The Expanse Review: “Exodus” and “Churn”

JAMES HOLDEN: There was a button. I pushed it.
FRED JOHNSON: That’s really how you go through life?

The best SF space series currently running returns for season five, and the promise of at least one more season that will follow after a hiatus.

We’re reviewing the first two episodes today. Reviews will follow at intervals, typically of two-three episodes, as they drop. The show’s story-arc based nature problematizes individual episode reviews.

Titles: Exodus and Churn

Director: Breck Eisner
Writers: Naren Shankar, Ty Franck, Daniel Abraham et al.
Adapted from the novels by Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham (as James S.A. Corey)

Steven Strait as James R. Holden
Cas Anvar as Alex Kamal
Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata
Wes Chatham as Amos Burton
Frankie Adams Roberta “Bobbie” Draper
Cara Gee as Camina Drummer
Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala
Chad L. Coleman as Col. Frederick Lucius Johnson
Tim DeKay as Admiral Sauveterre
Jasai Chase Owens as Felip
José Zúñiga as Bull
Michael Irby as UN Admiral Delgado
Brent Sexton as Cyn
Anna Hopkins as Monica Stuart
Bahia Watson as Sakai
Olunike Adeliyi as Karal
George Tchortovas Leveau
Caleb Ellsworth-Clark as Vedasto
Demi Oliver as Rico
Lily Gao as Nancy Gao
Sandrine Holt as Oksana
Eddy Kaye as Boss Thug
Stacey Roca as Lydia
Lara Jean Chorostecki as Lt. Babbage
Nazneen Contractor as Ashanti
Frankie Faison as Charles
Jacob Mundell as Erich
Damian Romeo as Andrew
Darryl Flatman as Arms Trader
Amanda Cordner as Hutch
Amanda Martínez as Colony Ship Captain
Andrew Fleming as Gavin
Basel Daoud as Belter Pirate Captain
Cole Pollock as Young Timothy
Keon Alexander as Marco Inaros

Premise

Inaros’s people attack a science vessel near Venus, prompting Chrisjen Avasarala and others to wonder why. It does appear that Inaros wants to rock the system.

While the Rocinante undergoes repairs, the various crew-members follow their own quests. Amos Burton returns to Baltimore, Earth, to his past. Naomi Nagata seeks her son. Draper and Kamal investigate high-level arms dealing, and Holden and Johnson bicker and then seek Monica Stuart, who has been kidnapped, most likely because she knows about some serious developments.

Camina kicks butt in space.

We see the effects the Ring is having on the real estate market.

High Point

I’m going to take a moment to admire the world-building, enhanced by the stunning visual effects and the show’s Amazonian budget. The world of The Expanse holds together as a coherent vision of the future, and it grounds (if that is the correct word for episodes set mostly in space) the story and characters.

Low Point

While no opponent of chaotic and complex storytelling, the sheer scope of the stories and number of characters more readily suits, well, a series of novels. It can be challenging to follow the plot threads (and they would almost certainly prove incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t watched previous seasons), and The Expanse doesn’t quite match the ability of The Wire and Game of Thrones to keep those threads together.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 We remain in adaptation territory, even if the show puts its own spin on the novels.

Effects: 6/6 The visual images are absolutely spectacular. I can ignore a few moments when the CGI-ness shows through. It’s not just that the show’s visual landscape continues to grow. The directors use the technology to carry us from place to place and provide perspectives that add to the story. Amos’s arrival on the moon comes straight from the future we once imagined might be here by 2020, more plausible for its being placed further in the future and made very rough around the edge. Silent space and the moon’s beautiful desolation reflect the character’s inner reflections.

Acting: 5/6 The second episode focuses on Amos, and Wes Chatham does a fine job of opening up without losing any of the qualities that make him the Roci’s resident badass. The second episode also gives us memorable guest spots. These include Frankie Faison (veteran of more than 100 shows and films. SF/F fans might know him best as Pop Hunter from Luke Cage) and Jacob Mundell as Erich (who will be returning).

Supporting performances vary.

