THE EXPANSE Review: “Safe” / “Doors & Corners”

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Hello, there! It’s me! High Priestess of Science Fiction! I managed to wrangle onto my reviewing roster because it’s the best hard sci-fi political drama I’ve seen probably ever. Observant as I am, I didn’t realize there was a double episode premiere but once I got over the shock of devoting two hours instead of one to watching some I was glad of it. Both “Safe” and “Doors & Corners” were excellent. I’d say they were even better than the first season which I thought would be pretty hard to do. Although, ironically, last year around this time I thought “The Expanse” was gritty and grim. Now I marvel at just how optimistic it is about the future. Oh, the difference a year can make.

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It always takes me a few weeks to figure out how I want to talk about a show when I start reviewing it. Either I start with the pilot and get to know the series along the way, or I’ve already loved a season or two and have to figure out how to talk about what I love so much about it. With The Expanse that’s even harder because the entire show is so rich. There are so many stories and voices and I honestly couldn’t pick a favorite one. So, if you’ll bear with me for a bit, I’ll just take you through how much I love this show in general and then get into these two episodes more specifically.

First, this is the ideal example of how to adapt something to the screen. I read the first book in this series after I watched the first few episodes of this show. Honestly, I like the show better. It has richer characterizations and better written politics and battles. More importantly, it takes incidents and elements from the novels and reformats them perfectly for episodic format. More importantly, it takes incidents and elements from the novels and reformats them perfectly for episodic format. Each episode has a perfectly defined structure with just the right amount of conflict, tension, and suspense. Usually, the events that its portraying from the novels are flat and systematic by comparison. That said, this show is a fairly faithful adaptation of what I’ve read, keeping the heart of the story while enhancing it for the change in medium. Seriously, there’s not a better primer in how to adapt things for . It’s stellar.

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I did also read half of the second book which means I had advance knowledge of the wonderful Bobbie Draper, Martian Marine. I’m not sure they ever said her name in this episode. Mostly they just called her “Gunny.” I didn’t read far enough to know Bobbie that well, but I knew I loved her. The casting is perfect but most of all I love that even as she’s a badass Marine, they’ve made her a dreamer. The palpable longing that she feels for a terraformed Martian future is a perfect way to give her character pathos and softness without compromising her integrity. Additionally, the Martians were the piece of the puzzle most obviously missing from the first season and bringing Bobbie and company into the story now is an excellent way to rope in their perspective. I’m really digging the rhetoric that all of the Martians are using as well. It draws clear analogs between Martian independence and the American Revolution, even down to a far-flung hopeful future utopia brought about by hard toil.

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Another thing that is already much better than the one and a half I’ve read is the dynamic between all the Rocinante crew members. They take pains to establish the mental and emotional connection between Naomi and Holden so that I believe they want to slam each other naked against bulkheads rather than that being a default option. I also appreciate the careful attention to Amos and extrapolating the relationship between him and Naomi. I like non-traditional relationships in my stories because the stories we consume are what shape our perceptions of the world. Showing a close relationship that you can’t really define by any established label makes my heart sing. I also have a thing for amoral bruisers, and his reliance on Naomi to be his conscience even while he’s generally  homicidal is something that I find touching. Even Alex got in on the character , with the brief snatches of subplot about his guilt over not saving enough people on Eros. If I’ve learned anything from watching an endless cycle of serialized action spy shows it’s that all you have to do to give a character depth and give me a hook into the story is pause for about a minute and a half and let characters process the things that have happened to them. They did an excellent with that here.

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Now, having read that first book, I already know what the mystery turns out to be. No spoilers from me! That said, they’re doing a really good with seeding information throughout individual episodes. Again, the structure is so much better in the television series than in the . Mind I’m your classically nerdy librarian when I say that. I really do enjoy this show much more. At any rate, I have this project I’m working on about mad scientists and science in fiction (if you read any of my other reviews, you’ll know that already.) The scientists in the second episode of the night are my favorite change to the story so far. In the , Mao specifically hires actual sociopaths to work on the protomolecule because they won’t care what happens to humanity as long as they can further their . That’s what I call Mad Scientist Type 1 – the coldly rational inhuman who lacks empathy and devalues human life as inconsequential in the face of scientific breakthrough. Here, the lead scientist doesn’t care who he works for, he’s just trying to save all of mankind. That’s a complete 180 on scientific motivations but, oh my god, I could not be more grateful for it. The sociopath thing was kind of what turned me off of the . (Yes, I’m aware I have very particular personal hang-ups.) I also loved Miller in both of these episodes. He’s still caustic and cynical, but he’s also pragmatic about tactics until you mess with his emotions and his people. One last aside: I love that the same kid from Ceres keeps showing up, and I especially love that they’re showing his radicalization. The dynamics between the UN, Mars, and the Belt are exactly what science fiction is for. They provide a way to talk about modern politics and social issues without seeming self-righteous or alarmist.

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Finally, because I could probably ramble about this show for an eternity, if I had to pick a favorite part it’s Chrisjen Avasarala and the political debates at the UN. Chrisjen is no-nonsense and she has a brilliant tactical mind. I love watching her machinations and the way she can make others jump through hoops. It’s a bit poignant at the moment to a see a politician who follows the rules but still gets things done. When she asks to speak to Fred Johnson that is in fact treason, but it’s not frivolous. She knows that the UN is being played and she’s trying to gather all of the facts before making any rash decisions. She’s not just playing politics, she’s a consummate politician who cares about the nation that she helps to govern. I really truly love her. I say that out loud to my screen like every time she shows up.

Did I hit on everything I wanted to talk about? Probably not, but there’s always next time to get around to anything I might have missed. I promise I won’t blather on about the so much in the future either, mostly because I just haven’t read that far into them.

TB-TV-Grade-A

Season 2, Episode 1-2 (S02E01-02)
The Expanse airs Wednesday at 10PM on SyFy

Read all of our reviews of The Expanse here.
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Dana is a digitization archivist by day and a masked pop culture avenger by night. She spreads the gospel of science fiction and fantasy wherever she goes.
Follow Dana on Twitter: @DanaLeighBrand
Keep up with all of Dana’s reviews here.

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