The first season of Syfy’s The Expanse was a tasty slice of fresh, edgy, futuristic storytelling, with state-of-the-art visual effects about humanity colonizing other parts of the known solar system.
It was a fun enough ride and worth hopping on board the Rocinante spaceship each week to follow the crew’s quest to learn who was responsible for killing their friends aboard another ship, the Donager, and to go sleuthing with a wisecracking detective to learn the whereabouts of a mysterious adult daughter of a wealthy industrialist.
As good as The Expanse Season 1 was, as the fates of the detective and the Rocinante crew finally intertwined, The Expanse seemed to the lack ingredients in its recipe to create a can’t-wait-‘til-next-season flavor.
Not so this season, judging by the two-hour season premiere.
With subtle tweaks to the writing and character development, introducing a few new players to the cast, throwing a couple of curveballs in the plotline and maintaining the stellar visual effects, The Expanse now threatens to become downright addictive.
The writing for The Expanse Season 2 Episode 1 and The Expanse Season 2 Episode 2, based on James S.A. Corey’s eponymous book series, by the teams of Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby and Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, is as rich and textured as a decadent, chocolate layer cake.
Best of all, the show’s creators pull off the deft trick of continuing the storyline without making new viewers feel as if they had to have watched from the beginning to understand.
Though The Expanse’s tone never could be accused of being warm and fuzzy, The Expanse Season 2 is haunting and even grittier, darker and eerier, in a Blade Runner meets Alien kinda way.
Tension crackles every minute.
Hawks and doves on Earth and human-colonized Mars debate whether to annihilate the other planet.The OPA — an Asteroid Belt group that could be viewed either as terrorists or freedom fighters wants to be free of both Earther and Martian exploitation.
Miller and Amos Burton, the Rocinante’s brawny, punch-first-ask-questions-later crewman become fast frenemies.Finally, Burton, Capt. James Holden and Naomi Nagata become parts of an unfolding lust triangle — unbeknownst to one of them.
Only the snarky, renegade ex-detective character Joe Miller — in the mold of author Raymond Chandler’s classic private eye of yore, Philip Marlowe — provides comic relief with acidic sarcasm and gallows humor.
In the opening minutes, viewers meet an intriguing new character, Bobbie Draper, a badass, hyper-nationalist Martian marine gunnery sergeant played by Frankie Adams (also an amateur boxer when she’s not acting).
Her strong Kiwi accent and Polynesian features give her away as a New Zealander of Samoan heritage.
Bobbie’s vision of a terra-formed Mars, with verdant valleys — which she says Earthers have delayed a century because of their warlike ways — brings her to near tears.
But she’s always down for arm-wrestling her pre-programmed, mechanized armored suit’s limb, to entertain her buddies in the mess hall.
When she’s not doing that, she fires up the troops before missions by roaring catchy anti-Earth rhetoric: “Who’s gonna feast on Earth sky and drink their rivers dry?”
Sgt. Draper leads an elite commando unit that includes a couple of faces sci-fi geeks will likely recognize from previously concluded shows — Mpho Koaho from TNT’s Falling Skies and Dewshane Williams, of Syfy’s Defiance.
Draper’s unit, heads to Phoebe Research Station, on Eros, in the Asteroid Belt — where a deadly virus resembling an amorphous, evolving, extraterrestrial creature has laid waste to victims — hoping to secure it, before a science team can further investigate.
But Earth’s United Nations military has other plans, sending its own ship, the Nathan Hale, to beat the Draper's ship, the Sirocco, there.
Each planet suspects the other of racing to Phoebe, to cover up something it doesn’t want the other side to see.
It just so happens that the Rocinante’s crew and Miller met at Phoebe in the Season 1 finale, joined forces and barely escaped hostile Martian soldiers, and the viral infection, with their lives.
The crew is enraged to discover video footage and sound of the virus consuming its victims, taken from the helmet-cam of an observing scientist from a company called Protogen.
Protogen calmly narrates the carnage, even giving the virus a name, “Protomolecule” and describing it an “extra solar object,” which could mean the human race’s first contact with a sentient, alien species.
