The Expanse: Season 1

For a short time, I was obsessed about Thomas Jane’s eyebrows.

It all came from when I started to binge-watch 2016’s The Expanse, Syfy’s attempt to take the popular scifi book series and turn it into a sprawling space opera for the small screen. As the first season begins, viewers are more or less thrown into the middle of a futuristic solar system where Earth, Mars, and Belters (those who live on asteroids) are all at odds with each other and a mystery is taking place involving a missing daughter of a rich tycoon, stealth warships, some incident on Phoebe station, and an ice hauler that gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Something’s going on. Something really, really big. But what is it and who are the players?

This mystery is teased from different angles by three people over the course of the first season of The Expanse, which more or less faithfully follows the first book, Leviathan Wakes. Our main hero is James Holden (Steven Strait), the XO of the ice hauler Canterbury who narrowly escapes nuclear death with a few of his crew and then doggedly pursues the offenders in a stolen Mars gunship that’s renamed the Rocinante. Back on Earth, UN Deputy Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) ruthlessly works to prevent what looks like all-out war between the solar system’s three major factions.

But it’s Detective Miller (Jane) who really steals the show. If Avasarala is for political intrigue lovers and Holden is for those who want a Luke Skywalker/Commander Shepherd military hero, Miller is for those who love hard boiled film noir. He’s a Belter cop who gets put on the case of the missing girl and turns out to be a little too good at his job. His drive to put the pieces together endanger his life, relationships, and professional standing. But, in true film noir style, he’s not going to quit until he gets to the center of things.

Thomas Jane is absolutely phenomenal in this role. He’s just the right level of gangly and unkempt, extremely shrewd while not very lucky. The camera loves to get up and close in Jane’s face, giving us ample time to watch his mannerisms, the way his moves his fingers over his eyes, the sour grimace that comes with a guy who’s been in the grime for so long that being a cynic is second nature. And yeah, he’s got those long eyebrows and floppy hair that’s hard not to look at when you’re up there with him.

As the main trio of characters in Season 1 indicates, there’s something here for everyone. The Expanse pulls off an extremely tricky balancing act of unveiling the state of this futuristic society, the complications of politics, and the various storylines without tipping too far into the black. I mean, it’s a very dark show, literally and figuratively, yet there’s enough humor and victory and characters you actually like to keep it from becoming this grimdark Games of Throne in space. I’ve become sensitive to modern TV shows that get way too dark, and I thought The Expanse kept from stressing me out unduly.

In fact, I couldn’t wait to watch the next show, devouring the ongoing storyline in rapid succession over the course of a week. Really good space operas that don’t have “Star” in their titles are surprisingly hard to find — especially in comparison to fantasy series — and I love that The Expanse makes one in a world that seems more plausible to the trajectory of our current tech. Little elements, like showing how birds don’t have to flap their wings as much in the low-gravity environments of asteroids or how Newtonian physics actually keep ships in motion in deep space, signal that this is a show that’s very thought through.

In terms of tech and design, the ships and Belter stations have the feel of the Aliens franchise, more bulky and practical than sleek and Star Trekish. About halfway through the first season, Holden and his small crew finally get their own ship, and it’s here that I started to feel a Firefly presence descend upon the show. The solar system may be huge, so it helps to occasionally narrow the story down to the familiar confines of a ship and a small crew of sometimes-bickering, sometimes-supportive band of rejects.

Enough gabbing about this — I need to watch the second season and see how things turn out! Your move, eyebrows.

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