Warning: This review contains spoilers for Season 1. Not caught up? Read our spoiler-free of Season
Emboldened by cash and distribution from the almighty Netflix, SyFy’s hit returns for Season 2 and it’s even better than before. Now its slightly derivative setting – a mash-up of Firefly, Battlestar and Blade Runner – has bedded in, the compelling plot that was driving the narrative in the first season comes to the fore.
The mysterious and deadly crystalline life-form is revealed as “the proto-molecule”, and, while all the various factions in the know agree it’s the first proof of extra-terrestrial life, they’re uncertain whether it’s appeared by chance or it’s an alien bio-weapon intended to subsume humanity.
At the heart of this solar-system-wide intrigue is the ragtag crew of the Rocinante. Having escaped from the genocide on Eros, Captain Holden (Steven Strait) and ex-cop Miller (Thomas Jane) are in med-bay, recovering from the high dose of radiation they received. “At least we didn’t lose our hair,” quips Miller, getting cheers from all those fans of his bizarre demi-mohawk.
In temporary command is Naomi Nagatao, who’s fast turning into the heart and soul of the series – not least because British singer and actor Dominique Tipper acts most of her co-stars off the screen with a performance that’s a grounded and real. Pilot Alex (Cas Anvar) gets more to do too, as his flying skills prove vital, while simple-minded grunt Amos (Wes Chatham) butts heads with Miller – he did kill the cop’s best friend at the end of Season 1, after all. Miller, by Episode 3, discovers he might have more in common with Amos than he would care to admit.
The opening of Season 2 also introduces a new character: Martian marine Sgt. Roberta ‘Bobbie’ W. Draper (the toughest sci-fi female since Battlestar’s Starbuck, excellently played by Samoan-born New Zealander), whose perspective adds complexity and depth to the world building. Through her, we further understand the history of Mars and learn why, although The Expanse is set only 200 years in the future, Mars is a military super power to rival Earth. The answer, in a mirroring of the Soviet Union’s situation during the Cold War, is because they have put all of their resources into matching Earth’s navy and nuclear arsenal. The pay-off was a slowing of the terraforming programme. Because of Earth’s aggression, Draper says with bitterness, “none of us will live to see an atmosphere over Mars”.
History buffs might also detect a correlation between the United States following its independence from the British Empire – tough settlers afraid that the empire they thwarted will return to reconquer. As happened in the 1812-1815 war that consolidated the USA’s republic, perhaps Sgt. Draper is right when she declares “maybe we can’t have the dream of Mars, until we’ve had that war”. Only time will tell whether that war comes to pass but, as the myriad plot strands did in Season 1, no doubt, slowly but surely, Draper’s mission will intersect with that of the crew of the Rocinante. Will she become their friend or remain their foe?
At the heart of these politic shenanigans is Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), still in play as Under-Secretary to the United Nations on Earth. Aware from Season 1 that something evil is afoot, she plays along with the traitors on the Security Council, as they risk antagonising Mars in order to protect their secret project. To fight back, Chrisjen resorts to back-channels within back-channels, hiring an expert spy and communicating with freedom-fighter/terrorist Lucius Johnson (The Walking Dead’s Chad L. Coleman, getting much more screen time than last season).
Based on the opening three episodes, Season 2 of The Expanse is set to be even better than the first. As with last season, the plotting is superbly done, meshing perfectly with the world-building, action sequences – Episode 2’s raid on a deep-space base is edge-of-your-seat tense – and mordant humour. “This is the first proof of extra-solar life,” the crew of the Rocinante is told. “And,” grumbles Miller, “it’s just more fucking death.” So long as it continues to come with a side-order of sardonic one-liners, bring it on.
The Expanse is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.
Photo: Shane Mahood/Syfy