Emotional Response: 6/6

Story: 5/6 As with most of the show’s season premieres, “Exodus” delivers a confusing range of plot threads that the show. It’s not intended to be a stand-alone. “Churn” continues those arcs, but holds together by focusing on Burton’s past (it draws heavily from an Expanse novella).

It will be interesting to see how the show holds together now that most of the Roci’s crew are following their own quests while the ship undergoes repairs.

Production: 6/6 I like Discovery‘s current season, and there’s no particular reason to compare these very different series. The Expanse, however, doesn’t just have more credible visuals; it uses them in more creative ways. They’re credibility becomes incredible (in another sense) when we realize most of what we saw this week was shot in a studio in Toronto, with live filming wrapping up just before the city experienced COVID-related lockdowns.

Overall: 6/6

In total 37/42

8 replies on “The Expanse Review: “Exodus” and “Churn””

  1. J_W_W says:

    “Camina kicks ass”?!?! Had to look at the cast list…. oh, you mean Drummer!!

    Also, Discovery is not even in the same class as The Expanse.

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      I would agree, although we may have different reasons. The shows are not even trying to do the same thing, although they’re both set in space in the future. But given their budgets, it would be possible for recent incarnations of Trek to use the technology with the level of creativity we see in The Expanse. By and large, they just don’t.

      • I am not going to get into a Disco vs. Expo sort of argument, but I do think they’re both great, enough that I don’t think that we could conclusively say “The best SF space series currently running”. I’d include Mando in that, except that it’s less Science Fiction so much as Science Fantasy. (They call it Space Opera, right?)

        I will easily concede that The Expanse may be the most believable science fiction on TV in a long while.

  2. Brian says:

    But the important questions that was left unanswered was “What did the Earther order in the bar?” C’mon! You can’t leave us dangling like that!

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      Wasn’t it the Belter who was third in the joke? In any case, that was in “Mother” which I’ll review when I do next week’s episode. But the three dropped on one day, and “Mother” ends with a double-cliffhanger, so it can’t be excluded from the discussion.

      A triple, if you count the unresolved question of the third drink order.

      • zocalo says:

        IIRC, it was the Earther. The Belter and Martian both drink Earth booze so they can “know their enemy”, and it was Earthers swapping the joke, so it’s almost certainly intended to have some kind of “planet-ist” superiority punchline. I guessed either some random Earth drink because “we’ve got the numbers” (the Earther that walks in and interupts orders Whiskey), or water because “it’s easier to fight your opponents when you’re sober and they’re not”. The winner for me was from Reddit: “I’ll just have what they’re having”, then reaches over and grabs the Belter and Martian drinks.

        Knowing The Expanse though, this was some kind of setup for which we’ll get a payoff later.

  3. visionary_coward says:

    I am really happy that the Expanse is back. It is a bit of happiness in this awful year. This season is seeming like the start of any of the other books / arc in the series. They all started out slow and picked up momentum. I am enjoying The Expanse as much as I did Babylon 5; the overall story is well thought out ahead of time. Lots of things that are going on now have been alluded to earlier in the series.

    As far as the television series being an adaptation and what I have read, it seems like the writers are using the series to improve the stories and flow. I’m not sure if it is hindsight of the writers, the change in medium, or the influence of all the other people who are involved with the series. But I am really digging it. One of my favorite characters is Drummer who is from what I understand very different in the TV series than the books.

    In regards to Discovery, I stopped watching after the first half of the first season. In all of the infinite places they could have ended up at that point, they ended up there.

    FYI: Wes Chatham & Ty Franck are doing an after show series for this season with a special guest for each episode. You can find it on youtube on the Amazon Prime Video channel. I find it fun to hear about some of the stories with the people who make the series.

    -vc
    “The more you share, the more your bowl will be plentiful”

  4. lost says:

    One of the things I really like about Expanse is the attention to little details. Things like pouring drinks behaving differently in a rotational environment vs a gravity well. At least that’s what I thought I saw.

    I also liked that they considered the impact of a mass exodus from an overpopulated Earth. They took the time to mention how Earth had a huge unemployment problem during previous seasons. And now we got a mention of how a large number of people leaving has improved that situation.

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