WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for The Expanse Season 4, streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.
Airing for the first time on the SyFy channel in December of 2015, The Expanse has invited audiences into the political, economic and social tensions plaguing humanity in a future where they have colonized the Sol System and the disparate factions exist in an uneasy peace amid the stars. Eventually the neglected bindings that allow for the cosmic arteries to function become frayed by alien threats and old prejudices. Cold wars become hot ones and each interested party races to find an advantage, even if it promises the potential for species wide destruction.
On January 14th, 2022 the great saga between Earthers, Martians and Belters will come to an end, allegedly. Based on the novels of James S. A. Corey, there are many more morsels of fruit left on the vine to distill into award winning visual storytelling that has resurrected the franchise once already. With new mysterious branches blooming in a truncated final season it seems impossible that the sixth episode of the sixth season could possibly do justice to all of the superb orchestration that has come before it, leaving one to conclude that there must be an encore in the offing.
The fifth season ended with a lot of threads left to untangle. Marcos Inaros, a charismatic and ruthless Belter leader, had conspired with a rogue division of the Martian military to secure stealth technology that he used to bombard Earth with cloaked asteroids. Those same Martian co-conspirators were devoured by entities that exist outside as well as alongside our own reality while they attempted to traverse the threshold of the ring gates. The death of one major character, a member of the Rocinante crew, led to the inclusion of another, a former enemy liberated from prison and outfitted with feral genetic modifications. Chrisjen Avasarala, the once and future Secretary General, comes to power once again to lead the people of Earth through their darkest hour despite her political losses and poor galactic reputation and the protomolecule, as always, looms large as a catalyst of disruption.
Every season prior to the last had at least ten episodes, seasons two and three had 13, to explore the loose ends created from an ensemble narrative that weaves complex characters and uniquely interesting situations together beneath a panoply of audacious stakes grounded in real world biases, fears and expectations. For a variety of reasons, mostly financial it would seem, the last season was only given six episodes to confront the myriad plot points and human beings that have come to define the emotional architecture of the show. Even with a 40% decrease of narrative runway, the creative team added the presence of a resurrection dog on a world beyond the rings called Laconia who has not taken wing with any of the multiple storylines presented in the first five episodes of the final season. Each week time is dedicated to chronicling the discovery of this animal and the young human child it has come into contact with, but no links have been created between itself, the planet or the greater story as a whole. A united Belter and Earther alliance has dawned, playing on one Belter's patriotism and hatred of Marcos Inaros, but its screen time has suffered as a result of the presence of such abundant story in other places.
With only one episode left the final season has to address how and why this Pet Cemetery canine does what it does and make it matter to the overall tapestry, resolve the Inaros - Inner conflict, speak to the inter-dimensional beings consuming ships at the portal of interstellar travel and give some sense of closure to a host of characters that have occupied so much real estate in the imaginations of audiences around the world. The creators even developed a workaround to sneak in additional content that can only be viewed on a mobile device or Amazon affiliated peripheral. Game of Thrones has laid down the unfortunate groundwork for what happens when a highly acclaimed show rushes the landing and its legacy has been compromised by the resulting fallout. The Expanse seems to be following that playbook step by step, unless of course it isn't.
In a Gizmodo interview with writing team Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham and showrunner Naren Shankar, they each spoke to the desire to get to the end of the sixth book in six seasons while understanding that there are three books remaining and a lot of story left to tell. When asked about whether or not they would ever get the opportunity to do so they were each coy but also transparently optimistic about the opportunity and candid about the role that fans may play in that process. The decision to introduce such ambitious story arcs may have been a ploy to gain leverage with another distributor via fan engagement. The more unanswered questions, the more meat on the bone, the more ravenous the masses will be to demand an ending that they find suitable to the way the table was set. Especially as the fanbase continues to demonstrate how powerful their collective action can be, like an unregulated and highly rabid union.
The creators already have a lot of experience with this since the series spent its first three seasons on the Syfy channel, its last three on Amazon Prime and a lot of credit for that goes to the viewing public who petitioned for its return. The ending of the third season, while incomplete from a fan perspective, tied up a nice tidy bow for most of what the show set out to do and would have served as a fine conclusion to the series in ways that season six just doesn't seem capable of and perhaps that is intentional. The creative team may be looking for an unprecedented third partner to tell the remaining third of the story presented in the books and conjuring emphasis on certain storylines may help seed the soil for a vibrant mass harvest. The show has proven its staying power and although it is an expensive project, it seems like a streamer with deep pockets looking for proven content should be able to let this phoenix rise from its ashes once again.
To see the "series finale," The Expanse is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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