(The final season of The Expanse premieres on Prime Video on December 10th)
If the sixth season of The Expanse is a finale, it is a heartwarming and satisfying one. By reducing the runtime by half, coming in at just six episodes instead of twelve, it is also breathless almost to a breaking point. If the fifth season was all set up, the sixth, by proxy, is all payoff. The pieces have stopped moving, now it’s time for war.
Now, granted, I don’t think this is the end. At least, that’s not what the signs point to. Everything about the shortened arc, which concludes one conflict as another begins, is more about transitioning to an uncertain future rather than calling it a day. Even though, by the end, there’s a clear point where the series, and our long-suffering heroes, can breathe easy.
Fans of the series know the deal by now. Not everything will translate on screen as expected. Some major things are missing, and the Laconia subplot will probably feel infuriatingly short for many. But as far as adaptations of complex, sprawling material go, The Expanse comes to the finish line as a winner. This is a lovingly constructed version of the books that gets nearly everything right.
Set months into the war against Marco Inaros and his free navy, Earth and the Inner Planets are losing, and badly. Led by an unwavering, but more empathetic Aversarala, the combined forces of Earth and Mars continue picking up the pieces after Marco’s meteor devastated the pale blue dot. Meanwhile, The Rocinante and her crew continue their mission to stop Marco. But the years of combat, and the horrific events of the previous season, are taking their toll. As Naomi copes with her PTSD, Clarissa’s presence drives a wedge into the makeshift family.
Elsewhere, Drummer continues doing what’s best for her crew and lovers, even as Marco’s actions grow more violent daily. At some point, she must choose between her loyalty to the Belt and her own humanity.
Make no mistake, season six is bursting at the seams, and there are moments where the breakneck pacing is a lot to contend with. Even as the episodes run slightly longer this time around, they could easily be twice that and still leave wanting for more. The finale, in particular, goes from one massive set piece to the next so quickly that some vital moments are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it.
The pacing isn’t a dealbreaker, but I can see how some will find it exhausting. Even an additional episode or two would be welcome. Not just to give the explosive action room to breathe, but to allow some brilliant character moments time to flourish. Especially early on, where Naomi and Filip battle with their inner demons, both helplessly trying to fight the turmoil boiling within them.
Similarly, some supporting characters disappear entirely with a passing remark. It’s a shame that the great Jared Harris was unavailable to return, but his smarmy OPA detective Dawes surely deserved a better sendoff.
But The Expanse has never adapted the material in a straightforward fashion. Viewed in conjunction with season five, the final season feels like a natural and logical conclusion. It’s a lot to ask from viewers, but something I feel is justified. As long-form storytelling, The Expanse sets the bar on its own level.
Every actor brings their A-game to the table, probably knowing this might be the curtain call.
As Holden, Steven Strait has grown into one of the most charismatic leading men on television. Dominique Tipper, as Naomi, continues to be one of the queens of sci-fi, magnetic and compelling in everything she does. Wes Chatham grounds the crew with his rough charm, effortlessly bouncing between dry snark and deep malice like it’s nothing. The great Shohreh Aghdashloo magnificently portrays the delicate way in which Aversarala has changed throughout the years.
Equally impressive is Nadine Nicole, playing Clarissa Mao, searching for a place to belong in the middle of cataclysmic events. Some of which are her doing. Cara Gee finally gets her time to shine as Drummer, delivering a complex and nuanced performance that brings the house down by the end. Finally, the series has a beating heart in Frankie Adams, as Bobby Draper, who returns aboard the Rocinante, bringing with her the humor and badassery the series needs.
It’s a bittersweet thing to say goodbye to The Expanse, which is why I hope this isn’t it. As an ending, it’s as good as they come. Most things get a solid, if not perfect, conclusion. But there are so many loose ends, many of them deliberate, that feel like knowing teasers from the showrunners.
The Expanse has survived an ending once already, and I think there are still windmills left for The Rocinante to face. Then again, I’m selfish and greedy, and not ready to say goodbye.
But if this is it, then what a satisfying finale it is.