Amazon UK TV review: The Expanse Season 4 (spoilers)
Disappointing first half5
Bobbi gets something to do8
Ian Winterton | On 12, Jan 2020Reading time: 5 mins
Warning: This contains major spoilers for all four seasons of The Expanse. Not caught up? Read our spoiler-free Season 4 review here.
“Sorry I got you into this,” says underworld hard-ass Leelee, bidding farewell to Bobbi. “Don’t be,” replies Bobbi. “At least now I’ve got something to do.”
It’s a sentiment that resonates with the millions of The Expanse fans frustrated with Season 4. Bobbi is saying this minutes from the close of the season, when we’ve had 10 episodes in which very little has happened. Bobbi Draper has perhaps been hardest hit by this storyline deficit – her drift from dead-end job into underworld bodyguard has been as dull as it has been unconvincing (was anyone surprised when it turned out Bobbi couldn’t do bad things for cash?) but the other characters have suffered too.
On Earth, Chrisjen’s election woes were mind-numbingly prosaic, especially considering the fun we had last season watching her deal with the Machiavellian snakes’ nest that was Earth’s political system; are we to believe that she drained the swamp in one fell swoop and now all she has to worry about are polling figures?
Elsewhere we had belter rebels-turned-administrators Drummer (Cara Gee) and Ashford (David Strathairn) mostly standing around in console room or near airlocks, while the primary plotline unfolds on Ilus, a newly discovered world on the other side of the Ring. Here, Holden, Naomi, Amos and Alex found themselves in the middle of a stand-off between corporate lackeys and desperate belters, newly arrived and staking a claim to the planet and all its mineral wealth.
The first half of the season dragged big time, with each of the four main storylines failing to engage. A mid-season nuclear explosion on Ilus upped the stakes there a little and, coupled with the revelation that belter Lucia had planted the bomb, accidentally killing hundreds of Earthers, returned us to something approaching the character-driven excitement of The Expanse of old.
The tsunami gave the scenario some much needed impetus, forcing belters, Earthers and Holden and Amos into the strange alien structure. The claustrophobic space helped ratchet up tensions between the factions, although the blinding sickness and luminous deadly space slugs both seemed a symptom of uninspired writers than emerging organically from the situation; it didn’t help that the blindness was cured laughably easy, and the slugs’ deadliness seemed inconsistent.
There was, thankfully, a lot to like in the second half of the season. There was good character work with Lucia and her errant daughter Felicia (Kayla Madeira), the latter hopefully becoming a permanent member of the Rocinante. The troubled doctor Lucia, too, played brilliantly by Rosa Gilmore, is someone to look forward to seeing more of.
In addition, the latter episodes treated us to some bravura action sequences – particularly when Lucia went spinning into space, untethered – it was one of the few genuinely tense moments in the whole season.
Also a stand-out – for more reasons than one – was Ashford’s zero-G raid on Marco’s ship. A fast-moving depiction of a gunfight in the close quarters of a gravity-free ship – the way blood hung in the air and the dead combatants, thanks to mag-boots, stayed upright and swaying – was chilling. With Ashford’s taking over the ship with ruthless efficiency, the switch in his fortunes at the end came as a genuine shock. By killing a well-loved character like Ashford, Marco (Keon Alexander) has set himself up as a villain to be reckoned with, not least because he ended Season 4 about to launch an asteroid at Earth.
It’s not just Marco’s deeds that promise great things for Season 5, but also the way he’s woven in with the other storylines. Not only is he a belter terrorist, but he’s also Naomi’s ex and the father of her estranged son Felip (Jesai Chase Owens), whom we meet as Ashford meets his end. In addition, his plotting involves dissatisfied Martians that, as she narrowly avoids being blown up by a terrorist bomb, finally gives Bobbi something to do.
It’s maddening that, as the season’s finale draws to a close, all the characters have finally been positioned in interesting places. Bobbi contacting Chrisjen, just as the Secretary General loses the election, is tantalising, as is the prospect of Naomi battling for the heart and mind of her son against a terrorist who’s set on pummelling the Earth with space rocks.
We should be grateful that this isn’t the season where The Expanse jumped the shark, a la Game of Thrones’ final run, but 10 episodes of mostly workmanlike set-up is a colossal squandering of the capital built up in the preceding three seasons. Nor was it the moment where The Expanse turned into a soap opera, as is often the case with returning dramas (many of us still haven’t got over how dull and ordinary True Blood became), but its disparate plotlines certainly made it seem to be heading that way.
A disappointing season, then, but one that gives fans hope. This might have been an off-season, but – by its close – we’re at least reassured that, when it returns, normal kick-ass service will be resumed.
The Expanse Season 1 to 4 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.