The Expanse, one of the best sci-fi shows in recent years, finally returns this week. And while the Syfy drama's first season often felt like a 10-episode prologue, meticulously setting up the show's complicated universe, in its sophomore run, The Expanse puts a higher priority on action and answers.
Picking up directly after the genocide on Eros, Holden (Steven Strait), Miller (Thomas Jane) and the Rocinante crew are struggling to figure out their next move while Mars and Earth inch closer and closer to war. TVGuide.com spoke with showrunner Naren Shankar about the mysterious blue substance, the introduction of the Martian perspective and much more!
The finale ended with Miller, Holden and the crew escaping Eros. Where will we see them heading when Season 2 picks up?
Naren Shankar: That is the topic of discussion, because where do they go? They're not sure who to trust. They basically barely escaped with their lives. Holden and Miller have been severely irradiated and poisoned. They barely made it back to the ship alive. And the first order of business is going to be, "Where they hell do we go? And what the hell are we going to do now?" Because remember, they also have something that they brought back that they found on the stealth ship the Anubis. There was a safe on there and they don't know what's in that either. So the beginning of that is really, "What is the course of action?" And they're in a new dynamic because Miller is suddenly onboard this ship and there's also all sorts of unfinished businesses, so to speak, because Amos (Wes Chatham) shot Miller's best friend to get the ship out of Eros in the first place. So there's a lot of unfinished business to clean up from the end of Season 1 at the beginning of Season 2.
It was so great seeing Holden and Miller teaming up at the end of last season. Will we see Miller and Holden continue to work together?
Shankar: Yeah, this is part of the new dynamic. Part of the fun - and a lot of people said this to us about Season 1 - is the way we took our time getting to Miller and Holden and the rest of the Roci crew finally intersecting. You so wanted it by the time that it happened and now it's here. That really does create a new dynamic in this ship. There's a lot of unfinished business from Season 1, and that's really a fundamentally new dynamic that we're going to play out in Season 2.
How would you describe the new dynamic onboard the Rocinante?
Shankar: Well, I'd almost turn that question back to you. Can you see Miller fitting in with anybody all that well? He is a unique personality and there's a lot of weight on them. There's a lot of weight in terms of what each of them have discovered, what each of them have been through. Everybody's kind of in a new place. Miller's no longer a cop. Miller doesn't have the girl he traveled across the solar system to find. That ends in tragedy. And it's a question of, "Are they going to be able to work together? Are they going to pull each other apart?" That's what's in the air when we start Season 2.
How will Holden's idealism be challenged the more involved he gets in this mass conspiracies?
Shankar: You used the exact right word to describe him. He really is an idealist. And the more they learn about what's really going on on Eros and what is called the protomolecule is really about, it's really going to take its toll on Holden's idealism. In Season 1, when we went back to Holden's childhood home, his mother described him as, "He wanted to be the good guy. He wanted to be a knight." And when Season 1 started, we had a character who had turned away from that, who had turned his back on wanting responsibility. Well, in Season 1, after what happens to the Cantebury, what happens to the crew, what happens with the protomolecule, what happens on Eros, Holden chooses a fight. And now he's determined to fight to the end. But when you get involve in a war like that, it takes its toll and it can change who you are. So you are going to see the idealistic Holden go through a lot of changes in Season 2 as it goes forward.
I think Amos and Naomie (Dominique Tipper) have such interesting relationship. How will Season 2 expand on and explore that dynamic?
Shankar: I don't want to give too much away about the first couple of episodes, but we deal directly with that because they do have such a unique relationship. And in truth, Holden doesn't really even understand it. Other people around them, they haven't really let anybody into it, so they don't really understand that dynamic. But you can see, even in the last image of Season 1, when Holden and Naomie are holding hands, that there's something more between them that's happening by the end of the season. So that' going to effect the dynamic with Amos as well.
Will we learn more about characters' backstories this season?
Shankar: Yeah, absolutely! I think in much of the way we trickled personal details out about the characters and they became more alive, I think that's a general truth all throughout this season - that we're definitely drilling into these characters much more. They've chosen each other as their family, so to speak, like the Roci crew. These people don't know a tremendous amount about each other, so that learning and that unfolding takes place across the entire season. And of course - I don't know if I'm jumping a question of yours, perhaps - there's new dynamics involved too, because we're bringing other characters into the larger storyline mix with the introduction of Bobbie Draper and the Martian marines in the start of Episode 1.
