The Expanse is a Syfy gem that has been praised for the real science behind the fiction. Thanks in large part to the books the series is adapted from and the fact that showrunner, Naren Shankar, has a Ph.D. in Physics, The Expanse has developed quite a following in the scientific community. Set about 200 years into the future, the events in the series do not feel like they have surpassed humanity's ability to adapt.
What makes the show so different from other space operas is the fact that there's no focus on aliens (per se), and instead the series is driven forward by human nature. Divisions caused by vast distances have led to cultural separation that may well have reached irreconcilable differences. The show combines political intrigue, plausible science, and stunning visuals that make it feel more like a thriller along the lines of 24 or conspiracy theory standout Mr. Robot, instead of a fun sci-fi romp like Killjoys.
Because of all the underhanded dealings, there are a lot of players to keep up with. As new and sinister forces begin to permeate the solar system, here's a look at The Expanse Faction Guide:
Governing Body: The UN
Power Players: Chrisjen Avasarala - Interim Secretary-General of the UN, Sadavir Errinwright - UN Undersecretary of Executive Administration, Jules-Pierre Mao - Julie Mao's father and influential business man
In the 23rd century, Earth and its moon are now governed by the UN, and the planet with all the solar system's resources is disliked by anyone who doesn't live there. The abundance of natural resources and ease of access to them have bred an elitist mentality for those who remain on Earth. This arrogance and lack of struggle has fostered a severe distaste among the other factions. In a constant battle for supreme dominance, Earth is teetering on the verge of war with their biggest rival -- Mars.
Though they may be outgunned, Earth's biggest asset is the cunning and unsympathetic intellect of one of the most powerful people on the planet, Chrisjen Avasarala. Having formed alliances with Martians and set spies loose in the Belt and on Earth, Avasarala has every intention of keeping Earth out of Mars' sights.
She's a ball-busting dream weaver who goes toe-to-toe with admirals and dignitaries alike. Though she isn't privy to Mao and Errinwright's involvement with the protomolecule, she knows that something is off and is doing what she can to counteract their treachery. She's not above breaking rules, lying, blackmail, or even treason to see that Earth stays ahead of Mars.
Governing Body: MCR - Mars Congressional Republic
Power Players: Bobbie Draper – MCRN Gunnery Sergeant
Mars was once just a human settlement before its inhabitants decided to break free from Earth's dominion. The idea was to terraform the planet to make it more habitable; however, the cost of war proved too great, and money, along with other resources, was devoted to building its military instead. Those who grew up in these harsh conditions (people still live under domed cities) have in turn developed differently than Earthers. Martians have to work much harder to achieve half as much as people of Earth, yet they still have no real natural resources to speak of. Water and air are the most precious commodities in the solar system, and Martians feel like the people of Earth are lazy, with no appreciation for these things they take for granted. To make matters worse, the Martians are forced to mine additional resources from the asteroid belt, putting them at odds with Belters.
In addition to producing heartier people, Mars technology is far superior to that of Earth's. Their reputation for ruthlessness coupled with their knack for technology made Mars the obvious choice as owner of the stealth ship that blew up the Canterbury. We see their dogged determination in the few characters we've met, but most especially in a newcomer this season, Bobbie Draper. She's fierce, driven, and leads a team of elites within the MCRN. Bobbie is no good at playing politics but is excellent at making war; her desire for a Mars without domes has manifested as ire for all things Earth. With no Martians left to recount what happened on the Donnager, frustrations continue to build as Bobbie and the MCRN still seek revenge for the destruction of the ship.
In season 1, Avasarala tricked the Martian ambassador into action and learned the location of several of Mars' stealth outposts; a move which ended his career when he was exiled from his home planet. There is good reason for Mars and Earth to distrust each other. Once all the evidence pointed to Phoebe Station, both planets raced to send ships to collect whatever data they could. When Mars knew that it was going to arrive after Earth, they scuttled the entire station. The escalation makes them look like they were trying to cover up something they didn't want to be found. The MCRN may not have sanctioned the experiment on Eros, but there's someone in the Martian ranks that is colluding with Earth's UN Undersecretary.
Governing Body: OPA - Outer Planet Alliance (often deemed a terrorist organization)
Power Players: Fred Johnson - Former UN Marine/Earther, now head of Tycho Station; Anderson Dawes - OPA Leader on Ceres; Julie Mao - OPA member
Belters are born in the asteroid belt that separates Mars from the outer planets. Because of the low gravity conditions in The Belt, and their separation from humanity, Belters have their own unique language and physiology. They tend to be long and lean, and often have a hard time functioning in environments with real gravity. Portrayed as poorly educated and less than human, Belters have no protections from bigger militaries and are often taken advantage of by them. Both Mars and Earth see Belters as expendable.
It is from this oppression that the Outer Planet Alliance (OPA) was born. At present, the OPA is still fractured with smaller groups who have their own rogue agenda (like blowing up Avasarala's helicopter in the season 2 premiere). Ultimately their goal is to prove that Belters are worthy of standing with Mars and Earth instead of groveling at their feet.
Anderson Dawes is a necessary evil as the head of the OPA on Ceres given his ideals trend toward fundamentalism and away from peaceful. Though powerful, Dawes is a much smaller part of the OPA than former Earther, Fred Johnson. After the events that named him the "Butcher of Anderson Station," Johnson left his UN Military career behind; defecting to the OPA where he became their spokesperson. With Tycho station under his tutelage, he and his influence have now become a major player in the delicate political climate of the Sol System. With the UN Navy cover-up that was revealed by former Fleet Admiral Souther, Avasarala may now be less inclined to underestimate Johnson’s motivations for defecting.
Most recently, the OPA has picked up new help and perhaps the upper hand thanks to the crew of the Rocinante and the priceless, deadly cargo within.
The Crew: Alex Kamal - Pilot, former MCRN pilot; Jim Holden - Captain, former UN Marine, Earther; Amos Burton - Mechanic, Earther; Naomi Nagata - Engineer, Belter; Joe Miller - Former Star Helix Security Detective, Belter
Holden, Naomi, Amos, and Alex are all that remain from the Canterbury -- the ship destroyed in The Expanse series premiere that accelerated the unrest between the three factions. There was a time when they all believed themselves to be on the same page; however, the trust was broken when it was revealed that Alex had served in the MCRN and Naomi had OPA ties. The deception that subsequently saved their lives – diverting to the distress signal and picking up Julie Mao’s trail – is how the crew crossed paths with disgraced Belter detective, Joe Miller.
After surviving Martian capture, Belter riots, and coming face-to-face with the protomolecule and severe radiation on Eros, this miss-matched crew with ties to every corner of the political-sphere has found common ground. Their inherent diversity and determination to get to the bottom of who started the protomolecule experiment and why make them a force that cannot be ignored. With Fred Johnson's backing, and their knowledge of classified information, they're sure to become a target for those who want to keep the extrasolar material a secret.
With an unknown player still behind these stealth ships and their attacks, and the uncertainty surrounding the protomolecule and who is studying it, all of the factions continue to play the blame game, while the Roci crew might just be the only hope to stop a full scale war.
The Expanse airs Wednesday nights at 9/8c on Syfy.