The Expanse Season 4 Is About the 'Limits of Control'

James Holden (Steven Strait) feels for a connection to the protomolecule, as Naomi (Dominique Tipper) struggles to understand.
James Holden (Steven Strait) feels for a connection to the protomolecule, as Naomi (Dominique Tipper) struggles to understand.
Photo: Amazon Prime

If there was one thing the end of The Expanse season three left you feeling—other than sadness at its temporary end (before Amazon’s revival)—it was “possibility.” The Ring had opened up hundreds of new worlds and it seemed like a new way of life was within everyone’s reach. Beltalowda! A time to finally take control of one’s life. As told to io9 by the cast and crew, season four takes those hopes and throws them out the airlock.

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Illustration for article titled iThe Expanse /iSeason 4 Is About the Limits of Control

io9 recently visited the set of The Expanse in anticipation of season four, and we’ve reviewed the first six episodes. This season centers around a group of Belter refugees settling on the planet Ilus to make a home for themselves, and all the intergalactic complications that arise from that decision. The Rocinante crew of James Holden (Steven Strait), Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), and Amos Burton (Wes Chatham) head to the planet to try and take control of an unraveling situation, only to discover what everybody else eventually does too: No one’s really in control here.

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“I would say that season four is about learning the limits of control, and people starting to see what that’s going to mean. And then, people who have largely been powerless making a move to become powerful,” Ty Franck, The Expanse co-creator, told io9 in a group interview.

Every major character in season four, in some way, grapples with losing control of a situation. Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) is pulled into the criminal underworld after trying to help her nephew. Private military contractor Adolphus Murtry (Burn Gorman) is trying to find out who killed his crew while attempting to establish authority over a planet full of valuable resources. Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) finds herself facing something she’s never had to deal with before: an election.

Then, there’s James Holden, who has been given this gift of insight from the protomolecule but can’t convince the people around him that it matters. For example, there’s a moment in season four when he brings the residents of Ilus together to lay it all out there, tell the truth about the protomolecule, and they aren’t interested in hearing it. We asked Strait, who’s also a producer on The Expanse, how Holden’s struggles not only play on the themes of season four, but also how they subvert traditional “Chosen One” narratives in fantasy and science fiction.

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“I think it kind of sticks with what we have always tried to do on the show tonally, which is to show the realism of how that would occur. Just because, you know, he has been proclaimed this prophet-like figure, it doesn’t make any difference to folks who are fighting for their home on Ilus—or this company that is looking at this lithium deposit and thinking of all the trillions of dollars that they can make,” Strait said. “What I like about portraying this kind of very complex arc within this kind of realistic realm is that it’s constantly butting up against reality. It’s like, ‘Sure, you’re a prophet. We don’t care.’”

However, the character who deals with this the most would have to be Naomi. That’s because she’s facing a loss of control on two fronts: emotionally and physically. Her ex-lover Marco Inaros, played by new arrival Keon Alexander, is back in the picture, causing trouble for the Belters and reminding her of past mistakes. But the bigger issue is the fact that she loses control of her actual body. Naomi tries and kind of fails to adapt to Ilus’ gravity. We see her shambling on the planet’s surface, chugging her arms back and forth as if they’ll help keep her afloat. It’s kind of amazing to see a character who’s normally so poised look so weighed down by it all. Tipper, who has a background as a dancer, told io9 about how she physically approached showing Naomi’s struggles on the surface.

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“I just approached it in terms of what it genuinely would feel like physically, and then the emotional effect it would also have on her in terms of, like, genuinely weighing her down and what that would look and feel like for her,” she said. “I normally keep Naomi very pulled up. I have heel lifts in my shoes that kind of—basically you’re always wearing high heels. So I’m always quite zipped up, which is funny for her. But I’m, yeah, I’m always kind of on my tiptoes, little lean forward. I kept her a bit more crumpled on Ilus and kind of slouchy, trying to pull herself up but she can’t.”

Tipper and Anvar, in a joint interview with io9, elaborated their thoughts on the the overall theme of “losing control” in season four. Anvar shared how Alex has his own personal crisis in the back half of the season, which he didn’t want to get into as it would spoil a reveal. There’s also something involving Amos (Wes Chatham) that we can’t get into just yet, but it plays into the overall themes of trying and failing to keep control. Tipper shared how the reason each of their characters can spend time on their own individual crises is because the Rocinante crew has become such a strong team. It gives the characters, and actors, some form of stability...even as each of them goes through something monumental and challenging.

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“I think the good thing about the chaos that happens in season four is that we’re—especially the Roci crew—are probably more of a unit than you’ve ever had us be. Often the loss of control in our group has been personal, and it’s been relationship-based, and it’s been from not being sure of who the other people are. But this is the first time we’re actually quite settled as a group. And everything else around us pretty much loses and unravels,” Tipper said.

“That’s actually what I was just thinking too, is that the shit that goes down in season four, compared to other seasons,” Anvar added. “It’s much more human-based in the first three seasons. The protomolecule is an aspect of it, but most of the chaos is caused by human beings. In season four, there is a human chaotic element to it, but it’s in response to this massive kind of out-of-control, supernatural-almost chaos. We have to face bugs, and we have to face machines, and we have to face like all this completely inexplicable stuff. And as Dominique said, we rise to it as a team, because we’ve kind of been hardened by battle, basically. Despite all of our own inner insecurities, fears, whatever, we kind of overcome.”

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Amazon’s The Expanse returns with season four on December 13 and, unlike when it aired on Syfy, all 10 episodes of the season will be made available. The show has already been renewed for season five, but an expected release date for that season has not been announced. Be sure to stay tuned for more looks behind the scenes from io9.


For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.

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Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

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DISCUSSION

How often is Holden going to be in the position of saying, “I told you so” before people actually start believing him? The idea of him being right so often, yet being ignored started to lean toward to absurd toward the end of season three. How many times does the guy have to save humanity before he gets the benefit of the doubt?