'The Expanse' Season 2 Review: Syfy's space opera broadens scope without losing quality
The Expanse is a terrific space opera, the most surprising show of last year, and the best series on Syfy since Battlestar Galactica. It's important to harp on this, because the first season suffered declining ratings (it was also expensive to produce) and the network has resorted to a season one recap, or "recats," with adorable cats — the internet's favorite viral creature — likely as a means to generate more interest in the show ahead of the season two premiere. That's disappointing for myriad reasons.
Sci-fi shows of this quality shouldn't have to fight for viewers, especially when post-apocalyptic, cliffhanger-loving dumpster fires like The Walking Dead still hold dedicated viewership. So for anyone still harboring doubts about committing to The Expanse, rest assured: Season two remains captivating, broadening the scope of the series without losing any of its quality.
Here are three ways The Expanse season two expands on its enticing premise. But first, here are some cats to give you a season one primer.
The Expanse season two brings a Martian perspective to the interplanetary conflict. (Yay, galactic diversity!)
Season one of The Expanse provided extensive looks at people on Earth and the characters that comprise the Outer Planets Alliance (mainly, humans living on the asteroid belt). But the one major faction that was rarely provided a perspective were Martians; as in, people living on Mars. What we do know of Martians is that they're hardened individuals, many of whom are battle-ready in the event that Earth and Mars eventually go to war with one another.
Season two gets right to it — in fact, the first scene of the new season introduces a group of Martian Marines, led by Bobbie Draper. Draper is, as one might expect, tough as nails and more than eager to pick a fight with Earth. Through the first four episodes, however, that's about all we get from Draper and her team.
Yet The Expanse is somewhat reminiscent to Game of Thrones, in that several storylines and characters on the show are ultimately interwoven, even if they take place, literally, on different worlds. We assume Draper's storyline will be linked in soon. Unfortunately, considering the common thread between each narrative is a hazardous organism that ostensibly wiped out the population of an entire asteroid station, it will probably be marred in tragedy.
Viewers learn more about the protomolecule, aka that creepy blue stuff, that threatens to wipe out humanity.
Most of The Expanse series thus far was a slow-burn mystery — a mystery about a missing person, Julie Mao, and the crew of the ship she was on that mysteriously vanished. By the end of season one, we learn that some mysterious blue organism, called the protomolecule, killed Julie while she was on the asteroid station Eros, and it's on Eros that our main protagonists, James Holden, Joe Miller and Naomi Nagata narrowly escape a harrowing outbreak of said organism.
It's thrilling stuff; all the while, the show offers little in terms of exposition about what the protomolecule might be. Mostly, it's reliant on the sheer terror of this blue stuff spreading like wildfire, killing anybody in its way.
Season two takes a step back, offering important context on what the organism is and where it came from. It gives viewers a better idea of what the endgame may be for The Expanse — which, having been adapted from a series of novels of the same name, is ultimately much more than an interplanetary missing person's mystery.
It's better not to divulge into what the protomolecule really is, but in a perfect solar system, let's just say it would be better if the warring colonies on Earth, Mars and the Belt were more focused on this looming threat, rather than one another.
In season two, the line between good and evil is more blurred than ever.
A substantial sci-fi series — or any drama, for that matter — doesn't necessarily need to blur the line between good and bad, but it can create more compelling narratives when that divide is executed correctly. If we can compare to Game of Thrones once more: That is a show that's created more than a few morally dubious characters. (Though, in fairness, you can safely label House Stark as protagonists.) The Walking Dead, meanwhile, insists that Rick Grimes and his group are the good guys, even if some of their actions are indefensible.
The biggest takeaway from The Expanse's second season is just how committed the series is to leaving its main characters in a moral gray area. Yes, you're expected to root for Holden, Miller and the rest of The Expanse's leads, and you probably should. However, they make decisions in season two that are morally conflicted.
In one of the season's most intense sequences, Holden has to decide whether to fire upon a ship made up of, essentially, the space version of Doctors Without Borders. They're trying to bring humanitarian aid to Eros, unaware of the deadly protomolecule still inhabiting the station and what would happen if they're infected. Seeing Holden and the crew in this situation, regardless of what they choose to do, is equal parts captivating and disturbing.
There are plenty more reasons fans will be pleased with The Expanse season two: the visuals and special effects are breathtaking; the space battles are fun; and the dialogue mostly eschews the cheesy punchlines most space operas seem intermittently drawn to. Don't make Syfy produce any more Expanse "recats" — please, just watch the damn show.
The Expanse season two premieres at 10 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, Feb. 1 on Syfy.