REVIEW: Confronting Change and Character in ‘The Expanse’ Season 4

Rating: 4 out of 4.

“…continues to push boundaries in an already boundary pushing show.”

This article contains spoilers for season 4 of The Expanse.

The science fiction series The Expanse found new life on Amazon Prime last year after the Syfy network’s cancellation. Based on the series of novels by James S.A. Corey- the pen name of both Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck- the show released its fourth season this December. Consisting of ten episodes, season four of The Expanse pushes past the boundaries of previous seasons’ inventive storytelling, cinematography, character exploration, and commentary on social-political changes in an evolving universe.

The sun is setting behind city sky scrapers and a bridge running across a river.

The season starts in the aftermath of the opening of the ring gates, innumerable other planets and galaxies now within the reach of humanity. The United Nations, Mars, and the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) in the Belt have declared the area surrounding the ring a restricted space, firing upon any unauthorized ships attempting to travel through the rings in order to colonize other planets. Despite this, a Belter refugee ship, desperate for a new home after the destruction of Ganymede in the war between Mars and Earth, runs the blockade and establishes a settlement on Ilus, or New Terra. Season four explores in part the growing conflict between the Belter settlers on Ilus and the crew and scientists working for the Earth corporation, Royal Charter Energy (RCE). Among the various settlers and scientists on Ilus are Dr. Lucia Mazur (Rosa Gilmore), a belter doctor and member of the OPA, Dr. Elvi Okoye (Lyndie Greenwood), a biologist working for the RCE, and Adolphus Murtry (Burn Gorman), chief of security for the RCE on Ilus. The crew of the Rocinante- James Holden (Steven Strait), Amos Burton (Wes Chatham), Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), and Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper)- must work to maintain the fragile peace between the settlers from the Belt and the RCE all while ensuring there is no ongoing threat from the dormant protomolecule structures on the planet. 

Four people with backpacks are hiking. They are surrounded by water and mountains of dirt in the background.

The fourth season of The Expanse makes ample use of its characters- forcing them to go head to head with their history, flaws, personality, and giving them the internal confrontation they need to move forward in the series and grow as characters. Amos reckons with fear for the first time in the the show, and must navigate the tug between his new relationship with an RCE security officer, Chandra Wei (Jess Salgueiro), and the safety of his found family on the Rocinante. Throughout the season, Naomi must come to terms with the fact that sometimes you can’t always make the choices you might want to make and further continues her work on healing from the pain of the loss of her son and the manipulations of her former partner, Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander). 

An older woman in a purple sari is speaking to someone in an office.

Outside of the ring gates, Camina Drummer (Cara Gee), the captain of the OPA’s Medina Station, and her first officer, Klaes Ashford (David Strathairn) work to enforce the newfound peace between the Belt and the Inner Planets despite Drummer’s growing disillusion with the increased political maneuvering by her superiors and desire to have a greater ability to make her own choices. On Earth, Secretary General Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) must run against her political opponent, Nancy Gao (Lily Gao), as she struggles to maintain the narrative that letting colonizers through the ring gates is dangerous. Over the course of the season Avasarala confronts her flawed need to win and be in control of the situation no matter the cost, an idea that was first brought up in season one after she had lied to her friend, the UN ambassador to Mars, in order to determine who had destroyed the Canterbury. On Mars, Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams), now a veteran and a civilian, struggles with feeling like she no longer has a purpose and work to confront both her dissatisfaction with the changes on Mars and her deep desire still towards wanting what is best for her planet.

This season also explores new ways of approaching cinematography in the show and introduces a new aspect ratio into the mix. The events on Ilus are shown using a wide aspect ratio, 2.39:1, compared to the standard aspect ratio, 16:9. This season also marks a slight change in the use of CGI in the show with the events on Ilus having been shot on location in a quarry outside of Toronto.

Four people are staring at the view just beyond the camera, a glass tunnel extending out behind them.

The show is particularly noteworthy for its expansive and inventive storytelling, relevant social-political commentary, compelling characters, and diverse cast. The fourth season of The Expanse further revolutionizes science fiction television as a genre and is a readily worthwhile watch.

Directed By: Breck Eisner, David Petrarca, Jeff Woolnough, Sarah Harding

Produced By: Naren Shankar, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Daniel Abraham, Ty Franck, Dan Nowack, Laura Lancaster, Broderick Johnson, Andrew Kosove, Sharon Hall, Sean Daniel, Jason F. Brown

Cast: Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams, Thomas Jane, Cara Gee, David Strathairn, Rosa Gilmore, Lyndie Greenwood, Burn Gorman, Keon Alexander

Release Date: December 12, 2019

Available On: Amazon Prime