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The Expanse: Dulcinea

"There are no laws on Ceres, just cops."

Right, let's get the ball rolling with some basic background info.

The Expanse started as a series of novels written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pen name James S.A. Corey. James and Corey are Abraham's and Franck's respective middle names and S.A. are the initials of Abraham's daughter. The first novel in the series, Leviathan Wakes, was published in 2011 and eight books have been released so far with a final ninth book currently in the works. The series was adapted for television in 2015 and originally aired on SyFy. They cancelled it after three seasons because it wasn't produced by the network's parent company, NBCUniversal, so they didn't profit from the show's streaming and international distributions. The show has since moved to Amazon.

The Expanse is set in the 23rd century. By this time humanity has spread out across the solar system. The UN-controlled Earth and the independent Martian Republic are the major political and military powers. Caught between them is the Belt, a loose collection of colonies on space stations, asteroids and dwarf planets, as well as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. The Belt has all the resources, but Earth and Mars have all the power and have been exploiting and subjugating Belters for generations. In response, the Belters have formed the Outer Planet Alliance (OPA), a sociopolitical movement that is seen as little more than a terrorist organisation by Earth and Mars.

The show opens with a short prologue focused on the woman we will later come to know as Julie Andromeda Mao. She's a prisoner. We don't know why or where, only that she's on a ship. At the start we hear the muffled sounds of a battle. She eventually manages to escape her cell, only to find the ship utterly deserted. Blood is dripping from the walls, which it shouldn't do because there's no gravity, but I'll let that it slide. They probably used up their FX budget on those drops of water. Julie makes her way to the engine room where she finds... something devouring the crew. Cue screaming.


After the prologue, the show splits off into three main plotlines. The first follows Joe Miller, a Belter detective on Ceres station who has been hired to find the daughter of some rich Earth businessman: Julie. The second centres around the crew of the Canterbury, an ice hauler on its way back from Saturn when it receives a distress call from a ship called the Scopuli. Finally, we have Chrisjen Avasarala, UN Deputy Undersecretary of Executive Administration, who is currently torturing a Belter smuggler caught with stolen stealth tech.

First episodes are a notoriously tricky thing to pull off successfully. This is especially true for fantasy and sci-fi shows, which have the added burden of not only having to introduce the setting and characters, but an entire universe as well. 'Dulcinea' is not what I would class as a great first episode, but it is certainly an intriguing one. It didn't blow me away when I first saw it, but it did enough to make me go "Hmm, I kinda wanna see where this is all going".


Of the three plot threads introduced so far, the one I'm most interested in is Holden's. Not Holden himself, he's an okay character, but right now the most impressive thing about him are his muscles (damn, Steven Strait is in shape). But I like all the other characters, especially Naomi, and want to know where this storyline is going. Who attacked the Canterbury and why? Was the ship specifically targeted or where they just after any ship? We were told at the start that it will only take a single spark to start a war. Is the Canterbury meant to be that spark? Is it the Franz Ferdinand of this show?

I'm not as enthusiastic about the Miller storyline. It's obviously meant to be a typical detective tale, but is probably a little too typical for its own good. Miller himself is practically a walking cliché. He's your average hardboiled gumshoe, a world weary cynic who drinks too much, has no real friends, and wears a fedora. He knows the boat he's on is rotten to the core so there's no sense in trying to rock it. Unless there's crying children. Only then will he take action against the slumlord who pays him off to look the other way. Yeah, it's a pretty trite way of telling us that deep down he's a good guy who just needs a prod to do the right thing.

The best thing about Miller's storyline is really Ceres itself. I just love how fully realised this entire location is. It's not just about how large and varied the sets are, but how detailed they are. There's a texture to everything. The trains have OPA graffiti on the outside and a full map of all the stations. This location looks and feels real. Which isn't something you always get on SyFy shows made in Canada. They rarely have the time or the money to create these worlds so vividly.