From this video, the crew is convinced the deaths were not accidental, but were the result of a sick, twisted type of orchestrated lab experiment in which a virus was weaponized against unwitting victims.
The crew is equally haunted by its inability to have saved and evacuated people at Phoebe from being slowly, gruesomely devoured.
Even the usually cynical and acerbic Miller bemoans the demise on Phoebe of Julie Mao, the woman he discovered to be an OPA operative, that set out to find, even tucking a photo of her above his lower bunk.
I wake up some nights and I’ll see her standing right there. She takes my hand. She tells me, ‘You belong with me.’Miller
While the crew survives, it is has been exposed to heavy doses of radiation.
While safely on board the Rocinante after the ordeal, Nagata quips, to Capt. Holden, as he’s undergoing treatment for radiation poisoning, “You’re doing surprisingly well. Who knows? Maybe you’ll develop superpowers you can use. That’d be perfect for you.”
Nagata’s dry humor is the perfect opening act for Miller, an Asteroid Belter — momentarily unrecognizable with five o’clock shadow draping his face and without his signature hipster fedora from Season 1 on his head.
Miller, played by Thomas Jane, joins Holden in sickbay for the same treatment and immediately spits out his characteristic wisecracks. How does Miller show Holden gratitude for taking him aboard his ship after fleeing Phoebe?
Thanks for the lift — and the cancer.Miller
Back on Earth, meanwhile, Chrisjen Avasarala, the raspy-voiced United Nations Deputy Undersecretary is up to her old, manipulative tricks, hiring a spy to help her secretly communicate with OPA leader Fred Johnson
He's the rogue former UN military colonel who champions the Belters’ cause of freeing themselves from barely humane living conditions and what they consider Earther and Martian exploitation.
Publicly, on a TV interview, Avasarala blames Johnson and the OPA for destroying the Donager — not, as the Martians allege, Earther stealth ships — saying that he “became infected with the cause of his own enemy,” but privately she knows his hands are clean.
It becomes clear moments later, that Avasarala is on someone’s hit list, as an aircraft she’s seconds away from boarding gets blown to bits by rocket fire.
Also on Earth, Mao’s father, who co-owns the corporation that contracted the company that runs the Phoebe Research Station, lays roses at an oak tree where his daughter played as a child, but says her death was worth a certain scientific discovery that was made.
To investigate this "discovery," the Rocinante crew travels to Tycho Station to link up with Johnson to convince him to help them storm a seemingly abandoned communications relay station where the scientific video and audio data is being beamed.
As if Johnson needs any further motivation to avenge the dead Belters:
Julie died for the Belt. She believed everything you guys say you’re fighting for.Miller
But it’s Miller, neither Johnson the former army colonel, nor the enraged Belters (who speak in a kind of English patois that sounds like a mash-up of Scottish and Jamaican slang) who ultimately shows the most rage in the raid on the relay station.
The raiding party apprehends a scientist who gathers all the data and is convinced Protomolecule was sent by extra solar aliens to Earth to “hijack our planet for its own ends.”
Protomolecule is, the scientist addresses his captors:
The ticket out of the limitations that bind us to these pathetic little bubbles of rock and air. If we master it, we can apply it. We become our own gods. Imagine human beings able to live in hard vacuum without a suit or under the crushing atmosphere of a gas giant...able to hibernate long enough to travel to the stars...without this work, humanity will be left unarmed, ignorant and vulnerable to an enemy who already has fired the first shot.Protogen scientist
Almost as if on cue after hearing those last four words, it becomes Miller Time. Miller executes the scientist, gunning him down and leaving his Rocinante shipmates and Johnson with some seriously incredulous looks on their faces.
Miller’s momentary lapse of reason now prevents anyone from learning about what Protogen is really up to and why and how many of its scientists were involved.
Before this, the Rocinante slyly stashes a remnant of the virus on a warhead, tucking it away neatly in an asteroid field.
The Expanse’s creators have brilliantly set the stage; with overflowing intrigue and this season viewers may succumb to and be consumed by an irresistible addiction.
What did you think of the premiere? If you're still a step behind, you can watch The Expanse online to catch up.
Gil Griffin is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.