It’s hard to make a claim about a show being the best in its genre unless the person making the claim has seen them all. I’ve seen most of the ones that are highly rated, and while there’s a chance there’s a hidden gem in there that I haven’t seen, I stand by my assertion that The Expanse is the best science fiction show available. Why? Because it’s so enthralling I can’t imagine another being as good without everyone knowing about it.
Many don’t know about The Expanse. If they did, it wouldn’t have been canceled by SyFy. Thankfully, Amazon picked up the show for at least its fourth season and if things go as well as fans hope, the show will have a much longer run than one more season.
As usual, no spoilers ahead.
The biggest challenge with The Expanse is getting past its complicated premise. In the first two or three episodes, it’s hard to follow who’s on which side, how everything ties together between multiple storylines, and how the complex political structure plays out. There are three government entities: Earth, Mars, and the Belt. Earth is the biggest of the three. Mars is smaller but technologically more advanced as a colony from Earth that broke away to become a standalone entity. The Belt, as in those living and working in or beyond the asteroid belt, is made up of various factions and is still beholden to both Earth and Mars as the primary source for resources in the solar system.
Among the Belters is the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance) which is a combination of a terrorist group and a legitimate government entity trying to unite the Belt so they can break away from Earth and Mars rule.
That’s the premise. I only reveal it now so new viewers will know the complexities that form the dynamic in the solar system do make sense despite being muddled in the shows opening. Once all that is established, the show can be set free to amaze viewers.
And that, it does very well.
Each season is a progression that stems from an initial minor event that quickly escalates, drawing distant characters together and eventually pointing them towards the same basic goals. It’s in these characters that the richness of storytelling really comes out. They change in ways not dissimilar from the evolution of characters in Lost. As in the famous tale of weirdness and smoke monsters, so too are the characters in The Expanse forced to accept their new circumstances where survival is only secondary to the need to protect the human race from extinction.
The stakes get higher with each season. Thankfully, the storytelling matches nicely with the series title. As problems are solved, bigger problems pop up. As opportunities are realized, bigger opportunities present themselves. The scope and scale of the series is expanding with each new season. This can be a problem for stories that end up getting too big because the stakes are increased as the story progresses, but it fits nicely in The Expanse. In fact, the transition from the initial answering of a distress call in season 1, episode 1 all the way through to the exponentially more encompassing problems faced at the end of season 3 seem natural.
It doesn’t get too encompassed by the science fiction angle. If anything, the political intrigue and racial tensions make up more of the story than space ships and protomolecules. One does not have to be a nerd to appreciate the drama.
Not since Battlestar Galactica has a science fiction show been as engrossing. If forced to choose between the two, I’m leaning towards The Expanse. When all is said and done, it may surpass its science fiction predecessor.