The Expanse - Season Six

Warning: Spoilers

This brief overview of the final season of The Expanse is intended to be spoiler light, but is not entirely spoiler free: it is best appreciated after watching the whole thing and in any case assumes that you are familiar with the five previous seasons.

‘The new subplot, set on a recently established colony the other side of "the Ring," is intriguing and poignant, with a very strong dose of tragicomedy.’

If the short sixth season has left some fans feeling dissatisfied, it has to be said that most of the dissatisfaction is due to the show being cancelled rather than to the way it wrapped up. There are still stories to be told in this universe - and indeed the final season developed a new one that was never resolved properly. It was, appropriately, about resurrection, which might be symbolic, or at least ironic, in the context of the history of the show itself. It is perhaps a hint that even now the writers and producers are hoping that it will be brought back miraculously after cancellation - as it has before.

Three seasons ago it was purchased by Amazon after being dropped by 'Syfy' in a deal that was itself symbolic of how the industry is changing. However, the nature of the streaming service business model means that it is more important to attract new subscribers than to keep them happy. From Amazon's point of view, securing the relatively small but dedicated fan base The Expanse had built up made a lot of sense, but the problem that had led to its first cancellation remained: its visibly very high quality production is clearly not cheap, especially on a cost per viewer basis. Once those viewers were safely signed up, Amazon derived no more direct income from them, since there is no advertising revenue in their model. So 'The Expanse' had become simply "The Expense."

The Expanse - Season 6 review

There is a probability that cancellation will lose Amazon some of those subscribers, but that was always going to be the case whenever it happened. Amazon have clearly made the brutal calculation that, after three years, enough of those who followed The Expanse to their platform will keep their subscriptions out of inertia or because they have become attracted by other Amazon products. As viewers, we have little right to complain because without Amazon we would never have had those three extra seasons.

This commercial reality is evident in the way Season Six rather rushes to the end and cuts costs as it does so. It was reduced from the standard Amazon ten episodes to a mere six - less than half the thirteen episode sagas of its last two seasons on 'Syfy' - giving it more the feel of a "miniseries" than a full season of television. As a result, the storytelling and character development seems a bit perfunctory in places. At one point there is a conflict between Naomi (Dominique Tipper) and Clarissa (Nadine Nicole), but this lasts only a couple of scenes. There are hints of a mutual attraction between Amos (Wes Chatham) and Bobbie (Frankie Adams) which appear to go nowhere.

The Expanse - Season 6 review

While the general standard of the photography and visual effects that have always been two of the show's great strengths remains extremely high, with some breathtakingly beautiful scenes, there are other moments that seem jarringly out of place because someone has cut corners - all the more out of place because the rest is so professional. It should be emphasised that this remains to the end an outstanding show visually as well as dramatically, but sometimes a "last day at work" ethic seems to have crept in.

The Expanse - Season 6 review

We do at least get a clear resolution to the main storyline as the conflict between Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) and the united forces of Earth, Mars, and the "Belter" factions opposed to him comes to its conclusion. Given the inequality of firepower, it is no spoiler to say who is more likely to win: even Inaros himself seems to be falling apart, but he still has a couple more cards left to play. To be honest they are not great cards, and the stakes are reduced as the game nears its completion. What seems in the first episode an almost existential threat to Earth is resolved very easily by a convenient discovery and ultimately, we are reduced to no more than anticipating a terrorist getting his well deserved comeuppance. Even this turns out to be too abrupt to be really satisfying.

The Expanse - Season 6 review

The limp ending to the limp subplot about Naomi's charmless long lost son Filip (Jasai Chase-Owens) strikes a wrong note. Naomi herself shows more maturity than the writers in holding him to account for his actions. We are supposed to feel sympathy for the misled boy, but he was offered choices and he made his own decisions.

The Expanse - Season 6 review

The political settlement was equally predictable. Indeed, what was harder to foresee was our canny UN Secretary General Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) not foreseeing it.

The Expanse - Season 6 review

There are parallels with what is euphemistically called the "controversial" ending of Game of Thrones in this respect. Yet The Expanse stops short of going full Game of Thrones, mainly because at least most of the main characters stay true to themselves. It is good to see the old Naomi back at full strength, and Holden (Steven Strait) manages to maintain the right balance between heroism and humanity - there was always a danger of the character becoming either a cartoon version of Jesus or too laid back, and Strait manages to avoid both of these traps.

