker and is the first to realise the significance and potential of James Holden, so she reaches out to him. It is a masterstroke, as Holden becomes central to the unfolding events. She sees the patterns emerging in the evolving events and recognises the developing threat.

Joe Miller

I especially enjoyed the story arc concerning Belter police detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane), who brings feeling and humanity to the sci-fi action. Miller leads a tough life and gets a raw deal as he advances his investigation.

Photo: Syfy.com

Miller becomes too emotionally attached to the missing person he tracks and cannot detach even when it is too late to save her. As a result, he pays the ultimate price. However, there is some consolation when he reappears as the proto-molecule merged hallucination, and these scenes with Holden provide brief uplifting moments.

Amos Burton

As the series progresses, the empathy-lacking Amos Burton’s (Wes Chatham) character grows and matures. Amos starts as Naomi Nagata’s unstable but dependable sidekick but evolves as he learns to trust Holden and gradually comes into his own as a crew member. He is always ferocious in a fight and someone you want to have your back.

Photo: Syfy.com

In the later seasons, they explore Amos’s early life on Earth, and we gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of his story. As he struggles with who he wants to be, he realises that being with the Rocinante crew, especially Holden makes him a better person.

The Belters

The Belters provide endless colourful characters to The Expanse universe. They are an unruly working underclass with a gigantic chip on their shoulders. Their resentment of the privileged Inners from Earth and Mars is often the only thing that unites them. Unfortunately, their Belter lingo sometimes gets annoying, especially with their persistent use of terms like boss-man.

Camina Drummer, played by Cara Gee, is the best and most likeable of the belters. She conveys integrity and diplomacy to her character, qualities usually lacking in her fellow Belters.

Photo: Amazon Prime Video

Where to Watch

The Expanse gained outstanding reviews as one of the best science fiction series on TV. This recognition is even more remarkable, given the series has a relatively low production budget. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck wrote the books for The Expanse under the pen name James S. A. Corey. The Expanse, like The Mandalorian, is a space western, though its scenes often take place inside the spaceship rather than outdoors.

There are six seasons of The Expanse produced by Alcon Entertainment, with the first three seasons screening on the Syfy network. Unfortunately, it cancelled the show in 2018, resulting in a huge fan backlash. Eventually, Amazon Prime picked up the series and continued it for three more seasons.

The Expanse is available on Amazon Prime.

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