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The Expanse - Season 4 Review [Spoilers]

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Cibola Burn, the source material for this fourth season of The Expanse, is widely regarded as the weakest in the series, largely in part to its self-contained story without any kind of effect on the larger narrative. Not helping was the characterizations of some of the new players on the board, most especially Murtry.

It was thus hard to not be the least bit worried, amidst all the excitement of The Expanse coming to Amazon, about how the showrunners Fergus and Ostby would translate the book to screen. It is safe to say that they surpassed expectations profoundly, giving us a more, shall I say, expansive story while allowing characters who were not in the book and/or barely focused on a chance to breathe.

Case in point, Bobbie, who was not in Cibola Burn at all.

Giving us a Mars perspective through the eyes of Bobbie, now relieved of her duties from the MCRN and a stranger in her own home, was a smart decision. Though her story did drag the narrative down in certain parts, it was important for the show to put her through what she went through as part of Esai's crew because her character, and us as a viewer, needed to understand the drastically changing situation on Mars and Bobbie's place in all of it. Essentially Bobbie's arc in Season 4 felt like a natural progression considering both her past and what is ahead for her character.

What is happening on Mars in Season 4 is part of what makes the universe of The Expanse feel so lived in. The writers take the time to explore the impact that major events in the show, such as the opening of the rings gates, has on other people.

Why should Martians spend centuries to terraform their planet when they can just up and leave for a more habitable planet in one of the thousands of solar systems opened up by the ring gates? This is a question Esai asks in ‘One-Armed Man’ and it is a conversation that hits hard emotionally. We feel for Bobby who has dedicated her life to Mars’ goal of terraforming only to realize that yes, Esai has a point, her Martian pride will only get her lost in the old world.

The former Sgt. Gunner also realizes that it is no longer about Earth vs. Mars, or the Inners vs. the Belters, there is a rebellion on the rise that involves players from both Mars and the Belt, and after finding herself in the thick of it, she is able to shove her pride as a Martian down and work with an Earther in Avarasala to fight back.

Bobbie's story this season wasn't the most exciting, but it put her in a position for a thrilling arc in seasons to come now that she has found her purpose, and if the books mean anything, I am excited for what is in store for her.

The main story of the season revolved around Ilus/New Terra, the only story told in Cibola Burn. Like in the book, the adventures of the Rocinante crew on this planet was enjoyable and the writers did a tremendous job translating it all to the small screen, but after season's end, it felt like a pit stop to a much larger adventure at hand.

All we got by season's end was further teases when it came to the Ring Builders and the alien race who destroyed them, but no real answers just yet, aside from the fact that there is an alien species out there who are incredibly powerful and who are possibly on their way.

What made the Ilus storyline work for this show was the development of the Rocinante crew and some of the new characters.

Giving a face to the Belters on Ilus was Dr. Lucia Mazur (Rosa Gilmore) whose brilliance as a character had more to do with how the writers interweaved her struggles with the inner struggles of both Alex and Naomi.

Alex' troubles with his family is brought up in a brief but telling scene between him and Lucia in the final episode where he tells her about the importance of being honest and upfront with your family, something he was not able to do with his own family and didn't realize his mistakes until it was too late. Next season, we should be seeing more of Alex' story, but for the most part in Season 4, the character took a backseat to his other crew members.

We also learn a bit more about Naomi through her conversation with Lucia who related her story of being duped into killing hundreds of Inners by her former husband to how Lucia was implicit in the death of dozens of RCE people on Ilus. Naomi had to carry this guilt of killing innocents lives on her shoulders and for much of her life, but as she advised Lucia, the blame is not on one person, and what matters most is learning from those regretful decisions to become a better person. There is never too late a time in life to redeem oneself.

Naomi had a lot to work with this season. We saw her wisdom as she talked Holden through his guilt in a very heartfelt scene in 'Oppressor,' followed by the aforementioned scene with Lucia. We also saw her Belta grit and determination as she worked to get her body in shape for the gravity of Ilus. It was so inspiring to see her take those first steps on Ilus in episode one, heightened by the wonder and awe of being on a different planet in another solar system, and it was equally heartbreaking when she realized her cardiovascular system just could not cope with the environment, relegating her to the ship.

With the next antagonists being Naomi's former husband and child, this season did a great job building up her character for what is sure to be a tumultuous arc in Season 5.

Elsewhere, Amos continued to be the bright spot for The Expanse. As always, it is easy to root for him, but hard not to feel some sort of uncomfortableness to root for him. He is a sociopath who wants to care but doesn't necessarily know-how, and he depends on the others around him - Naomi, Holden, and Alex - to be his moral compass. Take the Rocinante crew away and what is he?

The show did an incredible job mirroring the worst of Amos in Murtry. Right away, the show poses the question of whether Murtry is really that bad. The chief of security for the RCE is avenging the death of 23 of his colleagues (beefed up from 5 in the book) and then acting upon a group of renegades plotting against him. Murtry poses this exact question to Holden and it a valid point.

He does go off the rails a bit when he orders his crew to blow up the Rocinante, among other questionable actions, but again it must be asked: what if Murtry had the moral guidance of a crew of people like Amos has? As antagonistic as he is drawn out to be, we also have the sense of the good he is capable of doing when we look at what Amos is capable of (who by the way did not have to kill Wei, and him shooting first and murdering her really makes one sympathize with him less).

The parallels between Murtry and Amos was really the meat and bones of this season, and though there were a couple punches thrown between them in that intense scene in the finale, I wish there was more!

Speaking of antagonistic characters, it was surprising to see Ashford get so much screen time this season, and there are no complaints as veteran actor David Strathairn puts so much presence into all of his characters, Ashford being no exception.

