TV Review: The Expanse Season 2 Premiere

<Minor spoilers ahead>

Last year, SyFy channel brought James S.A. Corey’s science fiction series, ‘The Expanse’ to television.  ‘Expanse’ is a very popular science fiction book series which just completed its sixth novel in a project series of nine books.  As far as science fiction goes, it isn’t particularly deep – but it is fun and cinematic and filled with charismatic characters cracking one liners as they fight a political and corporate conspiracy which soon explodes into an intergalactic adventure.  SyFy channel, looking to finally find a replacement for its acclaimed ‘Battlestar Galactica’, could rest easy as the show gained positive buzz and had a very successful first season.

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Season two premiered this week with two episodes and I’m happy to say the high-quality acting and sequences from the first season are back.    Rather than a full in-depth review, here are some thoughts on what I saw:

  • The chemistry of the crew of the Rocinante continues to be a high point of the show. There is now a love interest between Holden and Naomi and Alex continues to be good comic relief without being immature or annoying – the guy pilots a starship, he isn’t an idiot. But the best character continues to be the sociopathic Amos.  It is clear the man is a killer whose only anchor appears to be Naomi.  How long will that situation remain stable?
  • Miller continues to be brilliant. The death of Julie Mao has clearly put him officially in the ‘no fucks given’ category.  His actions in the explosive ending of the episode was pretty much the biggest mic drop moment of the entire series.
  • These first two episodes are where the politics of the Solar System really come into play and I thought the show knocked it out of the park by making the Martian-Earth stand off over Phoebe riveting. Chrisjen Avasarala and Fred Johnson were good last season but it is clear they are now going to be center stage in either preventing or starting a war.
  • The introduction of the Bobbie Draper and the Martian Marines is a good counterpoint. Bobbie was pivotal in the books and it appears they are making her a bit more militant than in the books.  The show so far has kept close to the books but I’m curious if they diverge a bit here.
  • The final action sequence of the second episode, the assault on the space station and the accompanying space battle were extremely well known. The Expanse has been great about giving us a different and perhaps more realistic form of space battle and they really delivered here with the cat and mouse game between the Rocinante and the Stealth Ship.

The third episode airs later this week and I look forward to seeing the political and interpersonal fallout from the space station raid.  Bottom line:  It looks like this show isn’t going to have a sophomoric slump and if you have been waiting for a great science fiction show to pop up, this is one you should start watching.

Best of 2016: Television

It was an extremely good year for Science Fiction and Fantasy television, particularly for good science fiction shows.  It was hard to limit myself this year – I liked the Magicians and 12 Monkeys quite a bit and though I haven’t seen Man in a High Castle on Amazon yet, I have heard good things about it.  Not to mention Star Wars: Rebels is continuing the saga from the Clone Wars and telling great stories.  Here are my personal favorite picks of the year.

The ExpanseI’ll share this upfront – I’m a big fan of James Corey, the author of the Expanse series of books (now six books running).  They aren’t the most complicated SFF books out there.  But it doesn’t matter because they are good clean popcorn entertainment full of one-liners and science fiction goodness and you should go read them.  They are also very cinematic books – like when I first read them I thought ‘This would make a great movie!’.  SyFy channel took a chance on the property.  They put some money and acting talent behind it and I think I was proven right.  The fourth episode ‘CQB’ had the best space battle since Battlestar Galactica ended.  The Expanse filled the BSG-sized void in my heart and I look forward to watching many seasons of James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante on their adventures.

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Mr. RobotThis show is fascinating and like my departed and loved, Hannibal, it isn’t afraid to take chances on mental illness and the nature of reality.  The narrator is completely unreliable as a storyteller and several times I have gone into an episode thinking one thing and then being amazed on how the show takes a left turn – one that is genuinely surprising yet earned.  This show is also the most realistic depiction of actual computer hacking and social engineering on TV – topical given the current times not to mention a bit unsettling just how close the dystopian view presented is to us today.  Highly recommended. Click the link to see my earlier review.

