Long time readers of The Fortress may remember that one of my favorite science fiction series is The Expanse, by James S A Corey. I adore all of them, and I cannot wait for the sixth book, Babylon’s Ashes, coming out this August. So, when I heard that the SyFy channel was adapting it, I was naturally excited, but also worried. I wrote a whole article on that last year sometime, and now I finally got the chance to finish the whole season. How did I like it? Well, let’s just say my worst fears were confirmed.
Out on the ice freighter Canterbury, James Holden and the rest of the crew are stopped right in their tracks by a distress call from another ship. They decided not to log it, which isn’t important, because it’s used only for lengthening and contrived drama. But anyway, once they get there, strange things begin happening. On Ceres Station, Detective Miller signs on to find a young woman named Julie Mao, who disappeared while working with the radical OPA. But behind it all, something bigger lurks. Something massive is stirring, and the whole human race is about to meet it head to head.
Before I begin, I just want to say that I love the books. They’re perfect. A fantastic mix of drama and fun with real characters who are a joy to be around all fighting against something really interesting, whether it be alien viruses from the dawn of time, or just other humans. Corey’s novels are perfect material for an amazing adaption, but I’m sad to say that SyFy’s The Expanse falls flat in pretty much every area.
The acting is okay, and the script, dialogue-wise, is fine. It’s nothing special, but it’s missing a lot of the charm that the book had, which let the characters crackle off of the page with it’s witty banter and dramatic lines. But in the show, all the characters seem off. Holden is way more of a dick than he is a white knight, Naomi is just kind of there, and Amos comes off as murderous at times, rather than the hard outside, soft inside type character he is in the books. Miller’s character was nailed, and he was a joy to see, even though his plotline spends so much time sitting on it’s ass that it’s a wonder Miller didn’t grow old and die before he even considered heading to Eros.
But then there’s Avasarala. Yeah, she’s here. Even though Avasarala is a character that was introduced in book two, (you know, a book that was actually designed to have a character like her in it) she’s here in season one anyway, because SyFy needs to lengthen everything, even though this decision comes off as contradictory to how they decided to end the first season, but I’ll get to that later. For know, I’ll talk about Avasarala. She’s a wonderful character in the books, the old woman who’s so jaded to UN politics that she dosen’t give a damn about what anyone thinks, and isn’t afraid to blatantly curse out people who can and will kill her. She’s the one who has had to hold together the UN for so long, and it shows. Her “explicit” personality makes her a joy to follow, but this is naturally prime-time TV, so there’s no way anyone can swear once before they’re cut. That’s a problem, because if you’re going to make Avasarala all nice and flowery, then her entire character, and the entire point of her being there just goes right out the window. Unfortunately, this is the kind of stuff that the SyFy writers think is a good idea.
In the books, she’s telling idiot men to fuck off in the most creative ways possible, and then in the show, she’s quoting poetry at people, and playing with her grandson. So, there’s the fact that her entire character has been entirely ruined, but there’s also the fact that she dosen’t do anything. Seriously, this is the price of just throwing in a character that wasn’t meant to be in the source material. She seems OK, but I realized by the end of the show that Avasarala had pretty much no influence whatsoever on the events of the plot. Yes, the character the writers have chose specifically to spend a third of their time on is absolutely useless when it comes to the somewhat important deal of influencing the plot.
This show runs for only ten episodes, but it decides to spend it’s time in the most ludicrous of ways. Entire episodes are spent on small things that shouldn’t take that much time, (somehow managing to mess things up anyway), and large, main plot points are glossed over or missed completely. I don’t know exactly what the writer’s priorities were on, but they certainly weren’t on the right thing, because the pacing is all off. Things that don’t need time are given hours, and things that need time are given minutes. Of course, these complaints are all coming from Holden’s perspective, so Miller has to effectively sit on his ass for eight episodes before actually heading off to Eros. This meant that Miller’s story was boring, Avasarala’s was irrelevant, and Holden’s just pissed me off.
Here are some other more specific things that the show completely did wrong, in list form.
- Holden is a dick. Seriously, this guy is completely unlikable. He has none of his charm from the books, and all of the white-knight idealism that makes him who he is seems to be completely gone. Holden’s an asshole now, and Miller was always an asshole (albeit a nice one, however that works), so what are we left with? A story about two assholes, rather than two deep characters with different viewpoints who compliment each other.
- The Martians are space-douchebags in the show. In the books, they were a honorable and hard working society who’s entire culture was something to be looked up to. They had just as many problems as the UN or the Belt did, but in the show, they were portrayed as heartless villains.
