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Based on the sci-fi mystery novels penned by James S.A. Corey (a nom de plume serving the endeavours of the writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Franc, Leviathan Wakes) The Expanse titles have spread like flowering spores into a SyFy original series. Some two-hundred years in the future, a now-fully-habitable solar system serves as the ripe-for-rivalry mise-en-scène. Space provides the optimum landscape, especially space under colonial administration, to host not one, but all three classical conflicts of storytelling: man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. himself.
It is in this expanse where a new breed of mankind operates in roughly the same rigid, egocentric and tenuous fashion that ancient mankind did when Earth was, essentially, his only domain; yet, now there is more territory to cover and more peoples to monitor, and control. If resources, greed, logistics, prejudices, power trips and egos proved existential beasties on one planet, whilst the endgame may remain the same when dealing with an entire solar system, the wider struggle proves a significant hurdle.
In The Expanse, dominant Earthlings, militant Martians and second-class Belters (those living and working in space, in the asteroid belt) clash like Real Housewives thrown together at a theme party. As the humans delicately co-exist, the United Nations - yes, still in "action" - persuades against a roiling warfare burgeoning between Earth and Mars, under the auspices of violet-cloaked U.N. exec Chrisjen Avasarala (played regally by Shohreh Aghdashloo whom, if you know your Portlandia, will recognize her from S2e3 as the visiting author at Women and Women First.).
In these potentially warring skies, Captain James Holden (Steven Strait) and his skeleton crew of the ice trawler Canterbury face a more immediate concern: who blew up their ship? Fortunately, Holden and his crew were saved from annihilation, as they all happened to be on a (set-up?) distress call, on-board a Canterbury short-range shuttle. So, who killed the Cant? The offending machine was a stealth vessel. Who has the funds for, and access to, a stealth vessel. The war-happy Martians, of course ... or was it?
Whilst scouring the colonies for the real Canterbury destroyer, Captain Holden and his stragglers, Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) and Amos Burton (Wes Chatham), are hired by Outer Planets Alliance (OPA): a quasi-terrorist organization fighting for the rights of the second-class Belters. Their mission? To find a missing compatriot, one Lionel Polanski. On their travels, in their new ship, Rocinante, they locate the very vessel that took out the Cant: the Anubis. A seemingly abandoned ghostship, there's plenty of life in the old girl yet. The Anubis is festering with "spiraling layers of an amorphous, glassy, blue-green mass, clutching the reactor like a strangler fig". A self-aware protomolecule, the Phoebe Bug, as it were.
Elsewhere, a young, wealthy scion named Julie Mao goes missing. On the case is hard-living, self-damaged Det. Joe Miiller (Thomas Jane). When it is learned she is, in fact, OPA-sympathizer Lionel Polanski, Miller follows her alias until he finds she is registered at the Blue Falcon Hotel, as Polanski. Oddly, she is covered in the same Phoebe Bug that took control of the Anubis. The spaceship that killed the Cant and the disappearance and bizarre death of Julie Mao/Lionel Polanski can't be related ... or can they?
As with any quality, conspiracy-heavy sci-fi series, the simple, seemingly unrelated elements of a workaday spaceship, a self-aware, extra-terrestrial protomolecule and a dead, Phoebed, rich girl must be connected, and all via top-level, high-stakes, interplanetary, 23rdC. battle for air and water ... or must they?
San Diego Comic-Con 2016 and the good folks at SyFy afforded Yours Truly a seat at The Expanse roundtable, for a bit of chat and interview with the series' cast and writers. When I asked exec producers/writers Mark Fergus and Naren Shankar for a hint of what's to come in S2, specifically the self-aware Phoebe Bug, I was given a deftly crafted non-answer and, as the picture shows, a couple of Paddington Bear-style "very hard stares".
Jennifer Devore: Obviously, you can't give any direct hints as to the next season, but ... in the beginning of next season, will the origins of the discovery, of the spores or matrix, will that be divulged, or, and I apologize f it sounds like I'm asking a derivative question, but will it be similar to something like "Helix" or "The X-Files", where, like, the black oil becomes its own character throughout season after season ... or, will it be solved right away?
Naren Shankar: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You're going to get some answers for sure. No question about that. But, like the books, what it does is, it keeps changing. So, you can't ask anybody questions about that! You have to figure it out.
Mark Fergus: One of the joys of the books is it takes you, you know, three books before you really understand what this thing is. But it is something v specific, the mystery of it is ... there's no reason to put yourself in the shoes of your characters, trying to figure out what it is. Ultimately it does become its own character in the sense that it's become the elephant in the room for humanity. It's the new thing we have to grapple with. But, this show is about how does a new, game-changing technology change humanity? It is always about people. it's not about this thing. The thing never becomes more important than how do people ... deal with ... a new reality, given that it now exists.
Jennifer Devore: Whiich is very apropos to current events.
Mark Fergus: Absolutely. This show is about people. The beauty of the books is, it never starts to say, "Oh, this thing is so cool, let's leave our people behind and follow this cool, interesting, game-changing thing." The story is about how our guys are going to survive and react to that. That will always be our focus.
The Expanse S1 streams on Amazon beginning December 2016; S2 starts on SyFy January 2017. Need a little S2 tease? Voila!
Jason F. Brown
Penguin in a Parka
NBC Universal TV Dist.
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