The Expanse Returns for One Last Adventure

The good ship Rocinante finds itself at the centre of an intergalactic powder keg one last time

The good ship Rocinante finds itself at the centre of an intergalactic powder keg one last time

How far we’ve come since Earther captain James Holden (Steven Strait), Belter engineer Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), Martian pilot Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) and Earther mechanic/muscle Amos Burton (Wes Chatham) were joined together by fate, the lone survivors of an attacked spaceship, who eventually created a new home base aboard a hijacked Martian gunship they renamed the Rocinante.

Their missions throughout the years, from teaming up with Raymond Chandler-esque gumshoe Joe Miller (Thomas Jane) to investigate the nefarious applications of a mysterious bioweapon called the “protomolecule,” to exploring a ring-portal system built by the aliens who created that deadly substance, have turned this once-reluctant team into a real family.

But after the recent loss of one of their own, and Naomi’s narrow escape from the clutches of Belter revolutionary (and father of her child) Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander), the crew of the Roci is starting to feel the strain of this never-ending fight for peace—or power—in the galaxy.

“There are all sorts of personal reasons for them to commit to the battle, but when we open in season six, they’ve been at it for a while and things haven’t moved,” says showrunner Naren Shankar. “You start to fight and it’s a big, noble cause and then you’re in the trenches for a year and you go, ‘What the hell are we doing here?’ You fight for a long time and when you run out of steam you go, ‘Is this worth dying over?’”

Unfortunately, the impending threat to Earth has not vanished, with Inaros’s desire to control the rings raising the stakes of the sixth and final season higher than ever. “What Marco is trying to do is position himself, under the banner of all Belters, as the person who will essentially control humanity’s exploration into space,” Shankar explains. “Earth and Mars are dependent on these [faraway] habitable planets—that you have to get through the ring space to go to—and they want to colonize them for natural resources. If Marco can control that, then suddenly the Belters become very powerful and very wealthy at the expense of Earth and Mars. He’s very close to accomplishing that.”

As with all storylines concerning the feuding factions of humanity—Earthers, Martians and Belters—Inaros’s political position is not a difficult one to appreciate, even if his methods are excessive. “You can talk about the use of tremendous violence to get there as being terrible, which it certainly is, but you could also talk about it as being justified historically from what was done to Belters over the previous century or so,” says Shankar.

The intricate space drama that never shied away from complex ideas of power, responsibility and tribalism, uses its last episodes to reflect on just how far its characters have come. “When I think back to season one, and where we met each of these characters, they really have all gone on amazing journeys,” says Shankar. “There’s a moment towards the end of this season with Avasarala [Shohreh Aghdashloo] where she’s talking about who she was and who she is now. She says something like, ‘I put a Belter up on a hook to suffocate him, to get him to tell me something that he wouldn’t have otherwise. I did it because I could.’ It’s like, ‘That’s who I was, it’s not who I am now.’ That’s an interesting journey for somebody to take over six years. And in one sense or another, all of the characters have taken similar journeys. These are long, long, interesting arcs that feel very legitimate in terms of character development. That doesn’t always happen in shows like this.”

As the fearless leader of a series that nearly ended its intergalactic odyssey halfway through (after it was cancelled by original network Syfy), Shankar is grateful he gets to bring these arcs to their natural conclusion. “In the era of streaming that we’re in right now, it is an absolute miracle to get a show through six seasons,” he says. “From what I understand, three seasons is about as far as [most viewers] will go. At that point, you’ve attracted the most people and showing something new is better for [the streaming service] than continuing a series.”

But against the odds, Shankar, along with Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (who co-wrote the rather extensive book series under the pen name James S.A. Corey), has been able to complete the voyage of the Rocinante—even if they had only six episodes to stick the landing.

“Sometimes having a somewhat smaller amount of acreage can be very helpful, because it forces you to boil the story down and really look at the most critical pieces of the narrative,” Shankar says. “We start in season six at a pretty low point and what we’ve tried to do over the course of the season is have every episode escalate and escalate and escalate. Hopefully we pulled it off.”

The Expanse streams Fridays on Amazon Prime Video