Something about the early trailers for SyFy’s TV adaption of The Expanse set me on edge. I was a fan of the James SA Corey novels and wanted to see them done justice on screen, and on first look I wasn’t optimistic. But I can’t remember what I was worried about now, as an outstanding debut season blew away all doubts. The show returns next month, but before it does, I thought I’d lay out some of my hopes and expectations for the incoming second season.
Given its nature, this post will be weapons free on season one spoilers, but although I’ll be looking forward to season two with foreknowledge from the books I’ll endeavour to keep the speculation spoiler-free.
The first thing I’d like to see changing – and I think this is a very innocent wish for a show that is only getting darker – I’d like to see the crew of the Rocinante start to get along better. I want them to be friends.
When things begin to go sideways in the first novel, Leviathan Wakes, our heroes Holden, Naomi, Amos, Alex and even poor headless Shed form a pretty functional team given the circumstances. In the series they are decidedly dysfunctional, and they make only painstakingly slow progress through the first season.
Compare the two versions of their time in the shuttle Knight, between the Canterbury’s destruction and the Donnager pick-up. In the book the characters mostly remain calm, even retain some good humour, and naturally gravitate to Holden’s leadership. When he sends his incendiary broadcast implicating Mars to the entire solar system, it appears a considered action taken without opposition.
In the series, the group is fractured. Holden sends his message suddenly and unilaterally, to the disbelief of the others. The result is a weapons-drawn stand-off, and it isn’t the last between crew members of the Roci. The only apparent alliance is in Amos’s utter faith in Naomi (more on that later).
The tensions born on the Knight carry through the whole first season. I actually didn’t mind this, and in retrospect it’s edging on the implausible that the crew get along quite so well, quite so quickly in the books. I think the show made good use of the lasting animosity, particularly the rift between Holden and Amos. Through their disagreement on how to handle the captive spy Kenzo and the incoming Martian boarding-party in episode seven, the show illustrated the conflict at Holden’s core: the desperate desire to do what is right versus the reluctance to do what is necessary.
But it’s time they start coming together. I think there’s a good chance we see this in season two. While there were repeated disagreements and deep divisions between the crew of the Roci, the series flashed hints of Holden’s ability as a natural leader – through Avasarala’s conversations with his mother, the way he climbed the ranks on the Cant despite his best efforts to stay put, the way he took charge of his crew and even Martian marines during the escape from the Donnager. Now post-Eros, expect to see Holden accepted as the de facto captain of the Roci. At the very end, Naomi all but said as much: “Being in charge is a shit job. You can have it.”
While we’re on the crew of the Roci, I have concerns about one of them in particular: the mechanic, the muscle, the moral void … it’s Amos Burton.
In most of the ways that matter, I think they nailed Amos. We don’t know much about his background at this point, but you can be sure it was brutal, and it’s shaped who he has become. Whatever he’s been through has left him with a distorted sense, or even a lack of a sense of right and wrong. As actor Wes Chatham noted during the Expanse panel at San Diego Comic-Con last year: “The reason that he gravitates towards Naomi or towards Holden is because he starts to recognise that they’re doing things morally right, they’re kind of his moral compass outside of himself.”
We get a particularly striking look at the effect of his tough upbringing in episode seven, when his amoral pragmatism and nihilistic acceptance of his place in “the churn” are set against Holden’s idealism. And again in episode eight, when prior to the hotel shoot-out he’s the only one to see trouble coming. He was a regular old space mechanic on the Cant, but whatever life he left behind made him a hardened and capable operator.
Unfortunately, in the series it also made him cold, almost robotic in his demeanour. It could always be that my reading was off, but I felt that Amos in the book was an amiable, jovial kind of guy with the merest undercurrent of completely-goddamn-terrifying. The type of person you’d like to have a beer with, despite always giving off an aura that suggests he could tear your arms off and beat you to death with the stumps if he really wanted to. Amos in the show has the terrifying, arm-tearing undercurrent bit down, but the affable nature is missing, replaced by a disconcerting blandness.
The show as a whole has struck a grimmer tone than the book so far. While they hit all the same plot points, the characters of the book brought some lightness to balance the considerable dark. That’s one area where I think the show has missed, and it’s particularly evident in Amos’s characterisation. In the series to date, Amos is the character furthest by far from how I imagined him. I don’t think the show can ever bridge that gap, but that’s alright – I don’t think adaptations need to be slaved to the source material, and my interpretations clearly have no bearing anyway. But moving forward, I’d love to see just the faintest glimmer of warmth from the Roci’s big mechanic – just one tiny ember against the dark.
A major new character appearing in season two is Gunnery Sergeant Roberta “Bobbie” Draper of the Martian Congressional Republic Navy. In the books, she is a Martian of Polynesian descent, over two meters tall and an absolute force of nature in combat. She’s pretty cool.
She’ll be portrayed on the show by actress Frankie Adams. She’s a New Zealander of Samoan ancestry, an amateur boxer, and 1.8 meters tall. That’s less than two meters, as most Earth-bound humans are. But it’s still tall, and with the boxing background it seems she’ll have the physical presence to sell the role of badass Martian marine. It’s also pleasing that the expanding cast continues to be as diverse as the original characters. I’m optimistic that she’ll make a great Bobbie Draper.
The interesting thing about Bobbie is that she doesn’t turn up until the second book, Caliban’s War. Season one, though it reordered a couple of major events, pretty faithfully adapted the first book to roughly two-thirds of the way through. That leaves a lot of ground to cover before Bobbie’s projected introduction. It’s possible that she won’t appear until midseason, but based on her prominence in the trailers (and one key detail in them) I’d say that’s unlikely.
Season one’s biggest departure from the first book was to introduce UN diplomat Chrisjen Avasarala to the story early – like Bobbie, she doesn’t turn up until the second book. But her story wasn’t moved up. Rather, we simply got to see her part in earlier events for which she was “off-screen” in the book. It was an effective move to introduce the important Earth-side storyline in a way that worked on TV, where paragraphs of exposition don’t translate.
What Avasarala did for Earth and the UN, I expect Bobbie to do for Mars and the MCRN. We’ve seen something of Martian society, mostly on the military side, through the two episodes on the Donnager and former MCRN and current Roci pilot Alex. But Bobbie should take us planetside for the first time.
I won’t say too much, but Bobbie’s story in book two begins . . . not on Mars. But – and here’s the one key detail – the trailers clearly place her on the still-red planet at some point in the series. I’m guessing this is where she will start, giving us our first up-close look at Martian society. And by roughly the midpoint of season two’s 13-episode run, the show should be ready to hit Bobbie’s book story with a running start.
That part in the trailer where miller draws his gun with all kinds of intent …
That’s going to be awesome.
Most importantly, I expect it’s going to be a great second season. The first was so assured, faithfully adapting and illuminating the book with production values like I’ve never seen in television before. I have total confidence going forward, and even though I know what’s to come, I can’t wait to see it.