I wasn’t feeling too well and a science fiction aficionado acquaintance of mine posted praise for a new SyFy show called The Expanse. I decided to give it a try and after watching the first episode I found myself thoroughly absorbed due to it’s compelling characters, intricate plot and high production values. I binged it over the next two days without regrets and look forward to subsequent seasons.
While watching it, I noticed a number of things that weren’t necessarily evident to the average viewer so wanted to share the information informing my enjoyment of it. Spoiler alert to those that have yet to see the show – in order to share my perspective, I have to speak in some detail about a number of points.
The ship Tachi has its name changed to Rocinante
It was upon viewing this name change that a number of previous events in the show took on a new meaning. Tachi is the name of the Mars Class ship that allows James Holden, Naomi Nagata and others to escape attack by an as of yet unknown enemy. Following escape from the battle, the ship is piloted to Tycho Station, an area controlled by Fred Johnson and the Outer Planet Alliance.
Now Rocinante is the name of the not so mighty nag of Don Quixote de la Mancha. Besides the fact that both Rocinantes transport people from adventure to adventure, there’s not much similarity beyond the name. It does, however, hint at a number of interesting signifiers that relates Iberian History and Literature which I touch on below.
Don Quixote is plagued by Enchanters, James Holden is plagued by an unknown Forces
In the first episode we see James Holden, the Executive Officer of The Canterbury, and a small crew launch off their main ship on a small craft to investigate a distress signal. Shortly after discovering that the signal was likely designed to get their main ship to stop its path – a cloaked ship destroys the Canterbury.
A number of Don Quixote’s adventures consist of him misinterpreting circumstances around him for situations that require him to intervene. These interventions, however, don’t actually assist those that he imagines in need of help and result in him getting hurt.
Now, I don’t believe that Holden is a variant or new incarnation of Quixote. From what we know of his character he’s not obsessed with knight-errantry or some other sort of fiction. However, following the death of his crewmates on the Canterbury which he blames himself for, he does seem to gain greater moral agency by uncovering and revealing the REAL truth about the Canterbury – which he is not yet aware of.
The viral spread of Holden’s video denouncing the Martians mirrors the publication of Don Quixote part II in Don Quixote Part II
In book two of Don Quixote, the eponymous character learns that the tales of his adventures have been published and he meets many people that are aware of who he is. Quixote does not mind this, but he does take qualm upon learning that a sequel, published by Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, is also available for purchase at booksellers stalls and that it contains many falsehoods. Don Quixote criticizes this False Quixote and even adjusts some of his behaviors so as to not be mistaken for the fake one.
Holden’s transmits a video denouncing the Martians for their purported blowing up of the Canterbury. This video makes him known far and wide. Upon encountering Martian consumers of the material, however, this fame is turned into infamy. He later realizes that they are not the one responsible and thus tries to correct the false image of him that exists in people’s minds.
Episode 7, titled Windmills, features a copy of Cervantes’ Quixote that is the brief subject of conversation between Holden’s mother and Avasarala
That’s mostly it in the headline. The only additional comment worth making is how it is that here we learn that Holden doesn’t, according to his mother, recognize Don Quixote as a tragedy. While I’d argue that Don Quixote isn’t tragedy – though it does has elements of it – it’s interesting that this comment is made to provide insight into Holden’s character.
The Geographic relationship between the Outer Belt and the Core Planets mirrors that of Spain and the Colonies
Placing the two maps side by side ought to suffice to illustrate this point.
However I think that it’s worth reinforcing this point through the below one.
The Economic relationship between the Outer Belt and the Core Planets mirrors that of Spain and it’s Colonies
The Outer Planets exist in a relationship to Earth of complete economic dependence. Air and the technologies needed to survive are scarce. Belters lives on the physical and technical periphery of interplanetary trade. It is a large part of the reason that they have organized themselves into economic/political alliance. Why? Because resource extraction seems to be the primary economic activity and thus they are for the most part the suzerain partner to the much larger state. The Belt clearly demonstrates the qualities of a periphery as described in a historical context in Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s Dependency and Development in Latin America and Immanuel Wallerstein’s Modern World Systems series.
While there are numerous allusions to this dynamic within the conversations of the characters I could quote, I found the graphic depiction of this relationship as illustrated following the capture of an OPA smuggler by United Nations forces to be particularly compelling.Chrisjen Avasarala, a powerful UN executive, submits the smuggler to gravity torture. His body is so distorted that literally can’t even stand up on his own – thus drastically limiting the possibilities for occupational development elsewhere. This is the curse of many a export economy, which is unable to develop a middle class due to underdevelopment.
The OPA Symbol is the IWA Symbol
The International Workers Association, also called the First Internationale, was an umbrella group for Anarchist and Socialist groups organizing in Europe founded in 1864. It was internationalist in orientation, but split into two main factions that disagreed whether or not to engage in parliamentary struggle or not. The faction supporting Mikhail Bakunin – the wing that rejected such struggles and which would later advocate for propaganda by the deed in the form of bombings and assassinations found it’s most numerous and vibrant following in Spain.
I don’t mean by the above to put forward an argument that claims that Iberian History and Culture are as influential to The Expanse as Game of Thrones is to the War of the Roses – as shown below – but merely to shows some interesting overlaps that I noticed with an area of my study.