We learned a lot about Earth and the Belt last season, but not necessarily Mars. What can you say about what the Martian perspective and lifestyle is like?
Shankar: It's a huge portion of Season 2 because you're right. We have an overall storyline that has three perspectives and we didn't really get a tremendous amount of the Martian perspective. Well, the very first opening scene of Season 2, you're going to get the Martian perspective on things. I think people are really going to like it. It's a great bunch of Martian marines. The lead character, Bobbie Draper, who is actually in the second book Caliban's War. She's a fan favorite in the novels. I think people are going to love her. She's played by Frankie Adams. She does a great job.
What should fans who haven't read the books expect of Bobbie Draper?
Shankar: Well, she's a Martian patriot. She's at true believer. She's a Martian marine from a family of soldiers. On Mars, the way the culture works you either go into the military or you go into the terraforming project. Both of them are designed to be moving towards the same goal, which is protecting and creating a new home for humanity, turning Mars into a planet with its own atmosphere, environment, etc. Bobbie is one of the frontline soldiers who are willing to fight and die to protect that from what they see as the old dissipated empire that is old earth.
At the end of last season, Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) learned the tech on the stealth ships originated on Earth. How does she balance her moral obligations with her professional duties and appearances?
Shankar: The Avasarala storyline is a huge part of Season 2 as well. She learned that not only were the stealth ships built by Earth but that her closest friend and protégé Errinwright (Shawn Doyle) was mixed up in the whole stealth ship plot. She doest know how, but she also knows that he's a bad guy and he had a very close friend of Avasarala killed. But he's on the other side of whatever's going on. He's part of the group that seems to be trying to create a war between Earth and Mars. She knows he's bad and he doest know that she knows that. And so it becomes a bit of a cloak and dagger with Avasarala and Errinwright.
I believe you referred to it earlier as the protomolecule. Is that what we're calling it now?
Shankar: Yes, that's what it is in the book. You're going to get that terminology right away. It's the weird blue goo that does all sorts of bad sh--. But yeah, it's called the protomolecule.
We saw that it learned to take a human form at the end of last season.
Shankar: That was the very last image of the season so you know there's something much more significant [going on]. It's not just a biotoxin or some sort of weird virus. There's intelligence and agency. It's something very, very different and unusual and scary.
How will the protomolecule continue to evolve this season?
Shankar: A big difference between Season 1 and Season 2 is that Season 1 was to a large extent was about mysteries and conspiracies. It was an unwinding of a conspiracy and who the players are and what was going on and it was told from the outset, essentially, of Miller's detective story of figuring out who this girl Julie was. That's a particularly kind of way to tell a story. It involves a lot of, "It's not the man behind the curtain. It's the man behind the man behind the curtain." It's that kind of storytelling. The difference this year is that things are much more out in the open. So the series and the episodes are in much more forward motion. It's more about action and reaction. Now that people understand what's going on, it's about how they're going to deal with it, how are they going to stop it, how are they going to get more information. It becomes a more fast-paced, but also I think a driving kind of a show. Each of the books has a particular character and we brought that into the series as we've gone forward. I think that's the major difference between Season 1 and Season 2. That's a long way of saying you'll get a lot of answers about what the protomolecule is, what it's doing, what you think it's doing and what they're trying to do with it.
The first season wasn't heavy on action sequences, but the ones you did were really excellent. Will we see the action escalating this season?
Shankar: Yeah, absolutely. I think from the very first opening on Mars to the end of episode 2, which is the two-hour premiere, I think the action fans are going to be quite happy.
One of my favorite things about the first season was Thomas Jane's hair. Whose idea was it to give him that haircut?
Shankar: It warms my heart to hear you say that. It was really unique. Thomas loved it. It became a real thing for him. If you notice, he starts wearing it more Belter fashion. It started kind of as a regular haircut and then it becomes more Belter style. I think by Episode 3 of Season 2 we make a real point of the hairstyle, so I think you're going to enjoy it even more.
The Expanse returns Wednesday at 10/9c on Syfy.