Cancelled shows rarely come back to life.
In the rare cases that such has happened, they’ve usually been empty husks of what they once were, quickly forgotten as failed attempts to capture the magic that made so many fall in love with them in the first place.
So when SyFy cancelled THE EXPANSE without much fanfare two years ago, it was expected by most that this was it. So long, one of the best science-fiction shows out there, and farewell the crew of The Rocinante. Fans gathered together for a petition, as was expected, but it never felt like a possibility that this ship would ever fly again.
I’m so glad to have been proven wrong.
THE EXPANSE, now settled at Amazon, returns not just as good as it used to be, but in many ways better and more focused than ever before. The jump onto an online platform has streamlined the storytelling and pushed the narrative towards a cleaner, more effective style than it could afford on network television. For the first time it feels like a big, ten hour long movie that just happens to have little pauses every forty five minutes or so. That’s not a knock on the previous seasons either, they remain some of the best ongoing television available. But releasing the show all at once, and allowing the audience to truly get lost in the, well, expanse of the storytelling really pays off.
It’s also fitting that this new season deals entirely with finding a new home. At the end of the previous season, the giant ring gate opened access to thousands of new habitable worlds. For the first time in human history, a new frontier was within reach. After centuries of squabbling over declining resources on Earth, humanity could expand once again. Season four picks up months later. The forces of Earth are holding the ring gate closed for potential settlers, as Chrisjen Avasarala believes the risks out in the unknown reaches of space are too high and costly for humanity to just brazenly throw itself into the void. Even if it means forcing the current status quo to remain unchanged, leaving the poor Belters permanently under the strict control of Earth and Mars. But when a group of settlers breaks through the blockade and Belter terrorists begin to chip away at the tenuous peace at the ring gate, Avasarala has no choice but to contact James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante to once again prevent disaster before it’s too late.
Meanwhile, Martian soldier Bobbie Draper has returned to her home after the events of Ganymede to find a changed culture that no longer needs or wants her kind around. Lost and without purpose, Bobbie finds her way into the underworld of the planets machinations. Alongside this is the third storyline; where Camina Drummer (Cara Gee, effortlessly charismatic) and her now executive officer Klaes Ashford (the incomparable David Strathairn) are keeping a strained peace between Earth, Mars, and the Belters, while hunting down a dangerous band of pirates preying upon hopeful settlers.
That’s a lot to take in, and THE EXPANSE doesn’t really care much about holding your hand if you haven’t caught up yet. There’s a decent recap at the beginning of the season, but if you’re only now joining in there’s a solid chance that you’re going to miss out on most of what’s going on. The series has always been dense with its plotting, and that’s never been as true as it is with this season. Each location has a dozen characters to follow, every one of them with interesting storylines and motivations. Colonization is the word of the day, but instead of dealing with an aged trope of natives vs. new settlers, THE EXPANSE asks instead who holds claim to new territory: Those who risk life and limb to get there first, or those with power and the means to utilize the land faster, even at the cost of everyone who came before them? Is there a moral obligation in forcing life changing decisions upon people if you know that their future might depend on it? The show isn’t too subtle about who it sides with (the main antagonist is called Adolphus), but even with a certain level of heavy handedness the storytelling remains wonderfully nuanced and mature.
Much of the action has been toned down for this new season as well. Season three saw the conclusion to a massive galactic skirmish, where an all out war was inches away between three rival factions. It’s a bold choice in isolating your main cast on a deserted planet to discuss the ethics of colonization after all that, but somehow THE EXPANSE pulls it off.
All major players from previous seasons make a return as well. Steven Strait has grown over the series into his part beautifully, and he has begun to carry the show with easygoing charm that helps ease over self-imposed savior complex that Holden embodies. The great Shohreh Aghdashloo is elegant even as she curses like a sailor, or perhaps because of it. Dominique Tipper is a delight, consistently exploring new depths in Naomi Nagata, who for the first time in her life dreams of setting foot on an actual planet. Wes Chatham continues to impress as Amos Burton, a no-nonsense man of almost alien precision to his actions. And while Cas Anvar gets less to do this season than in previous ones, his character Alex Kamal remains one of the all time greats in the show. Early season MVP Thomas Jane returns as well, better than ever.
While GAME OF THRONES was rightfully praised for its casting, it’s clear that THE EXPANSE has effortlessly picked up the mantle this time around.
The book series is currently fast approaching its finale, and the concluding chapter is set to be released sometime next year. For now, Amazon has agreed to fund at least season five of the show, which is currently in production. If there’s any justice in the world, THE EXPANSE will find a wider audience with its jump online, and this time the crew of The Rocinante will get to keep flying until the end.
All seasons are currently streaming on Prime Video, which means around forty episodes of some of the best sci-fi out there is readily at hand. I can’t recommend them highly enough.