Toward the end of its first new episode in a year and a half, The Expanse bluntly reminds everyone of one of the show’s biggest truths. To accomplish such a feat, the story enlists the brilliant and foul-mouthed U.N. Secretary-General Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), who tells Rocinante commander Jim Holden (Steven Strait), “Do not put your dick in it. It’s fucked enough already.”
(If one could simply review a show’s entire new season per a single line of dialogue, then I would extol the virtues of The Expanse season four via Avasarala’s cursory warning. But I can’t, so I won’t. Though I can still whack away some of the weeds that this edict is trying to hide. Not to spoil everything for the readers, of course, but to at least catch everyone up to speed on what’s going on in the outer rim. After all, a lot of time has passed since the season three finale aired in the summer of 2018.)
The most important truth I’m referring to is, of course, The Expanse‘s larger mission statement that life, no matter how fantastical or imaginary it might be out in the farthest reaches of the solar system, can always be harsh. Hence the “Eros Incident” of the first season, which saw a colonized asteroid become an alien contagion following a botched experiment; the “Ganymede Incident” of season two, which saw the experiment continue as it transformed the alien contagion into bipedal life; and season three’s brewing solar war between Earth and Mars and the birth of “The Ring,” an alien gate populated by hundreds of portals to hundreds of inhabitable systems across the universe.
The new season of The Expanse, which arrives Friday on Amazon Prime following its cancellation by Syfy in 2018, continues the story of the interstellar gate. Now, instead of fighting each other for supremacy in a single system, Earthers and Martians are on the brink of breaking their newfound (and highly fragile) truce yet again. Meanwhile, the “Belters” — the generations of space and asteroid-born peoples who’ve only known a life without gravity and with constant oppression by the “Inners” of Earth and Mars — are vying for their own pieces of the galactic pie.
That’s the situation Holden and the diverse crew of the Rocinante — the Belter Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), the Martian Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), and the Earther Amos Burton (Wes Chatham) — find themselves in. So, when the Secretary-General tells him not to intervene too much in the latest brewing conflict, that’s what she’s referring to. No wonder the next line at this moment comes from the brutish-but-methodical Amos: “It’s good advice.”
If the last few paragraphs felt like overdone exposition, that’s because they’re precisely that. Hence the second big truth of The Expanse: its interconnected stories encompass a sprawling and ever-expanding universe of characters and narratives that’s only going to get bigger and more complicated with each episode. This facet of The Expanse initially began with author James S. A. Corey’s (the pen name for collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) first book, Leviathan Awakes, and from the get-go, series co-creators Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby have endeavored to do it justice. For the most part, they have, though sometimes the series has seemed a bit too big for its britches.
Yet therein lies the beauty of The Expanse‘s epic scale and narrative bluntness, for with these qualities combined, its first three seasons managed to produce some of the most compelling science fiction storytelling the television medium has ever seen in recent decades. Not since Syfy’s (then Sci-Fi) revived take on Battlestar Galactica in the early 2000s has a solid piece of imaginative, near-futuristic drama been so eloquently adapted, performed, and told. There are high-stakes political shenanigans at the top levels, heavy action set pieces involving space-bound combat, interpersonal connections between individuals from disparate peoples and cultures, and an impressively deep well of mythos to pull from.
In an age of peak television when everyone keeps asking what the true successor to Game of Thrones is, The Expanse has managed to become precisely that, though with far less fanfare than its fantasy-based counterpart at HBO. (Not to mention better lighting and more satisfactory endings.) The possible reasons for this are too many to speculate on and tally up. What’s more important, rather, is acknowledging the sheer difficulty of what Fergus, Ostby, and company had already achieved for three seasons at Syfy. Now, after picking up the show and moving it to a new home at Amazon, they’ve managed to retain its integrity and quality without a hitch.
Not that doing so was an impossible job, because, with three seasons’ worth of story in the can and plenty of dedicated fans to boot, The Expanse would have failed only if the powers that be had done something monstrously dumb in order to screw things up. But they didn’t, so here we are. Sure, it’s a shorter season (by three episodes) than previous ones, but season four puts forward enough of the scope and bluntness viewers have come to expect from the moderately paced science-fiction extravaganza.
It helps that most of the original cast is still intact. Aghdashloo, Strait, Tipper, Anvar, and Chatham are all in top shape. So too is Frankie Adams as Bobbie Draper, the dishonorably discharged Martian Marine who, despite being increasingly alienated by her own people, manages to stay above the tide. Even Thomas Jane, who played the fedora-wearing Miller in the first two seasons, is back from the dead… kind of. (He plays a “conscious” version of the alien protomolecule that’s constantly in contact with Holden.)
There are plenty of newcomers this season as well, like Burn Gorman’s vengeful corporate security chief and Rosa Gilmore’s Belter doctor turned colonist. Avid Corey fans will also get a kick out of Keon Alexander as Marco Inaros, the dreaded Belter pirate whose actions in and around “The Ring” cause even more problems for the Earths and Martians involved. So, if you found the previous seasons of The Expanse a bit too convoluted or space-y for your taste, then you should know those qualities haven’t changed one bit. Otherwise, fans should rest assured that Amazon has taken very good care of their baby.
The fourth season of ‘The Expanse’ premieres Friday, December 13 on Amazon Prime.