*** Minor Spoilers ***
After a devastating cancellation by SYFY Channel in the Spring of 2018, the fans of The Expanse launched a Herculean effort to save the series. They succeeded when Jeff Bezos announced that Amazon Prime Video had acquired the series. The Expanse returns December 13 on Amazon Prime Video. The major question that fans want to be answered is whether or not the wait was worth it. The answer is a resounding, yes!
The scope of Season 4 has expanded from the previous three seasons, as it now includes travel outside of the Solar System. Season 4 takes its main story from the novel, Cibola Burn, and one of its secondary stories from the novella, Gods of Risk. However, the question still remains, does humanity take light into the darkness or do we take the same darkness with us? Season 4 answers this question.
The main conflicts throughout Season 4 have as their root cause the Ring with its access to over a thousand worlds. The political machinations on Earth center around access to the new worlds created by the Ring that are being blocked by the Earth, Mars, and the Belter government. Unfortunately for Mars, the promise of new worlds that do not need terraforming rips apart the social fabric of Martian life. Even some Belters want to have their own planet, while the traditionalists believe that Belters belong in space, not on a planet.
Season 4 brings a cast of new players (as well as familiar faces from Season 3) to the complex drama that is The Expanse. They include:
- Adolphus Murtry (Burn Gorman)-chief of security for Royal Charter Energy
- Dr. Lucia Mazur (Rosa Gilmore)- a Belter medical technician
- Dr. Elvi Okoye (Lyndie Greenwood)- biologist
- Carol Chiwewe (Patti Kim)- Belter leader on Ilus
- Chandra Wei (Jess Salgueiro)- Murtry’s second in command
- Coop (Kris Holden-Ried)- a Belter troublemaker
- Jakob Mazur (Steven McCarthy)- husband of Lucia
- Dr. Fayez Sarkis (Zach Smadu)- a colleague of Dr. Okoye on the Edward Israel
The Belt/Medina Station
- Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander)- charismatic Belter leader and Naomi’s ex
- Detective Esai Martin (Paul Schulze)- a Martian detective
- David Draper (Kolton Stewart)- Bobbie’s nephew
- Leelee (Dayle McLeod)- David’s girlfriend
- Arjun Avasarala (Michael Benyear)- Chrisjen’s husband
- Nancy Gao (Lily Gao)- Chrisjen’s political opponent
- Aide Diaz (Chai Valladares) – aide to Avasarala
Ilus/New Terra, one of the newly discovered planets, exemplifies the problems created by the Ring. At the end of Season 3, Holden (Steven Strait) feared the resultant gold rush to the 1,300 newly opened systems. One of the new planets was settled and claimed by a group of refugee Belters from Ganymede who illegally broke the Ring blockade. They named the planet Ilus, the brother of Ganymede in Greek mythology. Fortunately, and unfortunately for the Belters, Ilus abounds with Lithium, a precious commodity that everyone wants to own.
Ilus and these other new worlds raise the quintessential human question of ownership rights. These rights are at the core of the conflict between the Belters and Royal Charter Energy (RCE). RCE has been granted a charter by the UN and Mars to explore and mine New Terra, which is what they have named the planet. This, of course, sets the stage for conflict.
However, the conflict between the Belters and RCE pales in comparison to the danger lurking on the planet in the presence of alien ruins. Both RCE and the Belters are lulled into a false sense of security because the ruins are over a billion years old and appear to be dead. Avasarala (Shoreh Aghdashloo) sends Holden, Naomi (Dominique Tipper), Amos (Wes Chatham), and Alex (Cas Anvar) to help sort through these issues but primarily to determine if the ruins pose a threat to the settlers and humanity.
When the crew of the Rocinante lands on Ilus, they walk into a tense situation. A previously ill-conceived plan of the Belters has exacerbated what normally would be only a tense situation into open, armed conflict. The Belters’ own actions provide the basis to undermine their claim and dash their hopes for a new home.
Murtry, an ex-military man in charge of security for the RCE, and his team suffer a catastrophic tragedy because of the Belters’ actions. This sets the stage for the major conflict that becomes the primary focus of Season 4. Murtry may be the “villain” of Season 4 but as with Errinwright in Season 3, he is a complex human being. The Belters started something that Murtry has every intention of finishing. Yet this conflict eventually pales when the Investigator (Thomas Jane) and Holden interact with the alien ruins and awaken a new and deadly player.
Meanwhile on Earth, Avasarala has her own problems to handle. One of her former cabinet members, Nancy Gao, has decided to run against her in an election for Secretary-General of the UN. Gao’s platform centers around opening the Ring planets for colonization to alleviate the vast unemployment on Earth. Gao cleverly preys on the hopes of the people who live on Basic by offering them salvation via the newly discovered planets. No, politics has not changed in 200 years. Avasarala has to fight off this opposition while she contends with a growing new security threat. Also, as clearly the only adult in the room, Avasarala correctly fears that by going through the Ring, humanity might awaken whatever killed the Builders.
Bobbie (Frankie Adams) has returned to Mars to less than a hero’s welcome. She was dishonorably discharged and she now works stripping old Mars warships. She lives with her brother and his family. Much of the drama on Mars derives from the novella, Gods of Risk, but the story goes far beyond this novella.
The truly tragic part of this tale is that the Martian people have lost their singular focus which was to terraform Mars. The new planets through the Ring don’t need years of terraforming; they are ready for colonization now. A large percentage of Martians no longer want to spend years working on terraforming Mars when so many new, livable planets are readily available. This breaks the singular dream of Mars as a terraformed planet and leaves a vacuum that is quickly filled by unscrupulous Martians.
Medina Station/The Belt
On Medina Station, Drummer (Cara Gee) and Ashford (David Strathairn) shoulder the responsibility of corralling the disparate forces of the Belters and running the station. They have to contend with a renegade band of Belters who are not happy with the current armistice. The charismatic leader, who heads this renegade group, has his own agenda plus he has ties to one of the main characters.
Season 4 has a much grander scope than the previous seasons. It’s not just the fact that the season moves out of the Solar System but that the scenes on Ilus are filmed by using a 2.39:1 anamorphic format instead of the standard 16:9 high definition ratio. This gives the scenes on Ilus a grand cinematic feel that reminds viewers of the great cowboy Westerns. But, as with the Westerns of old, the conflict of ownership drives the action. Who wins in this conflict when humanity ignores the fact that there is another, more powerful player? Season 4 provides the answer.
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*Amazon Prime Video only made six episodes available for press viewing, which means that fans can expect more surprise new faces in Season 4 than those listed. *