Although it has yet to permeate the consciousness of the mainstream, the Syfy channel is quietly having considerable success with its interplanetary action mystery The Expanse, based on the series of novels by James S. A. Corey. In the current climate of television networks cancelling under-performing shows first and apologising to disgruntled fans later, any series that reaches a third season must be doing something right, and the Syfy channel recently announced that The Expanse will be getting exactly that after the show’s recently concluded second season performed strongly and received much critical acclaim.
Last year, we claimed that The Expanse’s debut season was somewhat of a diamond in the rough; a hugely promising venture that was still hammering out a few minor kinks. The visuals were consistently stunning, making the show arguably the prettiest and most detailed science fiction television property since the Battlestar Galactica reboot. Moreover, The Expanse founded itself upon an intriguing concept and likable, easy to relate to characters and this winning combination shone through any lingering flaws. Although the writing maybe failed to ignite the imagination at first, this dramatically improved as the season progressed and generic dialogue was gradually replaced by engaging scripts week upon week. The Expanse’s main problem however, was the level of attention to detail it demanded from viewers.
The show is a complex, intergalactic mystery involving politics, science and morality and there are a variety of factions in play at any one time. Subsequently, season one was prone to alienating its more casual viewers watching on an episode-per-week basis with a barrage of scientific jargon, fancy-sounding names and troublesome acronyms. This was perhaps most obvious in Miller’s investigation into Julie Mao, where missing the slightest narrative beat could easily have resulted in losing track of the plot thread entirely. Viewers who stayed with the show and closely followed the narrative were rewarded with a rich television experience, but The Expanse certainly required more than a single watch to truly appreciate.
Happily, the show’s second season has not only addressed this shortcoming but has improved in almost every other aspect too, meaning that those who weren’t sold on The Expanse after its debut run have no reason not to catch up in time for the upcoming third outing of this fantastic slice of science fiction.
Crucially, The Expanse has now found a far more pleasing balance between being intellectually stimulating and being palatable and forgiving for viewers who haven’t been paying absolute attention to the show’s considerable lore. Essentially, The Expanse’s sophomore season is a more streamlined and accessible effort compared to its first run. The fat has been trimmed, the chaff done away with and what remains is a constant stream of the juicy science fiction goodness the series delivered sporadically during its debut season.
Helping this metamorphosis along is a quickened pace. Gone are the days of interplanetary travel taking place over several episodes; The Expanse’s armada of space craft now zip to their destinations in a matter of scenes and frankly, the show is all the better for it. As well as being more lean and digestible, the narrative has noticeably kicked up a few gears and each episode now feels packed with content, exposition and most importantly, answers, with season two providing far more bang for your buck compared to its predecessor.
All of this isn’t to say that The Expanse has now morphed into a mindless, gun-blazing romp with no depth. Far from it in fact. Rather, the show’s more intellectual elements are now tempered to provide a more balanced experience. By putting its most bothersome drawback to rest, The Expanse season three becomes an even more attractive prospect. If season one saw The Expanse finding its feet and season two represented the show hitting its stride, one can only imagine the delights a third offering will have in store.
And the improvements don’t stop there. Living up to its name, The Expanse has greatly widened its galactic scope and is rocketing towards exciting, unknown territory heading into a third series. The show’s inaugural season was noticeably sparing in its use of more extra-terrestrial narrative themes but these are gradually coming to the fore. The mysterious substance known as the Protomolecule has been at the core of The Expanse since its very first scene and was a particularly slow burn in season one. However, recent episodes have greatly accelerated the unravelling of this mystery, delving partially into both the Protomolecule’s history and its potential role in the increasingly tense relationship between Earth, Mars and the Belt.
Season three looks all set to elevate this arc to even more fantastical heights. The addition of Protomolecule Hybrids has given the show its first tangible, non-human threat and after it was revealed that an unknown number of these Hybrids have been set loose upon the solar system, these formidable creatures are likely to feature even more heavily in season three, perhaps giving the various warring human factions a reason to finally unite.
Not content with solely furthering its alien agenda, The Expanse also did a great deal of human character work in its second season, perhaps most notably with the introduction of Bobbie Draper and her fellow Martians. Mars was an unknown quantity prior to season two, with only the ill-fated Donnager giving the audience an insight into the motivations and personalities of Earth’s red neighbours. The addition of Draper has completely cracked open the Martian race and given viewers a reason to care about a planet other than Earth. It’s surely only a matter of time before she and her Earthling equivalent James Holden finally join forces – a tantalising prospect for season three indeed.
Speaking of Holden, it isn’t only the new characters that are looking good heading into the next series. The primary Rocinante-based cast have come on leaps and bounds over the past thirteen episodes and are all infinitely more interesting propositions than they were at the end of season one. Amos Burton in particular has transformed from an entertaining, yet entirely one-dimensional, brutish muscle type to someone with an intriguing back story simmering away in the shadows, the mechanic constantly walking the line between morality and violence.
As for Captain Holden himself, his romance with Naomi is, frankly, take it or leave it material. Individually however, both characters have experienced vast development. Holden is no longer cast as the unwilling hero; he’s taking responsibility for his actions and becoming even more daring in the process. As Naomi eloquently puts it, every bad thing he does makes the next one a little bit easier and this will no doubt come to explosive fruition in season three.
Additionally, Naomi has transformed into the series’ moral compass, furthering her roots in the O.P.A., her relationships with the Rocinante crew and hinting more about the character’s past. This growth would have made her the show’s most compelling female character, if it wasn’t for Shohreh Aghdashloo’s Chrisjen who has that accolade comfortably wrapped up. The maverick politician perhaps hasn’t developed as much as the space-faring figures but she arguably had no need to, easily remaining the most watchable element of The Expanse’s Earth-based scenes.
Visually speaking, The Expanse is as stunningly gorgeous as ever and an easy contender for television’s most attractive science fiction show, although Star Trek: Discovery might have something to say about that when it debuts in the near future. A spike in the amount of space battles taking place has added an extra burden to the effects team’s workload but they’ve risen to the challenge magnificently and made suspension of disbelief an easy task for even the most hardened of science fiction veterans.
Without wanting to give anything away, all of season two’s hard work is paid off in a gloriously tense finale which resolves just the right amount of mysteries, whilst also conjuring a few more up for good measure. The episode’s final moments perfectly set up the outrageous Protomolecule-based shenanigans viewers will be seeing in season three, and gives each of the show’s primary factions a platform for what could potentially be a huge, no holds barred scrap for survival.
With The Expanse showing such considerable improvements this season, fans that have been around since the very first episode have every reason to stick around. However, it’s also an ideal time for newbies to jump on board, given the more classic science fiction direction the series is gradually creeping towards. It’s almost inevitable the season three will feature more material of the alien variety and if so, the show’s stock will surely rise even higher – particularly among a mainstream audience.
Of course, it isn’t unusual for a television series to start hitting a stride in its sophomore outing and if The Expanse was being aired on one of the larger American networks, it’s entirely possible that it would’ve been cancelled long before a third season was even under contemplation. Fortunately for fans, the Syfy channel are clearly investing plenty of time and money into the project and are patiently allowing the show to grow in a natural way. Undoubtedly, their commitment will be rewarded if The Expanse continues its upwards trajectory and if the forthcoming third season can fulfil the expectations this year’s term has established, fans could see this science fiction gem go stratospheric very soon.