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
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.
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.
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.
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.
In total 37/42