Canceled shows rarely come back to life.
In the rare cases that such has happened, they’re usually empty husks of what they once were, quickly forgotten as failed attempts to capture the magic that made them beloved in the first place.
So when SyFy canceled 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, but it never felt like a possibility that this ship would ever fly again.
I’m so glad to be wrong.
THE EXPANSE has settled at Amazon, and the return isn’t just as good, 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 realistic style than it could afford on network television. For the first time, it feels like a big, ten hours 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.
It’s also fitting that this new season deals entirely with finding a new home. At the end of the previous season, a giant ring gate opened thousands of new habitable worlds. For the second time in human history, a new frontier beckoned. Suddenly, centuries of squabbling came to an end. Season four picks up months later. The forces of Earth hold the ring gate closed for potential settlers, as Chrisjen Avasarala believes the risks out in the unknown is too high and costly for humanity just brazenly to throw itself into the void.
But her position forces the current status quo to remain unchanged, which leaves the poor Belters permanently under the strict control of Earth and Mars. 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 Rocinante crew to prevent disaster once again before it’s too late.
Meanwhile, Martian soldier Bobbie Draper has returned to her home after Ganymede’s events 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 machinations of the planet. Running alongside the planetary mission is Camina Drummer (Cara Gee, effortlessly charismatic) and her now executive officer Klaes Ashford (the incomparable David Strathairn). They’re keeping a strained peace between Earth, Mars, and the Belters in check while hunting down a dangerous band of pirates preying upon hopeful settlers.
That’s a lot to take in, and THE EXPANSE doesn’t care much about holding your hand if you haven’t caught up. There’s a decent recap at the beginning of the season, but if you’re only now joining in, there’s a solid chance you’re going to be confused. THE EXPANSE has always been dense with its plotting, and that’s as true as ever. Each location has a dozen characters to follow, every one of them with exciting storylines and motivations.
Colonization is the word of the day. But instead of dealing with an old 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 to utilize the land faster, no matter the cost. Is there a moral obligation to force 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). Still, 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 significant players from previous seasons make a return as well. Steven Strait has grown over the series into his part beautifully. He carries the show with an easygoing charm that helps ease over the 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 dreams of setting foot on an actual planet for the first time in her life. 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 show’s all-time greats. Early season MVP Thomas Jane returns as well, better than ever.
The book series is currently fast approaching its finale, and the concluding chapter arrives 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.