The Expanse: A personal distress call

When I first watched The Expanse, I didn’t get on board right away. Yes, the science sounded good, but like a Belter from Ceres trying to survive in Earth’s gravity, trying to fit together the pieces of this puzzle 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 (Amos, really?). I’ve been in camp ‘Ear-ross‘ since the NEAR mission, with only Dr Iturbi and Sematimba for company, it seems. Now I 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 is confusing, 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 ever 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 23rd Century that the text crawl in the opening credits implies. Why? Because 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 flying past since the pilot episode.

Okay, so it’s set in the 24th Century, then. And if we watch the Ty & That Guy podcast on YouTube, in particular Episode 015 which discusses Season 2, Episode 3 of The Expanse, we hear Wes Chatham (who plays Amos) say to one half of the books’ 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.

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. But at least we’ll still be able to tender our resignation on a plain ol’ piece of paper, even in space.

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 episode Dulcinea remains my favourite episode of all six seasons (except for the one with Manéo, of course). I mean, how on Earth did they make a spaceship turning around so flipping mesmerising? And not just any old flip and burn, but the response to a distress call from the Scopuli that changed the fate of the Solar System.

But rewatching from the beginning didn’t make things that much clearer for me. Who was the good guy and who was the baddie? I soon realised there’s no point getting distracted by any of that since anyone could have switched sides by the next episode.

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

And those ring gates, 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 surviving 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 of the airlock, if my arteries hadn’t already burst, that is.

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 for me 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 left me devoid of strength even to lift a finger to skip the intro. And it was only after neglecting to hit the button once or twice during Season 5 that it dawned on me what I had missed. How many times had my impatience to skip 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 intro 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.

It’s 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.


Having then decided to start on the books, I dived head-on into Leviathan Wakes, although 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 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 Holden’s at that precise point in the book. But you’ll need to read the book to find out what that was.

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.