Editors react: Was The Expanse's first episode the space opera we've been looking for?

Contributed by
Dec 15, 2015

Syfy (Blastr's corporate parent - Ed.)'s The Expanse premiered last night, and with it, the launch of what the network hopes will be its next big, Battlestar Galactica-level hit. Things kicked off with a lot of world-building in "Dulcinea," and there's a lot of room left for the story to gain momentum, but it at least seemed a promising start ... or that's the opinion shared by Blastr Editor-in-Chief Adam Swiderski and Contributing Editor Cher Martinetti, two fans of the source novels who were anxious to see how the show would do in bringing James S.A. Corey's solar system to life. After watching the episode, Cher and Adam weighed in with their thoughts -- come back each week as we break down every episode of The Expanse.

Warning: Some spoilers for Episode 1 of The Expanse follow.

Adam: So, here we are: Syfy's most ambitious project since Battlestar Galactica and one of the most intriguing sci-fi TV offerings to come along in a while. Things kick off with a pretty wicked "in space, no one can hear you scream" moment featuring Julie Mao that's directly from Leviathan Wakes. It's a tense sequence and quickly establishes some of the rules of the road -- gravity is a thing, etc.

As fans of the books, I know we've both been really interested to see how well the series would translate. What was your first impression? Did the show grab your attention early?

Cher: The first thing that stood out to me is how beautifully shot this episode is. Even though I have read Leviathan Wakes, which Season 1 is based on, I'm trying not to let anything about the books spoil or pepper my opinion of the show. That's kind of not easy to do, Ty & Daniel (aka James SA Corey) are such fantastic writers. But you can already tell that having them in the writers' room is definitely an asset for the show.

Adam: I agree with both those points. The Expanse is definitely the best-looking Syfy product in a long time, and the show starts out very faithful to the source material in a lot of ways, establishing Ceres and the whole Belter/innner planet conflict more or less the same way it's laid out in the books. The one big change I've noticed so far, and we kind of knew this was coming, is the inclusion of Chrisjen Avasarala and the whole U.N. political infighting angle, which doesn't really show up in the novels until Book 2. For me, I have to admit this was the one part of the pilot that felt a little forced. I'm not sure if it's because there's really not that much for Avasarala to do until things get further along, or because I'm just not a fan of Shoreh Aghdashloo's performance so far, but Avasarala's scenes felt a bit out of place to me. Obviously, I'm not as good as you are at not letting the books color how I feel about the show.

On the other side of the spectrum, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the chemistry of the Canterbury crew. I wasn't sure about some of the casting when it was announced, particularly Steven Strait as Holden, but I definitely bought their camaraderie/the moments in which they wanted to kill each other.

Any performances that stood out to you so far?

Cher: I really want Shoreh to be awesome, because I do genuinely like her as an actress. But I think we just haven't gotten to really get to know Avasarala much yet.

I remember you saying your weren't sure about Strait. But I have to agree, and not just because we get to see his naked butt floating in negative g, that he and the rest of the Cant crew work well together. It also doesn't hurt having eye candy on the show. Sorry, but it's true.

I loved Jonathan Banks' cameo. The image of him running his toes through soil and talking to his plants is totally the opposite of what he's typically known for.

I'm also loving Naomi (Dominque Tipper). You know I'm a huge fan of alpha female characters that take no s***, and she's already filling that role nicely right out the gate.

Can we talk about the details in this show? Little things like Miller's cracked phone, the bird struggling to fly in the weakened gravity on Ceres, I love it. I notice things like that and for the show to take stuff like this into account and include them just speaks volumes.

Adam: Yeah, it's obvious Syfy is taking this one seriously, down to the little details of design and world-building. And some of it is pretty subtle -- it took me a second to realize that the Belter hand gestures from the book were being performed by this cast, because they do it so casually that it doesn't really call attention to itself ... which is exactly how it should be for people who've been living with that form of communication their whole lives. Touches like that -- important, but not delivered with a big, flashing sign that we should pay attention to them -- are going to go a long way in the world-building department.

I'm pretty pleased with how the Belters have been handled so far, in general. There was a certain amount of noise made before the premiere about how it'd be impossible to convey the physiological differences between Belter and Earther described in the books in a TV show, but through some makeup and effects work and the establishment of certain key societal differences, I feel like we're seeing the development of a new culture, and almost a new species ... which, to me, makes Miller all the more interesting as a character. His whole film noir schtick is the kind of "I'm a fan of this 20th century art form the audience can relate to even though I live hundreds of years in the future" touch that bugs me sometimes in sci-fi, but Thomas Jane pulls it off and really sells the world-weariness of Miller, so that the affectations fit him like a glove ... while we're still never allowed to forget that he's a Belter.

The other thing that really struck me about this episode was the pace. I was really surprised that the show seems to be taking its time -- I'm so used to the Game of Thrones experience, in which there's a headlong rush to get through a book a season. I can't see Syfy getting through Leviathan Wakes in Season 1 if they continue the way things are now. Do you think that's a good move, or do we need more momentum?

Cher: I think it's both. On one hand, I appreciate good writing and good storytelling and as long as there's both, then it's fine when things take their time. As long as something is well done and entertaining, it doesn't matter. But on the other hand, I think audiences can get impatient nowadays faster than normal. We live in a time where everyone wants things done yesterday and as abbreviated as possible, and I just don't think that mentality or the need for an instant reward is always what works best with a show. There's so much going on in these books, and this show, so it really does serve the story best to take its time and set up the very expansive universe. So, right now, especially for the first season, I think this is the right pace.

I will admit I did have to rewatch the episode and there was stuff I noticed upon a second viewing that I missed the first time around. I personally dig that.

Adam: So, let's talk about the prospects moving forward. It sounds like, based on this pilot, you're in. I feel like I am, too. I mean, part of it is because I know where things are going with the book and that the story gets pretty cool down the road, but the pilot definitely makes me feel like Syfy is not half-assing things with this show. It looks really good, seems to have the right tone, and isn't cutting corners when it comes to bringing the book's universe across.

What do you think about the future of The Expanse?

Cher: I'm not as far along in the books as you are, but I'm definitely in. I also agree that Syfy is not messing around with this, which would be both a win for them and for sci-fi fans. I know it the BSG comparisons keep being made, but I think they're valid and fans of that show, or just fans of good TV, should definitely find The Expanse fulfilling, at least based on what I saw in the first episode.

What did you think of The Expanse's first episode? Will you be back for more? 

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