The character was not featured in the book at all, in fact, he was just a straight up a-hole who got what he deserved in the third book, Abaddon's Gate, but the show has done a tremendous job fleshing him out. Ashford's journey from a misguided antagonist afraid of the rings and trying to prevent further damage to humanity last season to his heroic redemption arc this season was something to behold.

Though Ashford's actions were questionable, his intent was always heroic, and this season we see that same heroic Ashford with a better understanding of the importance of everyone working together. Ashford believes in humanity, no matter if they are inners or belters, and when Marcos Innaros threatens humanity, he sets it upon himself to correct things.

Watching Ashford shoot out the door in Innaros' ship guns blazing was absolutely badass and just a magnificently shot scene.

His death by season's end was expected and was really the only way his arc could've ended based on his growth this season, but it didn't make it any less impactful. The shot of him floating in space to his death was haunting and sad, but the fact that he got the last laugh by recording their conversation gives him the heroic death he deserved.

Seeing Marco Innaros so early compared to the source material was a welcome surprise, and his introduction helped alleviate the flaws of the books by expanding on the story and setting up next season.

Innaros' speech about how the Belters are still the lesser beings despite this ‘truce’ the OPA has with the Inners may be talk of a renegade terrorist, but there are some truths that ring forth. It is the centuries-long discrimination that has led to terrorists like Innaros, and although we as viewers see him as an antagonist who needs to be dealt with, it is hard after watching this speech to not feel the slightest bit of sympathy for many of those whose pain he speaks for.

The show has not had a villain both menacing and formidable, with a background that we can sympathize with in this rich world The Expanse built, and it looks like we will be getting that with Marco Innaros and Filip.

Some of the least memorable characters this season, first and foremost, was Holden. He is very similar to Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, in that he is not a very dynamic character, and can sometimes be overshadowed by others ala Amos and Naomi, but he is someone who just happens to find himself in the centre of everything.

That's not to say he is not likeable. Holden is very much a leader we root for, and someone whose resiliency and calm and cool, morally centred personality, quietly inspires those around him, but I can't, in perspective, really pick out one scene that involved him that was a highlight of the season. A lot of the scenes he shared with Miller was great, but that had more to do with Miller, who by the way we have seen the last of this season *sniff sniff*.

I do love the relationship that has been built between Amos and Holden. In the earlier seasons, Amos was more of Naomi's pet and there was a level of distrust between the captain and the engineer, but the growth between the characters has really been felt, especially in this season. In particular, the scene where Amos goes mad with blindness and Holden begs him to keep it together as he needs him was very resonant. Their relationship really went to another level after this interaction.

Very opposite to Holden was the over-the-top Avarasala, who I personally cannot get behind after four seasons. Shohreh Aghdashloo's acting is simply not good enough to resonate the depth of emotion and conflict her character was going through. Being on Amazon Prime meant more swearing for the UN Secretary-General, but oftentimes, it felt like Aghdashloo trying to act pissed off or sad, rather than Avasarala the character really feeling those emotions. There was even one scene where Avasarala screamed, "get the f*** out" and though she was supposed to be angry, she had a smile on her face. It was very distracting.

Nevertheless, Avasarala's storyline mirrored Bobbie's in that with the ring gates opened, old-world ideas are no longer relevant. Chrisjen lost the election because the people of Earth want to explore the ring gates and like Bobby, she does not see the possibilities when looking out there, just a bloody gold rush that will only lead to more catastrophe.

Avasarala is fine in spurts, but this season there was just too much focus on the elections between her and Nancy Gao, which really dragged the season down.

Overall though, Season 4 of The Expanse not only improved on the source material, but it also gave viewers a lot to look forward to in seasons to come.

Authors S.A. Corey envisioned their sci-fi novels as a trilogy of trilogies, with Cibola Burn being the beginning of a new arc, and this season really felt this way. The opening of the rings gates changed the entire universe of The Expanse, and the show, as has been all series has made this new, gold rush of a world feel so lived in and so rich, backed up by complex characters both old and new we just can't help but feel for.


Other things of note:

- Loved the scene between Amos and Clarissa Mao in Episode 1. It was a sweet nod to book fans and a foreshadowing of things to come in the show. Amos' relationship with Wei this season will really impact what is in store for his character next season, I love how the writers are slowly building the narratives for all the characters.

- I'm a big fan of Lyndie Greenwood from Sleepy Hollow and was excited to see her portrayal of Dr. Elvi Okoye this season. The character wasn't very memorable, though it could've been worse (thank you Fergus and Ostby for not introducing that love triangle between her, Holden, and Naomi). However, I hope we will continue to see more of her next season and thereafter. In the books, she disappears for quite a long stretch, before making a reappearance, though as viewers saw this season she will have a big role to play now that she has been in contact with whoever these aliens are and I hope she will get consistent screen time.

- More Miller is a good thing, and Thomas Jane chewed up every scene he was in. It was thus sad to see him go, but after four seasons his character has served its purpose and his sendoff was very well done.

- Drummer took a backseat this season. Many of her scenes felt like it was being seen through Ashford's eyes, and by seasons end I saw why. She is a non-book character and what the show does with her is always a curiosity, especially for next season now that her close friend Ashford is dead.

- Loved the scenery and the cinematography this season. The show did a great job bringing Ilus to life. The scene where the Rocinante crew first step foot on the planet cannot be commended enough for how breathtaking it was.

What did you guys think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

About the Author - Kollin Lore
Kollin is a writer and a film and television freak, having grown up during the 90s and 2000s a dedicated fan of Buffy, and moreso, Angel, before Supernatural took up half his life. Kollin's nightly hours are occupied mostly by genre TV, in particular, sci-fi and fantasy with especial love for space operas and shows about things that go bump in the night.
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