The Expanse: A personal distress call

When I first watched The Expanse, I did not get on board right away. The science bits sounded good, but like a Belter from Ceres trying to survive Earth’s gravity, understanding the interconnections in The Expanse was literally crushing me.

I needed to find my Rosetta Stone…and not just for the dialects. To kang showxa im wámotim mo lenta ke? Mi inya. Tumang.

The Expanse S1x06 Dawes and Miller on Ceres
The Expanse S1 Ep6

Dark and gritty with a sprinkling of Avasarala, packed with planetesimals, politics, protomolecule, conspiracy and stealth, The Expanse even has a space detective and the obligatory ill-fated reporter on the trail.

So why didn’t it grab me? What was I missing? Is there something I should know? Was someone playing a magic trick that fooled everyone but me?

It seems Miller was wrong. It’s not just doors and corners where they get you. I couldn’t keep up with the ships, who was on them, who controlled them, where they were heading, and what the names of the transponders had been reprogrammed to by the next time I watched.

On top of that — and the patois and a particularly perplexing plot — a protomolecule turned this TV show into a headache.

I almost handed myself Miller’s hat.

The Expanse S1x05 Miller and Muss on Eros
The Expanse S1 Ep5

And I groaned like an Eroserian infected with protomolecule each time I heard Err-roseAir-rossErr-rossAir-roseEuros (…Euros, really?) I’ve been in camp Ear-ross since the NEAR mission with only Dr Iturbi and Sematimba for company, it seems. I now understand why Eros became known as the murder capital of the asteroid belt.

There is so much detail in this space saga. Except, of course, for what year in our future the story is supposed to be set when it begins, a detail that manages to avoid detection more surreptitiously than Martian stealth tech.

The century given in the opening text crawl left be me confused, a few lost decades…or maybe I’ve overdone it on the Ganymede gin?

When, exactly?

The Expanse is set some three hundred years in the future, although the show is rather vague on the subject — something that has been messing with fans’ heads since the show began in 2015. One and a half seasons into the show and we are hit with the realisation that it’s not the twenty third century that the text crawl ambiguously led us to believe at the start.

In Season 2 Episode 5, we see a label on a bottle of Ganymede gin that states “since 2307″, but I don’t recall a decade or more passing by since the pilot episode. So it’s set in the twenty fourth century, then?

If you watch the Ty & That Guy podcast on YouTube and Ep 015 which discusses Season 2 Episode 3, you hear Wes Chatham (who is that guy) say to one half of the book’s writers (Ty Franck) “…in 2339, or whatever year it is…”. And (so the old story goes) The Expanse started life as a pitch for a video game, and then a role-playing game, entitled “2350”. OK, so I think I’ve got it now.

But the year is unimportant, it’s just in the future, but not so long into the future that we can’t try and imagine what everyday life might be like. We just need someone to invent the Epstein drive.

At the end of Season 2, I returned to the pilot (the episode, not the Texan Martian) to start watching the show all over again.

The pilot remains to this day my favourite episode. I mean, how on Earth did they make a spaceship simply turning around so flipping mesmerising? And not just any flip and burn of course, but the response to a distress call from the Scopuli that changed the fate of the Solar System.

However, re-watching from the beginning still wasn’t enough. Who was the good guy and who was the baddie?

I soon realised there’s no point getting distracted by that, it would just confuse me even more, since anyone could have switched sides by the next episode.

S4x09 the eye of an angry god
The Expanse S4 Ep9 (Amazon)

And the rings, the protomolecule, the builders and the fiery unknown aggressors?

I felt waves and waves of searing pain, like Spock trying to communicate with a lump of Horta rock. My brain felt like it was about to explode. Where’s Shed and his bag of tricks when you need him?

Oh, yeah, Shed’s head. At least that was quick.

I realised that if I had any chance of engaging in the The Expanse, I needed some juice…and asteroids are my juice. If it hadn’t been for all the rock-hopping I may well have followed Naomi out the airlock, if my arteries hadn’t already burst first.

Five times watching 56 episodes all the way through and a flip and burn to fill in some gaps and I had just about mastered the basics by the end of Season 5.

Unte kowlting gut, I thought.

But my freefall wasn’t over yet…

The Expanse S4x09 stranded above Ilus
The Expanse S4 Ep9 (Amazon)

The one minute Intro

When I first arrived at Season 2, I felt that I’d seen the opening title sequence more than enough — and I’d seen it only four times by then.

The one minute Intro had been cut for most of Season 1, presumably to divert those sixty expensive seconds of screen time into the drama instead. You can pack a surprising amount of story into sixty seconds…well, a page of script anyway.

It means that when the one minute Intro was reintroduced at the end of Season 1, it felt like Eros interruptus. So it was hit Skip Intro every episode of every season from Season 2 onwards.

But the gravity of this space saga bearing down on me eventually soon left me devoid of strength even to lift that finger to skip the Intro.

It was only after neglecting to hit Skip Intro once or twice during Season 5 that it dawned on me what I had missed. How many times had my impatience over that miniscule one minute interruption got the better of me?

The Expanse S1x05 Transponder Tachi to Rocinante
The Expanse S1 Ep5 (Amazon)

The thing is, the title sequence tells the events of The Expanse condensed, but not before portraying the impact we are having on our planet and providing some vision of our journey to colonise the Solar System and beyond.

The one minute drama turns out to be as mesmerising as I remember the Cant to have been during that ill-fated flip and burn that kicked off, well, everything.

The Intro is, in fact, a time-lapsed future history across three hundred years in a minute. The content updates every season, often episode by episode as the drama evolves, and some of the mods are very subtle indeed. Now I wouldn’t miss the Intro for the world.

You can read my exploration of The Expanse title sequence over the show’s entire run in The Expanse: Don’t Skip Intro. It’s long and you will need to commit.

Epilogue

Having since decided to start on the books, I dived head on into Leviathan Wakes, choosing to go down the audiobook route.

Neglecting to check the length of the book beforehand, it was only when I reached the end of Chapter Twenty-Eight that I wondered…how many more chapters are there in this book? The answer, I soon realised, was twenty seven more, and that’s just the first of the nine books and same number of novellas.

My reaction was the same as that uttered by Holden at that precise point in the book. You’ll have to read the book to find that out.

The Expanse S1x10 in the dock of the Rocinante on Eros
The Expanse S1 Ep10 (Amazon)

All images are credited to Alcon Entertainment and/or Amazon Studios.


If you liked this, try these:

The Hunt for Happer’s Comet
The Size of Psyche
The Edge of Space
The Door into Summer
Time Enough for Writing a Sonnet

The Expanse Title Sequence: Don’t Skip Intro

Fair Dealing and Fair Use. All images in this article from The Expanse: A personal distress call are credited to Alcon Entertainment and Amazon Studios (apologies for any omission). The images in this article are being used solely to support the commentary. I believe this constitutes a fair dealing or fair use of any such copyrighted material, but suffice to say if any copyright holder should want the images removed, please make contact and the images will be removed.