After the third season of The Expanse, SyFy made the decision not to pick up the series for a fourth. Fans were devastated. Book readers knew there were still lots of exciting storylines to come. Some people felt the cable network had doomed the show to failure from the beginning and that they did very little to promote the show.
Luckily for fans, The Expanse wasn’t gone for long. Given the genre, the mature content, and the colorful language of its characters, the series was perfectly suited for a streaming service. A variety of fan campaigns ramped up, and then Amazon announced at the International Space Development Conference that they would be picking up the series.
It’s a great fit. Most of the kinds of people who would watch a show like The Expanse — techies, nerds, geeks — have long since cut the cord on cable and moved to commercial-free, on-demand streaming services. Series-long storylines, as opposed to the aging “monster of the week” format, are not conducive to viewers tuning in occasionally.
Here’s a quick overview of this phenomenal space epic: in the near future, humanity has colonized the Moon, Mars, and the asteroid belt. But humans still suffer from many of the same issues that we deal with today — political machinations, widening divides between the rich and the working class, and corporations wielding unreasonable power. It’s been called at different times “Game of Thrones in space” and “the new Battlestar Galactica.”
The series follows a jaded detective as he looks for a missing young woman while the crew of a water hauler chases down an emergency beacon. All of this is turned on its head and kicked into high gear when humanity experiences its first extra-solar contact. Something alien has arrived, and it turns the laws of physics upside down.
The fourth of the Expanse novels, Cibola Burn, initiates what executive producer and showrunner Naren Shankar calls “the second movement.” In the books, this is a “new chapter in humanity,” she says. “We’re no longer constrained in the solar system. It’s how humanity deals with this vast new frontier.”
Only short portions of the previous seasons took place on the surface of Earth, Mars, or the Moon. Instead, the majority of the action takes place on ships, stations, and in the void of space. The fourth season will spend much more time planetside and in an entirely new solar system.
Although it’s uninhabited, these new planets are not entirely empty. The new colony lives in the shadow of massive infrastructure from the mysterious long-dead Ring Builder civilization which had wreaked so much havoc on humanity in past seasons. Who they were and who destroyed them will continue to be investigated in this season.
The teaser for Season 4 shows Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), Bobbie (Frankie Adams), Drummer (Cara Gee), and Ashford (David Strathairn) seemingly involved in conflicts back in our solar system. Very short clips in the trailer show missiles and corpses near one of the Ring gates, a bloodied Bobbie looking terse, and Avasarala cursing at her minions.
The focus of Cibola Burn is on the new colony planet Ilus, so the characters who were in our solar system were largely absent from that book. So, this season seems to be either inventing storylines or drawing also from the fifth novel, Nemesis Games. That book brought many of the sociopolitical conflicts from the first half of the series to a climax, the repercussions of which define the rest of the narrative. There is plenty of set-up for that conflict which could be drawn into Season 4 of The Expanse.
Not only do the effects look incredible (perhaps they’ve had an increased budget at Amazon?), but the trailers also emphasize what has always made The Expanse special: great casting (glad to hate you again, Burn Gorman), tense socio-political drama, a hard sci-fi approach to the physics of space travel, and an entirely incomprehensible alien ghost-empire.
If you’re giving The Expanse a try for the first time, be sure to power through at least the first four episodes of Season 1. It’s a bit of a slow burn at first, and lots of essential world-building happens, but once the storyline kicks into high gear, it stays there. Now is a good time to hop on board, whether you have time to fully catch up or jump ahead after that. With a fifth season of The Expanse already announced and the final book publishing in 2020, the future is bright for this beloved space opera.
The fourth season of The Expanse touches down on Amazon Prime Video on December 13th.