TL;DR – Here we explore the many wonderful women that make up the world of The Expanse.
The Women of The Expanse Article –
We are living in the age of prestige television and among that rise has been a Golden Age for Science Fiction on TV. In that rise, The Expanse has been one major standout and has some of the most rounded and best characters on TV at the moment. Today we are going to explore a facet of The Expanse that has been one of its best factors which is its representation of women. While there have been some great female characters across modern science fiction, in The Expanse we get so many examples throughout the series that it is a prominent part of why the show works as well as it does.
Just one note before we dive in, The Expanse is both a TV series and (first) a series of novels. While the TV series has been a faithful adaptation of the books, there are some character differences between the two. So for the sake of clarity, we will be focusing on the representation in the TV show, this also helps in regards to where we fall with Spoilers. With this in mind, at the time of writing four seasons of the TV show have been released covering Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, Abaddon’s Gate, and Cibola Burn. With that, we will be focusing on those stories, but as Season Five (Nemesis Games) is coming soon, we may make some allusions to content there.
We begin with Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) someone running from her past and finding a family in the process. When we first meet Naomi, she is hiding out on the Canterbury quietly being the most competent person on the ship. We don’t find out why she took a berth on a ship going into deep space until much later, but it is clear that there is a pain in her past.
What we discover is that Naomi has experienced one of the greatest betrayals one can live through, and that is one of being betrayed by the one she loved. Not only did Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) manipulate her into committing mass murder, but when she called him on it, he took away her dear son Filip (Jasai Chase Owens). This pain could have been enough to destroy Naomi (it would have been for me), but she lives every day trying to make amends for that mistake.
This pain would have been tough enough to work through on its own, but Naomi has to do it while also living in two worlds, both pulling at her. There is the Belter family that she was born into and where she derives her identity from and then the new family that she makes with the crew of the Rocinante. Naomi has the unenviable task of trying to see the best for both her families, even when one side in conflict with the other. She has power for great love, which we see with Holden (Steven Strait) and she has the fierceness to stick to her convictions even after what life has consistently thrown at her.
Then there is Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) someone who you 100% want on your side and who 100% you don’t want as an enemy. Gunnery Sergeant Roberta “Bobbie” W. Draper is someone that is very much a product of her upbringing, being the quintessential Martian. She comes from a strong military family and serving and defending Mars is at a core of who she is, and she is damned good at it. We see that in how she is in complete command of her team’s loyalty, something she does not take for granted.
However, Bobbie is not just some stereotypical grunt that exists only as a yes-man. She feels strongly about whom she is and what Mars is, and is not afraid to voice her mind, even to the Secretary-General of Earth. When faced with the potential of having an easy life, but throwing one of her own troops under the bus, she fights for what is right, even to the point of taking a significant personal loss in the process. Bobbie is also the person you want on your side in the middle of a crisis because she always stays calm and surgically dismantles all the problems in her way.
Where we get to see Bobbie shine is when she has been stripped away from everything that gave her life purpose, her rank, her pension, her future. However, instead of wallowing in defeat, okay after a little wallowing in failure, she works to help Mars’ future. This was even when Mars had turned its back on her. It is here where she can see the rot in the fabric of Mars’ military hierarchy, and even as a mob enforcer, she still has Mars’ future in mind.
If there has been one character whose role has been expanded from the books, it would Camina Drummer (Cara Gee) and it probably one of the best decisions the adaptation makes. Camina has one drive, and that is to better The Belt and Belters in whatever way she can. That drive means that she can encourage every person she works with by sheer force of personality alone. In a show of speeches, Camina’s rally of the Behemoth’s crew is a moment of sheer awesome.
Camina also understands The Belt intimately, probably more than even Dawes (Jared Harris), Johnson (Chad L. Coleman), and Ashford (David Strathairn) the political core of The Belt. This understanding of The Belt means that she ‘can see the bigger picture’ which brings the respect of all who work with her. She can turn antagonists into allies, and if you cross her watch out. Out of all the characters on the show, she has the most certainty of who she is and that self-confidence is her real power. A confidence that can be conveyed in a single stare, one you don’t want to be on the wrong end of.
Camina is the power of The Belt personified into a person. She is proud of who she is, won’t let a little thing like a broken back to get in her way, protective over those who are part of her family, and full of wit, charm, love, and anger like an oncoming lightning storm.
Rev. Dr. Anna Volovodov
Then there is Rev. Dr. Anna Volovodov (Elizabeth Mitchell), if there is ever a font of human compassion, it is her. When reading or watching Science Fiction, I have always found that the genre has difficulty depicting people from a religious background. They tend to be just the villain, or somehow the fact that they are religious is a detriment to who they are. Anna not only is religious, but she is also a pastor who runs a church. This would usually come with so much baggage but not here.
The one thing that set her apart from many others in this universe is that she cares, and it is clear that she does, always doing the best she can in every moment. Her compassion is in an eternal fount, and that compassion is the only reason that some characters are still alive. When we first meet her, she is beaten by the Military Police for trying to protect a protester. When the MP realised who they struck, Anna used her power in the situation not for self-promoting but to make sure the injured protestor got the medical treatment they deserved. Her love is boundless, even when it probably shouldn’t be, but she is always there trying to do the right thing even when it would be easier to do the wrong thing, or simply stop caring.
