A couple months back, Lost in Translation reviewed the first season of The Expanse based on the series by James SA Corey. The first book of the series, Leviathan Wakes, is a mighty tome on its own, resulting in the first season covering only half of it. Instead of trying to push the entire book into the first season and rushing the story line, the studio focused on the pace, allowing the horror lurking beneath the surface to build much like it did in the novel. The end of the first season was a natural break point with a satisfying conclusion with not everything wrapped up.
This review is going to cover just to the end of Levianthan Wakes. The second season of The Expanse wraps up the book by the seventh epsiode, leading into the next book augmented with information from short stories in the setting and dealing with the fallout from the events in the first book. The first seven episodes of the season wrap up the book.
The latter half of Leviathan Wakes switches from hard SF and film noir to horror and first contact. A molecule, called “protomatter”, has been discovered and a corporation is doing everything it can to keep the discovery under wraps until they find a way to monetize it. Earth and Mars are on the brink of a war that will affect the Belt and beyond even if Belters take no part in it. Miller finds Julie Mao, dead. Then things get worse.
The corporation turns Eros into a radioactive experiment with protomatter, dooming anyone who can’t escape. Holden and Miller have to fight their way to the Rocinante and pick up a near-lethal level of radiation that can’t be handwaved away. Ultimately, the decision is made to destroy Eros before it can reach Earth, though even hitting it with a spaceship on a high-G burn doesn’t go easy. It comes down to a disgraced cop on his final case to save Earth.
Season two of The Expanse continues with the increased viewpoints beyond just Miller and Holden. We’re shown what is going on in the halls of power on Earth, the troops on the ground on Mars, the people waiting in the Belt. Everything still hinges on Holden and Miller, though. Decisions get made to set Eros up for destruction. There is a lot of action in the latter half of the book, and describing action takes more time than just showing it on screen. A raid that takes a few chapters can be done in one episode with no loss of story. Each medium has its strengths and drawbacks, and a visual medium can handle a visual element far better than text.
The pacing does pick up, but that follows from the novel. The protomatter’s secret is revealed; it is extraterrestrial and capable of transforming a living organism into a form it needs. And Eros is filled with it and heading to Earth. The pacing of the series accelerates like an object falling due to gravity, and the payoff is the same as in the novel.
The Expanse continues to pull in from other stories in the series to flesh out what’s happening, keeping the storytelling more or less linear, with a few exceptions in shown in flashbacks. The series also works at making it easy to tell who is from where, from distinctive hairstyles to slang and lingo to even tattoos. The series brings the setting alive despite the limitations of being filmed in a gravity well.