Review: The Expanse, “Dulcinea” (Pilot Episode)

Later tonight, the TV premiere for the new sci-fi TV series The Expanse will air, but the first episode has already been available online for several days. Always eager for some new sci-fi, I decided to give it a shot.

Official logo for sci-fi TV series The ExpanseI knew little of The Expanse going in aside from the fact that it was getting a lot of buzz and had already been compared to Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones. That isn’t entirely good news where I was concerned, but I figured it was worth a try anyway.

The premise for The Expanse is pretty interesting. Two hundred years into the future, humanity has begun to colonize the rest of our solar system. Earth, ruled by the United Nations, and Mars, ruled by its military, are the dominant powers, with a smaller civilization of “Belters” eking out a existence in the asteroid belt.

Tensions are high between Earth and Mars, with war potentially on the horizon, and there is unrest in the asteroid belt as well, as its oppressed underclass chafes under the heel of the inner planets.

The world-building is pretty good, and the show has a fantastic eye for detail. For example, a bird that has adjusted to the low gravity on Ceres* and barely has to flap its wings to fly.

*(Which bears a suspicious similarity to Mass Effect’s Presidium.)

This is also an incredibly beautiful show, with absolutely stellar special effects (no pun intended). The Expanse is an absolute feast for the eyes, even with the crappy video quality of Space’s player.

The ice-mining freighter Cantebury in The ExpanseUnfortunately, the rest of the show is less impressive.

“Dulcinea” seems to have been mainly written using a handbook of standard sci-fi pilot cliches. We’ve got “woman finds something strange and scary and screams hysterically,” and “gratuitous sex scene.” Throw in some casual torture, a wide-eyed rookie cop, and call it a day.

The characters are likewise extremely cliche. Thus far the story focuses on Detective Miller, a roguish but not entirely heartless detective on Ceres who is tasked with tracking down a missing woman, and Jim Holden, a roguish but not entirely heartless starship officer whose freighter investigates a mysterious distress signal.

We’re also introduced to a ruthless UN secretary, Chrisjen Avasarala, but her role is too small to form any real opinions of her. She is, however, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, who voiced Admiral Shala’Raan in the Mass Effect games. Which is cool.

So thus far I’m terribly underwhelmed by the cast. The one character that I kind of liked has already been written out. And once again, in an incredibly cliche way.

It’s a pretty uneventful pilot, too. Only Jim’s plot advances in any meaningful way, and then only barely and only at the end.

The cast of The ExpanseOn the whole, “Dulcinea” has mostly given me a greater appreciation for how good Dark Matter’s pilot was.

Still, it’s pretty, the concept is interesting, and sci-fi shows often have slow starts, so I’ll probably give it at least one more episode.

Overall rating: 6.1/10

Also it fills my heart with warmth that as of right now the Enterprise episode still appears higher in Wikipedia results for “The Expanse.”

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4 thoughts on “Review: The Expanse, “Dulcinea” (Pilot Episode)

  1. Interesting review. I’m going to watch this when it airs tonight, I think. I thought the book (only read the first one) was a little cheesy (some of the characters and dialogue, mainly), so I am not surprised at a lot of what you’re saying about the cliches and sci-fi stereotypes, etc.! But I really love the story, and the worldbuilding feels pretty fresh to me in a lot of ways, so I am eager to see how it’s portrayed in the show.

    Also I’ll have to check out Dark Matter more. I keep seeing it pop up. Did you like that one a lot, then?

    • I haven’t read the books, so I can’t compare the two directly, but from the sounds of it, they may be fairly similar.

      Dark Matter I enjoyed a lot, yeah. It’s not super deep or intelligent, but it’s not dumb or overly simple, either. It’s in this nice sweet spot where it’s complicated enough to keep you interested, but not enough to really tax you. It’s very fun, easy to consume entertainment, and the characters are really strong. If you liked any of the Stargate TV shows, you’ll like Dark Matter. It’s a very similar style of writing.

      That said, Continuum remains my favourite sci-fi show in recent memory.

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