The Expanse cranks up the tension on three fronts in Episode 2...with varying success

This post contains spoilers for Episode 2 of The Expanse. Turn and burn if you're not caught up.

OK, so, the pilot's out of the way, and now The Expanse has to be a show. In its second episode, "The Big Empty," it moved forward along three story tracks. First, we had more political intrigue on Earth featuring Chrisjen Avasarala and her efforts to either prepare for or stave off an interplanetary war. Second, there's Miller, out there on Ceres continuing his investigation into the disappearance of Julie Mao and coming across some brewing strife between the Belter citizenry and the resident representatives of the inner planets. And, finally, there's the remaining crew of the Canterbury, adrift in a shuttle after the destruction of their ship and the loss of their comrades.

How's it all coming together? Blastr Editor-in-Chief Adam Swiderski and Contributing Editor Cher Martinetti discuss.

Adam: Alright, Episode 2! We got the setup out of the way with the pilot, and now we get into the plot. Things seem to be boiling down to three main arcs - the surviving crew of the Canterbury dealing with the loss of their ship, Avasarala's political machinations on Earth, and Miller's investigation and dealings with the OPA on Ceres. Of these, which is the one you're finding most compelling?

Cher: I think it's easier for me to say the one I'm least into right now is what's happening with Avasarala. Not to say that won't have the potential to draw me in, but the grittiness of Ceres and how it's essentially the Wild West plus the anxiety of what's happening with what's left of the Cant crew are equally drawing me in.

You can feel the tension on Ceres. They did a great job of setting up how there's a considerable amount of unrest on that rock, but now we're really seeing more of the contempt everyone seems to have for each other there. There's major classism and racism on an asteroid that has a total population less than NYC. I also think it's interesting how, in some ways, Ceres is a bit like the New York City of space. It's a major port and you have people constantly coming and going and all these different races being forced to coexist. 

As far as Holden and crew, there was already a fair amount of tension that only seems to be heightened as the minutes pass. And I'm really into Strait as Holden. 

Adam: Yeah, for me, the Cant crew's storyline stands head and shoulders above the other two at this point. Avasarala's arc is doing a good job of expositing on the political landscape of the solar system, but it just lacks tension as of right now - even if there's a war brewing, it feels far away in the pristine halls of the UN. The Ceres stuff is great color, in my opinion, but I feel like it's splitting time between the Julie Mao mystery and a larger story about OPA unrest and both threads suffer a little as a result. 

The Cant crew segments, on the other hand, feel immediate, giving us a clear and present crisis - life support running out, no communications - that allows the character relationships to develop as well. We see Holden being all idealistic, Naomi strutting her stuff as the take-charge character she obviously is, Amos being the blunt force instrument he is, and even Shed, who we've seen so far as a panicky doomsayer, stepping up and delivering some heroics. I feel like this is the part of the show that, at the moment, is really singing, which is great, but also kind of a bummer in how it overshadows the other arcs. 

I'm still impressed, though, with how faithful The Expanse is being to the source material. Even the added stuff - mostly dealing with UN politics - feels like it's just showing us things that were implied in the books. Were there any additions or changes that jumped out at you as either adding to or detracting from the quality of the narrative?

Cher: I think right now it's still a little too early for me to tell. But I will admit as much as I am loving it so far, I do feel like they brought in Avasarala's story a little too soon. There's just so much happening with Holden/Miller/Mao that that's the story I want to be following more intently at the moment. One of the things that makes the books so good is how they really do weave elements of a noir with a political drama and a space opera. And just based off these beginning episodes, I have a lot of confidence that they will do a great job bringing that to life. But I'm a little worried that it may be too much trying to juggle three storylines at once for too much longer. 

Adam: It's a problem Game of Thrones faced as it scattered its characters at the end of Season 1; they did a good job with it, but I know it also left some viewers at sea in terms of keeping track of all the names and factions. It seems The Expanse's solution to that seems to be to take things rather slowly and establish the hell out of its universe - I mean, the destruction of the Canterbury is really the nudge that gets the plot moving, but it's Holden's transmission that kicks things into high gear, and we're just getting to that, and the arrival of the Martian navy, at the end of Episode 2 (out of 9 in the first season). I would be stunned, at this point, if they make it through everything from Leviathan Wakes in one season. We haven't even touched on the horrible thing Julie Mao saw in the Scopuli in Episode 1 - a threat that, again, feels very Game of Thrones to me, in that it's out there waiting to do...well, something...while everybody bickers over who did what to whom.

Let's wrap things up with the following: What was your favorite moment and favorite performance from this week's episode? 

Cher: Thomas Jane is definitely nailing it as Miller. And I've already mentioned I'm a fan of Strait which may be slightly biased based on aesthetics, but I think right now, I'm loving Naomi ( Dominique Tipper) most. I'm drawn to that character. I want to know more about her past and I want to see how her character develops. 

My favorite scene is when Holden sends the transmission. That moment really escalates things to a whole other level, which anyone who's read the books knows. But it also adds more tension to an already fragile dynamic. Right now, we have no idea why Holden isn't really respected as a leader from anyone on that crew, or where Amos' obvious disdain for him comes from. Up until that point, it seems like he's just another slacker pretty boy who hasn't earned anything and just coasts by. Clearly, that isn't the whole story, but the impression the audience is given is that that could be why no one seems to be a big fan of him as a leader. 

 In fact, with the exception of Naomi, no one really has any clear reason to question his judgement until that moment. And even though they all freak out, I think it's the first moment Holden steps up and shows that he has balls and possibly even a plan, even if it's one he's making up on the fly. 
Adam: For me, it was the scene of Miller with the water thieves. I felt like it did a good job of conveying a lot of information - about Ceres, about Miller, and about how the search for Julie Mao is affecting him - and featured some tight character work by Thomas Jane. And, as much as I am into seeing the chemistry develop between the remaining Canterbury crew, Jane has to be my MVP so far. Miller is a tough character to pull off without lapsing into caricature, and I feel like he's walking that line very well, at present.

What did you think of Episode 2 of The Expanse? Let us know in the comments!

More from around the web