Yes, the Channel That Gave Us Sharknado Deserves a Hugo

Ok. I know that “Leviathan Wakes,” The Expanse’s representative in the Hugo Award’s Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category comes from the same channel that is responsible for the Sharknado franchise. It’s also up against not just one but two episodes of Game of Thrones. You’re probably thinking, the odds aren’t so great that it’ll pick up the win. But it should, and I’m here to tell you why.

The Expanse as a whole is a science fiction gift to television — in fact I think there’s an argument to make that it deserves a Hugo if for nothing more than to reward SyFy for their investment. Because half-assing a series that leans on and derives so much of its heart from hard science simply wouldn’t be worth the effort. And SyFy, thank the Maker, recognized that and went all in, from giving it the budget needed to bringing on series authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck as producers. We need good science fiction on TV, SyFy has given it to us, and the episode “Leviathan Wakes,” which not-so-coincidentally shares a title with the first book of the series, is the culmination of those efforts.

Spoilers Ahoy!

On its own, this episode is a pretty good microcosm of what makes the show so great. It’s only shortcoming is that there isn’t a lot of zero G to show off space as well as it does in other episodes, such as “CQB,” but what it lacks in this area it makes up for with character-driven scenes, plot, and the politics that make this show so special.

The most obvious thing to talk about is plot. All season we’ve been trying to piece together the seemingly disparate but absolutely related mysteries of Julie Mao’s disappearance, the destruction of the Canterbury, warmongering between Earth, Mars and the Belt, and how it all connects to the weird alien goo that really should not be used as skin cream. This episode rewards us for our patience: there is no bait and switch, no dragging out the mystery. We get our answers served up cold in the form of an alien bio-weapon being brutally tested on unknown Belters trying to carve out a living on an asteroid. Are there still unanswered questions? Of course. But this episode has the decency to give us a healthy dose of plot progression that tells you in no uncertain terms that the Powers that Be behind the show know exactly where they’re taking us and how to get there. Give them some points for that one.

Miller and Holden have a really bad day in this episode.

“Leviathan Wakes” gives us the shows’ characters at their best, narratively speaking anyway. Watching central characters Holden and Miller vomit blood as they suffer from radiation poisoning isn’t really seeing them at their best, but you catch my drift. We see defining character moments from most of the main cast. Miller shows us a brief crack in his wise, tough-guy cop armor when he wistfully asks Holden what rain tastes like. Ultimate paragon James Holden makes a deliberate, conscious choice to go full-on Vader when tempted by the Dark Side. Naomi Nagata very calmly reveals her past involvement in the OPA and uses that experience to lead her crew and several refugees to safety, without losing an ounce of respect or authority with her crewmates. Amos, when faced with siding with the person he felt gave them the best shot at survival and protecting Naomi, chooses Naomi in the most Amos fashion possible. In a brilliant, perfect, awesome gender role reversal, Avasarala sends her husband to safety while she rolls up her sleeves to not only save the solar system, but do her best to avoid being assassinated — or worse — in the process.

Oh, and can I take this moment to point out a glorious scene in which four of the most powerful people in the solar system are standing together in one room, and only one of them is white?

The richest man in the solar system, a general of the UN fleet, the second most powerful politician in the UN and the most powerful politician in the UN who isn’t an elected official.

This show provides us with some eerie and sometimes uncomfortable parallels to our society right now: racism, the dehumanization of entire populations to suit someone else’s agenda and a political powder keg ready to go off with catastrophic consequences. The Expanse has it all, with much of it on display in “Leviathan Wakes.” It deserves the Hugo, not just on its own merits, but because SyFy took a risk to give us tremendous science fiction, and they should be rewarded so we keep getting more. So if you haven’t watched The Expanse, go do it. Please! Though you’ll probably want to start with “Dulcinea,” so you can get the satisfaction you deserve from “Leviathan Wakes.” I promise there are no sharknados.

Screencaps from Fading Tomorrow.

 

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