West World:  It has been a month since the end of the season and I have come down off the high a bit.  It wasn’t the best show I saw all year.  But I think I’m okay with that because HBO tried to make a smart and complex show to complement Game of Thrones and I think they succeeded.  Not everything in this show worked – it fell in love with some its stories and let them linger a bit longer than they ought too.  Interestingly, Thrones has the same problem.  But there was a lot of fascinating stuff here as well (Bernard’s story, Maeve’s journey, Hector/Armistice going nuclear) and those last two episodes were riveting and better than anything else out there.  HBO hooked me again.  Click the link to see my earlier review.

PreacherI have a thing for Southern Gothic stories, particularly ones who contain fire and brimstone men of faith doing their thing.   This show scratches the itch and then some.  This show has atmosphere – positively swimming in it as it presents the story of a faithless Preacher, an irrepressible and lethal female warrior, and an Irish vampire.  The first season’s story was essentially a preamble to the comic book journey to find the missing Creator. Honestly, it got dull and hard to follow in parts.  So why is this show on the list?  The characters were so damn interesting and the atmosphere of the show so good that I didn’t care.  I just wanted to spend time watching these people on screen.  I expect more out of the story in season two but in the meantime, season one gets a giant pass for bringing these characters on screen.  Click the link to see my earlier review.

This is the final entry of the best of 2016.  Other ‘Best of…’ lists from 2016:

Books

Movies

Computer Games

Podcasts

TV Review: Westworld’s First Season

 

Two months ago, I reviewed the first episode of HBO’s new hit series, Westworld.  I loved the first episode and said I would let you know if Westworld would live up to the hype in four episodes.  With the finale dropping last Sunday night, I’m finally able to say yes –  Westworld measured up as a worthy successor series to Game of Thrones.

It took me more than four episodes to come to that conclusion.  Frankly, it took me the whole ten episodes.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first.  Westworld inherited the bad DNA from J.J Abrham’s Lost in that it often took four or five episodes to get at a story which could have been addressed in a fraction of the time.  The prime example was the whole William = Man in Black (MiB) storyline.  I thought it was obvious from about episode five onward that the story was taking place over multiple timelines and William would eventually become the MiB – but we got to draw out the story far longer than it needed.  This whole trend was seen across many of the story lines.  While every episode had a couple of standout scenes, I spent most of the middle episodes wondering if the story was stuck in neutral.

And then we got to see the last two episodes and all was forgiven.  Everything eventually paid off as I saw the design.

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Raise your hand if you want to see me eat their livers with Chianti and fava beans?

Yes, William and Delores’s story was probably the most boring on the show but having seen the finale, it made sense.   The MiB’s desire for a real game where the Hosts can fight back is a dark mirror to Robert Ford’s endgame with his final ‘narrative’ and we had to see how he got there.  I thought it obvious that Bernard was Ford’s constructed version of Arnold and they were dragging it out way too long – but the long build up made his awareness-death-reincarnation cycle more tragic when we got to eventually see Arnold’s suicide.  Arnold is stuck in a loop more tragic than Delores or Maeve because he was as much a prisoner as they – always to be snuffed out at the verge of awareness.  I still think there was some narrative dead weight in the respective stories, but they stuck the landing and I find it hard to complain too much after the finale.

Where do I think Season Two will take the story?  Here are some thoughts:

  • Robert Ford is dead so I think the intellectual and emotional center of the show is going to become Bernard.  Bernard knows he was modeled after Arnold – and I must believe he is going to take on Arnold’s mission to either nurture the consciousness of the Hosts, or try to shut the whole thing down as an obscenity.  I would be delighted because while Evan Rachel Wood does great work as Delores, I have consistently enjoyed and identified more with Jeffrey Wright’s story.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised the Host Rebellion turn ugly – as all Revolutions eventually do.  I expect the start of the second season will show the control center under siege, human beings in the park being hunted and abused by Hosts (I wouldn’t want to be a survivor of the finale massacre), and Delores and Bernard appalled at what has been wrought.
  • The MiB isn’t dead – I tend to think they would have showed his death rather than him getting clipped in the shoulder and smiling.  He finally got his wish and I fully expect him go live his dark fantasy.  He was smiling because things just got real and it would be a shame if they didn’t let him off the chain.
  • Maeve’s journey was consistently amazing and I expect her to be back in play.  I think she is going to eventually be the leader of the hard line element of the Hosts.  I see a confrontation with Bernard and Delores in the cards.

