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With a rich lore, breathtaking locales and a tightly woven story, The Expanse is a smartly written sci-fi show with a great eye for detail. The lighting and visuals are top notch despite an over-reliance on shadows and with a story split between three different locations and characters, there’s enough variety here to keep the show from becoming dull. Its open ending leaves it wide open for the inevitable season 2 but as a stand alone story, The Expanse shines as one of the best new sci-fi shows on TV.
The Expanse does a great job of world-building; it shows a glimpse of a possible future where mankind has extended its reach beyond Earth to inhabit Mars and the surrounding asteroid belt. With the story jumping between Earth, Mars and the Belt, it could easily have become a complicated, hard to follow mess but thanks to some clever editing and a good attention to detail, the areas and characters are kept distinctly separate. Although the majority of characters have their own agendas and follow their own paths for vast stretches of the season, all of them gravitate around a central plot about growing tensions between Martians and Earthlings and a possible war that threatens to break out between them. Its certainly a compelling plot and this extends to what goes on in the background of the scenes as much as the foreground.
The attention to detail in The Expanse is excellent and its this real eye for the small things that help set the show apart and give it a unique futuristic vibe. The Martians act and speak differently to those on Earth, the odd accents and agendas of those living in the Belt stand out and of course the numerous technological advances across the Solar System that all feel strangely familiar but also alien at the same time. Its great stuff and it really helps make the plot more immersive and the world more believable. There are times where the lighting isn’t used to its full effect though, with some of the sets bathed in shadows to hide the budget constraints. Normally this would be a pretty trivial thing but it actually makes it difficult to see what’s happening at times.
Ultimately, The Expanse is hard science fiction and everything from the dialogue to the background of the locales and all the way through to the political system are explored in a lot of detail. So much so, it can make for some tough watching at times as the show threatens to fall into a confusing mess. As the characters discuss events or overdo the expository dialogue, it can make it difficult to follow all the different areas and characters in such a short space of time. Its not a deal breaker, but it does make The Expanse a show that requires quite a bit of intense watching to understand all the nuances and intricate relationships between the factions. that could turn some people away.
If you can stick with The Expanse which, admittedly, is a tough sell for the first couple of episodes as you try to play catch up with everything going on, there’s an excellent sci-fi show here. The characters are believably written, with enough motivations to make them realistic in their actions and the way the story jumps between different characters and locations through the solar system helps to keep the story from becoming stale or dull. When the season reaches its climax it becomes a lot more action orientated and despite its open ending ready for season 2, the main bulk of the show answers enough questions to make it a satisfying watch throughout. Those looking for a rich world and a a realistically depicted future for humanity, you can’t go wrong with The Expanse.