The Expanse Season 1 Episode 1
Usually pilots are bland, expository affairs where characters are painted in broad strokes, conflicts are vaguely established, and an engaging storyline has to be accompanied by gratuitous action or contrived plot twists in order to seduce the audience into coming back for more. Not so with The Expanse where viewers are expected to roll up their sleeves and get dirty right from the start. The volatile cold war backdrop and unspoken cultural potential of the world that pulls the audience in, and although some details are lost in the initial offering, the journey forward should offer ample opportunity to hungrily gather up the tantalizing nuances of the show along the way.
The premiere episode offers up two seemingly disparate plotlines: the tale of the Canterbury, a cargo ship hauling ice from the rings of Saturn, and the story of the detective in the asteroid belt who is tasked with finding a missing, wealthy Earth girl. The beauty of these two arcs is that each of the protagonists are rough around the edges, yet both of them have a moment of conscience that provides a tiny glimmer of redemption, endearing them to the viewers while acknowledging their flaws.
For James Holden (Steven Strait), the unambitious second officer of the Canterbury, the moment comes when answering a distress call that neither he nor his shipmates want to answer. The job of harvesting glaciers is unglamorous and dangerous, but although sex in zero gravity is a welcome distraction from dealing with grunts who have lost an arm in what appear to be common industrial accidents, making a detour for a rescue mission would cost money they need.
As the crew is forced to answer the call for help, the interactions among those on the ship are reminiscent of the irreverent recruits in Prometheus. There’s the wisecracking pilot exhorting his colleagues to “please adjust your tray tables and seat backs into their upright and locked positions” and the engineer who slams her fist into glitchy monitors while insisting upon the need “to overhaul this bucket before it falls apart.” This latter character, Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), stands out in particular, perhaps due to being a female in a sea of unshaven men, but also because of a sense of barely restrained bad-assery that should be something to behold as the season progresses.
Detective Miller has his redemptive moment, too, despite being a corrupt officer in a corporate run security force. Although he takes bribes and slams criminals heads into tables, he informs his new partner and the audience: “No laws on Ceres, just cops,” but when a developer fails to clean air filters and children get sick, Miller’s vengeful nature becomes righteous. The detective could prove to be the most distinctive character on the show, especially wearing his hat as an ironic affectation in a place with no water: “It keeps the rain off my head.”
That’s not to say the show doesn’t have its villains. Famed Persian actress with the immediately recognizable deep voice, Shoreh Aghdashloo, lends appropriate gravitas to her role as Chrisjen Avarasala, who works for the United Nations, the governing body on Earth. Although her character doesn’t get much development in the premiere, her ruthlessness is apparent when she interrogates and tortures a long-limbed Belter whom she clearly sees as inferior. The planetary racism inherent in this series will likely be its strongest and most interesting source of conflict.
Obviously, the mystery of the girl’s horrific discovery in the opening scene of the premiere (what the heck was that thing anyway?) and the attack on the Canterbury at the end are going to be at the heart of the story in The Expanse moving forward. Many questions remain with regard to the survivors aboard the shuttle, the missing girl the detective is supposed to kidnap, and how these stories tie together. What better way to entice viewers to come back for more?