The Expanse Book vs. TV Recap: The Big Empty

expanse2All season long, we’re watching Syfy’s new space opera series The Expanse and comparing it to the book upon which it is based, James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes. Click here for a complete archive of recaps.

We pick up right where Dulcinea left off, with Holden and the crew of the Knight watching the Canterbury get nuked by an unknown ship. Miller has picked up a missing persons case, while Avasalara is interrogating OPA terrorists. Where the first episode held pretty close to the novel, this one deviates quite a bit.

Spoilers to follow.

The Big Empty opens with as much tension as the first episode ended on: Holden’s crew must survive the shock wave of the blast, and they get banged up with the debris. The ship is breached when the airlock malfunctions, and Alex works hard to make sure that they come out in roughly one piece. It’s a tense, exciting scene that had me at the edge of my seat.

It’s also where the series changes quite a bit. Holden tries to pursue the attacking vessel, only to be held back by his crew: their priority is to get the ship up and running again. In the books, none of this happened. While the ship was fine, without fancy engines, the Knight took several weeks to get to its next location. Here, they go the Gravity route and give the crew a problem to solve: they’re busy fixing the ship and stewing over what happened.

This makes a lot of sense to me, because it’s a slow spot for the book, and it would be even slower on television. It adds to the drama, and it’s an effective scene, giving you a good sense of who the characters are. In the books, they just sort of come together, and are pretty friendly from the start. On the show, it’s not quite so straightforward: there’s quite a bit of tension.

Jumping to Ceres Station, there’s more of a direct line from the destruction of the Canterbury to the plight of belters. There’s a really effective Miller scene: his shower shuts down prematurely, and he ends up washing his hair in Julie Mao’s apartment as he continues his investigation into her disappearance. Later, when we see him called to investigate water theft, the status of belters couldn’t be made more clear: to Earthers, they’re seen as subhuman. There are definitely strong parallels to the discussions of race relations occurring today in the U.S.

On Earth, Avasarala continues her interrogation of the belter she has in custody, providing us with more information about the political situation there: a sort of Cold War is ongoing between Mars and Earth, with the OPA trying to grab a piece of the pie. This is a point ripped right from the books, but it’s not really something you see until the sequel. I’m really liking these structural changes—they help provide context for what happens in Leviathan Wakes, and clarify what’s going on between Earth, the Belt, and Mars.

Back on Ceres, Miller finds an interesting clue: Julie Mao was on the Scopuli, the ship the Canterbury diverted to investigate. There’s a connection there, especially given the ship’s loss.

On the Knight, the crew works frantically to fix their damaged ship before they run out of air, and we get to see more of Amos, Naomi, Shed, and Alex under pressure. Once they get their antenna fixed, a Martian ship discovers them. Worried it’s looking to clean up the mess and hide it under the rug, Holden transmits a message outlining the destruction of the Canterbury, and reveals they discovered Martian tech on the ship.

With that, they’re scooped up by the massive warship, and placed into custody.

This episode really changes up some things from the book, and it’s a good example of how one medium needs to be altered to fit into another. What the producers have put together is a tense, exciting episode that really ratchets up the action, but does so in ways that continue to provide context for the larger world. Rather than dumbing the show down to explain to a larger audience, it’s gone in the opposite direction.

“The Big Empty” will run you up to Page 114 in Leviathan Wakes. The Expanse resumes a normal weekly schedule next week, but you can watch episodes 3 and 4 online now!

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