Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Status Update for "The Expanse" [SPOILERS]
From Cautiously Optimistic
To Hopefully Pessimistic
I've now seen episodes 1-4 of The Expanse on Syfy.
Now, I don't want to be that guy...
You know, the one who's always going on about how the book was better.
Or the original play was better.
Or the original movie was better.
Or can't understand why they changed X, Y, Z.
But...let's just say that the showrunners have been making some choices that I don't understand.
The second episode is mostly the five survivors of the Canterbury trapped on a crippled shuttlecraft, trying to be rescued. Other stuff happens - Miller uncovers water thieves, Avasarala does politico stuff - but the life and death happens onboard the Knight.
Except it doesn't, really. In the books, the voyage on the Knight is just five days of claustrophobic inconvenience before the crew is rescued by the MCRN Donnager, a Martian dreadnought. In the series, the Knight is bombarded by debris from the wreckage of the Cant. Its hatch is blown off. Half its air is gone. Finally, its radio transmitter array is shot to hell and must be repaired from the outside. Meanwhile, Naomi and Amos square off against Holden while everyone expresses contempt for Shed Garvey who risks his own life to save Alex Kamal's. Dramatic, right?
Not really. That's the problem. It feels...injected. Like a baker pumping up a pastry with air. Not because everything ends up pretty much where it began - the crew makes it to the Donnager; Miller rousts a bunch of water thieves; Havelock is shanked, but lives - but because the showrunners are changing the characters.
The books on some level are about idealism (Holden and, in a monstrous way, Protogen) vs. realism (Miller and pretty much everybody else). They're also about the limits of hard-won experience when it comes up agains the utterly new. For that to work on the show, the showrunners have to respect the characters, because they express the themes. Instead, the runners are changing the characters in subtle but important ways.
The keynote of the characters in the books is that they're pros. They may be flawed...deeply flawed...but they know their jobs. Miller may be a failure at Star Helix, but he can be a good detective when he wants to. Amos may be terrifying and damaged, but he's a good mechanic. Alex is a failure as a family man, but he's a professionally trained combat pilot. Naomi is a go-to engineer and admin. Avasarala is smarter than the Secretary General.
The showrunners seem to be walking away from that for the sake of draaaaama. In the scenes on the shuttle, the survivors of the Canterbury go to pieces almost immediately, and only then pull themselves back together, only to be driven apart again by the obvious tactics of the overly hostile Martian crew of the Donnager. It's dramatic, but in an over-the-top, not-quite verisimilitudinous kind of way. And it makes us lose a little respect for the crew.
Then there's the minor stuff, like everybody on the Donnager bridge strapping down to avoid injury...except the captain of the ship. Or the way that she's just sort of standing there casually, sipping her water, while unidentified ships come swooping in. There's the way Miller extracts an implant from a day-old corpse without bothering to put on gloves. There's the fact that Avasarala handles torture sessions personally. Or the fact that the Canterbury's old XO accumulates a huge stash of rifles and handguns in his room without anybody knowing. Or the way the representative of the LDS Church tries to cancel the Nauvoo contract with Fred Johnson in the middle of an elevator, and then gets intimidated and backs down, making the entire thing pointless. Or...
Hell with it. The last episode was better than the one where they're captured. Maybe it will get better still.