Anna can reach across and connect with people no matter where they are in life and comfort them. It is no surprise that she is the person the team used to convince the fleet to do something they didn’t want to do. She also takes every moment to reach people even in those few moments before a hail of bullets comes their way. Anna also takes her mistakes to heart, like missing the signs that a crewmember was suicidal. Those mistakes with always be with her, she does not brush them off, but she uses them to be a better person and to do better next time. She is the embodiment of everything a religious person should be, and I wish there were more like Anna in the world today.
Julie Mao (Florence Faivre) is very much the inciting incident that the whole show is based around. Indeed, it is no surprise that she is the very first person that we meet in the show as she fights her way out of confinement. Julie grew up in absolute luxury and could have had anything she wanted. Indeed the Mao family are probably the wealthiest and most influential family in the entire solar system. Julie turned her back on her father Jules-Pierre (François Chau) and all of the perks that life offered. This break from her family that and not in some superficial teenage rebellion kind of way. No, it was the conviction that the world needed to be a better place that drove her every move. What she wanted was to help those who were oppressed, help those who were stepped on, and to help those who had been wronged by her own family.
Her drive was so strong that the OPA who was for all intents and purposes in a state of war with her family, not only brought her into the fold but trusted her for what was their most top-secret mission to date. She had the strength to break out of that confinement and the intelligence to work out how to contain the protomolecule. Indeed, when she discovered that she had been accidentally infected, she did everything possible to limit the spread and protect the people around her. While she was not born in The Belt, she was of The Belt.
The first time we meet Elvi Okoye (Lyndie Greenwood), she is full of joy and excitement as she rides in on a dropship to a brand new world. It is a world full of new life, new evolutionary changes, and a dream for a biologist like her. That joy is short-lived when the dropship disintegrates around her. As we discover, it was some of the local Bealters that had set the charges and tried to kill her. It would have been entirely understandable for Elvi to have despised the colonists for what they did, but she doesn’t.
She works with the people, and she calls out the wrong of her boss Murtry (Burn Gorman) and knows when something wrong is happening. Indeed, she also is not afraid to call Holden on his crap when he tries to obfuscate. She is the one who works out how to save everyone from permanent blindness, and in the end, is the one who helps The Investigator (Thomas Jane) finish his last task. But more importantly, after all that, she never loses her enthusiasm for the world and the wonders that can be found.
The Other Extraordinary Women
The Expanse is such a show that it is filled with powerful women that even in smaller roles that might only be there for a hand full of episodes still make an impact. In the first season, we have Captain Theresa Yao (Jean Yoon) of the Donnager, who battled to the last second to make sure Holden and his crew and the information they had made it to safety. There is Monica Stuart (Anna Hopkins) who is an expert in what she does and can smell a good story a mile away. Clarissa Mao (Nadine Nicole) who took the burden of her family on her shoulders and sought the destruction of the one who hurt them. Carol Chiwewe (Patti Kim) who fought for her people and went through painful treatments only to watch the inners come in and try to steam Ilus away from them. Captain Sandrine Kirino (Krista Bridges) who had the sense and intelligence to know when they were being played and to work to stop a conflict before it went past the point of no return. Finally, there is also Lucia Mazur (Rosa Gilmore), a mother and doctor, and someone who is completely fine blowing up a landing pad, but not if it causes harm to others.
However, before we finish, we, of course, have to talk about the one character in the show that is 100% sass, 100% fierce, and 100% not messing around. This means that we are obviously talking about the great Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo). The word iconic gets used too often today, but it is the only word to use with Avasarala, if only for her exquisite taste in fashion alone. One of the changes the adaptation has made in its transition from a book series to a television series is that it introduces characters earlier in the TV show than they appear in the books. This meant we got more of Avasarala on our screens and that can only be a good thing.
For most of the show, Avasarala is the power behind the scenes; she works to keep people safe by manoeuvring and positioning power in a way that is for the best of Earth. That does not mean she is always right, but she is right more often than she is wrong, which is a step above many of her contemporaries. Even when she gets things wrong and finds herself in trouble, she knows how to play the game, like pretending to be ignorant of the larger picture to protect herself until she is in a better position to make a move. She is also someone who is driven by loss. Her son Charanpal was killed in the Callisto Insurrection, and this loss motivates her more than anything.
Avasarala is entirely not scared to speak her mind. Indeed that might be her defining feature, which can be joyous to watch unless you are one of the poor underlings in the firing line. Which makes those moments she is left speechless all the more powerful. She also goes out of her way to understand the world so she can make the best decisions even if that means having a frosty conversation with the mother (Frances Fisher) of alleged terrorist and war starter. She is always trying to understand the big picture to try and work out why the underlying structures are clashing.
However, Avasarala is not infallible, and during Season Four this was brought into sharp relief. Avasarala trusts her gut because it is usually right; however, when she is running for reelection, she is working in a world she has never had to deal with before. It is here when she fails to trust the people she should have trusted, which is something that will propel her character into the next season when even more trails await.
These are but some of the amazing women in The Expanse. Women full of drive, power, flaws, and ability. There are more women in the show that we didn’t get a chance to cover, and in Season Five, I am sure we will be introduced to even more.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Expanse