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Exploring The Expanse: the series’s latest arc covers a refugee crisis with painful real-world connections

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Full burn on the next story arc

Syfy Channel

The Expanse is a television show based on the novels by James S.A. Corey. Every week, I’ll be taking a look at one moment in each episode of the show’s second season, and chatting with the creators about how it was created and what it means for the larger story.

Spoilers ahead for episode eight of season 2, “Pyre.”

Earlier this season, The Expanse ran into an issue: it hadn’t finished adapting the first novel of the series, Leviathan Wakes, so the first five episodes were devoted to the finale. What followed were a couple of episodes that dropped off after a dramatic finale of the first big story arc. With the latest episode, “Pyre,” the show kicks back into full burn with the next big story arc.

For that, the show had to fill the gap left behind by Thomas Jane’s character, Detective Miller, who was on Eros when it crashed into Venus. For context, each Expanse novel is structured in a particular way: the main characters are always Holden, Naomi, Alex, and Amos onboard the Rocinante, but the authors introduce a new set of characters for each novel’s specific plot. We’ve already met Avasalara and Bobbie in the series, but now, we’re introduced to the final character, Dr. Praxidike (Prax) Meng, portrayed by Terry Chen.

When this episode opens, we meet Prax on Ganymede, and his daughter, Mei. He’s a scientist working on the moon’s botanical gardens (which help grow food for the Belt) when the station is attacked. He’s knocked out, and wakes up onboard a Belter ship that’s transporting refugees off the colony. To his distress, he learns his daughter was left behind and presumed dead.

“Pyre” is another example of where The Expanse has proved distressingly timely. The conflict we’ve seen in the solar system has consequences, and this episode feels relevant to the situation that’s been going on in Syria and Europe for the last couple of years. The Ganymede refugees are treated harshly by the people transporting them, and they’re also not entirely welcome on Tycho Station, where Prax meets Holden and the crew of the Roci. After meeting them, he learns that his daughter is still alive, taken off the colony by a Protogen scientist who worked on the alien protomolecule that destroyed Eros.

The imagery of refugees isn’t anything new to the show’s co-creator and producer, Hawk Otsby. In 2006, he and his co-writer Mark Fergus wrote the screenplay for Children of Men, which examines its own refugee crisis. “Certainly, the images of the Syrian refugee crisis popped into my head,” he told The Verge, “as it does more frequently every day with Children of Men. That movie seems frighteningly prescient now.”

Abraham tells The Verge that the novel this sequence comes from, Caliban’s War, predated the Syrian civil war, and that while the imagery is heedful of the ongoing crisis, “It's also the Jews fleeing Germany in the ‘30s. So many of the individual beats that Ty [Franck] puts together in the [larger] world are drawn from history that it's kind of inevitable that there's a grim sort of evergreen quality to them.”

“Daniel [Abraham] once said of the Expanse [that] humanity packs for the stars,” Otsby notes, “but brings all their luggage and problems with them. I‘ve had that tattooed behind my eyelids since day one, so (in my mind) there is definitely an extrapolation of the Middle East refugee crisis — as well as the present tribalism — that is reflected in the Ganymede bit.”

Abraham says he wants the show to focus on this tribalism. “We had a lot of people in the first season identifying as Team Belter because we like rooting for the underdog.” In this episode, that becomes complicated when the Belters transporting Prax decide to space all the Earthers they’re carrying. “I'm glad we got to complicate that. It's important to me that the project be about the idea that there are genuinely good and bad people on any side of a conflict, whether that's Inner / Belter or Democrat / Republican or USA / Russia / NATO / China / etc. The Expanse is an ongoing argument that things are complicated.”

The slow burn of the middle of this season seems to be over: with Prax joining the crew of the Roci as they head back to Ganymede to search for his daughter, the next arc is well underway. It’s about time, too: there are five more episodes remaining in the season, and then it’ll be a long wait until 2018 for the next batch.