People create polarities for whatever reason. Nacho-businesses and taco-’bout-its, Imperial and Rebel Alliance, the U.S. and Russia, the Twin Towers. However one decides to reify these mentalities, though, people get caught in the middle. This is exactly what the “The Expanse” is about.
Cynics are probably letting out groans -and rightfully so. “The Expanse” is a SyFy production. This the channel that brought us so many silly and cheap, made-for-TV thrills. Giant anacondas. Predatory alien invaders. Star Trek reruns. These are the things people expect from SyFy. And yet “The Expanse” is proving that SyFy will try something different. That mentioned, it has the same ol’ beat up aesthetics updated for 2016 and 2017. The complete truth is that “The Expanse” needlessly looks like a hipster bazaar. Many characters sport overgrown bouffants and other fun stuff. Cultural commodification aside, the show is still worth watching for its portrayal of different extremes.
The basic premise is such: man comes from Earth, man colonizes Mars, Mars forms a spartan and militaristic culture that clashes with Earth’s peaceful oligarchy with extreme class stratification, The Belt -or the space stations between the two- get caught in the conflict. We follow the action from the perspective of all three -Belters, Earthlings, and Martians. Viewers will cheer on different personalities in each setting, of course. Our primary focus? A ragtag team of Belters intent on investigating, and destroying, a complex crystal organism that results from Earth’s and Mars’ cold war.
Generally speaking, portrayals are generic. Mars is a rigid hierarchy that emphasizes fascist collectivism. Earth is social finery, silks, and extreme socio-economic dichotomy. The Belt is grungy misfits and…outsider accents -Afrikaans, Slavic, etc. No one has spoken with an Irish accent as of yet, nor English -some are noticeably Canadian, though. In fact, all ethnicities in “The Expanse,” and their portrayal, have a western, trade-oriented multicultural flavor. There isn’t a lot of actual diversity, so to speak. Perhaps this is on purpose but it seems ethnocentric, and, perhaps, budgetary.
Whatever its flaws, though, “The Expanse” is still a success. Most characters are portrayed well, if perhaps a bit one-dimensionally. The production values are quite good. The dialogue isn’t often *painful.* For something so derivative it also has a uniqueness that keeps everything fresh.
“The Expanse” is full of action and episode-by-episode conundrums. Its strongest point, however, is its portrayal of culture. Watching how people from each locale interact is interesting. Seeing how their allegiances change, meanwhile, is a treat. Perhaps the best story thread, thus far, features a Martian Marine who defects after she’s involuntarily put through a deadly experiment. Watching her explore Earth is a delight. Be it the action, setting, or story, there’s plenty of reasons to watch “The Expanse.” However, it’s the moments, the incongruities between characters, their expectations, and their settings, that really makes this show worth viewing.