Earlier this month, the Syfy channel canceled The Expanse, prompting fans to petition streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix to save the show. Amazon is reportedly interested in picking the series up for its fourth season, and after last night’s episode “Delta-V,” we really hope that it will.
Spoilers ahead for the TV and book series.
In the first two and a half seasons of the series, we’re introduced to a solar system in the midst of a cold war between Earth, Mars, and the inhabitants of the Outer Planets. When an ice hauler is destroyed, it begins a domino effect that leads to war. Along the way, we learn that a shady corporation has deployed an alien substance called the protomolecule as a weapon. But as the tensions ratchet up in the solar system, it becomes clear that the protomolecule was designed for something much bigger. During last week’s episode, “Immolation,” we finally saw what it was: a giant ring, which launched itself to the far end of the solar system.
That brings us to “Delta-V,” which serves as a soft reboot of the series. The episode puts to bed the larger conflicts that defined the first couple of seasons of the show and provides an easy entry point for new viewers. There’s a jump in time — 187 days — and plenty of characters sum up the events that brought them there. The Rocinante, a ship crewed by Captain James Holden, mechanic Amos Burton, and pilot Alex Kamal, is escorting a flotilla of spaceships that are headed out to the ring to investigate it, accompanied by a documentary crew. Missing is engineer Naomi Nagata, who’s left for work on the Behemoth, a former generation ship that’s since been taken over by the Outer Planets Alliance and repurposed as a sort of home base.
Along the way, we’re treated to a daredevil belter pilot who attempts to fly through the ring, only to meet a gruesome end when he accidentally activates it. There’s also a bunch of new characters: Ashford, a member of the newly formed OPA navy, and a murderous woman named Melba, who has a fixation on Holden and his crew. There’s even a bit of spookiness when Detective Miller — who died earlier in the show — reappears.
Adapting the next novel Abaddon’s Gate
Thus far, the TV series has pretty faithfully adapted James S.A. Corey’s novels: season 1 and the first half of season 2 covered Leviathan Wakes, while the latter half of season 2 and the first half of season 3 covered the events of Caliban’s War. With this episode, the show moves onto the events of the third book in the series, Abbadon’s Gate, which shifts the show in a whole new direction, and opens a number of possibilities for where it is headed. This novel deals extensively with a fight over control of the gate and the awesome potential that it holds for humanity, all as someone guns for the crew of the Rocinante.
The series has pointed at the problems that societal divisions bring upon everyone, and while Earth and Mars appear to have made up and aren’t shooting at each other, the Belters still feel left out. We’ve seen the source of their grievances earlier in the show: they don’t — and those who have grown up in space can’t — live on Earth, but they’re beholden to the planet for supplies, and have to endure the consequences of its actions. They’ve been slowly building up their power over the course of the series. OPA leader Fred Johnson acquired his own sample of the protomolecule, as well as a handful of nuclear weapons, but in “Delta-V,” we see that while the OPA has begun to consolidate its power by holding more cards and developing its own formal Navy, there are still divisions within its ranks, which teases some of the larger conflicts to come in the remaining episodes.
This conflict between the outer and inner planets is a defining point for a majority of the novel series: the books look closely at how massive imbalances of power and wealth can play out in new social and technological contexts. In the book series, this conflict goes to extremes as a group of belter radicals bombard Earth with asteroids.
Beyond the Solar System
But there’s a bigger picture here as well. So far, we’ve seen the protomolecule used as a weapon that’s been repurposed by humanity. With the creation of the ring, we can see its true purpose: it’s a self-replicating seed that spreads across the galaxy to build a series of gates that would allow its creators to travel from solar system to solar system. This particular seed became trapped around the orbit of Jupiter, so humanity is late to the party.
Humanity has been confined to the solar system up to this point. Ships can get around from planet to planet, but space is big; the belter-occupied Navoo was originally purposed as a generation ship that would take centuries to reach the next planet. But with the ring system, that opens up thousands of planets for humanity to go to, no generation ship required.
This dynamic is something that the later books in the series explore, and if the show continues, there’s a considerable amount of ground that it can cover. Cibola Burn, the fourth installment of the series, sees the crew of the Rocinante visiting one such planet, where they encounter ancient technologies and tensions between colonists and Earth. In the most recent book, the authors set up a larger war for control of the solar system, which will take place over the final three novels.
Over the course of the series, Corey has offered a pointed criticism of the human race: we have many issues when it comes to how we treat one another, and if and when we leave Earth, those issues will follow us unless we deal with them ahead of time. With this latest episode, the series has taken its first step toward that much larger story. Should it get picked up by Amazon, the books offer up a compelling — and daunting — road map for where we’ll end up.