Ch-Ch-Changes

--The biggest change between the show and the books is the inclusion of Chrisjen Avasarala this early. Avasarala doesn't actually show up until the second book in the series, Caliban's War, but she's an amazing character, and Shohreh Aghdashloo plays her beautifully, so I don't have any issues with the show introducing her (and her fantastic wardrobe) a season early.

--Avasarala had two granddaughters in the book, Kiki and Suri, rather than a single grandson.

--She was also based in the Hague, not New York.

--Holden is already XO of the Canterbury at the start of the book and the subplot about him secretly logging the distress call was invented for the show.

--All Belters, including Miller and Naomi, have long limbs and fingers from being raised in a low gravity environment. Because finding so many actors like that would no doubt be difficult, very few Belters on the show have those characteristics.

--Miller had an ex-wife, Candace, whom he often thought about. She's been cut from the show and the role of his ex passed on to Octavia Muss. 

Notes and Quotes

--The title of this episode comes from Don Quixote, one of the many references to Cervantes' work in both the books and the show. In the novel, Dulcinea is the Don's perfect woman who he is utterly devoted to and performs his many (ridiculous) knightly deeds for. She also doesn't exist. She's an imaginary character based on a peasant girl he knew. This story's Dulcinea is obviously Julie Andromeda Mao and while it does look like Miller is being set up to be her Quixote, Holden more accurately fills that role in this episode. Like Quixote, Holden is trying to be a gallant knight (fittingly in a ramshackle ship named Knight) for some maiden in distress, his common sense overridden by his outdated sense of chivalry. But his Dulcinea turns out to be as imaginary as Quixote's and that windmill he's been tilting at is really a giant. Like Quixote, Holden's ultimately proven himself to be a very poor knight.

--What was Ade going to tell Holden? According to one of the writers, it was that she was sleeping with Shed.

--Jonathan Banks' cameo as the Canterbury's original XO is just so random. He shows up, acts crazy for a minute and then is never seen or heard from again. I wonder if he was there as a favour for director Terry McDonough, who had previously directed episodes of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.


--The science of The Expanse is a lot more grounded in reality than most sci-fi shows. This is space travel as it very likely will be, not how we'd like it to be. My favourite detail is how artificial gravity is created. Ships are laid out so that everyone is standing horizontally rather than vertically, so when the ship is going forward the thrust is pushing everyone down, creating gravity.

--Another little detail I love: Miller's terminal has a crack, likely because he can't be arsed to replace it.


--The Scopuli was appropriately named since they were the rocks on which the Sirens sat and sang to sailors, luring them to their deaths.

--It is never mentioned in the show, but the reason Alex is so cowboy is because the part of Mars he's from was originally colonised by Texans.

Havelock: “What’s the deal with the hat?”
Miller: “Keeps the rain off my head.”

Holden: "What about that thing that looks like a big hole in the side?"
Naomi: "Uh, LADAR says it's a big hole in the side."

Three out of four random big name cameos. 

Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

When I first tried this show, I was so confused. It felt like the show was assuming that its viewers had read the books, and I hadn't. So I didn't watch the second episode, and didn't give the series another try until much later. I'm glad I did.

Thank you so much for the depth and detail you gave us here, Mark. I didn't know most of this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Great review!

It's always fun revisiting the beginning of a great show!

Billie, that's interesting because I also had not read the books, but I enjoyed the pilot and so went onto the next ep. I think what helped me is that I really liked Holden pretty much right away, so I had a character that I was invested in. I also grew to really like Amos. I'm also glad you continued because it's such a great series!

Mark, I also want to add my thanks for all the depth and details! They're so interesting! Like I didn't know the origins of Dulcinea or the Scopuli, so that was really cool!

Thanks for writing such a great review!

skyemaidstone said...

I watched this on a recommendation from a friend. Thought "meh, don't care about these people". And forgot about it. I was far too busy at the time to learn a new show anyway.

I watched it again a year or so later and got steadily more and more sucked in. It has become probably my favourite sci-fi show ever (st:ds9 is maybe still top).

I liked Miller off the bat along with Ceres.

The science in this sci-fi is the best in any I can think of.

Nice review btw :)