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Publicity still from "New Terra", Season 4 of the Expanse, via IMDB.com.

The Expanse, Season 4: The Best So Far?

A Mind Matters Perspective: Unlike critic Zac Giaimo, I preferred Season 3 but it really depends on what you are looking for

We’ve all heard this at some point: Whether it’s The Lord of the Rings, Ender’s Game, or Hunger Games, we are told, “That was a great movie but the books were better.” I’m not ashamed to admit that I rarely read the books beforehand.

I can certainly see why people prefer them. Books are more personal. In books, the story isn’t played out through the vision of a director, it’s played out through the vision in your mind. But then why handicap movies by judging them by something they’re not?

So, when I came across Zac Giaimo’s piece, “How Did Amazon Change The Expanse Books For Season 4?” (see still above left), I was intrigued to see how well Amazon Studios did, not from my own perspective, but from that of someone who is familiar with the source material. I found the subtle choices that Amazon made quite interesting.

Briefly, Season 4 is adapted from Cibola Burn, the fourth book in the bestselling Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. The UN has hired the crew of the Rocinante to mediate a land dispute between Belter refugees and an energy company exploring the planet New Terra. The usual sci-fi adventures unfold but we learn,

For season 4, it was decided to keep the character of Marco Inaros — an infamous Belter rebel — at arm’s length, a distant and mysterious threat with a dangerous ambition. He also has a presence via Filip Inaros, his son with Naomi Nagata, one of the main characters aboard the Rocinante. Marco is the driving force behind a plotline that sets up the main conflict for the fifth season of the show. Marco is the main antagonist of the fifth book as well, so that tracks …

Unfortunately, this is not the Marco Inaros we get to know in season 4 of The Expanse. The few sequences where he appears are generally quick, and only serve to move the story along to a conflict involving one of the main characters, primarily Ashford and Drummer. When on screen, Marco is a disheveled mess, with a crazed look in his eyes. There isn’t a hint of the cunning and calculating man from the novels.

Zac Giaimo, “How did Amazon change The Expanse books for season 4?” at Fansided

So if you were fascinated by Marco Inaros, you’ll be disappointed with this adaptation; apart from that, be assured that it is not bad, judged on its own.

I don’t know if I completely agree with Giaimo’s Amazonian optimism. I don’t disagree that Amazon has produced some major shows. He neglected to mention Man in the High Castle as one of Amazon’s better originals, but I agree with his other picks. But I’m not so sure I agree that Season 4 of The Expanse is the best season so far.

First, and this is obviously a matter of opinion, Giaimo seems to have a lot of love for Amazon Studios and that might play a role in his opinion. Overall, there is nothing really wrong with that but I would argue that Season 3 was the best so far. Disclaimer: I did love Season 4 and even wrote a review of it (9/10).

When examining a series like The Expanse I look at how it builds and develops its metanarrative, its big theme. In The Lord of the Rings, it’s the fate of the dreadful Ring. In this series, it’s the mystery of the life-altering protomolecule. Who made it? For what purposes? What happened to the maker? These are all questions generated by the series’ metanarrative. How the series answers them will determine its ultimate success.

The Expanse has yet to provide a resolution to most of these questions. Until then, the setup leaves us sitting on the edge of our seats, waiting for the answers. That setup is, in my opinion, best seen in Season 3.

In Season 3, the protomolecule (on Venus at the time) leaves everyone wondering what on Earth (or Venus) is going on. In the middle of the season, we see the molecule fly a colossal structure from Venus to beyond Uranus and form a massive ring. By the end of the season we discover that the ring station has opened up dozens of alternate rings to dozens of planetary systems. After the final few shots of Season 3, I was yelling at my TV to give me more. It left me in a daze. It left me with overwhelming anticipation. Match that!, Season 4 …

I don’t believe Season 4 was a bad season. On the contrary, as Giaimo notes, it was integral to character building and plot development for the overall series. However, Season 3 set up urgent questions that should be answered by the end of the show. I am hoping Season 5 will answer some of them and get us closer to resolving the story.

If you enjoyed this review by Adam Nieri, you might want to check through the ones below as well for thoughts about films that might interest you— brought to you by Mind Matters News Sci-Fi Saturday:

2019’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV: 2019 featured many sci-fi television and movies that were less sci-fi than political narrative. In 2019, I fell out with Netflix. I felt bombarded by more and more edgy content, as though Netflix wanted me to know how “adult” it is. Rather than producing a few amazing originals, Netflix started vomiting up a ton of terrible originals.

