Saved from SyFy Channel cancellation by Amazon Prime Video, The Expanse is back for a fourth season. Somehow in the change, what was already one of the best shows in the history of television, got even better. This The Expanse Season 4 reviewed, after one episode.
In its first three seasons The Expanse established itself as a dense, complicated, well-written hard sci-fi drama. It became undeniably great not just because it got all the realities of its outer space universe right, but because it got people right too. The Expanse both in book form and in televised form, has always understood everything it’s doing and settled for nothing less than doing it all right. That trend continues in the first episode of Season 4, except now the world is a lighter brighter and a lot more fun.
A Brighter Future For The Expanse
When I say the first episode of The Expanse’s fourth season is brighter, I mean that both tonally and literally. With its focus on hard sci-fi realities, the look of the show has always been a little washed out and shadowed. That makes sense, since it’s set largely in outer space. Shows like Star Trek and The Orville may have conditioned us to expect space travel to involve a lot of sounds and spot lights, but the reality is that it’s dark and cold out there. The Expanse captures all that, but it’s not always pleasant to look at.
For The Expanse season 4 they’ve brightened things up without losing any of that intense realism. It’s a subtle shift, but suddenly it’s a lot easier to see the freshly painted outlines of the Rocinante against the backdrop of space. The inside of James Holden’s ship looks a little brighter too. When Amos lurks in one of the ship’s dark corners, it still looks like a dark corner, but it’s a lot easier to see that Amos is the one lurking there.
The change is subtle and it has been accomplished without turning The Expanse into Star Wars or a less realistic show about the future. It all still feels totally real and scientifically accurate… if science could find a way to make it easier to look at things in the black of space without having to squint a little.
The tone of the show has brightened up too. That’s likely the result of the source material which, at the start of where season four picks up, strikes a brighter tone. At this stage in The Expanse book series the narrative becomes more about exploration and discovery, and less wholly about politics (though there’s still plenty of that too), and this season reflects that.
Exploring A Mystery
Make no mistake, there are new tererors to be found lurking off in the distance. James Holden has taken the Rocinante on a mission to investigate the first planet beyond the rings established at the end of season 3. That piece of the protomolecule is still inside Holden and that means Miller (played by Thomas Jane), fedora and all, is still along for the ride.
It’s Miller who demands Holden go through the rings and investigate, but it takes little prompting. Holden feels responsible for giving humanity a gateway to the stars, and so he wants to be the first through to make sure it’s not going to kill everyone. Amos, Alex, and most of all Naomi agree. And so the Roci goes.
But it’s the final scene of Season 4’s first episode which really sets that new tone for the show. The Roci descends on a plume of fire, trailing smoke as it lands tail-first like one of Blue Origin’s rocket creations on a planet in a different solar system. As Naomi leads the crew to the Roci’s exits, the show perfectly captures our heroes, nay our friends, sense of wonder at landing on an alien planet. It successfully creates a hopeful, exciting sense of discovery mixed in with the story that’s unfolding, before dropping into a story full of fear and trepidation.
What I’m getting at here is that moving The Expanse to Amazon has resulted in the show being every bit as good as it has always been, except somehow it has gotten just a little bit better. Whether that’s Amazon’s doing or simply the direction they were headed anyway is anyone’s guess. But I loved it. You will too.
And that glowing The Expanse Season 4 review is just after the first episode. We’ll have more on the rest of the season, here in this space, soon. For now I’m giving the first episode of The Expanse’s fourth season 5 stars.