The Expanse - Season 6 review

Clarissa is given a good redemptive arc: unlike Filip, she faces up to what she did and tries to do some good to balance the books a little. Amos is Amos to the end, which is a relief: the temptation with stoical characters is to give them some great emotional catharsis, which would definitely have been wrong in his case. Similarly, Bobbie rediscovers her inner Marine Gunnery Sergeant and spends most of the season mildly exasperated, which suits her. Come to think of it, the potential of Amos and Bobbie getting together looks so obvious in retrospect that it is surprising that the writers did not explore it earlier. It would be a gift for "shippers" and set up a sequel in which their children would probably end up ruling the Galaxy.

The Expanse - Season 6 review

Despite a couple of wobbles, the family atmosphere on the 'Rocinante' is re-established, and it could be argued that the real emotional highpoint is not the final battle but the friendly meal the crew share just before it begins. It is fun just to hang out with the gang one last time.

It is particularly pleasing that Alex is not forgotten in all this. Several other characters from earlier seasons also make brief cameo appearances, acknowledging the history of the show. It is, however, a big missed opportunity when Anderson Dawes is dismissed in a single line in the first episode. Jared Harris must be too busy or too expensive now. The new character of a politically ambiguous administrator brought in to take his place is a poor substitutes.

The Expanse - Season 6 review

The battle scenes are, once again, wholly credible. Vessel to vessel combat in Space is more likely to be long distance than close range dogfighting, and The Expanse gives us the tension of the former without losing the excitement of the latter. It is always a pleasure to see the 'Rocinante' with all guns blazing.FF

The new subplot, set on a recently established colony the other side of "the Ring," is intriguing and poignant, with a very strong dose of tragicomedy. It prefaces each episode and could actually make a good freestanding episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits in its own right. The fauna and flora of a truly alien world are well designed, even if their realisation is let down slightly by some of those effects that are not all that they might be. It is a pity that the new story is never really resolved or integrated into the main plot. Indeed, a casual line in the dialogue just before the conclusion of the big story strikes a menacing note.

There is also a visual hint of menace in the end credits of the final episode. Another issue left unresolved is the true nature and significance of the mysterious "protomolecule" that has driven much of the story from the beginning. The final season builds it up as more dangerous than ever - which makes it all the more inexplicable that our heroes decide to use what they cannot understand, but what they know is a potential existential threat, simply to gain a tactical advantage in a relatively insignificant battle.

This does, of course, leave an opening for potential future seasons. The original authors of the novels on which the show is based, some of which remain unused by the script, and the production company, Alcon, seem eager to carry on. "Showrunner" Executive Producer Naren Shankar is quoted as saying the door was deliberately left open if the appetite and the desire was there for more (Entertainment Weekly, Digital Spy).

The Expanse - Season 6 review

There is no doubt that there is still considerable appetite and desire among fans. The real question is whether money can be brought to the table. While this seems unlikely, there are two ways it might happen. First, another streaming service might come to the same conclusion as Amazon, that The Expanse would be a good hook to attract highly committed viewers to their platform. Only Netflix really has the resources to cover the high production budgets, but a brave mid-range player might see it as an ideal component of a drive for the big time.

Alternatively, a feature length "television movie," or possibly movies, might round off the story, as happened with Farscape. This might make a lot of sense commercially.

If, however, the finale of Season Six does indeed turn out to be the finale for the whole show, there are worse ways to wrap it up. The characters we have come to love are left in a good place and there is hope for humanity as a whole. If everything is not exactly neat and tidy, life is like that.

Review: John Winterson Richards

John Winterson Richards is the author of the 'Xenophobe's Guide to the Welsh' and the 'Bluffer's Guide to Small Business,' both of which have been reprinted more than twenty times in English and translated into several other languages. He was editor of the latest Bluffer's Guide to Management and, as a freelance writer, has had over 500 commissioned articles published.

He is also the author of ‘How to Build Your Own Pyramid: A Practical Guide to Organisational Structures' and co-author of 'The Context of Christ: the History and Politics of Rome and Judea, 100 BC - 33 AD,' as well as the author of several novels under the name Charles Cromwell, all of which can be downloaded from Amazon. John has also written over 100 reviews for Television Heaven.

John's Website can be found here: John Winterson Richards

Published on January 19th, 2022. Written by John Winterson Richards for Television Heaven.