The secret forces that control my life have decided that I must do due diligence on the Hugo Award Category: Best Dramatic Presentation – Short. So with a Netflix trial on my phone, I plunge through the airlock and into SyFy’s THE EXPANSE!
The good news is this also is a handy refresher course on James S. A. Corey’s initial novel in the series. The bad news is that I probably shouldn’t have read this review by Laurie Penny first.
If you like the books, then you probably will like the series. The characters are played by people who are each plausibly the character from the book. Few liberties have been taken with the plot and the ones that have are mainly for the better. Sweary UN honcho, Chrisjen Avasarala, has been brought forward into the plot and her story line helps draw out the solar system politics more clearly. There are other tweaks to events that reduce the amount of shuttling about everybody does.
At some point, they decided that Detective Miller’s hat was stupid and he goes largely hatless so we can see his daft haircut. I say daft, but it sort of looks like they are doing a tribute to Bret Ewins/Peter Milligan future existential detective comic book Johnny Nemo. [Also if you haven’t read the books or seen the TV series there are spoilers after the pictures of Johnny Nemo]
The look and setting are both original and familiar: the industrial space faring look from Alien, the space-era poverty from Total Recall, the humdrum below decks of a space station from Babylon 5, or even with Holden’s crew & a stolen ship a feel of Blake’s Seven. Yet there hasn’t really been a substantial TV show with this solar system bound feel or with this kind of faux-realism.
Decent story, with good actors and nice effects, yet oddly conventional and seemingly not eager to push the limits of television. It does end up dragging a bit in the middle but picks up again as the threads of Miller’s investigation of Julie Mao’s disappearance and Holden’s quest to find the people who destroyed The Canterbury start coming together.
The specific Hugo finalist episode is the final episode of Season 1: Leviathan Wakes. Miller pursuit of the truth has led him to Eros Station – a rundown asteroid outpost. Holden and the crew of Rocinante, following their own leads into the mysterious stealth ships that are in the midst precipitating a war between Mars and Earth, have also reached Eros station. However, events have rapidly overtaken them both: Julie Mao is dead – infected with some sort of bio-weapon [ooh! ooh! says everybody who has read the books, we know what that is!]. Meanwhile, the station’s police force has decided to round up everybody on the pretext of a radiation leak. Meanwhile, on Earth, Chrisjen discovers that the conspiracy to set Mars and Earth against each other is even deeper.
It certainly is an episode with tension and some moments of genuine horror. The mounting realisation that a horror is developing on the station, is paralleled by the tensions between the disparate characters. Possibly it would have more impact if I didn’t know the plot. However, I didn’t feel this exceptional television – just a well done season finale with a cliffhanger.
I don’t regret watching it – fun, lots of action and a great sense of plausibility – but not going to be a top pick on my Hugo ballot.