If you're a fan of the sci-fi drama The Expanse, the good news is that we won't have to wait as long for the fifth season as we did for the fourth. After a lengthy break between Seasons 3 and 4 — during which time the show was canceled by Syfy and picked up by Amazon — the show returned last December, dropping its entire season on Prime just before the holidays. This season, the rollout is going to be a bit more gradual, and if last season was smaller and more self-contained, Season 5 promises to be an all-out high-drama space opera.
Whether you're new to the, um, world of The Expanse, or an Inner from way back, here's what you need to know ahead of the show's highly anticipated fifth season:
Based on book series by sci-fi author James S. A. Corey, The Expanse premiered on Syfy in 2015, where it became one of the network's more critically acclaimed series. Starring the likes of Steven Strait, Thomas Jane, and Oscar-nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo, the series is set in a future where the Earth is in decline and humanity has colonized the solar system. If your vision of space colonization is one of peace and harmony, think again -- with a rebellious Mars and a faction of roving nomads known as Belters occupying the asteroid belt, things are on the brink of war. Which is when, in the first season, a protomolecule is introduced, an insidious and ever-expanding entity which has the ability to create and destroy whole planets and open doors into the further reaches of space.
Over its first three seasons on Syfy, The Expanse blended political intrigue with space adventure and social politics in a way that recalled shows like Battlestar Galactica. Which is why fans were so upset when Syfy announced it wouldn't be renewing the show in May of 2018. After an extensive crowdfunded campaign to save the show, the series was picked up for a fourth season by Amazon Prime (Jeff Bezos is apparently a fan), and that fourth season debuted on Amazon Prime in December of 2019.
Part of the reason Syfy's cancelation of the show was such a harsh blow to fans was that it left the show on an incredibly tantalizing cliffhanger when the third season ended with the protomolecule opening a huge number of gates to unexplored worlds, giving the universe of The Expanse literally limitless possibilities for where its stories could go. Season 4 on Amazon Prime began to explore those worlds in what felt like a purposeful slow down, a pause to take a deep breath and watch its characters adjust to this brave new world.
At the request of Secretary General Avasarala (Aghdashloo), the crew of the Rocinante — Holden (Strait), Naomi (Dominique Tipper), Alex (Cas Anvar), and Amos (Wes Chathan) — made their way to a planet called Ilus in order to investigate the presence of the protomolecule. There, the Roci crew ended up caught in the middle of a battle for control of the newly terraforming planet between Earthers and Belters.
Meanwhile, Avasarala was back on Earth dealing with a reelection challenge from Nancy Gao (Lily Gao), who was in favor of full-speed-ahead exploration of the outer gates. Bobbi Draper (Frankie Adams) was back on Mars and got caught up in a smuggling ring, ultimately uncovering a secret plot between a high-level Martian official who was sending weaponry to a militant Belter faction led by Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander). Inaros — Naomi's ex-lover and the father of her child, Filip (Jasai Chase Owens) — spent Season 4 in a grab for influence among the many Belter factions, and by season's end was poised to launch an asteroid attack on Earth.
While producers are keeping most of the coming season's plot details under wraps, based on the trailer and promotional materials, the threat of Marco Inaros appears to loom large over this season. Not only is Naomi desperate to make contact with her son and wrest him away from Marcos's influence, but Marcos is intent on waging all-out war for Belter superiority. Expect to see more of Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman), who was a major player in the first three seasons as one of the leaders of the Belters, but who only showed up in one episode in Season 4.
The trailer also promises that we'll learn more of Amos' backstory, as it appears he'll be returning to Earth. Over the years we've seen hints that was running away from a shady history back in Baltimore, so it should be fascinating to see what comes of that.
Meanwhile, at long last Avasarala and Bobbi are properly partnered up, and they appear poised to delve into the Martian/Belter conspiracy. And lord knows we've not seen the last of what the protomolecule can do.
It was announced last month that The Expanse was renewed for a sixth and final season, likely to be released at or near the end of 2021. One cast member who won't be back is Cas Anvar as Alex; Anvar will exit the show at the end of season 5 after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced over the summer.
The first three episodes of Season 5 of The Expanse debut on Amazon Prime December 16th, with new installments of the ten-episode season dropping each Wednesday until the finale on February 3rd.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.