The Expanse, Spoiler Warning: This article reveals plot details.
Over the first 2+ seasons of The Expanse, this series has become my new favorite. I’m even tempted to say that I like it better than the original Star Trek! Sacrilege? I don’t think so. In its day, Star Trek was so much better than everything else in the late 60s, my father relented and allowed our family to purchase a color TV set. We needed to make watching this new wonder something better than a flat, black and white fantasy.
But The Expanse is far more real and visceral than that earlier science fiction breakthrough. Kirk, Spock and Bones now seem more like cardboard caricatures compared to Holden, Miller, Burton, Kamal, Nagata and Avasarala. Space in The Expanse is full of grit and tangible danger. The science seems more real, too. In Star Trek, errors in galactic geography seemed to taint the stories with problems that stuck in my craw only because I knew better than to put an Earth-like world in orbit about a wildly variable red giant sun.
But The Expanse is not without its own errors and problems. Fixing them would make the experience a tiny bit better, but still I think it’s worth mentioning them in case anyone is paying attention who could make future stories more thoroughly perfect.
The Expanse, Light-Speed Problem
In season 3, episode 3, Undersecretary Errinwright is in the UN’s battle room pushing the Secretary General to launch a preemptive strike against the Martian long-range attack capabilities. The 3D map projection shows the locations of the Martian launch platforms scattered around the inner solar system, with the Earth to one side and the sun at the center.
Ironically, the five Martian stealth, ballistic missile platforms are tens of millions of miles apart and Earth’s planetary rail guns (stationed at the home planet) are meant to take them all out simultaneously. While they’re watching, after Secretary General Sorrento-Gillis gives the go-ahead to attack, the rail gun package streaks across the solar system far faster than the speed of light, reaching their targets in seconds. The fifth launch is delayed a few seconds because of a malfunction. This should not be important, because any communication from the other platforms would take several minutes to reach the any of the platforms. So, it seems unreal that the fifth launch platform would have any warning or reason to launch a missile.
In episode 6, one of the UNN headquarters officers says that the delay of communications with the Jupiter A.O. is “39 minutes.” And this shows the reality of light-speed limitations that The Expanse frequently handles so well.
The Expanse, Space Tug Drones
In episode 4, the Belter Salvage Fleet uses space tug drones to change the orientation of the LDSS Nauvoo. It doesn’t show the needed repositioning of the drones to stop the rotation once the orientation has been changed. This isn’t necessarily an error. Not every action needs to be shown in a dramatic presentation. It’s possible Drummer gave the command off camera to stop the rotation.
If the writers didn’t think of this detail, then they need to keep it in mind. Once the tugs were fired up to spin the Nauvoo, the behemoth of a ship would, of course, keep tumbling in space until forced to stop. And that’s the point being made here.
The Expanse, Missing Ganymede
Episode 5, about 8 minutes in, Fleet Adm. Nguyen looks over the CIC battle board which shows the position of Io and the orbits of Europa and Callisto, but Ganymede’s orbit is missing. Why? In real life, Ganymede is between Europa and Callisto. Here are the orbital semi-major axes:
- 421,700 km — Io
- 671,034 km —Europa
- 1,070,412 km — Ganymede
- 1,882,709 km — Callisto
Is Ganymede suddenly gone? Personally, I like story context. Showing the orbit of Ganymede would have helped to connect the story lines. Leaving out seems like someone goofed, to those who know better.
The Expanse, A Problem with Inertia
Episode 5, on Io approach, the Razorback and Pinus Contorta cut engines at virtually the same time, but the Contorta (Rocinante) shoots ahead of the Razorback, leaving it behind. Oops! Moments later, their ship lands using thrusters only? That’s very unlikely despite Io’s lighter gravity. That might work on Ceres, but likely not on Io, especially with the speed of approach shown.
Throughout the series, the need for deceleration burn is a wonderful tidbit of reality that the series tends to handle well. This inertia glitch spoils some of that reality.
The Razorback should’ve cut engines, but the Contorta should’ve kept up its deceleration burn, falling into lower, sub-orbital flight. Lower orbit means faster speed, though, at least for a few moments, so the larger ship may still have pulled ahead, despite the deceleration burn.
The Expanse, No Orbital Motion of Flagship Agatha King
In episode 6, as the hybrid pods are launched, the Agatha King is hovering above the base on Io. This is nonsense. The ship doesn’t have its engines burning, so would ultimately fall from the sky, or, if in orbit about Io, would not be hovering above one spot on the Jovian moon. This goof is later reinforced when Kamal offers to put a scope on the Agatha King and the field stars remain as stationary as the injured ship.
And when Kamal later calls for the Razorback to descend from orbit, it is magically available at that very moment, instead of blocked by Io with the Razorback in orbit on the far side of the moon. Was it also hovering right above the base? Yikes!
Final Word on The Expanse
Don’t get me wrong. We’re about halfway through the season, as of this writing, and I have every intention to watch each of the upcoming episodes at least once. Episode 6 contained a glut of juicy conclusions, but it left one other story point deliciously unresolved—the “work” of the protomolecule on Venus. The characters remain the strongest points of the series, with their wonderful flaws and strengths.
Like Star Trek from the 60s, The Expanse remains a strong cultural commentary on the hypocrisy of government and the egotism of those in power. It also reveals the dangers of a one-world government. The UNN became tyrannical, wanting to put down the lowly Martians. And then the Martians exhibited the same arrogance when they abused the lowly Belters. Episode 7 has scratched a few itches and has set in motion a few new mysteries. I’m already look forward to season 4. When you have such a well-realized universe as this, it’s easy to want the story to keep going forever.