I’m going to gripe about The Expanse TV adaptation now. If you haven’t read the first book of the series, Leviathan Wakes, or watched the show, there will definitely be spoilers.
I’ve been waiting for SyFy to make a worthy successor to Battlestar Galactica for years. For a while it seemed they were moving away from great, hard science fiction, but this year has seen them make an attempt to get back to their roots. Of all their shows, The Expanse was the one I was most excited about. I’ve read all the books and novellas. It’s a fantastic world full of flawed, interesting characters, muddy politics, and spaceships going pew-pew-pew. Seriously, if you haven’t read the books, you should give them a try.
As with any adaptation, I knew there were going to be changes. Some changes are cool. Like, I love that they introduced the character Chrisjen Avasarala (played by the amazing Shohreh Aghdashloo) much earlier on the show. She is a wonderful character (even if she can’t curse as much on TV) and I’m glad we got to start her story so soon. I also love that they’re drawing some of the political elements from the second book into the first book’s story. It helps to strengthen our understanding of the conflicts between Earth, Mars, and the outer planets.
But it’s the changes to the main characters that I pretty much hate.
Miller is probably the most true to the book. He’s a belter caught between worlds. In the books he’s a sad, flawed hero. A cop who thinks he’s good but whom everyone else thinks is a joke. I did like that they expanded his search for Julie Mao to make it more political and tied to the OPA. And I was pretty much happy with his depiction until the most recent episode. The greatest part of his character for me is that he’s a loser who refuses to give up on Julie Mao when everyone else tells him he should. In the books, he’s eventually fired from the station’s police force because he’s incompetent. But the most recent episode sees him fired for uncovering a conspiracy. What?
I hate that change. Not because it’s a tired trope, but because it betrays Miller’s story. He solves Julie Mao’s case in spite of being a loser. That’s what makes Miller so damn compelling in the books. By changing it to him being fired as part of conspiracy, it takes that major character development away from him and makes him far less interesting. Now he’s a cog in the machine rather than the annoying wrench that stops it.
Naomi is my second biggest gripe. In the books she’s shown as pretty much indispensable. Holden comes to rely on her because there’s nothing she can’t do. If she tells you she can’t do a thing it’s because it simply can’t be done. In the books, she’s the voice of reason, the real captain of their crew. The show takes a lot of that away from her. It makes her less strong, less active. Amos follows her around, but we don’t get a real sense of why. Which sucks because she’s the only woman in a crew of four, and her strength in the books is really the glue that holds the crew together. That she’s been diminished in the show diminishes the show itself greatly.
I’m withholding judgement on Amos and Alex at this point because they haven’t really been developed much in the show…and frankly didn’t see much real development in the books until much later on. I will say that I wasn’t sold on the actor who played Amos until the most recent episode. In the scene where he talks about growing up around prostitutes and hints that he might have been one at one point finally gave us some of the quiet complexity that Amos in the books is known for. But neither character has really been given much to do, so it’s difficult to judge how their stories will pan out.
My biggest gripe, however, is with Holden. I hate how Holden’s been developed on the show. What I liked about Holden in the books is that he’s insufferable. He’s an idealist. He’s outwardly cocky. He does what he thinks is right without considering the consequences. When he releases the details about the destruction of his ship, The Canterbury, for the whole solar system to see, he does it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. He does it because he believes secrets are how people operate in the darkness, and that if everyone has access to the same information then people won’t be able to operate in the dark. It’s a naive point of view, and one that causes a shit ton of problems. But it’s what makes Holden such an interesting character.
The show weakens his character to the point of absurdity. In the show, he’s wishy-washy and unsure of himself. He releases the information, not because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, but because he hopes doing so will make it difficult for the martians that capture him and his crew to make them disappear. In the books he’s reactionary with a purpose (exposing the truth). In the show he’s just reactionary. His motives are more about survival than about doing what’s right. He’s not acting, he’s reacting. In the books, he leads his crew into disputes of his own making without thinking about the consequences because he believes he’s doing the right thing. In the show he just sort of bounces around from problem to problem with no clear idea what he wants.
The show has reduced him to a scared kid who has no idea what he’s doing. Someone who doesn’t want and never wanted the responsibility of leading his crew. In the books he was XO (in the show he refused the promotion), and when the Canterbury was destroyed, he stepped up and led. In the show, he is a reluctant leader, constantly questioned by his crew (and to be fair, the show crew should question his abilities…because Show Holden seriously lacks the qualities that made Book Holden a good captain), who doesn’t seem to have any clue what he’s doing.
There’s really a lot to like about the show…obviously, since I’m still watching. But it often seems that the changes being made to the characters show that the TV writers don’t really understand what made the characters in the book work so well. And that’s a shame. The changes might not seem like much now, but further down the road the changes will diminish the emotional impacts of the choices they’ll be forced to make. Miller’s journey, specifically, will have far less emotional resonance now that his plot is being propelled by a conspiracy rather than by his own need to prove he’s not a shitty cop.
I know that TV is its own thing. I know that the TV show necessarily needed to make some changes…if only to keep it fresh so that book readers didn’t get bored. But I feel like the TV show is changing the DNA of the characters in detrimental ways that are already weakening the impact of their stories. I don’t care about a James Holden who’s a wishy-washy idiot the way I care about a James Holden who’s an idiot with convictions. I don’t care about a Naomi who doesn’t seem to know where she belongs on the ship the way I cared about a Naomi who knew what she was good at and kept everyone else in line. I don’t care about a Miller who’s part of a conspiracy the way I cared about a Miller who was a drunken mess determined to do one thing right in his life.
But that’s just me. Maybe if I hadn’t read the books I’d be more inclined to like the show. And, don’t get me wrong, I still like the show. I just don’t like all the changes they’ve made. These aren’t the characters I rooted for in the books. They’re barely shadows of better people.