The Expanse is over. Long live The Expanse! With season six now in the books and the show wrapped for good, we’re looking back at the final season. Obviously, it’s still one of the greatest sci-fi shows of all time (it made io9's list of best TV of 2021!), but we had a few nitpicks this final go-round... keeping in mind that the “worst” of The Expanse is still better than most series could ever hope to be. Let’s dive in!
Once again, The Expanse was filled with an incredible array of action scenes this season—including multiple space battles that were among the series’ very best. But all that glorious warhead-flinging and rail gun fire didn’t exist in a vacuum; each sequence was carefully paced and contextualized to bring as much tension and excitement to the screen as possible. The Expanse may be a TV series, but the action scenes always had a way of feeling cinematic; this season’s standouts included the Rocinante’s skirmish with the Pella that led to Holden disarming the kill shot just before it landed, Amos and Bobbie’s teeth-rattling assault on the Ring Station, and the Roci crew’s genius (and meticulously timed) plan to eliminate Marco Inaros once and for all. Props to directors Breck Eisner, Jeff Woolnough, and Anya Adams, along with the series’ effects team, for making each fight feel high-stakes and unpredictable.
Considering The Expanse is based on a highly acclaimed book series, it’s no surprise that the writing (Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham, who wrote the books together as James S.A. Corey, penned multiple season six episodes) is one of its strongest points. Throughout the season, the action scenes nabbed our attention, but the more intimate moments between characters—be they sweet, contentious, bitter, or revelatory—also made an impact. Season six really made an effort to show how The Expanse’s core characters have evolved over the series; think of Chrisjen Avasarala recalling her cruel treatment of a Belter prisoner (a throwback to season one) and realizing that while she’s not that person anymore, it’s on her to make sure everybody else realizes that, too. Speaking of throwbacks, season six was also able to tie in some familiar faces from earlier seasons, like Prax and Elvi, in ways that felt organic rather than fan service-y.
This season also took time to evolve certain relationships (Amos and Bobbie, in particular, formed a nice bond this season based on brawn and snark; Holden and Naomi, the show’s stalwart couple, remained as strong as ever), while also showing the cracks that’ve formed between other characters as a result of what they’ve all been through—that Drummer-Naomi “fuck you” scene was particularly powerful, as was every confrontation between Filip and Marco.
The Expanse cast has always been great, so no surprise here. My pick for season-six MVP is Cara Gee as Drummer—even while battling immense personal loss and a major existential crisis, she’s as fierce on the battlefield as she is at the negotiating table. But overall, everyone was excellent (from the subtle work of Steven Strait as Holden to the over-the-top swagger of Keon Alexander as Marco)—and the chemistry, especially between the veteran cast members, has never been better.
The season only ran six episodes, so the “X-Ray” bonus content (a new feature this season) was particularly welcome. Bundled under the theme of “One Ship,” it consisted of short vignettes that were attached to the first five episodes. Thanks to these shorts, we learned more about Drummer’s fractured relationship with her friend/frenemy/soul mate, Naomi; saw a stressed-out Avasarala soften a bit while reconnecting with a beloved young family member; got the answer to the proverbial Expanse question “What would happen if Amos and Bobbie brawled?”; witnessed Clarissa confront some very complex feelings about her father (a character we got to know in earlier Expanse seasons); and, perhaps most delightfully, observed the exact moment when Holden decided to join the crew of the Canterbury, the ship he was serving on during The Expanse season one, episode one—and whose doomed fate set the whole dang plot in motion.
We knew going into season six that we’d only be getting six episodes; we also knew that, considering The Expanse was cancelled by Syfy after its third season, the fact that we got three more seasons on Amazon was something of a miracle. So maybe we’re being greedy by saying we sure wish season six had been the previous Amazon standard of 10 episodes? Just a few more hours would have given some of the subplots more time to find their footing—the breakup of Drummer’s family, Monica Stuart’s journalism crusade, the crisis on Ceres). It also would have allowed for a bit more character development, both for characters we already know and love—Amos, in particular, felt a bit short shrifted this year, after season five’s involved arc—and new faces like Kathleen Robertson’s doomed Belter, Rosenfeld—a charismatic, assertive presence who never got to do anything beyond tell Filip and Marco Inaros how to behave around each other. That, and more episodes would have done much to mitigate...
One suspects the team behind The Expanse would’ve dearly loved to dig deeper into the Laconia plot line. And there was no way season six couldn’t have included it; Admiral Duarte’s deal with Marco Inaros was a crucial part of Marco’s story and in setting up the big finale with the showdown at the Ring Station. Also, Laconia was a way to keep the protomolecule—such an important motivator throughout all previous seasons—actively involved in the story. But there simply wasn’t enough time to really explain Duarte was up to (in “Babylon’s Ashes,” enigmatically he tells Marco that he has “gods to kill” in his kiss-off message, but that’s a cool line that is then never followed up on), nor did we get any payoff for the protomolecule-fueled structure hovering in the Laconian sky. Also: let’s not forget a kid came back from the dead on Laconia, something that got a careful build-up but wasn’t pursued beyond its eerie reveal.
Of course, obviously, curious fans of the Expanse series can always pick up the Corey books to find out what happened after the events of “Babylon’s Ashes.” But the show did such an outstanding job bringing the books to the screen, with exceptional pacing, casting, and visual flair, that it’s disappointing not to get a full follow-through on the Laconia story. The show wisely left the question of whether Naomi and Filip would reunite—or if she would even get the chance to realize he didn’t perish alongside Marco—to the imagination; they might meet someday, but you can also envision a future where they’ve found peace apart from each other. We didn’t need a period put on every single storyline, either--part of the joy of The Expanse is that the characters may face far-out space situations, but they also feel like real people who deal with real-life stuff, like health problems, personality clashes with co-workers, and not being able to find a good cup of coffee. Their lives will have twists and turns that we can leave to the imagination, and feel just fine about that. But back on Laconia, little Xan’s protomolecule-fueled, black-eyed, black-blood-oozing, hug-demanding zombie corpse is still out there running through the forest with his sister—while forever running through our nightmares.
The Expanse season six is available on Amazon.
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