The Peril Imperative

I’ve been binging on the first season of “Expanse” lately and really enjoying it…and also asking myself why I enjoy it. It’s a good instinct for a writer to have—to disconnect from the experience of watching something to study why you’re watching it.  With the Expanse, there are some key factors that hold my attention: I like science fiction, spaceships are cool, explosions are cool, and there are a couple nagging plot questions that I want answered. But there are other much-loved elements that are nowhere to be found. There are no really attractive women (well, one but she was killed in the first episode). There are no familiar faces (the cast is mostly unknown and brings little in terms of personality or chemistry).

So what goes on here? Why the interest? In a word: Peril.

Peril seems to be the new hallmark of successful writing. Whatever you do as a plot designer, peril must be a component. There are three threads in the series and each uses peril to varying degrees. One thread on Earth conveys a sort of mind-games peril where political intrigue is played out.  Another thread on a space station uses an old-fashioned detective story to investigate the seemier sides of the community. Danger lurks around every corner. The final threat involved a group of space jockeys who face one threat after another. Here peril is at it’s most evident as the same group goes from frying pan to fire.  Here’s a list of their travails (spoiler alert):

–They get a distress call. Instant drama.


–In a shuttle, they discover a ghost ship. But this is a trap and they are fired upon.

–The attack is directed at their main ship which is destroyed. They barely get away.

–They must repair their damaged shuttle before the air runs out.

–Enemies respond to their distress signal and they are taken prisoner.

–This ship is also attacked and they barely escape on a smaller cruiser.

From frying pan to fire, over and over. It really is a compelling mix. Of course, my patience has its limits. I stopped watching “Lost” at the end of season one. I stopped watching “Game of Thrones” when the dragon-babe didn’t reach Westeros at the end of season two. I have a good instinct for writer shenanigans, and I worry that Expanse is another case of going on a long-walk for a short drink. But the effective use of peril should be admired and I give props to the Expanse for stringing me along as long as they have.



About Deke

Writer and filmmaker Dale Kutzera is a recipient of the Carl Sautter Screenwriting Award, the Environmental Media Award, and participated in the Warner Brother Writers Workshop. His credits include the TV shows "Strange Frequency" and "Without a Trace" and the independent film "Military Intelligence And You!" He is the author of five novels and the popular "Plot Machine" story-structure guides. He writes about writing and filmmaking at

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