I was wrong on some of my earlier calls and right on many others so I don’t know if any of the points above will come to pass.  It will be alright though if I can see Hector and Armistice cleaning house again – that was my favorite moments of the finale and if I can see them going ape-shit crazy with automatic weapons again, preferably in ‘Samurai World’, then Season Two will live up to the hype.

The Death of the Walking Dead?

I fell in love with the Walking Dead when it came out back in 2010.  I had read the comic book and while it wasn’t my favorite series, it was intriguing enough for me to check the television adaption out and I was glad I did.  It quickly became a favorite.  The thing I admired was the uncompromising vision it presented on screen – the first scene of the series was a police officer shooting a little girl zombie in the head with a revolver for crying out loud!  From that point forward, I knew the show was going to bleak and I was hooked.

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Rick setting the bar early.

Nowadays, I wonder if I going to continue watching?

It has become fashionable lately to doubt the Walking Dead and I feel that it is entirely deserved.  Unlike most, I wasn’t put out by the premiere last Sunday.  The violence is why I watch the show – what else do you think the end of the civilization is going to look like?  I found Jefferey Dean Morgan’s Negan to be mesmerizing – I loved this actor since seeing him play the Comedian in Watchmen and I think he captures the character well.  I thought the final scene of last season, the buildup and then the single extended shot of him at the end of the finale to be one of the better TWD moments in memory.

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Negan 2016:  I’ll shut that shit down. No exceptions.

I’m turning against the Walking Dead because it has become boring.

First, rather than an adaption, TWD has faithfully stuck to the narrative presented in the comic books.  Sure, there are some sequencing changes, some new characters (Daryl wasn’t in the comic book), and some characters have been changed and deaths happened at different times.  That being said, all of the major plot points (‘The Farm’, ‘The Governor’, ‘Hilltop’, ‘Alexandria) from the comic have occurred on the show.  The problem is that the comic book isn’t very good.  There was a point in the beginning where it was solid entertainment but the quality has decreased markedly as the series has progressed and the story lines have become increasingly boring – oh look, another hidden threat of the horizon, wash repeat.  Just like the show unfortunately!

The other major problem are the main characters themselves have grown as much as they are going too.  Daryl has been redeemed from his bad boy background and is now a responsible citizen, hooray!  Michonne is no longer a loner with a sword, she has found happiness in Rick.  As far as Rick is concerned, he is caught in a rut narratively.  He thinks he is a good guy – he is brought low and must be cruel – he hates himself for being cruel – he pulls back and becomes a good guy again – repeat cycle.  The premiere would have you believe he has been brought low by Negan but totally not buying it.  He will be ‘low’ until the story brings him back up again, just like it has before.

Hell, Carl is more interesting than Rick at this point!

Where does the story go from here?  Well for one, it can focus on the three most interesting characters it has left.  Carol and Morgan are the ideological centers of the show now – Carol is the stone-cold killer who is barely holding on to enough morality to prevent herself from becoming a serial killer.  She hates what she has become but knows the necessity of it.  Morgan understands Carol because he has been there and realizes that his muscular pacifist code is the only way to retain humanity in a world bereft of it.  In many ways, the show has become about them and their competing views – they happen to be the only characters left who aren’t static in their journey.  Add into it Negan’s fascist counterpoint to their contest and you have the recipe to making TWD great again.

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They are the only ones that can save this show.

I will continue to watch for now but the Walking Dead is on notice in my household.  Start being interesting again or be eaten by the better shows out there.