This is a mostly spoiler-free review of The Expanse Season 4, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
After a hard-fought fan campaign that resulted in a plane flying over Amazon's offices with a "Save The Expanse" banner attached to its tail, the beloved former Syfy series is finally back on the air (in a manner of speaking). But has the show changed now that it has the backing of a $1 trillion e-commerce giant, instead of a traditional cable network?Not really. Apart from the ability to binge all ten episodes in a single day (if that's your cup of tea) and a few F-Bombs sprinkled here and there, the spirit of The Expanse, which is once again handled with special care by executive producer Naren Shankar, remains intact.Season 4 expands (forgive the pun) the universe even further, as Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are instructed by Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) to venture through one of the 1,373 newly-accessible ring gates in order to settle a territorial dispute on Illus between independent Belter settlers and a group from Royal Charter Energy group (or RCE). Basically, the ring gates have ushered in a new galactic gold rush and everyone wants to make their claim. And while political squabbles aren't the most fascinating part of the narrative, the wild wild west dynamic really ramps up the tension.It all starts with a great villain, RCE's top-dog Adolphus Murtry (played by Pacific Rim's Burn Gorman) who's your typical shoot first ask questions later kind of guy… think Amos Burton (Wes Chatham) minus the kind eyes. Gorman embraces the role of "character you're most likely to hate" in Season 4 like a well-seasoned pro. His gravelly British accent and cold stare make for some suspenseful standoffs between James Holden (Steven Strait) and Amos, especially in the close-quarter shootouts. Chatham and Gorman are engaging to watch whenever they're onscreen together, as both men share an understanding that their respective characters are cold-blooded killers that happened to team up with different people.While Strait is never given much to do beyond being the reliable good guy, Holden's story in Season 4 is deepened by his peculiar relationship with Joe Miller (Thomas Jane), whose likeness is being controlled by the Protomolecule. Since no one else can see Miller except for Holden, there's always a bit of comic relief whenever someone walks into a room with the two of them chatting, and the writers wisely don't overuse the deceased detective as a narrative crutch.Unlike the James S.A. Corey novel (Cibola Burn), which takes place primarily in and around Illus, Shankar and his team write expanded storylines in Season 4 for fan-favorites Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams), Chrisjen Avasarala, Camina Drummer (Cara Gee), and Klaes Ashford (David Strathairn). Most of the time, the subplots are impactful, but there are moments when it feels like the producers are fulfilling an actor's financial contract rather than giving them something meaningful say or do.
Check out the final trailer for The Expanse Season 4 in the video below: A prime example of this "expanded story" dilemma is Avasarala, who spends most of her time engaged in an election that never feels significant to the overall plot. The best part about her story in Season 4 is her relationship with her husband, Arjun, who's played by newcomer Michael Benyaer – a worthy replacement after Brian George's interpretation of the character, whose lovable grandfather demeanor was charming, but not nearly as imposing as Benyaer's.Bobbie has the best side story of the bunch, and her adventures are our first in-depth look at what life is like for some folk on Mars. Adams plays Bobbie's "soldier without a war" arc to perfection, and although she sometimes feels like she's operating in a different show, the writers manage to bring it all home towards the finale.
For more on Amazon Prime Video, check out our review of the streaming service in the video below:
The Expanse Season 4 on Amazon is every bit as good as it was on Syfy. Executive Producer Naren Shankar and his team have crafted an engaging batch of episodes that successfully expand the Protomolecule narrative, while also introducing compelling new characters like Murtry. Some of the storylines outside of the situation on Illus do feel a bit forced at times, but even in its weaker moments, The Expanse shines with stellar performances from its ensemble.