TV: The Expanse (Season 4)

With season four, we can consider The Expanse’s jump from SyFy to Amazon Prime a success. (Or should I say a fucking success, now that it has embraced its newfound liberty to cuss.) This new season didn’t floor me to the same extent that seasons two and three did, but it also does nothing to diminish the series’ reputation as one of TV history’s best science fiction shows, delivering another bracing, suspenseful narrative.

The focus this season is on drastic changes to the balance of power caused by the advent of the ring gates, which have given humanity access to over a thousand habitable worlds. The resulting colonial “gold rush” has dramatic ramifications in the solar system, where United Nations leader Christjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) struggles told hold power with a cautious approach to planetary expansion even as rivals challenge her with more aggressive plans. Christjen’s concerns are well-founded when trouble brews on Ilus, one of the earliest colonies. There, Belters have staked a claim mining lithium despite the protests of an officious company called Royal Charter Energy. The conflict on Ilus prompts Christjen to send the crew of the Rocinante—captain James Holden (Steven Strait), engineer Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), pilot Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), and muscular mechanic Amos (Wes Chatham)—to investigate, and they immediately find themselves mediating disputes between the Belters and the RCE, whose expedition is led by violent, revenge-obsessed Adolphus Murtry (Burn Gorman). Unfortunately, Holden’s mysterious, protomolecular passenger—who appears to Holden as deceased investigator Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane)—has other designs on Ilus, which turns out to be less hospitable to human colonization than originally suspected. Back in the solar system, the Belters—represented by Medina Station officers Drummer (Cara Gee) and Klaes Ashford (David Straithairn)—maintain the new, tenuous truce with Earth and Mars. The Belters are charged with restricting travel through the ring gates, which leads to tension as desperate immigrant ships line up to start a new life. Meanwhile, on Mars, disgraced marine Bobbi Draper (Frankie Adams), is forced to witness Mars’ grand terraforming experiment gradually deteriorate as the opportunities of the ring gate suddenly deprioritize the planet’s proud, long-term vision for a livable planet. In order to make a living, Bobbi falls in with a bad crowd as the desperate circumstances on Mars lead to new personal challenges.

Season four’s A story—the Ilus mission—is a refreshing change of scenery, in that it allows the crew of the Roci out of the ship for change, to explore an alien world. The mysterious alien artifacts and weird conditions give Ilus plenty of character, although the conflict between the Belters and the RCE does feel a bit familiar: basically a renewal of the faction-y bickering that drives the earlier seasons. The major focus here also means less time for the side plots back in the solar system, which are also worthy and interesting, particularly Bobbi’s struggles on Mars as her tainted reputation and the death of the Martian dream lead to dramatic changes. The various narrative tracks feel a bit more scattered than usual, then, but the season accelerates nicely in its final few episodes, delivering yet another entertaining climactic showdown. The actors are in fine form, the production values are better than ever, and the world remains immersive and compelling. Very much looking forward to season five.


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