Note: Spoilers galore
I started watching The Expanse after a colleague recommended it. The premise he sold me on was ‘Asteroids being thrown at Earth’. I absolutely loved that idea. However, we don’t get to that part of the story until season 5 of the TV Show.
The story and the themes in the show are rather more impressive.
In every TV show or movie about a grand concept, the show always focuses on the people in power. Game of Thrones, Westworld, Avengers, etc all focus on characters who have have a lot of power, physical or otherwise.
The Expanse and all of its story begins because of a few random characters in a freight carrier somehow get the short straw. They weren’t anyone fancy at the time, they had no power and they weren’t famous. They were just at the wrong place at the wrong time. The primary characters of the show are normal people.
The show focuses mostly on the chosen few characters and introduces new characters along the way. The majority of these characters are common people living in a given area. There is nothing special about them, they (baring a few) lack any sort of political or factional power.
They are the ones who are directly affected by the actions that people in power take.
I read Terry Pratchett and Steven Baxter’s Long Earth series a few years ago.
The book asked the question about how much our lives would change if humans have the ability to move freely from one Earth to another parallel earth without any inhibitions. It was one of my first favourite sci-fi series and I will always hold it as a benchmark for good series.
This show asks the question of what if we travel to distant solar system bodies without any actual change in how we view our society.
The show slowly introduces the world/s the characters live in. It introduces militaristic Mars and its propaganda through Bobbie in season 2. I loved her character arc as she is introduced: a character whose military belief and patriotism are slowly stripped away until the only thing she really cares about is seeing the ocean once. As we follow her life along, we see the ramifications of her actions, how even though she did the right thing, she is ostracised for her actions as people of Mars view it as unpatriotic.
Show introduces The Belt and OPA: multiple factions of people native to the asteroid belt and are trying to fight for its independence. As I watched the ‘Belters’ as they are called, I couldn’t help but project them as Indians living under British rule pre-1947. I could see how divided they were, how each leader had a different idea of how to gain power. And how after it gains its independence, it postured to repel off the same colonists. How the violence and injustice suffered by Belters by the Inners (Earth & Mars) fuelled resentment for years until people are driven to violence.
There is a character on the Belt called as Miller. In the very few first scenes with him, we are introduced to the idea that his mother tried to make him like an Earther by injecting him with drugs. As I read this, I thought of Shashi Tharoor’s book Inglorious Empire: the book features a few Indian citizens trying to act and adapt British culture to try to move up the social ladder.
I would say the biggest issue that the show had in the first 4 seasons is the lack of a good antagonist. The first three featured a random billionaire pretending to care about humankind (pretty good meta-commentary here) as he goes about killing thousands of people. For a show so focused on factions in the first three season, the billionaire running puppet wars for his own benefit (no matter what he claims) intrigued me. He was a direct reference to all of the billionaires in our society.
But Marco Inaros, a character introduced in season 4, is the one who stole the show for me. His speech in season 4 is absolutely gold. He carves out a faction for himself, leveraging on years of bloodshed and resentment against people from Earth and Mars, and starts throwing asteroids at Earth.
Marco starts a war between Belt and Inners without asking for power but stealing it when the times looked like they were healing. A fascist & narcissist who was able to leverage years of resentment and unwittingly drag the whole nation into war.
I feel like it is here that we see that a lot of Belters have resentments, but common Belters: they just want to live. They want food to eat and air to breathe without having to pay a limb and Marco uses them for his own personal goals.
The show makes it clear by season 3 why people of the Belt & Mars do not trust each other or Earth. The show demonstrates how many people without power are killed simply because people in power want to show their strength. By season 4, the show says clearly that some kind of scales need to be adjusted.
It is only through the bloodshed that Marco Inaros causes that the show says ‘Not this kind of scales’.
Lastly, and this ensures that I stay invested in the show, I absolutely adore The Expanse’s scientific accuracy. Aside from a few plot conveniences, the show sticks to laws of physics it has started with.
I am sure to be finding all the novels that the show is based on and reading them.