The Expanse: "Dulcinea" (Season 1, Episode 1)

Flabbergasted

Wonder of wonders. SyFy has woken from the dead and is actually trying to be a science fiction channel again. Succeeding more than it fails, too, in tonight's premiere of The Expanse. The sci-fi feel is right, there's some legitimate world-building going on and enough decent visuals to triumph over the herky-jerky feel of cramming all that into an hour of television.

The opening is good. We hone in on a woman trapped in a dark room in zero g. She eventually breaks out into the corridor of a spaceship. No one else seems alive. She makes her way to some blue, pulsing sphere where she screams. Cut to a pretty cool credit scene for SyFy and download the basics: Mankind has colonized the solar system, Earth and Mars are in a tense Cold War, and the resident spark-in-waiting is Ceres Station, which mines the essential supplies both sides need from the asteroid belt. That's a perfectly serviceable scaffolding for a story.

And yeah, I realize it's not SyFy's scaffolding. The Expanse comes from a novel series by James S.A. Corey. But kudos for choosing for choosing some decent source material and not screwing it up on a low budget. At least not yet.

There are two primary storylines tonight. The first follows Detective Miller on Ceres Station, the second acting X.O. Holden of the Belter mining ship Canterbury. Miller's arc dramatizes the Dickension oppression of Ceres' inhabitants, who suffer routine shortages of air and water while slaving away to keep the mother planet going. Miller sums it up succinctly: "There's no law in Ceres, just cops." Miller is the classic film noir detective, all cynic on the outside covering a strained sense of justice within. He gets particularly pissed when people profit from cheating children out of a full allotment of air.

Miller's piece of the show's puzzle? He's contracted to find one Juliette Mao, a runaway daughter of privilege. She's the woman we saw in that zero g opening. That puts Miller unwittingly on a trajectory toward Holden.

The Canterbury answers a distress call from the freighter Scopuli, which was the zero g location of Juliette Mao in said opening. Holden take s a crew of five on a search vessel and checks it out. There doesn't seem to be anyone alive; even worse, the distress call is a fake. It's coming from a transmitter planted on the dead ship. As soon as they touch it, a space-faring warship pops in out of nowhere.

Holden thinks he 's been clever about evading incoming fire by rounding an asteroid, only realizing too late that he wasn't the target. They manage to warn Canterbury seconds before it becomes a debris field. Uh oh. That's a reasonable cliffhanger.

There's also a little action on Earth where a female Indian politician is on the move. She checks in on the torture of a member of the Outer Planets Alliance. The scene is brief and comes across as a distraction, but I know they wanted to introduce the Earth-Luna United Nations and didn't really have time for it. I can live with a little awkwardness in the initial world building. I respect that they're not spoon-feeding it. They want you to like the vibe and go with it, which is what good science fiction does.  

There's a nice theme running throughout on human evolution. The inhabitants of Ceres have developed different bone structure and musculature over generations due to the reduced gravity. The guy being tortured on Earth was simply hung up to be tortured by gravity. Riffs on evolution will play an increasing role as the story continues.

I should mention a great scene with Jonathon Banks turning in a cameo as the outgoing XO of the Canterbury. He cracks in the opening. It's heartbreaking to realize that he spilled the soil from some planters just so he could feel what it's like to walk barefoot on dirt again.   

We'll see if SyFy can structurally hold all this together. Not a bad start, though.        

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