Exploring even the most seemingly impossible futuristic conflicts can often lead people to reflect on battles that are plaguing modern society. That’s certainly the case for the ensemble group of diverse characters, and the viewers who have pledged their allegiance to watching them the past four years, of the realistic sci-fi television series, ‘The Expanse.’
The mystery drama, which is set in a colonized solar system, began with the governments of Earth, Mars and the Asteroid Belt being locked in long-standing conflict. The crew of the illegally salvaged warship, the Rocinante, then stumbled on a vast conspiracy and a mysterious alien technology that’s threatens to upend the balance of power and the fate of humanity. The Hugo Award-winning, high-action adventure show broadens the vision of humanity’s path in the future, and also offers a deeply-felt examination into the most critical, raw and pressing issues of today.
‘The Expanse’ is based on the popular sci-fi novels series of the same name by James S.A. Corey (the collective name used by collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). The screen adaption was created by the Academy Award nominated writing duo, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby.
The sixth episode of the show’s current fifth season premiered last Wednesday, January 6 on Amazon Prime Video. The episode, which is titled ‘Tribes,’ was written by Abraham and Franck, who also serve as executive producers on the drama), and directed by Jeff Woolnough.
Season Five of ‘The Expanse’ picks up as multitudes of humans leave the solar system in search of new homes and vast fortunes on the earth-like worlds beyond the alien Ring. Humanity has to pay a heavy price for centuries of exploitation of the Belt, which leads to a reckoning. For the crew of the Rocinante and the leaders of the Inner Planets and the Belt, the past and present converge, which brings forth personal challenges that have wide-reaching repercussions throughout the Solar System.
Amos (Wes Chatham) returns to Earth to confront his past and the legacy of the life he fought to leave behind. Naomi (Dominique Tipper) reaches out to her estranged son in a desperate bid to save him from his father’s toxic influence. Bobbie (Frankie Adams) and Alex (Cas Anvar) confront the collapse of Mars as they chase a shadowy cabal with ties to terrorists and criminals. Holden (Steven Strait) wrestles with the consequences of his own past with the Protomolecule, the aliens who built it and the mystery of what killed them. Drummer (Cara Gee), who’s working with a new crew, fights to escape who and what she used to be, while Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) refuses to be relegated to the sidelines, and must therefore fight to prevent a terrorist attack unrivaled in history.
Gee and Franck generously took the time last week to talk about starring in, scribing and producing episodes in ‘The Expanse’s current fifth season, particularly ‘Tribes,’ during individual exclusive interviews over the phone. Among other things, the actress and writer-producer discussed that the series’ showrunner, Naren Shankar, and producing team, have crafted an extremely collaborative environment on the set that allows the cast and crew to offer their creative insights on the characters and plolines. They both also mentioned that they feel that the stories’ timely nature is one of the drama’s strengths, as i=the timeliness focuses on basic human nature that’s repeated throughout history, despite its potential to cause harm.
The conversation with Gee began with Gee explaining how Drummer’s journey during ‘The Expanse’s first four seasons has shaped the person she has become during the current fifth season. “We left Drummer at the end of Season 4 when she decided to part ways with the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance), as she wanted to live a life outside of politics. But throughout the course of this season, we see that she’s kept being pulled back into the fight,” she noted.
“I’m extremely grateful that this season, we get to show one of the elements of the books that’s my favorite, which is this beautiful, polyamorous relationship. I think with the incredible new cast members who I got to work with, as well as the phenomenal writers, we’re able to show a respectful, tender and real polyamorous relationship,” the performer gushed. “I think we’ve been able to avoid a hyposexualized cliché, and I’m really grateful for, and proud of, that representation.”
Franck began his interview by explaining what his experience is like of collaborating with the ensemble cast for each episode, as both a writer and producer. “Last season, I wrote three, and produced six, of the 10 episodes. For the episodes that I was a writer, we’d go to rehearsals and be on set during filming, so that I would be available to answer any questions that the actors might have,” he shared.
“That’s especially important during the table reads and early rehearsals. If they have any questions or thoughts about their characters in the script as they were written, we’re there to answer them,” the scribe continued. “So there’s a lot of back and forth.
“Once filming starts, the most important collaborator with the actors is the director. (As a writer,) you definitely don’t want to get between the actors and the director. But before that, there’s definitely a lot of conversation that happens between us as the writers and actors,” Franck added.
Further speaking of his collaboration with each episode’s helmer, the producer followed up on his experience of working with all of the directors. “The directors are actually hired by the studio; we, as the producers, don’t hire them. But once the studio hires them, the writers and producers work closely with the directors,” he disclosed.
“Once they have the scripts, the directors will make notes, and sometimes ask for clarification, or adjustments to a scene if they think there’s a version they’d like to try,” Franck divulged. “Our group has always been open to that, and I like working with directors who challenge the material. They force you to defend the creative choices you’ve made.
“As an on-set producer, we work with the directors on any notes they may have on the performances, or the way (a scene) is being shot. So there is a lot of collaboration with them,” the producer added.
Gee also chimed in on the process of collaboration with the show’s scribes and helmers to develop Drummer’s arc in each each episode. “I must say that the series’ showrunner, Naren Shankar, as well as Ty and Dan, who wrote the books, and our team of producers have created an extremely collaborative environment. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever worked on before, especially since every single team members’ ideas are valued. There’s a real sense of letting the best idea win, and setting aside egos, and that’s incredible; I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of something like that,” she gushed.
