This review is spoiler-free for The Expanse season 6.
Structured more like a high-stakes soap opera than a drama with a clear thematic conclusion, The Expanse sometimes feels like it could run indefinitely. If only it could! But with a finite number of novels to adapt, season 6 wraps things up as conclusively as possible—while still leaving us wanting more. That’s partly because the season is unusually short (just six episodes compared to the usual 10-13) and partly because the show’s creators are visibly angling for a spinoff.
SHOWRUNNER: Naren Shankar
As Marco Inaros continues to attack, the main cast of ‘The Expanse’ must join forces to save humankind from catastrophe. It’s a thrilling and satisfying conclusion to the show – but thanks to the shortened six-episode season, the pacing is a little off.
Amazon is seemingly to blame for this truncated episode order, but The Expanse‘s production company is open to telling more stories in the same universe. This is both a welcome possibility and slightly frustrating in the context of season 6. Six episodes just isn’t enough time to wind up every storyline, and on top of this, a few minutes of each episode are dedicated to introducing a brand new setting. Taking place on one of the new colony planets, this subplot could act as a backdoor pilot for a new show, and while it’s an interesting concept, it takes time away from The Expanse‘s main cast.
Picking up where season 5 left off, Earth, Mars, and the Rocinante crew have joined forces against the show’s most hateable villain: Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander). This guy really makes you examine what the term “charismatic leader” actually means. Inaros isn’t charming, sympathetic, or loyal. He’s ruthless, erratic, and an abusive father to boot. However, he also wields a compelling sense of power and decisiveness, which is precisely what his followers crave.
Tapping into the Belters’ desire to rebel against Earth and Mars, you understand how Inaros can sway normal people into joining his violent, extremist cult. After launching a devastating bombing campaign against Earth, he’s shifted the balance of power in the solar system. Earth’s Chrisjen Avasarala (an irreplaceable presence in sci-fi television) must adopt new tactics to fight back, while the crew of the Rocinante attempt to track Inaros down.
The Expanse has really upped the ante over the last few seasons, juggling longform character arcs with logistical drama about life in space. Rooted in quasi-realistic science, the action scenes feel thrillingly authentic. No other sci-fi show is operating on this level, besides possibly the Cold War-era NASA drama For All Mankind.
It’s also rare to see a genre show that’s so staunchly political without being an obvious allegory. There’s always something vaguely amusing about James Holden’s dual roles as a bland white guy protagonist (sorry Holden!) and the show’s resident “Can’t we all get along?” centrist, but even with him in the foreground, the writers don’t necessarily endorse his position. Inaros, a truly malevolent individual, is something of a rarity. By and large, we’re encouraged to examine and sympathize with multiple perspectives on the same issue, whether that’s geopolitical divides or internal strife in Camina Drummer’s polycule.
If you’ve been watching The Expanse for this long, you know what to expect. Avasarala, Drummer, and Bobbie Draper continue to be wonderfully entertaining, as does Amos Burton—a personal favorite of mine, and a deceptively peculiar character. Naomi Nagata takes the brunt of the serious emotional storytelling once again, and the Rocinante crew dynamics have shifted with the arrival of Clarissa Mao. Fans can rest easy in the knowledge that everyone gets their due, and the show still finds time to introduce some intriguing new sci-fi obstacles.
This season’s only real flaw is purely circumstantial: The creative team just weren’t given enough time. Perhaps unavoidably, some elements of the final act feel rushed. Those colony-planet interludes take up time that could’ve been used for the main storylines. But if that’s the price to pay for more Expanse stories down the line, maybe it’s worth it? Here’s hoping, anyway.