At New York Comic Con this past weekend, Amazon screened the first episode of its upcoming fourth season of The Expanse, the television adaptation of James S.A. Corey’s book series by the same name. The episode is the first produced for its new home on Amazon, after being canceled by the Syfy Channel early last year.
For those of you not familiar with the background here, here’s the short version: James S.A. Corey (the pen name for authors Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) began writing their epic space opera series, telling the story of a spaceship crew in the midst of a larger, solar system-wide conflict. Syfy picked up the adaptation of the series in 2015 and ran the show for three seasons before canceling it. Shortly thereafter, Amazon picked up the series for a fourth season (and recently renewed it for a fifth). The book series will end with its as-yet untitled ninth novel (expected in 2020), so there’s plenty of material for Amazon to work with moving forward.
(Spoilers ahead for the first three seasons)
The series follows the crew of a gunship called the Rocinante—Captain James Holden (Steven Strait), pilot Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), engineer Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), mechanic Amos Burton (Wes Chatham)—as they navigate the shifting politics of a system primed to explode into open warfare between Earth, Mars, and the inhabitants of the asteroid belt and outer planets. Things become complicated when a malevolent corporation discovers an alien substance that it calls the “protomolecule,” which they weaponize. The protomolecule has some other motives, and by the end of season 3, those become apparent when it creates a gate that opens up humanity to hundreds of other worlds.
That’s where Season 3 ended, the series had wrapped some of the bigger, lingering storylines that it had built up, and left viewers on the cusp of a new set of adventures, this time beyond the solar system. Had the series ended there, it would have been a solid stopping point. There would certainly be upset fans, but it wasn’t exactly a major cliffhanger, like the one that Stargate Universe ended on.
Now with a new home and at least two seasons ahead of it, The Expanse is poised to tackle the next big story arc, set on a distant planet on the other side of one of the many ring openings. Humanity now has access to hundreds of worlds beyond the gate, but there are still tensions at home, and the possibility of bigger dangers—something Holden got a glimpse of last season.
This first episode of season 4 kicks off with a chase: desperate belters are trying to flee through the ring opening, hoping to find a better life on one of the many planets out there.
Meanwhile, Holden and company are dispatched to one of the planets out there: Ilus, which was colonized shortly after the ring gate opened. Secretary-General of the United Nations Chrisjen Avasarala tells Holden that they’ve just started receiving messages from the planet, and they reveal something startling: massive constructs that appear to have been built by the protomolecule. She’s concerned that it could be another, looming crisis, and gives them a mission: investigate, evacuate the colonists, and destroy the protomolecule if needed.
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way: there’s understandably some worries when any series jumps from one home to another. Will what we liked about the series stay intact? Will the series drastically change as its freed from the constraints put on it by broadcast television? The short answer is yes, and no. If this first episode is any indication, the series looks just as good as it did at Syfy—if not better. The SFX looks fantastic, and the series feels like it’s a bit more epic than before, with sweeping visuals and high stakes driving the characters from planet to planet.
Thanks to the move to a streaming platform, characters like Avasarala—who is pretty foul-mouthed in the novels—are free to swear up a storm, something actress Shohreh Aghdashloo does fantastically.
The episode also picks up the story of some of the show’s other characters that we met in prior seasons—Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams), a former Martian Marine who defected and helped out the Rocinante crew. She’s no longer a marine—she’s back home on Mars, where she’s employed as a dock worker and is slumming on a friend’s couch while she tries to figure out her next moves—”getting by,” as she describes it. Klaes Ashford (David Strathairn) is working to maintain some order in the space lanes after the Outer Planets Alliance and Earth sign a treaty, tracking down pirates that have been causing problems.
Along the way, this initial episode teases some long-simmering tensions that look as though they’ll come to fruition later. The OPA, the coalition of various space stations and asteroid bases, faces an existential crisis: belters want to escape the solar system to find new homes away from Earth and Mars, while others want to continue to strike Earth and moderate OPA targets for signing a treaty in the first place. In both cases, we see a series of violent clashes that will continue to escalate, especially if the series continues to follow the books closely.
How will that look? We’ll find out on December 13th when the fourth season debuts on Amazon Prime Video.