Like some of the other characters on the season, Drummer is struggling with how her means of survival are conflicting with her morals. The actress noted that her character’s newfound morals guide her throughout the rest of the season. “This is such a dream role. She’s so extraordinarily competent, but she’s not a fearless leader, as there’s quite a bit at stake for her here. But she deals with things the best way she knows how, and portraying a character like this is amazing,” she revealed.
“Throughout this season, we’re also seeing a lot of her vulnerabilities, as well. She’s not a lone gun anymore, as she has other people she has to consider. So seeing her contend with that, and weight all of her options, makes her story so compelling. It makes it such a joy to showcase that,” Gee added.
One of the biggest moral dilemmas that Drummer has faced throughout the series is deciding to team up with renegade OPA terrorist Marco Inaros and his Free Navy, an alliance which she reluctantly agrees to accept in ‘Tribes.’ The performer delved into why her character agreed to the association with Marco, who’s played by Keon Alexander, and how the union will influence her fight for survival.
“One of my favorite things about this show is that no one is ever totally right, and no one is ever totally wrong,” the actress pointed out. “To be able to think about what Marco is doing, in terms of the catastrophe loss of life he’s cause, is horrifying and wrong.
“But Drummer has also seen catastrophe loss of life due to the OPA’s oppressive policies, including its taxation and restriction of access to air and water. So how far can you push a group of people until they push back, and they have nothing left to loose? That’s one of the things that the show asks us to consider,” Gee also emphasized. “I can appreciate that if Marco is successful, history won’t look back at his acts as terrorist acts; they’ll instead be the foundation for our country.”
Drummer’s new relationship with Marco influences her journey throughout the season, which the performer enjoyed working on during this season’s production. “One of the things that I love about Drummer is that she sees through his bullsh*t. I like that in Episode 6, they kept in when I roll my eyes at him. She’s so exasperated by him, even by the fancy way he talks and his showiness, as she’s so matter-of-fact.
“But at the same time, at the core, what he’s fighting for is what she’s really fighting for,” Gee admitted. But she pointed out that the two characters “have completely different tactics, which certainly sets them up for some interesting conflict.”
The actress then delved into the fact that the television show is based on the novels, and how having the book series as the source material influences the way she approaches playing Drummer. “I love the books, so I find it very inspiring to have them as a reference. As the seasons have gone on, Drummer has consumed the storylines of some of the other characters from the books” who may not appear on the show, she revealed.
“So I’m really grateful to have that source material, and seeing what (story elements) the writers are choosing to include in the (show’s) storylines…For me, it’s an incredible and exciting process to have such great source material to draw on,” Gee added.
Franck also delved into how the show is based on his book series of novels, and how having the novels as the source material influences the arc for each season. “The books remain the template for the season, but that’s pretty early on in the development process,” he shared. “Once we have the season laid out, and start outlining specific episodes and go into the scripting stage, we’re still running off of that template.
“But at that point, we’re not still going back and forth between the scripts and the books. I always say the the books are the high-level template for the season,” the writer added.
In addition to scribing and producing ‘The Expanse,’ Franck also co-hosts the drama’s after show, which is titled ‘Ty and That Guy,’ and premieres every Wednesday at 1pm ET/10am PT on Amazon Prime Video‘s YouTube page. Each podcast episode features special guests, including cast and crew members, who discuss their first-hand experience working on the television series. The scribe-producer then delved into what the experience of working on the podcast with the actor has been like throughout the show’s current fifth season.
The podcast “was all Wes’ idea, and he had been talking about creating it for years. He wanted to create a podcast that talks about the show, as well as genre culture, which he and I are both big fans of,” Franck shared. “Amazon had also wanted to do a Season 5 After Show, and Wes and I were excited doing a podcast, so it seemed like a natural fit to marry those two things together.
“Wes and I get along pretty well, and have been pretty good friends since the first season of the show. We have similar tastes in movies and television, so we felt the podcast was a good fit,” the producer added.
While set in the future and rooted in sci-fi elements, ‘The Expanse’ has always been timely and relevant, particularly in terms of humanity having to come together from separate factions in the face of a larger common threat. Gee delved into why she thinks the stories’ timely nature is “one of the strengths of the show, and why it will have a long-lasting legacy. It focuses on cycles that are repeated throughout history. Looking at power, oppression and struggle, and how those cycles will play out over time, is important,” she noted. “One of the most hopeful things about the show is that it forces people to think about these topics deeply.”
Franck also spoke about ‘The Expanse’s timely nature, and divulged that while some elements of the season’s storylines reflect what’s happening in modern society, it’s not always the writers’ top priority to maintain that timeliness in the plotlines. The stories’ timely nature “is never deliberate. Some shows will advertise that they’re ripped from the headlines, but that’s not us; we’re never trying to do that,” he revealed.
“We discovered that, even going back to when the books were written, when you take an event in history, and write about a future version of that event, people will think you’re writing about the current times,” the writer pointed out. “We’ve also discovered that people tend to make the same mistakes over and over again, and never change. So whatever we write about feels both timely and timeless,” he concluded.