The Expanse: “Dulcinea” (S01E01) Review

Season 1, Episode 1: “Dulcinea”
Directed by: Terry McDonough
Written by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby

Hype trains are dangerous. In my experience, the things you want the most rarely live up to expectations. They have the tendency to disappoint you, make you question the meaninglessness of your life, make you want to give yourself a swirly, or eat a fat-ass block of cheese, because who cares if you’re lactose intolerant? the thing you were looking forward to turned out to be a stinking heap of  colon-mangling crap, and WHAT EVEN IS THE POINT ANYMORE?

So. What does this have to do with the pilot episode of Syfy’s The Expanse? NOTHING. AND EVERYTHING. Because it’s amazing, and I haven’t really been able to focus on anything else except how downright awesome this series is going to be. I know. You’re thinking: Philip, stop fanboy-ing. I can’t. Look, full disclosure: I was going to love this show no matter what. I would have watched each episode 70 times over even if it was awful. Like, I’m talking season 6 of Supernatural awful, or maybe even all of Arrow.

canterbury flip and burn

But I am so over-the-moon ecstatic (and a little relieved, to be honest) to say that “Dulcinea” is an amazing start for The Expanse. It succeeds on all the right levels, but that said, I did “rate” this episode 82 points out of a 100, and I’ll explain why. Well, I’ll try to. Huehuehue. I’m trying something new when it comes to “ratings”–because everyone likes arbitrary numerical simplification of thoughts and opinions, right??? (Scroll all the way down if you want to skip the boring shit that is my prose.

As each episode of The Expanse is released, I’m going to focus on one thing in these reviews: the episode title. Why? Because if I talked about everything, I’d probably have a goddamn stroke, sa sa? (I probably didn’t use that right.) More importantly, I like to think that writers put a lot of thought, love, and care into naming things, and I think that alone is enough to talk about. Kennst? (Probably used that wrong too.)

So! DULCINEA. Dool-sin-nay-yuh. Dulcinea dulcinea dulcinea. For those non-English majors out there, Dulcinea is the name of Don Quixote’s “love” in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Readers of Leviathan Wakes will quickly pick up on this reference to the Spanish classic, as Miller is described as “tilting at windmills” in his search for Julie Mao–not to mention a certain ship called the Rocinante, that comes into play later in the story. But what significance does invoking the name “Dulcinea” have within the confines of The Expanse?

Don Quixote never actually encounters Dulcinea in the book–she’s very much an unknown character, but Quixote himself talks about her as if she is an angel, or even a goddess. But Quixote, being . . . well, himself, is living in his own world. His sidekick, Sancho Panza, paints a more believable portrait of her as a humble “peasant” and being “muscular”–not at all like how Quixote imagines her. Like the Hype Train, a person’s “Dulcinea” can be deceiving. It’s oftentimes not what we expect, or what we hoped.

This metaphor works with The Expanse on multiple levels. Firstly: the setting. The future depicted in The Expanse isn’t chrome and FTL drives. It’s an angry, frustrated society, where even air can be taken from you. A very far cry from Utopian. People like to look forward to the future with hope, whether it’s just the day ahead or a decade down the line. But in The Expanse, the “Dulcinea” of humanity isn’t sleek or fashionable or comfortable. Rather, it’s claustrophobic and greedy. The world of the Expanse is Panza’s “Dulcinea,” but there are still people in it that see Quixote’s.

holden amos

Which segues us nicely into the topic of character. Let’s talk about Holden and Miller. If Holden is Quixote, then Miller is Panza. Weird parallels, but stick with me. Obviously, this about the show, not the books, so I’ll refrain from getting too specific/spoilery. Like Quixote, Holden is an idealist; of course, he’s not borderline insane like the Spanish “knight,” but a part of him wants to view the universe as a good place, filled with good people. He’s tilting at windmills, and in some ways, more than a little naive.

On the other side of the coin, you have Miller, whose “Dulcinea” is a bit more tangible. (Sort of). His search for Julie Mao brings him face-to-face with Panza’s grittier portrait of Dulcinea. His existence in the underworld of the solar system makes him considerably more fatalistic in worldview.

So is this future one of hope, or one of threat? It’s this dichotomy that The Expanse smartly places at the core of its thematic body, and one that is beautifully set into motion by the show’s episode uno.

TL;DR The show is fucking fantastic, and you should be watching/re-watching it instead of reading this crap blog post.

 Wandering thoughts on The Expanse, “Dulcinea” (S01E01):

  • Clinton Shorter is killing it with the score. The “fairy tale” vibe that I’m getting from it feels very appropriate, and I get chills from the Opening Credits sequence every time. Also the Hans Zimmer-esque BVROOOMs were well-placed, and made the Canterbury’s flip-and-burn maneuver that much more amazing
  • The CGI for space/ships/cities is beyond excellent. But it was so excellent that the CGI bird that Miller fed looked really bad in comparison. Poor bird 😦
  • “There’s no law on Ceres. Just cops.” -Miller
  • I’m a little super sad that Jonathan Banks only had one scene. ‘Twas fucking great, though
  • After watching this first episode, I can see why Syfy (or whoever) wanted a two-night premiere. Although it’s a great pilot, it does feel like a “part one of two” sort of deal
  • The Roci crew seems to have great chemistry
  • Avasarala had two scenes, and I simultaneously want her as my grandma and my torturer. That’s not weird, right?
  • I will now list everything that was awesome about “Dulcinea”:
    • Thomas Jane
    • Shohreh Aghdashloo–I’m curious to see how they handle Avasarala’s swearing, if it all. Can she cuss in a different language? I don’t know if that’s allowed, either
    • Belter gestures/patois
    • Dat Ceres intro
    • Shed 😦
    • Those walls in New York that block the rising ocean–I don’t know what the fuck they’re called
    • FONTS
    • Thomas Jane
  • December 15, y u so far away?

(you might want to right-click view image to zoom)expanse dulcinea scorecard

4 thoughts on “The Expanse: “Dulcinea” (S01E01) Review”

  1. I like your insight into the titles and names, an area that goes whoosh rather loudly as it passes my ear. I have to wonder if reviewing these episodes is strange for you, what with all your book foreknowledge.
    Anywho, I agree with your low score for sound mixing. I had to turn on the subtitles in the end in order to hear dialogue. I imagine new viewers had no idea what Belter slang was, and thought it mangled sound editing instead. BUT I still loved the pilot. Even if all I got to see was the flip and burn sequence!


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