Throughout its six seasons as one of the best sci-fi TV shows in recent memory, “The Expanse” has always seemed to thrive in certain extremes. From its basic cable origins to its three-year Prime Video run, the show has been at its best when it’s either at rest or its characters are in utter turmoil.
From a pure logistical standpoint, no other series has as full a sense of its world’s mechanics quite like “The Expanse.” Much of that comes from its source material, the books written by James S.A. Corey, the pseudonym of writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (who also write a good portion of the scripts for the new Season 6). The long-established geopolitical relationships between citizens of Earth, Mars, and the Belt complement the tactile nature of resources and equipment it takes to travel between those locations (and beyond them). From language to dress to various cultural touchstones, “The Expanse” has fashioned an interplanetary framework for all those who navigate it.
In the last few seasons, as the show has traded one all-encompassing threat for another, it’s never lost sight of the fact that all of these pieces of physical and psychological connective tissue are extremely vulnerable. When the enigmatic force of the protomolecule gave way to a bloodthirsty win-at-all-costs revolutionary, “The Expanse” kept the ability to paint its drama on a massive, cosmic canvas.
Shane Mahood / © 2021 Amazon Content Services LLC
That constant ability to live on either side of the granular-to-galactic spectrum makes Season 6 of “The Expanse” a curious object. For more than a year, it’s been the official line that this is the show’s last season on Prime Video. Shorter in length — six episodes as opposed to the 10, or even 13, of years past — the show’s then left to negotiate a tricky landing. There are four more novels’ worth of material left to consider, and they’re operating without a central cast member, written out at last season’s close.
It would be an overstatement, though, to say Season 6 doesn’t feel like a season of “The Expanse.” In one key way, the show picks right back up where it left off, with the surviving members of the Rocinante crew back working as a single unit again. Holden (Steven Strait) and Naomi (Dominique Tipper) are back searching for the aforementioned agent of space chaos, Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander), for reasons beyond a possible end to an escalating war. The always-reliable Amos (Wes Chatham) has managed to argue for trusted friend Clarissa Mao (Nadine Nicole) as a provisional crew member, despite her rocky past history with nearly everyone else on board. This group’s longstanding chemistry is “The Expanse” at its finest, with actors effortlessly juggling jargon with ease and making it make sense for the greater story unfolding beyond the walls of their ship.
Where “The Expanse” stalls in Season 6 is elsewhere. The show is no stranger to putting the pieces in place for a climactic showdown, but usually in a longer season those objectives have room to spread out and add to the overall momentum. Here, aside from locking in a few of the circumstances around that confrontation, it’s not hard to see the trajectory on which things are heading. On the way there, much of the Season 6 runtime is stuck in a kind of middle ground between the two areas where the show excels.
Marco has been drawn from the start as a tyrant, cloaking himself in a specific kind of demagoguery. His speechifying and dispensing of wisdom to his moody son, Filip (Jasai Chase-Owens), does make the show feel like it’s in an emotional holding pattern. Momentary setbacks for Marco’s Free Navy do little to humble him or dissuade him from this future reality’s equivalent of going nuclear. When he’s not barking orders, he’s brooding. It’s consistent, but with an even more compressed timeframe for the show to work in, his strategizing and scheming can’t help but feel like a show focusing its attention away from its strengths.
Shane Mahood / © 2021 Amazon Content Services LLC
One of those happens to be Secretary General Chrisjen Avasarala, a character so entrenched in this world that, with the help of a performance from Shohreh Aghdashloo, gives thorny diplomatic entangling some dramatic heft. There’s not much left of Earth after a continued rock-based salvo continues to decimate the planet’s population. (In what was arguably the series’ most thrilling sequence to date, the entire objective was getting as far away from the place as possible.) Yet, in execution, there’s a consideration of cost, sacrifice, and righteousness — not to mention the additional presence in this season of Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) — that elevates these Avasarala scenes beyond just simple decision room diversions.
Season 6 isn’t without flair. A connected series of cold opens across all six episodes tell the story of a girl on a distant planet whose fate may have some far-reaching implications. One particular 360° reintroduction to the exterior of the Roci shows the kind of creative reach of a show that, in many ways, isn’t content to stay at rest. Outlining the particulars of hull maintenance and even the vacuum silence of space are all part of the building blocks that make “The Expanse” worth the ride.
Amongst the multi-planed dogfights and blissfully comfortable dinner conversations that seem to stretch far past either end of a scene, there’s an overriding feeling that this isn’t quite it for “The Expanse.” If this is goodbye for the denizens of the Roci and the worlds it races by, it’ll be too soon. It’s not exactly unfinished business, but this season — particularly in its last couple episodes — is marked by the confidence of a show that’s got six seasons under its belt and still doesn’t particularly feel like stopping, no matter what any official announcement might say.
“The Expanse” Season 6 premieres Friday, December 10 on Amazon Prime Video. New episodes will premiere every Friday through January 14, 2022.