The Expanse: Season 3
The current paradigm defining home entertainment has certainly undergone drastic changes since I a child. Granted, that was more decades ago than I care to consider, a bit in the scheme of things it wasn’t all that long ago. We have come from television offering a mere seven channels. In a major market such as New York City, to hundreds covering an exceptionally eclectic range of themes and content. Also, there is a rapidly growing number of streaming video services proving content in the latest level of audio/ video excellence. Under the old operational model when a series was canceled, the decision was final with little recourse left for loyal fans. On very rare occasions, a rival network might take over the production and distribution, but that was not a realistic hope for the viewers. Fortunately, now it has become increasingly routine for a series with the promise to receive a reprieve, frequently on a streaming venue. One of the recent examples is the focus of this consideration, ‘The Expanse.’ The third season reviewed here was supposed to be its last, the SyFy Channel sold the rights to the marketing giant, Amazon to join the ranks of their explosively growing lineup of original content.
Stories involving humanity moving out to the vast unknown of outer space has been a staple since the beginnings of both movies and television. Scientific veracity has rarely risen to a high place priority for the writers and showrunners. While the requisite special effects have improved, many of the most fundamental scientific discoveries were ignored in favor of sensationalism. One of the most notable elements of ‘The Expanse’ is the concerted effort to craft a program that truly immerses the audience in the experience of life beyond the confines of our home planet. Most movies and television shows are concerned with humanity exploring the far reaches of the galaxy-spanning unimaginable distances. Accomplishing this goal requires, the writer is forced to utilize science considerably beyond our current capabilities or even what might be feasible soon. In stark contrast, ‘The Expense’ is set in the immediate future relying on a technology well within our grasp. This series replaces, the extraterrestrials intent on stripping resources from our humble rock; this series is fundamentally a taut socio-political drama that rivals any series restricted to Earth. The scope of this drama is restricted to the confines of our solar system. The political factions are divided between the two superpowers, Earth and Mars with the inhabitants of the Asteroid belt and some of the major moons of the Gas Giants, Jupiter, and Saturn. The planets excel in advanced technology while the Belters eke out their survival by mining the rich mineral resources floating between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
The first two seasons established the incredibly realistic and consistent environment. Earth is the dominant force seeking to exhort unbreakable control over the entire system. A new threat has been discovered that that resulted in the death of the entire population of Eros Station, number one and a half million people. Underlying and exacerbating the existing tensions between the major groups of humanity turns out to be a highly aggressive infection whose origins were beyond our local system. The infected are transformed by rapidly growing crystals that burst out of the patient killing them. The entire station at Eros is infected, and the only recourse is annihilation. Through the machinations stemming from the animosity between Earth and Mars, the Belt gains control of a fleet of nuclear missiles, drastically shifting the tenuous balance of social, political and military power. The proverbial fecal matter hits the fans when a Martian Marine squad comes under attack. In this third season, the Cold War between Earth and Mars threatens to spill over to all-out hostilities. The depiction of the reaction among the population and those in power reflect the prevalent fear that gripped the world back in the 1960’s. This is particularly critical to how members of the Baby Boomer Generation will appreciate the overall narrative. As a member of this group, the underlying feel of the series resembles a taut espionage thriller from that historical period. This is a significant contribution to why the series received top scores on the aggregate reviews sites; Rotten Tomatoes rated the series at 100%.
In keeping with the general mandate established by the showrunner, the primary focus of each thread of the narrative tapestry concentrates on the forced evolution of humanity brought about by expansion throughout the local solar system. Typically, science fiction is concerned with the technological advancements, the scientific breakthroughs resulting from humanity’s inherent need to explore and discover. The glaring difference with ‘The Ex, pause’ lies in the inherent concern with the inherent exploration of effect over the cause. As we reached out to our neighboring rocks circling our star, Sol, the reduced gravity of Mars and Luna induce profound changes in our morphology. For the intrepid souls braving the rigors of meteor mining, living and working in the hostel environment of vacuum and micro-gravity, the changes in physiology are mo, re pronounced. Limbs are elongated as generations are born without the constant tug of one gravity. While physical changes are present, the relatively short time, the psycho-social changes were quite rapid. Belters developed their own, distinct language, terse as befitting the need for concise communication in an environment fraught with constant lethal potential. They also adopted unusual, by our standards, hairstyles, and tattoos. In a society where verbal communication is limited, appearance is vastly important, delays in, communication can result in the loss of life while the intrinsically independent spirit requires a need for expression. With outerwear dictated by survival functions, Mohawks, partially shaved heads and idiosyncratic dermal ink, provides immediate recognition.
By the time of this story, several generations have been born among the stars. Persistent animosities have become ingrained in the cultures such as the deep-seated hatred and distrust of Martians for the government and people of Earth. Despite the science fiction foundation, the archetypes and situations driving the story are remarkably grounded. An example can be found in one of the most powerful women in the system, Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), UN Deputy Undersecretary of Executive Administration. Superficially, she appears to be just past middle age, a stately, confident and determined woman. When the need arises from a threat to her planet, Ms. Avasarala can exhibit a cold, calculating persona capable of sacrificing lives to achieve the desired outcome. As the old saying goes, "desperate times call for desperate measures. Contrasting the vantage point of those wielding power, the point of view possessed by a citizen is shown through, Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), engineer and captain of the Belter ship, Rocinante, a retrofitted Martian attack ship.
Along with her crew, they afford the viewer an intimate exposure to the lives and concerns of the working class. There is a difficulty intrinsically associated with migration between factions. This is efficiently and very entertainingly portrayed through the character of Martian Marine Gunnery Sargent, Bobbie Drake (Frankie Adams). She was the only witness to covert and highly unorthodox weapons testing the fueled the bitter hatred between Mars and Terra. Initially dispatched to Earth to provide testimony during the formal inquiry. As a Martian, she had never seen the broad vistas commonplace to Earthlings. Standing on a beach gazing out over the ocean was a sight beyond her imagination and experience. The quantity of open water and a horizon so far off in the distance overwhelmed the harden more solid.
This series resets the bar for television science fiction, as well as more standardized dramas and thrillers. With such critical acclaim heaped upon the series, is almost unthinkable that the Syfy Channel would cancel the series after three seasons. Fortunately, Amazon Prime was not only willing but prepared to undertake the continuation of the series. This is not the straightforward space opera many of us grew up watching. A full appreciation of this story is predicated on the willingness to commit to the time and effort necessary to completely digest the nuances of the plot lines and character development. It might require multiple viewings of each episode, but the Blu-ray set makes that a simple matter. This is a special series that will redefine sciences fiction.