Humans are in a hurry to leave the solar system and colonise new habitable planets through the interstellar ring that has brought them in contact with an alien intelligence thought to have disappeared. If you don’t like science fiction, you won’t want to watch The Expanse, but if you’re a fan, you can catch up now that Amazon Prime Video has just released the first episodes of the fifth season. The series is based on the books by James SA Corey, a pseudonym used by American writers Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. In 2014, they won the Locus Prize for Best Science Fiction Novel for their third book in this space saga, Abaddon’s Gate, which contains the plot for the third season of the series. The novels have been hugely successful and received international recognition, a success that has also moved to the screen, albeit with some ups and downs.
The beginning of the story takes us to a future in which the solar system has been completely colonised and there are intense political machinations. On the one hand, there are the two inner planets, Earth and Mars, which are rivals. Earth is overpopulated and citizens are used to surviving on a vital subsidy offered to everyone by the highest governing body, the United Nations. Their great fear is that Mars will invade them. Martian society, on the other hand, is highly militarised and is working on terraforming the planet, while it maintains a fierce resentment towards Earthlings for the struggles prior to their independence from Earth. However, the two powers need the resources come from the asteroid belt, where the so-called Belters have developed their own very combative culture, as they are used to doing hard work and surviving in an extremely hostile environment, where pure air and water are a luxury.
The inhabitants of the Belt are wary of both Martians and Earthlings and feel mistreated by them. On Ceres, a dwarf planet in the Belt, police officer Joe Miller (Thomas Jane) is tasked with searching for a missing girl, Julie Mao, who turns out to be the rebellious daughter of an Earth tycoon. At the same time, also in the Belt, the crew of a ship carrying ice receives a cry for help from another ship. When the team led by Officer Jim Holden (Steven Strait) decides to help her, a series of events is unleashed that endangers peace in the solar system and threatens the future of humanity. Holden and Miller, together with the crew of the ship Rocinante, end up working together to try and resolve the crisis, which is merely a prelude to much more serious problems, because an extraordinary alien power lies behind all of this.
The series does not stand out for its special effects but the details and complexity of the plot draw viewers in. This is helped by the presence of supporting actors of the stature of Jared Harris and David Strathairn, and the fact that despite being science fiction, it also works as a geopolitical thriller. Yet, the series was about to be cancelled after the third season, but pressure from fans – who collected more than 100,000 signatures, including that of Game of Thrones creator, George R. R. Martin – led Amazon to continue the project, which will have a sixth, and final, season.