The Expanse: “The Big Empty” is full-on excellent

“The Big Empty” moves the story of The Expanse along, but only minutely. I’d hoped that this second episode would include more actual plot, but instead it’s a lot more world building and set-up for the rest of the season—sadly, without most of the sense of fun that “Dulcinea” had. Instead, the tone of “The Big Empty” is decidedly darker, and the mood is almost dour as we’re shown more of the show’s world.

Detective Miller spends most of his time this episode lurking around Julie Mao’s old apartment trying to piece together where she might have disappeared to since she’s clearly not on Ceres any longer. He does take a break to investigate some other things and casually police brutalize a couple of people, but there’s not a whole lot of movement in this storyline. That said, I think that so far the Miller stuff is my favorite part of the show—in spite of Miller’s ridiculous hat. I love the way the show is slowly exploring Ceres, and it’s very clear that the place is well thought out and meticulously crafted for television.

On Earth, Chrisjen Avasarala is still embroiled in some kind of political intrigue. This is the slowest feeling and least interesting of the show’s several plots, which is too bad since Avasarala is still very much the single most interesting character that we’ve been introduced to so far. However, I think that, long-term, this story line is going to pay off big time. Even after just two episodes we can start to see how these stories are all interconnected. I’m pretty sure Avasarala’s is just a slower burn than the others, likely because she’s a character who doesn’t even appear in the first volume of the book series. She may not have much to do until later this season if the show is trying to preserve a timeline from the novels, so I’m trying to be patient and not judge these parts of the show too harshly yet.

The part of the episode that I was most looking forward to as a book reader was seeing how the Canterbury survivors are getting on, and this was sadly the part of “The Big Empty” that I found myself most disappointed with. In Leviathan Wakes, basically the first thing Holden does is broadcast the accusation that Mars was behind the attack on the ice hauler, but this is actually one of the last things that happens in this second episode, which means that the fallout from that decision is being pushed off until episode three.

This leisurely pacing would be less frustrating if the rest of the Canterbury survivors’ time was put to better use this week. Instead, we’re treated to the better part of an hour of their floundering around in space dealing with the contrived drama of several unfortunately coinciding problems with their shuttle and space suits and radio. On the one hand, I admire the dedication the show has to really nailing down the idea that space is basically trying to murder people at all times. It’s a dangerous place, and the idea that human life is extremely fragile outside the nurturing atmosphere of Earth is an important one that is central to understanding the situation of those who live in space. On the other hand, even though the show demonstrated in “Dulcinea” that it’s not squeamish about killing off characters, the Cant survivors’ peril never felt, well, particularly perilous at all. It was, at every step of the way, obvious that they were going to get rescued or else there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell.

The bright side, though, is that “The Big Empty” ends right where it ought to, and now that a lot of world building stuff has been done two or three times in the first couple of episodes the show should be moving along at a faster clip with the actual story.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Are they recentering the Cant crew’s story around Naomi? Amos said that he considered her the captain now, which would be awesome, but I don’t want to get too excited yet. I never did care much for Holden in the book, so Captain Naomi would be a positive change, but I’m holding off on celebrating until I get some confirmation.
  • I do not like that Holden’s dead girlfriend, Ade, was whitewashed on the show. In the book, she was a black Nigerian woman, and I thought maybe that she had been whitewashed to avoid just fridging her for some white dude’s character development, but the more I think about it, the more I don’t like it, especially if the memory of Ade is going to be showing up every week. If you really must sacrifice some poor woman on the altar of male character development like this, why can’t it be a black woman that haunts a dude’s dreams?
  • Loved the shot of the shuttle being picked up by the Donnager. Very Star Wars-esque.

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