The Expanse has been quite the ride.
Based on novels written by authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, The Expanse became a hit sci-fi series ranked among the best the genre has to offer when it premiered in 2015, and rightfully so. The show is set in our galaxy where, years into the future, Earth has colonized the stars. The story starts relatively small with an investigation into the disappearance of a diplomat’s estranged daughter, and over the course of 6 seasons narratively expands to a galactic war, first contact with a mysterious and malignant alien race, and thousands of new systems and planets being made available to humanity through alien technology.
The series had humble beginnings on the Sy-Fy channel, and lasted there for 3 seasons until its eventual cancellation. Massive fan outcry, (namely #SAVETHEEXPANSE) led to it being revived less than a year later by Amazon, where the writers and actors were allowed to create 3 more seasons to complete their story. Regrettably, The Expanse is ending before it gets the chance to adapt books 7 through 9. However, the narrative the writers set out to tell with both seasons 5 and 6 feels complete.
Following the devastation of the Earth by Marcos Inaros (Keon Alexander) and his Free Navy’s weaponized stealth asteroids, the final season begins with Earth’s government trying to find a way to prevent any more subsequent attacks. Earth is also now covered in the facsimile of a nuclear winter, and experiencing calamitous effects; crop failure, food shortage, a deteriorating atmosphere, and fearful unrest. The Secretary-General, Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and her advisors agonize over how to provide a way of life for the people who are still alive. Meanwhile, the crew of the Rocinante is out in space, fighting for Earth’s survival and searching for a way to end this feud with the Free Navy. This is the final season’s central, but not singular conflict.
While brief, being only 6 episodes, The Expanse manages to fire on all cylinders. The battles in space are some of the most engaging and intense the show has ever offered. They blend stunning and visceral action sequences together with the raw emotion that can only be provided by the cast we’ve seen grow together over the last 6 years. Going into the new episodes, one might be skeptical that The Expanse can do everything it needs to do with such limited time, but to much shock and delight, it does.
The writing is some of the show’s best, allowing nearly every character to shine and have wonderful moving moments for themselves. Camina Drummer (Cara Gee) in particular has a phenomenal impassioned speech where she even quotes a famous set of A Song of Ice and Fire house words that sent chills through me – no doubt a wink from the writers of the show, who have frequently collaborated and worked with George R.R. Martin. Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) also gets a few moving scenes where she deals with some complicated emotions regarding her son Filip (Jasai Chase Owens), in addition to several moments she shares with Camina and James Holden (Steven Strait), who are arguably the most important people in her life. Clarissa “Peaches” Mao (Nadine Nicole) joins the crew as foe turned friend and has strong chemistry with each of her shipmates, her relationship with Amos Burton (Wes Chatham) being the highlight.
Throughout the season there’s also cameos from characters that have been in and out of the crew’s lives over the course of the series and none feel tacked on or pointless, though because of the overall short length, many do feel rushed, and a waste of potentially great character interactions. That’s the cost of truncating the season. As previously stated, what is here is great. But that only serves to highlight what’s missing as well. A full 10 to 13 episode season would’ve definitely alleviated some of these issues. Perhaps I’m just being greedy in wanting more time with this cast of characters, and more time to just be in this world. Yet, The Expanse, as the name suggests, is meant to be about humanity diffused throughout the solar system on stations and planets and moons, etc. and the great part about the show is that it got a chance to introduce us to all these exciting and alien locations. There’s not much of that this time, due to the fact that the central plot involving the characters we already know just doesn’t have enough space to do more than they already are.
Though there is a completely separate plot spliced intermittently between the ongoing conflict that’s happening in our solar system. This part of the story takes place in the Laconia system, on a strange planet that has an even stranger implication for what is to come in The Expanse universe. It’s based on the Expanse novella, “Strange Dogs”, and it does quite a bit of neat worldbuilding in the background of the main agenda. It’s also one of the few plot threads that are left unresolved, but not in a way that makes the story feel unsatisfying. More in a way that leaves the door open for a potential continuation in the future, and who knows? The Expanse has come back from the dead before, and there’s a significant in-universe time jump after the season’s corresponding book, so we shouldn’t count the show out just yet.
Nonetheless, with the final season and final book releasing this month, it does seem, for the moment, that this part of The Expanse ride is over. In regards to the show, the ending is as perfect as it can be when factoring in all that needed to be accomplished here. I’ve been here faithfully since episode one, and it’s such a wonderful feeling to know that not only was the quality consistent season to season, but unlike most recent popular show endings, this one feels special and made with care. The last few minutes are brimming with heart and exemplifies the central tenet of the series: That despite humanity revealing the worst parts of ourselves to one another, even in the darkness we still reach out for one another. One of the first questions posed in season one is, “We make it all this way, so far out into the darkness. Why couldn’t we have brought more light?” But we did. We did.