When I visit a poorly electro-mechanical engineer, we often watch two episodes of a television series. Indeed, my friend often watches fiction in two episode chunks because this is similar to the duration of a short feature film. Previous visits included the first two episodes of Breaking Bad , the next two episodes of Breaking Bad, the first two episodes of Continuum and the first two episodes of Dark Matter . To indicate the quality of The Expanse , we watched four episodes in one sitting. This is unprecedented for us.
The Expanse, which airs on the SyFy channel in the US, is set in a future where most of the solar system is colonized with ethnically diverse people who retain their languages, customs and fashion. One character has a notably heavy Afrikaans accent. A Martian captain has a distinctly Chinese appearance. However, people remain tribal; mostly Earther, Martian or Belter. This is a future where your gravity well means more than your genes. Belters provide water and minerals. Mars has its own industrial base and technology. Unfortunately, like the Philip K. Dick story The Crystal Crypt, Earth and Mars are on the brink of war and any random event could be the catalyst. Mars is resentful of Earth's squandered resources. Earth tortures Luna dissidents. Terrorists and sympathisers are widely suspected.
This is very much a lower-tech version of
The Outer Limits ,
Alien , Firefly and, in particular, this is Babylon 5 without jump-gates. Plot threads don't initially connect but center around a gumshoe with heavy Nordic features investigating a disappearance, a baby-faced junior officer on a mining ship and an official of Indian appearance with an unclear rôle and questionable ethics. The gumshoe has a very contemporary hipster style but this is lampshaded as retro Earth fashion.
The scenic shots are beautiful. Inside a geodesic dome on Mars. A space station at Ceres. A clunky mining ship in the asteroid belt. And each scene is beautifully captioned like something from a designer catalog. As someone with first-hand experience of industrial-scale rendering, I can reliably speculate that anyone who worked on Babylon 5 effects will be agog and thinking "That's what we were trying to achieve but we didn't have the processing power!"
Fans of Kerbal Space Program will appreciate an attempt at kinetic realism. In one notable sequence, a craft has to make an emergency turn. "HIGH-G MANEOVER!!!" shouts the navigator over the intercom. People slam to the floor as thrusters angle the ship. Everyone straps into chairs and then blue diamonds fire from the four main engines. The whole ship groans and shakes. An external gantry goes crashing. It is all crisp yet gritty at 1080p. And so it should be when commercial productions can afford to simulate every fleck of paint in a debris field.
Even if the series gets consumed by the characters' politics, this may broaden appeal and increase its relevance. Fiction, and particularly science fiction, has an indirect manner of handling delicate issues. Star Trek and Alien Nation often handled issues of racism with tact. Babylon 5 covered surveillance and a shift to totalitarianism which foreshadowed the Department of Homeland Security. The Expanse may provide a similar view of the collective id. In 20 years, the visual style of The Expanse will look hilariously quaint but, as speculation from its era, the message will endure longer than the effects.
I just finished episode one. The plot? Not real sure yet, but the cinematics are good - and better yet, I've not seen one thing that was glaringly stupid. Many authors get microgravity so very wrong, and even when they do get it right, Hollyweird always screws it up badly. As I go on, I may find some things that I believe to be wrong, or not right, but basically, they've got it down in the very first episode.
Someone asked about blood and gore above. I'd say don't sweat it. No spurting arteries or anything. Any well designed space suit is going to shut off the escape of gases and liquids, all you see is a guantlet and forearm of a spacesuit floating away. There may be worse to come, but so far, it's nothing.
Great find, Cafebabe. I'll probably watch the rest of the series.
What are the odds that the missing woman from the one thread of the story was on the destroyed mining barge? I got bad eyes, and slow to catch names, but the chick who caught the distress signal might have been the missing woman?
Episode 5, and not one crazy stupid mistake yet. Alright, actually, I've stopped looking for any stupid. The story has captured me, and I'm just trying to figure out who the bad guys are. I think it's some kind of Holy War, but I may have let myself be tricked by a couple of scenes. For a TV series, this is really awesome.