My wife and I have been taking advantage of social distancing to watch The Expanse — it’s my second time through the acclaimed sci-fi series, her first — and while we usually skip the opening title sequences of most TV shows that we stream, we’ve watched The Expanse’s opening sequence for almost every episode.
Of course, it’s a very beautiful and moving sequence thanks to its main theme. Clinton Shorter’s ethereal music blends perfectly with Lisbeth Scott’s haunting voice. For a long time, I assumed the theme was wordless and instead, the vocals were just singing glossolalia à la Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser, Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard, and the Hopelandic of Sigur Rós. But the theme does indeed feature lyrics courtesy of Scott, who sings in a sort of “future Norwegian.” (Which makes sense given the way languages have evolved in The Expanse as exemplified by the “belter creole” spoken by many characters.)
Stirring music aside, The Expanse’s opening does an excellent — and elegant — job of conveying critical information about the series’ world (or worlds, as the case may be). Beginning with a quick overview of what’s happened to Earth by the 24th century (e.g., it’s over-populated, the ice caps have melted), the sequence then depicts humanity’s expansion throughout the solar system.
Not only does this quick succession of scenes reveal humanity’s growth, it also introduces viewers to the series’ major political and military factions: Earth, Mars, and the Belt, all of whom are jockeying for power. Earth is the old guard, intent on controlling the system and her former colonies; technologically advanced Mars is driven to become a paradise; and the Belt is fighting to keep from being treated as a second class citizen by both Earth and Mars. (Here I’m reminded of Game of Thrones’ opening sequence, which also did an excellent job of introducing viewers to a complex setting.)
The Expanse’s title sequence ends with the striking shot of a lone figure floating in space, suggesting that for all of humanity’s progress and development — as seen earlier in the opening titles — we’re still dwarfed by the cosmos. There’s still so much more out there that’s beyond our comprehension. Within the show itself, that particular theme is driven home by the discovery of the protomolecule, an alien substance that forever changes the solar system and humanity’s fate.
I’ve been singing the praises of The Expanse for years now, and I’m a little ashamed that I haven’t written more about it here on Opus. The show was picked up by Amazon after Syfy canceled it in 2018, and renewed it for a fifth season this past July. Production on season five wrapped back in February, but with the coronavirus messing up schedules everywhere, there’s no telling when Amazon will begin streaming new episodes. In the meantime, though, there’s still four seasons’ worth of some of the best sci-fi currently playing on TV just waiting for you. To pochuye ke?