Ad Astra: The Great Silence becomes personal. The film images the fate of those who seek significance in the stars and may well wait indefinitely. In a world where the divine touch of extraterrestrial intelligence doesn’t elevate human existence to any level of significance, we are left with Ad Astra: a slow, methodical decay of human significance.

Alita, Battle Angel A Mind Matters Review: If you love anime and felt betrayed by the flop of Ghost, I would highly recommend Alita.

Another Life All fun and games till an AI falls in love. Then it descends into a convoluted drift of uncertain storytelling. And the victim is not primarily the viewer, who has other options. The victim is the art itself.

The Expanse: A Mind Matters TV Series ReviewThe attention to detail and the realistic portrayal of space set it apart from run-of-the-mill sci-fi. I love the deep mystery surrounding the show’s central narrative device, the proto-molecule. It is somewhat sentient and is desperately trying to figure out what happened to the civilization that created it and was then wiped out while it lay dormant in our solar system for millions of years.

The Feed—A Mind Matters TV Series Review: I started out thinking that the show was just the usual ho-hum tyrant-AI-takes-over flick and it is so good to be wrong! Imagine a world where your mind is stored on social media. Now, what happens if someone steals, then abandons it? What will you do?

Her (2013): If you created her, is it real love? In this retrospective Mind Matters movie review, Adam Nieri ponders the questions raised by a thoughtful AI film. Unlike Catherine, Samantha is exactly what Theodore was looking for. No surprise there; Samantha is, literally, adjusted and updated according to Theodore’s preferences from when he initially began speaking to her. She exists only to be Theodore’s soulmate. Is that enough?

How To Become Human—A Mind Matters Short Film Review. This new film turns a conventional sci-fi storytelling premise upside down. Rather than an AI struggling to become human in a human-dominated world, we watch a human struggling to be more like an artificial intelligence in an AI-dominated world.

Lost in Space, A Mind Matters TV series review. I was skeptical at first, based on Netflix’s track record, but was pleasantly surprised. If I could rewind time a week and add a piece of 2019 sci-fi to my list of the year’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV, I would add Netflix’s Lost in Space, Season 2—which came out just after I had published. Let’s fix that now.

Love, death, & robots Despite the trash and ruined expectations, several shorts were enjoyable and downright fun to watch

Nightflyers: A Mind Matters TV Series Review Despite its flaws, Nightflyers does not deserve all the criticism it received. It’s the saga of a ship of scientists making their way through the cosmos to unlock the secrets of a mysterious entity known as Volcryn. It turns out that Volcryn is not the only mystery; the good ship Nightflyer holds many of its own secrets.

The Outer Worlds—A Mind Matters Game Review: You must discover the dark secret of the Halcyon space colony, despite the greed and corruption of a handful of powerful corporations. After the raging dumpster fire that Fallout 76 (2018) turned out to be, I hesitated to invest my time and money in another role-playing game (RPG) epic. But I am glad I did.

Picard (2020): Episode 1 Is an AI-Themed Mystery. The mystery is related to another familiar Star Trek character. Seeing the Star Trek universe from a different perspective—that is, not from the interior of a starship—was super refreshing and rewarding. It gives viewers a unique look at what day-to-day life is like for other people (much as The Mandalorian did for the Star Wars universe).

Simulation: Would a simulated universe even make sense? A well-crafted short sci-fi film suggests, intentionally or otherwise, maybe not. I’ve seen quite a few sci-fi short films over the years and Simulation is certainly one of the better ones. However, beyond that, I’m not sure this film knows what it is; it’s an identity crisis.

Sprites: Will plausible robots replace movie stars? A short film prepares us to think about it.

Terminator: Dark Fate—A Mind Matters Movie Review. Aside from the fact that it felt like a retextured version of Terminator 2, I was constantly being reminded of the film’s obvious political agenda. Movies like Terminator: Dark Fate  don’t seem to be made by people who care about the narrative. They seem to think that they need only make something that looks like a movie but acts as a medium for broadcasting their message to the masses.

Adam Nieri

Adam Nieri has interests in philosophy of science and philosophy of mind and he holds an MA in Science and Religion from Biola University. He has background in social media and marketing, photography/graphic design, IT, and teaching.

The Expanse, Season 4: The Best So Far?