- All of the tension when Holden and co. are on the Knight is gone. In the book, there are is Martian ship Donnager that they think is coming to kill them, and six unidentified smaller ships that aren’t identifying themselves. This kept the tension through the roof in the book, but in the show, the Martians just show up, and later, the six other ships (unnamed in this post for spoiler reasons) just show up too.
- Holden’s open broadcast was completely botched too. In the book, there’s this fantastic moment where Holden calls out the people who just killed everyone he had just worked with for the past few years, and broadcasted it openly to the system. In the show, this was turned into a underwhelming attempt to keep the Martians from killing them, as “insurance.” This time, it was a pathetic little talk to the Martians, rather than a seriously good moment that showed a lot of Holden’s character (that’s suspiciously absent from the show anyway.)
One of the things that I loved from the books is that they are very morally ambiguous. The three factions are never cut and dry, and most of the conflict is in grayscale. This makes it tiring when Mars is portrayed as a nation of space-douchebags (seen above), and the OPA as all radical terrorists. I can see why they did this, because the show severely needed a villain after showing the book’s “main villain” in the show for about five minutes on and off in the last episode, but it completely betrays the feeling that books give off, and looses a lot of the reasons why I love them so much.
While watching the eighth episode, I was pretty disappointed, because I suddenly figured out how they were going to do the rest of the book (like the whole last third) in the last two episodes. I thought that they would condense it down and mesh everything together in an un-enjoyable mess of a finale, and I verbally expressed my displeasure. Thankfully, I was wrong. The writers didn’t mash the last third of the book into the end of the season, instead, they just forgot about it all-together.
Yeah, you heard that right, the first season of SyFy’s The Expanse dosen’t really end. At all. Which means I just wasted ten hours of my life watching a show with no real conflict, no answers to the great conspiracy they set up, and no resolution, even though it would have been easy to have all of those if the writers had actually adapted the fucking book! I don’t understand, I just don’t. I cannot comprehend what people must have been thinking when they thought this was a good idea. Why? “I mean, who needs endings, really? Conclusions are overrated. It’s fine, we can just end the show two thirds of the way through the first book, no one will really care that we skipped the pay-off of the entire thing.” NO YOU CANNOT!
That’s no OK in the slightest! I think I might be going insane, because everyone loves this show! It’s being gushed about by critics and audiences alike, and I have to explain to them how it’s not OK that it dosen’t even end! I don’t understand what this world is coming to! The cut-off leaves the show sorely missing any answers to the loads of questions, any sort of antagonist at all, or even any sense of pay-off for the events you just watched. It just ends, and we’re expected to be fine with it. I mean, the last third was when shit started to really go down, and it’s what turned Leviathan Wakes from a great book into an amazing book. And I’m not understating here, that book was amazing. There were times when I had to put my copy down for a couple minutes because my jaw had dropped so far it had touched the page!
But OK, I think I lost my cool a little bit there, so let’s slow down. Deep breaths, OK? OK.
The thing I value most about the books has got to be the light tone. It sounds over-dramatic, but the way Corey’s novels tackle real issues with humor and mesh serious social commentary with fun misadventures is unparalleled right now in the literary world. Some come close, but none reach the heights that James S A Corey had managed over the last few years. So why the the show so serious? Why am I not having fun? I never laughed, I barely smiled. Say what you will, but when I was reading Nemesis Games (number five in the series, and the most recent one as of February 2016) last summer, I was giddy every couple of minutes.
When the second book started, it began with a comedic scene. I don’t remember the joke exactly, but it had to do with the running gag of Holden loving the Rocinante‘s coffee maker. It wasn’t the funniest thing in the world, but it had me grinning ear to ear because I knew, at that point, that I was home. It sounds silly, but these books, and the characters mean a lot to me, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that these books are perfect. These are somewhat hefty novels, (450, 550 pages at least) and I can’t find any flaws in them. Do you know how hard it is to find books like that? It’s near impossible! And once again, it’s proven impossible. SyFy’s The Expanse, I’m sorry I wasted my time with you. The real Expanse deserves better.
It stings so much to see the show be so much of a chore. An un-fun, oddly-paced, disrespectful chore that took a giant shit on the books that I love. It pretended to be similar, but it was nothing like them at all. The sense of fun and wonder is gone, replaced with pointless contrived drama that adds nothing. Most of the characters are soulless wannabees of the book’s personalities, and the show just kind of ends two thirds of the way through. As the real Avasalara would say: “try not to put your dick in this. It’s fucked enough already.”