Season 4 of The Expanse TV show was released Friday on Amazon Prime, so I just spent today binging on it.
There was a lot of uncertainty about the show last year when SyFy canceled it, but within a short period Amazon stepped in and saved it, renewing it for a fourth season. And earlier this year it was preemptively renewed for a fifth season, so Amazon seems to have committed pretty thoroughly.
The production values remain high, possibly higher than previous seasons. A lot of the action this season takes place on a planet, which I imagine spiked both the exterior location and CG costs. And the ships, both interior and exterior, still look great.
One thing I love about this show is how the spaceships operate according to Newtonian principles, where it’s necessary to accelerate and later decelerate to reach a destination. And when coasting, the realities of free fall are acknowledged. There is compromise a bit in portraying this, having everyone walk around with magnetic boots, but considering how much it would cost to have actors constantly swinging around on cables, and compared to it being completely ignored on most space shows, I give them a pass.
There are other compromises, such as having sound in space. The book authors, who are producers on the show, are defensive about this, insisting that it’s necessary for the space scenes to work. As I noted in my post on Ad Astra, I think this underestimates audiences. But again, it’s relatively minor compared to most shows.
The season is mostly an adaptation of the fourth Expanse book, Cibola Burn, but there are differences. Many of them simply reflect the realities of telling a story in novel vs TV form. Others seem like enhancements. The show tends to develop the villains a bit more than the books, which is good, but it also tends to, I think, have a darker edgier feel. Some of the characters get additional challenges. And I think the show handles the departure of a major character much better than the book.
Some changes seem related to the practical need to employ all the actors, including the ones whose characters were mostly absent from Cibola Burn. So we have a lot of parallel plot threads that weren’t in the book, related to Avasarala, Bobbie, Drummer, and Ashford, all in events taking place away from the main story setting. In some cases, this seems like completely new material. In others, it front loads developments for upcoming seasons, particularly events in the fifth book, Nemesis Games.
It’s difficult to get into details without also getting into spoilers, particularly if you haven’t seen the earlier seasons. And if you haven’t watched the show yet, you’ll want to start with the first season. Someone could jump in on season 4, but they’d be missing a lot of backstory.
So if you’re looking for intelligent space opera with excellent production values, I highly recommend it. And don’t forget that this is based on an excellent book series, which is worth checking out, if it’s your cup of tea.