It’s an unfortunate truth that, in the world of modern streaming television, often the longer a show is on the less budget it has to work with. That’s why in season 3 a series like Star Trek: Discovery looks cheaper and cuts more corners than it did in season 1. That’s not the case with The Expanse. Despite ownership changes and platform shifts, season after season the show (which was already one of the best produced series on the streaming schedule) looks better and better. Episode one of The Expanse season 5 may be its most crisply produced yet. The stunning, spare no expense look and feel of the series helps make up for the fact that, unfortunately, this first episode of the new season plays out a bit like a soap opera.
Yes the first episode of The Expanse season 5 is basically an extended soap opera, but at least it’s a really good soap opera with fantastic production design and incredible special effects. A simple walk and talk down a corridor will blow your mind as passersby walk on not just the floor but also the ceiling. The Expanse, even in a fairly humdrum exposition dialogue scene, continues to take complete and total advantage of its incredible, outer space sci-fi setting.
To me that corridor scene embodies everything that has made and continues to make The Expanse so great. They didn’t need to go the extra mile and have extras walking past on the ceiling. If they hadn’t included them no one would have noticed they were missing and they added nothing to the dialogue of the scene. The characters the camera is focused on don’t even acknowledge them. Another show, a lesser show, might look at how much it costs to make that scene look good and shoot it without the anti-gravity walkers. Not The Expanse. The Expanse understands it’s the little things that build a world, it’s the little things that create a time and place. It’s the little things that make a good show great.
The time and place of The Expanse season 5 is not long after the events of season 4. The Rocinante is undergoing repairs and upgrades at Fred Johnson’s Tycho station and her crew is taking a break from, well, each other. Alex and Bobby are on Mars taking care of personal business. Amos is on his way to Earth to revisit his past. All three seem pretty miserable. For once though, not Holden. Instead of worrying about the fate of humanity he’s imagining a happy future where he settles down and retires with Naomi. Naomi, unfortunately, seems to have other plans.
The big, dangerous threat of The Expanse season 5 involves the terrorist Marco Inaros. The show set him up well in season 4 and he’s here, lurking far in the background of season 5’s first episode. This first episode though, is largely dedicated to splitting up the crew of the Rocinante and sending them on seperate paths. Doing that involves a lot of overly emotional dialogue that at least some of the cast don’t really pull off.
In particular Dominique Tipper as Naomi and Frankie Adams as Bobbie Draper seem to struggle. Cas Anvar gets by on charm though, and he’s so good you won’t care if he’s re-enacting a scene borrowed from a middling episode of One Life To Live. So, if you’re not to totally wowed by the look of the show and all the great little details going on in the background to notice, you’ll probably end up feeling like you’re watching a soap opera.
I’m not worried and you shouldn’t be either. The Expanse season 5’s first episode is clearly a set up entry. It’s the show taking a moment to catch its breath before launching into the plot of a larger season. After all the crew of the Rocinante has been through, it feels earned, even if not a lot happens in episode one.
Luckily, Amazon had released the first three episodes of the season all at once. More will follow but for now you can binge three consecutive Expanse season 5 episodes. I’ll have a full review of all three here soon, once I finish the next two.
As for this first episode, it’s good with enough promise to make it seem like the episodes to follow are going to be great. The Expanse has been and will likely to continue to be one of the best science fiction shows in the history of television. As it rolls into season 5 with only one more season to follow, make sure you don’t miss any of it.