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THE EXPANSE Showrunner Asks, “Are You Sure the Protomolecule’s a Life Form?”

THE EXPANSE Showrunner Asks, “Are You Sure the Protomolecule’s a Life Form?”

This week’s episode of The Expanse was stunning and gorgeous and colossal and whatever other epic adjectives you can find lying around to throw at it. A testament to the show’s dual strengths, “Home” was a fantastic conflagration of science and storytelling.

To get the lowdown on both, we spoke with Executive Producer and showrunner Naren Shankar about the blue goo that’s stolen everyone’s hearts. Obviously, the asteroid-sized elephant in the room is the asteroid-sized asteroid barreling toward Earth of its own volition.

“We are definitely talking about a lot of power!” Shankar said. “Early in the episode, as the Roci crew tries to take stock of what’s happening with Eros, Naomi refers to the fact that Eros is generating around 10 ExaJoules of heat (10^19 J). According to Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham, what the Protomolecule is doing is, essentially, altering Eros’ inertia—something completely beyond the reach of humanity’s future technology. However even in this context, it’s not magic. Whatever the Protomolecule is doing requires energy, and that is why Eros is generating waste heat.”

In fact, Naomi explained during the episode that the Roci had to do a 15 G burn just to keep up with the soaring asteroid.

Obviously getting the science right is a huge concern for Expanse producers, and this means sometimes trimming sci-fi elements that are usually sensationalized. Shankar explained that gravity is the thing TV shows and movies get wrong most often.

“Almost no one wants to deal with the reality of micro-gravity environments or thrust/spin gravity effects in space flight,” he said. “You will never see ‘gravity plating’ or ‘inertial dampers’ on The Expanse. Another typical mistake is the portrayal of a human body exposed to the vacuum of space. As much as we would wish as sensationalistic dramatists, a head would not explode, nor would a body instantaneously turn to ice.”

Beyond function, there’s the form, and the form dispersed throughout the station–with ProtoJulie at its core–was breathtaking. According to Shankar, its design had some larval inspiration. He credits the novel, concept artists Tim Warnock and Ryan Dening, art supervisor Bob Munroe and the SPIN VFX team, and, naturally, the carnivorous glowworms of New Zealand.

Our perception of the Protomolecule has changed dramatically since last season’s finale; it has evolved in our minds from flu-like virus to sentient asteroid-driver. So what kind of life form is it? Shankar had a surprising answer.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but… are you absolutely sure that the Protomolecule is a life form?” he asked. “Take a close look at what seems to have happened to Julie at the end. Is the Protomolecule in the process of consuming her? Or is it transforming her? Or has it perhaps recreated her? Since the Protomolecule didn’t come with an instruction manual, it’s really hard to figure out what its ‘intention’ is–which is part of the fun of the series.”

Now if we only get the glowworms their own show, too.

What’s your verdict on the Protomolecule? Living? Intelligent? Something beyond our imaginations?

Images: NBC/SyFy

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