Part of me envies future fans of The Expanse, who will get to experience one of science fiction’s best serials in one glorious, obsessive binge. The series wrapped with its sixth and final season over the holidays, and while it’s fleeting – crammed into just six brisk episodes – it’s still a satisfying, high-quality sendoff.
Interplanetary squabbling in the solar system once again erupts into full-scale war when populist Belter leader Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander), seeking revenge for decades of inner-planet oppression, launches a cataclysmic attack on Earth. The attack causes countless casualties and permanent damage to Earth’s ecosphere, bringing the world to a new tipping point. With the remnants of its fleet pinned down by Inaros’ resourceful tactics, United Nations leader Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) doesn’t have many cards left in her deck. But she does have the crew of the legendary Rocinante in her corner, which includes conscientious neutralist James Holden (Steven Strait), resourceful engineer Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), and resilient mechanic Amos Burton (Wes Chatham). The crew is joined by Avasarala’s right-hand aide, badass Martian marine Bobbi Draper (Frankie Adams), and Clarissa “Peaches” Mao (Nadine Nicole), a former Rocinante enemy who unexpectedly befriends Amos. Together, the Rocinante once against plays an instrumental role in resolving the violent conflict and setting the stage for the system’s future.
It’s sad to see The Expanse end, and it feels like a rushed ending in many ways – particularly for Nicole’s Clarissa Mao, whose character has precious little time to integrate into the crew. But the show more or less ends on its own terms, at least, bringing the saga to a stirring final inflection point, with a thoughtful denouement that emphasizes the created family, valiant struggle, and well-messaged ethics that made the show so infectious and winning. The principal cast is well served by the material, especially Steven Strait, who spent much of the series in a generic, well-meaning hero role that ultimately pays off in an impressive final act. Also standing out is Cara Gee, whose performance as steely, against-the-grain Belter Camina Drummer evolves from useful side support to one of the show’s more compelling protagonists over the course of the run. It’s not difficult to imagine why the season is so much shorter than previous ones; earlier seasons did have their laggier moments, after all, and the logistics of pandemic production were probably also challenging. Even so, I still think two or three more episodes may have given the narrative a little more room to breathe down the home stretch. But overall, this final session brings The Expanse to an effective, successful resting point, doing more than enough to earn a place on my “eventual rewatch” list – not to mention my list of favorite science fiction shows.