Okay, then! Season 4 of The Expanse wastes no time in getting going in its new home, jumping head-long into the events of the fourth book, Cibola Burn. On paper, there’s a huge amount going on in the first two episodes back: Humanity has, with Earth, Mars, and the Outer Planets Alliance in cooperation, blockaded the Ring, denying passage to those who would go through to colonize new lands.
Ah, but one intrepid group of Belters from Ganymede (the moon which suffered extensive damage in Season 2) survives their blockade run and makes planetfall on a body called alternatively “New Terra” and “Ilus.” (Which I’d always pronounced with a long “eye” in my head, but the show prefers a short “ih”) The planet is rich, has an ecosystem of its own, and the remnants of billion-year-old Protomolecule tech, apparently dormant. Meanwhile, a shuttle carrying personnel from an Earth-based corporation is destroyed while landing, so Sol’s conflict follows humanity to new frontiers, and Holden (Steven Strait) and the Roci must go to see what’s what.
Meanwhile, Belter pirates led, it seems, by a charismatic man named Marco Inaros are preying on ships making for the Ring, and making life interesting for the OPA policing the area. Said OPA I’m happy to report, includes not only Camina Drummer (Cara Gee) but Klaes Ashford (David Straithairn) as well.
Earth has our favorite, Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Agdashloo) (and a new, younger Arjun!) trying to hold back her people, many living on “basic” government support, from trying their hand at a new life. And Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) is on Mars, whose military is seeing large numbers of its personnel discharged due to Reduction in Force. When there are enough resources that competition is no longer required, there follows not much need for a Space Force.
If this set-up seems like I’m going light on the explanations, it’s because the show does too. The “previously on” aside, there’s a whoooole lot that viewers are expected to keep up on, such as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance by “Peaches” Melba, or Clarissa Mao (Nadine Nicole), chatting with Amos (MVP Wes Chatham). And on paper, there’s an incredible amount going on even in these first two episodes. Fortunately, for the most part, it really boils down to two main plot lines: Ilus and Sol.
On Ilus, we the viewers are treated to some truly alien-looking landscapes, as the Rocinante makes planetfall for the first time on this show (give or take an Io). Visually, things look great, and the episodes take pains to show us something we’ve not seen much of since the Pilot: The effect of gravity on the bodies of low-G adapted Belters. Naomi (Dominique Tipper), obviously thinking of the life she could share with Holden, possibly on Earth, pushes herself to endure the gravity of a planet. And her spirit, along with most of her body, is game. Unfortunately, the system that isn’t, her cardio-vascular, is kind of a deal-breaker. It’s hard to watch the normally unflappable Naomi reduced to tears by the pain and anguish, despite trying her best to keep a stiff upper lip in front of the others.
As far as the new faces on Ilus, a few make an impression, none more so than Adolphus Murtry (Burn Gorman), the Royal Energy Charter’s security chief, and a true psychopath, who shoots a man in cold blood over what he calls a threat. Of course, the fact that his shuttle was the victim of sabotage means the situation is more complicated than just good-vs-bad because, hey. This is The Expanse we’re talking about.
As far as the Protomolecule goes, this world appears to be dead. A billion years dead. There’s some odd occurrences, such as tiny metal shards, apparently alive, but no one is infected with Blue Goo, and there’s no PM at work on the planet. Oh, until Holden and Miller wake it up.
Miller, or “The Investigator” (Thomas Jane)’s thought processes are a recurrence in the book this season is based on, and I’m impressed that they decided to keep that narrative in the TV visualization. It works, too. The Investigator uses the verbal tics of Joe Miller, but in a computational way, reaching out and reaching out and searching for clues. I seem to remember that the book established that The Investigator carried with it the voices of all those who died on Eros, but the way it was handled in Episode 2 was nicely done.
One thing that’s a bit of a shame is that S4 doesn’t seem to be bringing back, as the book did, Dimitri Havelock, Miller’s partner from Ceres. Jay Hernandez’s lead role in Magnum P.I. obviously got in the way, and I suppose that he was easier to write out, rather than dealing with a recast for a minor character whose only show link is to a dead guy.
The events in the Solar System are, essentially, the pangs of dealing with the new reality the Ring has opened, and no one really knowing where things stand anymore. The Martian part of the storyline, as seen through Bobbie’s eyes, is long on setting up Chekov’s guns, and so far appears disconnected from the rest of the goings-on. If there’s a weak link in these episodes, it’s some of her scenes ring false. The show takes bits of the storyline from the Expanse short story “Gods of Risk,” about Bobbie’s nephew getting involved in the drug trade (think Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad). All well and good, but on pulling her nephew’s ass out of the fire, Bobbie accuses his girlfriend of knowing about the murder of a guy from earlier in the episode. And I’m not sure if I was just slow on the take, but I wondered how in hell Bobbie and the show made that leap. If it was just me, I’ll cop to it, but it felt like the show trying to tie in what didn’t.
Turning to the Belters, it’s very exciting to see Straithairn back as Ashford. In Season 3, he took an underwritten character (from the third book) and made an interesting, nuanced antagonist. That he and Camina are going to get to be our viewpoint characters for what’s going on out there makes me very hopeful for this show. Cara Gee and Straithairn were great in their scenes together last season, and while I figured we’d certainly be seeing her again, I’m over the moon that he’s back, too.
And lastly, Avasarala’s scared to death that the PM is waiting out there to kill everyone. Welcome one and all, to the first of my Expanse episode recaps/reviews! Feel free to use these spaces to discuss episodes as I get to them. If you outpace me, feel free to head over to the Binger’s Room. While in these parts though, please be very mindful about spoiling any of the events of
- Episodes we haven’t gotten to, and
- The novels from Cibola Burn onwards.
Thank you, and if you haven’t, please purchase this show from Amazon! It’s already renewed for a fifth season, but it’s plain they’ve put some money into this thing, and I know we’d hate to see this show go the way of American Gods.
My grades for these episodes:
“New Terra”: B+