TL;DR – This series continues to be the benchmark for modern Science Fiction, the benchmark for novel adaptation, and the benchmark for great TV.
Score – 5 out of 5 stars
Last year I wrote an article about how we are in a new Golden Age of Science Fiction and at the heart of that theses was the joy that was The Expanse. At the time Season Three had come out, and we still were not sure if that would be the end of the TV show. It would have been sad if the show’s story had ended there, but at least we still had the books, which was a little consolation. However, I was overjoyed to hear that it got a last-minute pick-up for Season Four on Amazon, ecstatic when I discovered that it was already greenlit for Season Five, and over the moon now that I have watched Season Four and have discovered the joy that it is.
So to set the scene, at the end of last season, disaster had been forestalled and new opportunities have arrived when thousands of gates to thousands of new solar systems opened up. Fearing the new disaster that could come for an out of control gold rush, or worse a new proto-molecule infection, the powers at be, the new alliance of Earth, Mars, and the OPA work together to set up a blockade at the Solar System side of the network. But before they could get it set up a bunch of Belter refugees took the gamble and broke through the blockade. Months later and somehow the Belter have survived, which is causing Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) all levels of grief because the Royal Charter Energy (RCE) Company has legal claim to the planet and has sent their ship the Edward Israel to what they call New Terra, but what the Belters call Ilus. So who better to go and meditate, well that would be the crew of the Rocinante James Holden (Steven Strait), Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), and Amos Burton (Wes Chatham). Now from here, we will be looking at the season as a whole so there will be [SPOILERS] ahead.
The first aspect I want to look at with The Expanse is how well it does adapting its source material and bringing it to the big screen. Now I have gone on record before saying that for an adaptation to work, the viewer should have never have read the books and still will be able to follow what is going on. Here, the show ticks off that box more than ever, with some real care and attention paid to making sure everything flows. There are little things, for example, a character from Season Three, who will be important next season but who is not involved in the events this time around. Well, you get them on the phone to remind everyone of the core relationships so they are not forgotten.
But more than this, this season of The Expanse shows the real elegance of how they adapt the world and transition it from the novels to the TV. For me, the best example of an adaption of a novel has to be The Lord of the Rings films because while they shifted roles and story plots around and did a lot of condensing, they never lost the heart of the work. Well, I think it is now time to say that I have a new benchmark to judge everyone from. In this season, we get plot threads that are condensed or missing, characters get switched around, we get whole new side plots added in for Chrisjen and Bobbie (Frankie Adams) and it still captures every key emotion it needed to. They have characters that are alive, who are dead in the books like Klaes Ashford (David Strathairn) but who cares, because a) it is being played by David Strathairn and b) they use it to explore more of the OPA and give us a hint of what is coming by introducing the biggest arse in the all the books Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) and also give us a moment with Filip (Jasai Chase Owens). In the books, Chrisjen is not the UN Security General yet, but she is already that in the show. So how do you rectify it, well you use it to explore more of her motivations and also show just how far she is willing to go and for the first time really explore the personal repercussions for that. Each episode was a joy to watch because we get to see those moments but also things that are newly brought to bear.
This is a story about what happens when the whole political system that you know gets turned on its head. What happens when all of a sudden someone has the stirrup and can build an empire that stretches across Eurasia, or who drops a new weapon that can take out entire cities? Well, what happens when you link the Solar System to thousands of other suns, planets, and opportunities? We see orders collapse, we see alliances shift and change, we see opportunists rise up, we see people casting off the old political authority and trying to create something new. There are a lot of political shows on TV and so many of them don’t really get into the weeds of reality as The Expanse does. Not only does it get into the weeds, but it is also a joy to watch as they do it. It is probably the one show that I would recommend to my students to watch to see real-world politics translated into the realm of the space opera.
It also helps when you cast is just this good, I mean wow, just wow. We have the crew of the Rocinante back and they feel like a family which only comes from years of working together. That bond is so important for both the show and the characters. There are these moments, for example when Amos is grateful because someone gave him the opportunity to be himself. Goodness at that moment Wes Chatham is both amazing and terrifying. We get to see more of Camina Drummer (Cara Gee) whose role has been expanded from the books and that is a good thing because Cara captures every scene she is in. Indeed, I have mad respect for Steven Strait who can pull off someone who is 100% determined but also barely holding it together. Then, of course, we have the guest stars and doesn’t Burn Gorman make an immediate impact as Adolphus Murtry. He is the perfect foil to both Amos and Holden because he is both familiar to them but completely different. Also, I have said it before and I will say it again, we should be casting Chrisjen Avasarala in everything.
We also get to see some really beautiful production brought to the scene. First Landing on Ilus is in a more desert arid region in the books but in the series is it more of a tundra arctic region. This change-up still works because it helps to highlight the bleak other-worldliness yet also slightly familiar nature that you really needed. Also, are you really a Science Fiction show if you haven’t filmed in a quarry at some point. The town has a real feeling like it has been lived in and cobbled together and it is such a great look. To counterpoint this, we have the completely alien ruins as a harsh juxtaposition. We also get to see more of Earth and Mars this season which was a real joy. The effects were all great, with the stand out being The Investigator (Thomas Jane) phasing in and out of being both it and Detective Miller (Thomas Jane).
In the end, do we recommend The Expanse: Season 4? Absolutely! This show keeps going from strength to strength. To add to this is the joy that this is not the final season and that we are getting at least one more (and hopefully more). I say this both because I love this show, but also because my favourite scene in all the books is in next season and I really hope we get to see it in all its glory.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
Have you seen The Expanse yet ?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Expanse
Directed by – Breck Eisner, David Petrarca, Jeff Woolnough & Sarah Harding
Written by – Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Laura Marks, Dan Nowak, Matthew Rasmussen, Ty Franck, Daniel Abraham, Hallie Lambert & Naren Shankar
Created by – Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby
Based on – The Expanse: Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey (Ty Franck & Daniel Abraham)
Production/Distribution Companies – Amazon Studios
Starring – Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Frankie Adams, Cara Gee, Shohreh Aghdashloo & Thomas Jane with David Strathairn, Burn Gorman, Rosa Gilmore, Lyndie Greenwood, Jess Salgueiro, Dayle McLeod, Kolton Stewart, Lily Gao, Michael Xavier, Nabeel El Khafif, Patti Kim, Zach Smadu, Kyla Madeira, Steven McCarthy, Nathaniel McParland, Chai Valladares, Michael Benyaer & Paul Schulze and Frances Fisher, Keon Alexander, Nadine Nicole, Benz Antoine, Chad L. Coleman, Jasai Chase Owens, Steven Allerick & Kris Holden-Ried
Episodes Covered – New Terra, Jetsam, Subduction, Retrograde, Oppressor, Displacement, A Shot in The Dark, The One-Eyed Man, Saeculum & Cibola Burn